KALISPELL, Mont. -- Kalispell continues to grow at a rapid pace, bringing more and more national retailers to town, sometimes even before cities like Missoula or Billings.
The first Panera Bread in Montana is just one of the many new businesses on the north side of town.
Kalispell looks like a small Montana town, but the numbers show it’s more than that.
"We play much bigger than who we are,” said Kalispell Planning Director Tom Jentz. “We are a town of 20,000 to 25,000 in an area of 30,000 or 40,000, but we serve 100,000 to 150,000 more people. They come here to shop."
Jentz told NBC Montana that’s what attracts national chains, like Panera Bread, along with MOD Pizza, REI and more on the north side of town.
"Chick-fil-A opened up last year,” Jentz said. “It was the first Chick-fil-A in Montana. You know, we are a good market, we are a strong market, we are one of the fastest growing places in Montana."
It’s not just Montana -- the U.S. Census Bureau put Kalispell in the top three for new residents in the entire country for urban areas less than 50,000.
"It’s just an indication of our entire economy across the valley. That’s why we see a lot of growth, a lot of activity,” said Jentz. “We have people moving in here because they want to retire; we have people moving in here because it's a great place to live and they are looking for work."
Jentz told NBC Montana that new businesses alone brought in about $7 million in retail development, which means lots of construction work. In fact, since 2016, the city of Kalispell's seen over $100 million in construction each year.
"The rest of the world looks at Kalispell as a place that’s growing, is viable, has a great future, and that’s why they are coming here and investing,” Jentz said.
It means more jobs, money and enjoyment for the small but growing Montana town.