The Local Economy of Billings, Montana

Billings is the largest city in Montana with a population of about 110,000 residents. Known as the “Magic City” for its rapid early growth, Billings remains an economic center not just for Montana but also for much of the surrounding Plains region.

The city’s diverse economy includes energy, healthcare, finance, retail, agriculture, and tourism sectors. Major local employers include St. Vincent Healthcare, Billings Clinic, and ExxonMobil, among others.

Billings serves as a regional hub for healthcare, retail shopping, higher education, energy production, and more. The business-friendly tax policies and climate in Montana help attract and retain businesses and talent in Billings as well. Below we dive deeper into the key elements driving Billings’ local economy.

Major Local Industries and Top Employers

Healthcare

Healthcare employs about 11% of workers in the Billings metropolitan area, led by the two major hospital networks:

  • St. Vincent Healthcare – Part of SCL Health network, with over 2,300 employees
  • Billings Clinic – Independent non-profit hospital system, with over 4,000 employees

Other major healthcare employers include RiverStone Health, Billings Public Schools, and Rimrock Foundation addiction treatment center. As both a regional referral hub and fast-growing city, Billings’ healthcare sector is poised for continued expansion.

Energy

Although no longer as dominant as during much of Billings’ history, energy remains a major local industry:

  • ExxonMobil operates an oil refinery employing over 600 people.
  • Western Energy operates local coal mines providing 900+ jobs.
  • Multiple oil and gas service firms have major operations in Billings as well.

Billings serves as a convenient base for energy firms extracting resources across Montana and northern Wyoming. New renewable energy investments may drive future jobs too.

Retail & Hospitality

With its strategic location right off Interstate 90 and as Montana’s retail hub, Billings offers extensive shopping and hospitality services:

  • Rimrock Mall provides retail shopping for much of the region
  • National hotel chains drawn by business/leisure tourism and convenient location
  • Restaurants, breweries and more catering to residents and visitors alike

Developments like the Shiloh Crossing shopping district and downtown revitalization demonstrate continued growth in this sector.

Finance & Professional Services

As Montana’s largest city, Billings naturally accommodates plenty of regional business services sectors like banking/investments, legal, and information technology services. Top employers here include:

  • First Interstate Bank – Major regional bank based in Billings
  • Jurodan Business Solutions – Local tech/IT services firm
  • Many law/CPA/consulting firms focused on business clients

With low taxes and reasonably-priced real estate, Billings helps smaller professional services firms thrive.

Key Local Business Advantages

What makes Billings such an attractive place to operate a business? Here are some of the city’s main economic advantages:

Strategic Location

  • Located right along Interstates 90 and 94 puts Billings within day’s drive of major metros like DenverMinneapolisSeattle and Calgary.
  • Serves as commercial hub for much of Montana and northern Wyoming due to location.
  • Rail links provide easy transport of grain, fuel, coal and more.

Business-Friendly Environment

  • No corporate or personal income tax makes Montana highly appealing for business investment and professionals alike.
  • Low property taxes keep real estate costs reasonable.
  • Energy resources, agriculture, tourism provide diverse economic activities to support.

Regional Healthcare Hub

With its two major hospital networks – St. Vincent Healthcare and Billings Clinic – and multiple clinics/private practices, Billings provides specialized healthcare services for much of Montana, northern Wyoming and western ND.

Higher Education Opportunities

Home to both Montana State University Billings and Rocky Mountain College providing employers with a skilled local workforce pipeline.

Analysis of Local Economic Performance

Billings has enjoyed steady economic growth in recent years across multiple indicators like jobs, incomes, construction activity, and more:

Jobs/Unemployment

  • Unemployment rate averaged 2.5% over past 5 years – much lower than U.S. average.
  • Over 34,000 jobs added from 2015-2021 representing ~17% growth over that period.

Income Levels

  • Billings’ average annual wage is now $50,860 – higher than U.S. typical wage.
  • However, Billings’ median household income still trails national median slightly.

Real Estate Markets

  • Over $1 billion in commercial/residential permitting in 2021 indicating major construction growth.
  • Local home prices rose ~25% past two years amid demand, similar to national boom.

GDP Growth

  • Billings metro GDP expanded over 40% from 2015-2020, outpacing U.S. overall GDP growth.

So while not immune from national trends, Billings’ economy demonstrates strong momentum with job growth, construction activity, incomes and output all risinghealthily in recent years.

Outlook for Billings’ Future Economy

Billings appears primed for continued economic success in the years ahead thanks to its diverse industries, business advantages, and growth trends.

Ongoing Energy Investment

Renewable energy investments combined with Montana’s oil/gas production can fuel more energy jobs. For example, the proposed NaturEner wind farm could bring $1 billion in investment to stillwind-rich Montana.

Healthcare Sector Growth

With fast population growth across the region, Billings’ position as a healthcare hub ensures expanding patient demand for its hospitals, clinics and medical services.

Retirement Destination

Billings’ scenery, amenities and healthcare make it an appealing retirement spot. In-migration of retirees will further drive healthcare sector jobs and has secondary impacts supporting local service businesses too.

Emerging Industries

Billings entrepreneurial ecosystem, anchored by organizations like Big Sky Economic Development, aims to nurture startups in fields from craft brewing and tourism to high-tech and manufacturing.

New investments in career education and infrastructure will also boost Billings’ ability to capture emerging 21st century industries.

Conclusion

With diverse leading employers across healthcare, energy, retail, and professional services combined with an attractive business environment, Billings offers a robust local economy.

Recent years have seen strong performance in jobs, construction, incomes and output – and the city is poised for more expansion ahead thanks to its healthcare hub status, retirement appeal, energy infrastructure and support for innovation. Businesses and professionals looking for opportunity would do well to consider what Billings has to offer.

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Directions

  • Start out going northwest on Main St toward N 28th St. Take the 1st right onto N 28th St. Turn right onto Grand Ave, then quickly turn left to merge onto I-90 W toward Sheridan. Follow I-90 W for approximately 70 miles, then take exit 442 for Blue Creek Rd toward Billings. Turn right onto Blue Creek Rd and the destination will be on your right after about 0.3 miles.
  • Head west on Main St toward N 29th St. Turn right onto N 29th St, followed by a slight left to merge onto I-90 W. Stay on I-90 W, driving for roughly 70 miles, before taking the Blue Creek Rd exit on the right. Take the ramp onto Blue Creek Rd and go straight for 0.3 miles until you arrive at 3910 Blue Creek Rd on your right.
  • Start by getting on I-90 W from Main St. Drive on the interstate for about 70 miles then take exit 442 to merge onto Blue Creek Rd. As soon as you exit, turn right to continue on Blue Creek Rd. 3910 Blue Creek Rd will be around 0.3 miles down the road on your right side. The travel time should be just over an hour from downtown Billings.