HELENA—The Montana Chamber Foundation (MCF) wrapped up its summer 2017 Economic Update series last week in Kalispell. Starting July 25, MCF traveled to seven cities, focusing on infrastructure and updating the state's economic projections.

"We put on the annual Economic Updates to keep track of Montana's economy," said Webb Brown, MCF Executive Director. "We confirmed this year that the economy isn't as strong as we would like and that smart infrastructure investment is one of the ways we can boost that."

The series featured two speakers from the Bureau of Business and Economic Research (BBER) at the University of Montana – Director Emeritus Paul Polzin and Director Patrick Barkey.  The theme speaker was Montana Infrastructure Coalition Executive Director Darryl James.

Polzin said in the last few years, business growth has shifted from the east toward the west after the Bakken oil boom slowed down. The biggest real wage growth over the past few years has been in Gallatin County, with wages increasing an average of 9.2 percent in Gallatin County over the last three years.

Barkey said job growth is durable in the state, but agriculture was hit hard this year due to drought. Between 2015 and 2016, farm earnings dropped by 71.2 percent, the highest rate of decline in the nation.

James highlighted the problems with infrastructure in the state and what the Montana Infrastructure Coalition is working to do in the future. Brown chairs the Coalition this year.

A core objective of the Chamber's Envision 2026 strategic plan is to invest in infrastructure in the Treasure State, which James said is approaching critical disrepair.  He said systems across the state are aged and rural communities are struggling with the costing of updating old systems. James said the need for new infrastructure would not disappear, but it would get more expensive.

Presentations from the Economic Update series are available at www.MontanaChamber.com.