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Up, up, up: Butte keeps climbing in firm’s economy rankings

Butte-Silver Bow County is ranked eighth in economic strength this year among 536 “micropolitan” locales in the U.S. with populations between 10,000 and 50,000, according to an economic research firm.

That’s up from 15th in the 2014 rankings by Florida-based Policom Corp., which bases its independent rankings on 23 variables for strengthening or weakening a local economy over an extended time. Helena ranked 14th this year, down from third last year, and Bozeman came in at 20th, down from 10th last year.

Butte has risen steadily over the past decade, in part because Policom’s rankings factor in trends and sustainability and makes adjustments for consistency.

Policom ranked Butte-Silver Bow 376th in 2004, and the city-county has ranked higher every year since except one, hitting 51st in 2009, 17th in 2011 and 2013, 15th last year, and now eighth.

Butte continued to climb during the US housing crisis and national recession from late 2007 to 2009 and the slow national recovery since. Butte’s only drop was in 2012, but it still ranked 25th in economic strength that year.

“I think what is really helping us along is we have that stability,” Karen Byrnes, Butte-Silver Bow’s community development director, said Friday. “We haven’t had that big growth, but they factor in stability in wages and stability in jobs and those things. I believe that’s what’s helping us.”

Micropolitan cities ranking higher than Butte were Dickinson and Williston, North Dakota, at No. 1 and No. 2 — both in the Bakken oil boom area — followed by Fairmont, West Virginia; Winnemucca, Nevada; Minot, North Dakota; and Juneau, Alaska.

Related: Commodities sag and so does Montana economic predictions

The 23 variables used in the formula to factor the rankings include earnings, jobs, per capita personal income, overall wages and salaries, and wages in specific sectors such as construction and retail.

Negative factors include actual and per capita welfare income and Medicaid assistance for the poor. The formula attempts to compensate for anomalies that might occur in one or two measures, as well as short-term extremes.

Consistency is also factored in.

Byrnes noted that Butte was not hit as hard as many cities when the housing bubble burst in 2008 and sent the country into a recession and prolonged slowdown.

For example, housing values were higher in Butte-Silver Bow in 2014 compared to six years ago, according to state figures, but that was not the case in the Bozeman and Kalispell areas.

“We didn’t see some of the high number of foreclosures that hit other areas,” Byrnes said. “It’s a blessing. I know that we want to be growing faster, but there is something to be said about slow and steady.”

Helena and Bozeman have ranked highly among smaller cities for several years now.

Helena ranked 2nd from 2011 to 2013, was third last year, and has been in the top 15 in all but one year since 2004. Bozeman was 19th last year but ranked in the top 10 from 2004 to 2012.

Policom also ranked 381 metropolitan areas that had populations higher than 50,000.

Billings came in at 120th, down from 96th last year; Great Falls ranked 149th, down from 109th last year; and Missoula was at 199th, down from 166th last year.

The Washington D.C. metro area ranked first, followed by the Seattle-Tacoma area; Austin, Texas; Des Moines, Iowa; and Omaha-Council Bluffs, Nebraska.

This article was written by Mike Smith from The Montana Standard, Butte and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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