KALISPELL – Manufacturing, tourism and consumer spending are expected to keep fueling Montana's economy this year, economists said at an economic seminar.
Norma Nickerson, director of the Institution for Tourism and Recreation Research, projected another big year for national park visitation and ski resorts.
She attributed the positive outlook for the parks to the National Park Service's centennial and an increase in advertising.
Along with the commercial side, she said millennials have found ways to travel more often and at cheaper rates, using services like Airbnb and Uber.
"This just shows that things are changing and we have to pay attention to that," she said.
Todd Morgan from the Bureau of Business and Economic Research said Montana manufacturers are expecting a better year than 2015.
About 45 percent of surveyed manufacturers said they are planning an increase in employment, while 4 percent said they're expecting to reduce staff.
Another positive indicator, according to Morgan: 36 percent of firms said filling a skilled labor force was the biggest issue of 2015. This year, only 25 percent of firms are worried about that issue.
"That raised some interesting questions," Morgan said. "Did they resolve this issue? We're not quite sure."
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Either way, it appears the manufacturing industry can look forward to increased sales, Morgan said.
Patrick Barkey, director of the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research, said consumers are propelling Montana's economic growth.
"Investment, on the other hand, has throttled back and not contributed as much," Barkey said.
Barkey presented a national outlook, highlighting weakening economies such as Canada and Mexico expected to hurt U.S. product export numbers.
The U.S. economy, which has become stronger in recent years, is pushing up the cost of U.S. goods while continued job growth over the past five years has increased Americans' spending power.
Montana has experienced the same effect with steady job growth and a slightly more rapid rise in wages. Every sector in Montana except mining increased wages in 2015.
"They all tell the same story," Barkey said. "The growth has been pretty broad."
Barkey said the Bureau expects growth to continue this way for at least three or four more years.