Belgrade is the fifth most business friendly town in the state, according to a new study released by the Montana Policy Institute.
The study ranked Montana’s 25 largest cities on three categories – economic vitality, business tax burden and community allure – to determine which are the most business friendly.
The report also looked at sub-categories of a town’s success, like which cities have low cost of living and crime rates and which towns are experiencing the most population and job growth.
Belgrade scored a composite score of 62 points out of 100 for its fifth place finish.
Cities were also categorized for their economic health based on size. In that breakdown, Belgrade scored the first place ranking, edging out Lewistown and Livingston.
In economic vitality, Belgrade scored first. Economic vitality was measured by recent job growth, residential population growth from 2010 to 2011, median income per capita and population growth from 2000 to 2010.
In business tax burden category that evaluates total property tax rates in both the city and county, Belgrade was in the middle of the pack.
In the last category, community allure, Belgrade was sandwiched between Livingston and Laurel in the middle of the pack again. Cost of living, education and crime rates all factor into the community allure piece of the survey.
Belgrade City Manager Joe Menicucci said Belgrade’s high ranking has to do with more than economic factors. He pointed to assets like a strong school system and low crime rates.
“Belgrade is a good place to live,” he said. “It’s a hard working community and people want to raise their families here.”
Another strength to Belgrade’s businesses is town size itself, Menicucci said. Belgrade can support some local economy but doesn’t have the traffic yet to attract big box stores or chains, like Bozeman. Local restaurants do fairly well because there aren’t iconic chains competing for customers.
Menicucci said the high rating is probably a result of a strong manufacturing sector in Belgrade. Biomedical supplier Bacterin, for example, is responsible for hiring large workforces. Bacterin currently employs more the 100 people and the company was recently awarded a grant that will allow them to hire at least 40 new employees.
Menicucci also lauded the airport as a major employer for the local workforce.
“Lots of people overlook the airport,” he said. “There are a lot of people that work there and businesses in the airport.”
Businesses like Fed Ex, adjacent to the airport, are a direct result of nearby flight transit, and create more local job opportunities, Menicucci said.
So how did the rest of the state compare to Belgrade in the business report?
Polson, located in Lake County, claimed first prize as the most business-friendly town in the state.
In the three categories, Polson earned a composite score of 69.34 points, beating out Sidney by less than a point.
While Sydney’s climate has been quickly and obviously impacted by the oil boom in neighboring Williston, N.D., Polson’s first place ranking comes as more of a surprise, at least to the town’s residents. The Missoulian newspaper reported that the last of numerous iconic downtown Polson businesses permanently closed just weeks before the town’s accolade from MPI.
While mainstay industries like farming and harvesting cherries are doing fine in Polson, they didn’t factor into the first place ranking. Polson actually earned highest marks in the economic vitality category. The fact that some of the statistics added to the mix are from years past might have something to do with it.
Population growth was measured from 2000 to 2010 as an indicator of economic vitality. Median per-capita income was another consideration, showing a town’s “ability to survive, especially during an economic downturn,” the report said.
Bozeman boasted a fourth place finish overall. In its top tier for the most populated Montana cities, Bozeman was ranked first. Butte ranked last in that same tier.
Anaconda was ranked last overall in business friendliness “due largely to its low percentage of adults with at least a high school degree,” the report said. The once buzzing smelter city never recovered economically after the boom to bust mining days.
The group that produced the study, MPI, is non-partisan entity that tries to shape public policy by reporting on business, political and academic climates around the state.