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Missoula’s Economy Rebounds, But Not Without Challenges

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic – the same day we hosted Missoula MarketWatch. Two days later, the United States declared a national emergency and shut down travel from 26 countries. Shortly after, Montana’s governor issued a stay at home order that marked the start of a months-long period of uncertainty. 

“At that time, the world looked like it was about to step into the abyss,” said Matt Mellott at the virtual Missoula MarketWatch in 2021, almost exactly one year later.

“Missoula has come through the last year remarkably well, all things considered,” Mellott said. “While in no way minimizing the public health concerns of the pandemic, Missoula emerged as a boomtown. Or, more accurately, a Zoom town.”

There’s a reason Bloomberg News, the New York Times and others have highlighted Missoula. The national spotlight found a strong housing market, job retention, income growth, and lots of opportunities for social distancing under Montana’s big sky. 

According to projections US Census Bureau, Missoula County’s population grew by almost 2,200, reaching 123,781 last year. That’s a year-over-year growth rate of 1.8%, just slightly below the 2.0% rate of growth from 2018 to 2019. Those projections may even prove to be conservative with the release of confirmed Census numbers on April 30, 2021.

And even in a difficult year, Missoula’s median household income increased about 5.3%. 

Of course, even though the city (and much of Montana) grew, unemployment recovered quickly, and incomes were steady, it wasn’t all good news. 

In addition to the health crisis, there was an economic crisis. Businesses shuttered across the country and Missoula wasn’t immune. The city lost 45 total businesses, and about 375 jobs over the prior year. However, Missoula’s bounce back after the COVID shock was more rapid than all but a few other metro areas in the country.

Overall, while Missoula gained population and had an uptick in median household incomes, the full impact from COVID won’t be fully known for several months. We’ll continue tracking the commercial real estate markets to add color to the full economic picture ahead.