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City of Billings

Billings, Montana is rolling out the welcome mat. Business is booming throughout the region and the city is looking to bring in new talent. “We want to encourage more people to come to Billings, Montana for a job opportunity,” says Steve Arveschoug, Executive Director of the Big Sky Economic Development.

The city’s unemployment rate is currently an astounding 3.2 percent. “We have a very tight labor market. We want to get the word out that Billings is a place to come and live, raise a family, get engaged with the community and have a job that meets your aspirations.”

The largest city in Montana, Billings has become a business hub for energy development. The city is nestled amidst a wealth of oil and gas and the community has worked hard to take full advantage of the energy bonanza sweeping the region. “We are providing the professional expertise, engineers, planners, and community development to the broader region as it relates to energy development,” Mr. Arveschoug explains. “And then, beyond that, we are providing goods and services – from new tires, to healthcare to food, we are the place that you go to get all the supplies to do the business of energy development.” The city also boasts the transportation infrastructure needed to support this activity.

Furthermore, surrounding Yellowstone County boasts three oil refineries, which provide significant employment in and of themselves, directly impacting the community in a positive way. In addition, numerous companies involved in energy development have a presence in Billings. “They may be involved in natural gas development in Wyoming, or they may be providing a product or a service related to energy development in Canada.” Either way, these corporations have chosen to call Billings home.

While the energy industry is the driving force behind Billings’ rapid growth and success, the city also boasts a number of other healthy business sectors. For instance, Billings makes an ideal distribution center due to its central location. “If you look at a [regional] map and see where Billings is, we are strategically located in the center,” Mr. Arveschoug explains. “We have rail transportation and truck transportation going north, south, east, and west. We are at a great point in the road for delivering products.” As a result, FedEx is currently building a 146,000 square foot regional distribution center in Billings, one of 13 being built in the country. And this is likely only the beginning. “I anticipate additional, similar investments because of our location and the strength of the regional economy.”

The city is also a healthcare hub, a regional center for world class healthcare delivery. “Even though we are a small community, our healthcare delivery system ranks among the best in the country. It is very innovative and leading edge.” In just the past year and a half, the healthcare sector has invested in two hospitals and the expansion of a veteran’s clinic, putting more than $50 million dollars into new infrastructure and technology. “It has been a really significant investment in the community,” Mr. Arveschoug points out. “That further strengthens us as the center for healthcare delivery for a very large region.”

Billings also serves as a major retail center for the entire region. The city boasts a thriving downtown and is committed to making the investments needed to keep the downtown alive, with recent investments including improved parking facilities and the creation of additional retail space. The rest of the city is also seeing an increase in retail growth and development; most notably, Scheels will be opening the second largest sporting goods store west of the Mississippi in Billings this year. “We are a regional draw for retail trade,” Mr. Arveschoug points out. “That is why the Scheels Corporation made the investment that they did in Billings. This [new store] will strengthen that draw.” To be sure, the Billings Gazette reports that the 220,000 square foot superstore will house some remarkable amenities, including an indoor Ferris wheel and a giant aquarium in which divers will feed fish while shoppers gawk.

With such a strong business climate, new ventures have a good shot at thriving in Billings. “We are a great place for new start-ups and for entrepreneurs. We have a strong financial services sector that actively lends money to small business,” and there is capital in place to help fuel the process of launching and growing a business. Billings also has a very active Chamber of Commerce and Small Business Development Center dedicated to supporting local business and helping them grow and prosper.

Billings has more than just business opportunities, however. The city also offers a great lifestyle. The community boasts a performing arts center, a symphony, and an event center that can seat over 10,000 people. The community throws jazz festivals and there is often live music downtown. Residents also enjoy easy access to all the outdoor recreation that Big Sky country provides, including skiing, hiking, and trout fishing. Yellowstone National Park is less than two and a half hours away. Residents needn’t go that far to enjoy the region’s pristine beauty, however. “We are investing significant dollars as a community in our trail system,” Mr. Arveschoug shares. Some of the most popular trails wind across canyon walls known as the Billings Rimrocks, “where you have a gorgeous view of the Yellowstone River valley as it stretches out to the Beartooth Mountains.”

In short, Billings offers the best of both worlds – the natural beauty of Montana as well as a great place to do business. It is a large enough community that residents can prosper economically while also enjoying being connected with the great outdoors.

Billings certainly has a great deal to offer, but the community understands that it takes ongoing effort to keep the city thriving. “You have to pay attention to what your next opportunity for growth is,” Mr. Arveschoug points out. His organization has identified three key areas that require ongoing consideration in order to continue Billing’s current growth and success.

First, the community must continue to support employers by maintaining a strong focus on attracting and retaining a talented workforce. “Paying attention to workforce development is key,” especially in an area where businesses are struggling to fill jobs. A local initiative called Billings Works studies workforce development efforts across the country in order to create the best possible model for Billings.

Second, Billings must always be ready to make its next strategic community investment. Currently, the city is wrapping up construction on an $18 million dollar library located downtown. “When it is all finished it will be an additional asset that our community has,” Mr. Arveschoug points out. “Now we need to be thinking about what that next asset will be. Is it additional trails investment? Is it a larger, more state of the art convention facility? We need to be constantly thinking about that next step as a strategic community investment.”

Third, Billings must continue to keep a close eye on its business climate to ensure that it remains competitive. “We are very business friendly, but we can’t afford to sit on our laurels. We have to constantly ask ourselves if we are still competitive in our region. Are we really, truly business friendly?” By constantly assessing the current business climate, Billings will be able to respond with the appropriate policy decisions to keep its economy strong.

The community’s efforts are already bearing fruit; Billings has earned a top spot on a slew of recent rankings; it was ranked #1 in the nation for job satisfaction by Gallup. “Of all the rankings, that is really key. What that job satisfaction ranking tells me is that people love their community, they love working in their community; they feel like they are contributing to the business they are involved in and to their community. They have that strong sense of satisfaction that they are part of a growing economy.”

Moreover, locals are eager to share this satisfaction with others. Business is booming and the community is ready to welcome the nation’s best and brightest to share in the city’s good fortune.

For more information about the City of Billings, please visit http://ci.billings.mt.us/

November 19, 2017, 3:41 AM EST