Flathead Co. population increase helps business


KALISPELL, Mont. - New census data shows the three fastest growing counties in Montana last year were Gallatin, Missoula and Flathead.

Gallatin County grew by 3,766 people, Missoula County grew in size by 2,148, and Flathead County grew in population by 2,003.

It's a steady trend for Flathead County since the lows of the recessions, and economic experts are saying it's creating a friendly business environment.

"We're seeing a tremendous amount of influx of people looking to start new businesses, expand existing businesses. So we have what I would call an unprecedented amount of loans that we're being asked to consider," Montana West Economic Development president Jerry Meerkatz said.

Michele Binstock has been in business since 1996. She says the recent population growth in the county has allowed her to relocate to a bigger and better location.

It's a fitting story, as population growth is the reason her business started 21 years ago.

"I was seeing the requests coming more frequently as people were moving into the valley from, say, California or the East Coast," Binstock said.

The data says Flathead County has seen 8,000 more residents since 2010. It's creating a favorable economy all across the county.

"The loans are really being spread across the valley. You've got loans in Columbia Falls, you've got loans in Whitefish, and you've got loans in Kalispell," Meerkatz said.

O'Brien Byrd says opening a his fitness business in Columbia Falls was a no-brainer.

"Columbia Falls is definitely on the rise. Just in the last two or three years new businesses like this one are popping up left and right," Byrd said.

With more business showing up all over the valley, it's given those business owners like Binstock and Byrd a reason for an optimistic forecast.

"It's going to be growth, whether we like it or not. That's just the hard facts," Byrd said.

"I think that small businesses are going to be successful and continue growing, and I think big businesses are going to move in more than they already have," Binstock said.

The 2016 census data for individual cities will not be available until May of this year.