BOZEMAN - The banking industry in Gallatin County has gone through a major growth spurt in the past five years, with the increase in deposits outpacing all other counties in the state.
Deposits have nearly doubled in Gallatin County - from $685 million in 2000 to more than $1.17 billion in 2004, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.
No other Montana county experienced such rapid growth. Deposits in Yellowstone County grew by $400 million during the same period. They grew by about $250 million in Flathead County and $220 million in Missoula County, the other fastest growing areas in the state in terms of population.
The increase in deposits is going hand-in-hand with the growth in the number of banks and bank branches.
Steven Wheeler, president of First Interstate Bank of Bozeman, said the increase is good not only for the banks, but for customers.
"Competition is good and it just gives the consumer a bigger variety and more opportunity to do business."
First Security Bank, already the county's largest bank with six branches in four locations, is adding two more. Like the rest of its industry, it's taking advantage of the area's population boom and the hundreds of millions of dollars those residents are pumping into the economy.
"We're adding branches because of the growth we're experiencing in Gallatin County," First Security Bank President Ron Farmer said.
There were 27 commercial banks and savings institutions in the county in 2000. There were 35 by 2004. And now there are more on the way.
Among the newcomers is Stockman Bank, based in Miles City, which opened its first county branch last year. The bank also plans to open a branch in Belgrade later this year.
Stockman Bank of Bozeman President Jim Drummond said the company's decision to open branches in Gallatin County came in large part because agriculture remains one of the top industries in the area. Stockman Bank is the state's largest agriculture lender, with many of its branches in eastern Montana.
Drummond has been in the Bozeman banking business since 1980, and has watched its ups and downs over that time, but said he has never before seen growth like that occurring now.
"I call it extraordinary growth," he said of the deposits.
Farmer said banks are attracted to the area in part because it's an economic hotspot in the state. The economy is being driven by population growth, but it is also diversifying, whereas in the past the area has traditionally relied on Montana State University as its main economic engine.