How did an MSU graduate growing a crystal help Bozeman's economy get rolling and what will keep it rolling in the future?

Post Date: 01/13/2020

Bozeman is listed as the fastest-growing micropolitan in the US for some very good reasons. Pockets of innovation and industry are thriving and providing employment opportunities for those who live here and we are a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. What most Gallatin Valley Residents might not know is where this economic boom came from and where it's going.

The economy in Bozeman is absolutely booming. If you’ve lived here for any length of time it certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed that development is eating up open spaces at a shocking rate and investors are excited. Unlike the boom/bust scenario tied to construction that happened just before and during the recession of 2008, economic and financial influencers in our area are clearly indicating that increased diversity in our local economy will continue to pay off.

Montana State University, one of the Bozeman Area’s largest employers was home to 16,766 students according to the registrar’s total enrollment report ending September 2019. That’s up from 15,421 just 5 years previous in September 2014. Enrollment has been on a steady rise since the early 1990s and with expanded research activity expenditures averaging around $100 million annually, MSU will continue to grow and offer diverse opportunities for its students.

Tech companies like Oracle, Zoot, Workiva, and Schedulicity are taking advantage of Bozeman’s highly educated residents as well as offering those willing to relocate an opportunity to enjoy the quality of life Southwest Montana offers. The seed of the tech boom in Bozeman came from the laser photonics industry. An MSU graduate, Ralph Hutcheson, grew the very first laser crystal and subsequently moved back home to start a laser crystal company right here in Bozeman. Companies providing laser solutions from military surveillance and self-driving cars to medical-grade lasers are going about their business right under our noses here in the Gallatin Valley. There are 35 companies in the Montana Photonics Industry Alliance providing over 800 high techs, high paying jobs as well as providing support positions from administration to marketing. MSU also continues to fuel this “mini-Silicon Valley of photonics” by providing continued support, ideas, and innovation.

Bozeman Health stands atop a pillar of Health Services in Bozeman and provides employment for over 2,400 employees. They are a non-profit organization but also happen to own over 60 acres of property in the Bozeman Area valued at over $110 Million. Their services continue to expand with a new Ambulatory Center currently being built off Huffine Lane in West Bozeman as well as a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit expected to be completed by the fall of 2020. These additional facilities were part of a $75.5 million investment that commenced construction in 2018 and the final phases are scheduled to be completed this year as well. Billings Clinic will continue to build their influence as they expand to also include an ambulatory care center in Bozeman. The Billings Clinic Bozeman Campus will consist of 97,000 sq ft and will include a multi-specialty physician group practice, urgent care, and outpatient surgical services. This facility will be located just west of Costco.

The Yellowstone International Airport provides flight services to residents and visitors alike. The projected growth in air passengers, both private and commercial, continues to climb. New and expanded services have been announced in the last year to encompass Delta, United, Alaska, American, Allegiant, Jet Blue and Frontier. You can get a direct flight to every major airport in the US with the exception of Boston. Continued expansion of flight size or services seems to be announced a fairly regular basis including Delta and Alaska announcing daily, year-round non-stop services to Seattle in October of last year. In 2019 the airport handled just over 1 million passengers and its economic impact is nearing $1 billion, with a B, annually. Flight school training in partnership with MSU has increased small aircraft activity so much that a new runway was recently added to accommodate that increase. Hanger space will increase from 2016-2019 by 52% with 210 hangars and 361 Bozeman based aircraft. Development continues and current construction includes additional gates to increase the number from 4 to 8 gates on the West end. A covered parking garage opened July 15, 2019, to offer 90 premium covered parking stalls as well as providing a sectioned rental car area. Seventy percent of travel in and out of the airport is associated with business travel and continued growth in other economic sectors here in Bozeman will continue to increase traveler numbers.

The Bozeman Chamber of Commerce is a wealth of knowledge and if you’re interested in learning about some of the $5-7 billion dollars-worth of currently slated projects in the Bozeman area they may be able to provide you with information. Although there are challenges we need to address including child care and workforce housing, those are both front and center in the conversation being had by local politicians as well as city leaders. They aren’t going unnoticed and solutions and policies are being discussed and developed. One thing we can all count on though is understanding that investing in our area through commercial ventures or through private property continues to be a great idea. Bozeman is booming and it doesn’t look like it’s going to slow down anytime soon.