Missoula takes the limelight in yet another economic report concocted from national sources.
Unlike the last one, when in August Moody’s credit rating agency predicted Missoula was one of 22 cities at risk for a double-dip recession, the new report says Missoula led the nation in job growth from July 2009 to July 2010.
The curious finding comes from a national progress report put together by a research economist at Garner Economics, the consulting firm hired to provide economic development ideas for Missoula Mayor John Engen’s Best Place Project.
Given the recession, given the fact that Missoula lost a significant employer – and 400-plus jobs – when Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. closed in January, the Missoulian asked research economist Tom Tveidt to explain his findings.
The data, he said, came from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. He didn’t make up information, he just used it to analyze year-over-year job growth to gauge how metropolitan areas are faring.
The numbers say the biggest bump in Missoula’s job growth – 2,800 jobs – came from government.
“The (Bureau of Labor) report doesn’t go into much detail, so there’s not a lot to take from in the survey, which is a good survey,” he said. “Sometimes it’s how they classify jobs and what is considered state employment.”
The alleged 7.9 percent increase in Missoula’s job market came as a surprise to Barbara Wagner, senior economist at the Research and Analysis Bureau in the Montana Department of Labor and Industry.
However, the state economist isn’t at all surprised that Missoula frequently finds itself in the “extreme” categories on surveys – either thriving or dying.
Such is the fate of most small cities that are just big enough to be “metropolitan” and considered in the bureau’s measure of “metropolitan” growth, classified as Metropolitan Statistical Areas or MSAs.
“You will often notice that smaller MSAs often top the chart for the best or worst growth,” Wagner said. “Because of the smaller job base overall, the small MSAs will show a larger percentage growth.
“In fact, last year, a similar study was completed using the same data series and found that over a two-month period, Missoula lost the most jobs out of all the MSAs in the country,” she said. “Part of Missoula being on the extreme is simply due to its smaller size.”
Over at the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, economist Jim Sylvester got a good chuckle when he saw the U.S. Bureau of Labor’s “Current Employment Statistics.”
“There’s no local input and all of this is done at the national level,” Sylvester said. “It’s a volatile series from the Labor Department and subject to revision. To make any decisions based on this series, you have to wait until the final data comes out, sometime next May or June.”
Although Wagner finds fault with the latest report on Missoula – particularly the alleged growth in Missoula’s government jobs, given that there are 3,200 government jobs in the whole state – she often struggles to find the most accurate story in the federal data that are provided.
“I wouldn’t expect Garner Economics to take a close look at the data, given that they are crunching numbers for every MSA in the country,” she said. “That being said, we have to work with the data that we have, and this (U.S. Bureau of Labor) data is the best available.
“So yes, the Current Employment Statistics data series show significant growth in the Missoula area and suggest that Missoula has regained its pre-recession employment.”
Even Tveidt took pause with the report he assembled.
“The data is better than a guess – it’s a survey,” he said. “It’s the best we have, but I wouldn’t change policy based on it.
“It’s a leading indicator, but the best information is the kind you get on the ground: All economics is local.”