Economic profile: Construction, housing prices up, unemployment down

By 
Johnathan Hettinger —
Wednesday, April 3, 2019
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Jodi Hames, the general manager of Ace Hardware in Livingston, brings a palette of barbecue grills from a shipping container to the store Wednesday morning. With more houses being built in Park County, Ace Hardware is currently constructing a 7,200-square-foot concrete pad that will house the expanded garden center. (Enterprise photo by Nate Howard)

Residential development in Livingston is happening at the highest rate in at least a decade, according to a new report released this week.

On Monday, Prospera Business Network, a Bozeman-based economic development organization, released its annual economic profile for Park and Gallatin Counties.

In 2017, the latest year with data available, the city of Livingston issued 60 residential building permits, double any year since at least 2005. The previous high was 25 in 2015. There was only one commercial building permit issued, the report said.

Those permits were issued as housing prices continued to skyrocket. The median sale price of a single-family home in Park County increased from $265,000 in 2017 to $288,925 in 2018, according to the report. Livingston’s prices are slightly lower but the increase was even higher, with the median sale price of a single-family home increasing from $225,000 to $270,000.

The report comes as the city of Livingston prepares to start its growth policy update, to help the city plan for future growth.

Overall, the report shows that Park County’s workforce is growing, though the population is fairly stable, driving down the unemployment rate, said Paul Reichert, executive director of Prospera.

At the end of 2018, Park County’s unemployment rate was 2.8 percent, lower than the Montana rate and the United States rate.

In his notes on the report, County Commission Chairman Steve Caldwell said that though Park County has low unemployment, the tourism-based economy creates other issues.

“While overall unemployment is low, increasing income and wealth disparities in the county generate large social impacts from the increasing cost and limited availability of housing and from the physical and mental health effects of poverty,” Caldwell said.

In Park County, 12.1 percent of people live below the poverty line, lower than the state’s average of 14.9 percent. At $43,385, the median household income in Park County trails behind Montana’s median of $48,380. Average rent is $671 in Livingston, while the average mortgage is $1,295, the report said.

In his comments, Caldwell wrote that the natural amenities, including Yellowstone National Park, help attract not only tourists but also new residents. That includes wealthy residents. According to the report, non-labor income makes up 50.7 percent of income, largely in the form of dividends and interest. In the United States as a whole, unearned income is about a third of all personal income.

Caldwell said while the tourist-based economy helps make a stronger service industry, that setup leaves local governments struggling to fund things like emergency services and infrastructure.

The report also found that Livingston HealthCare is considered the top employer in Park County, falling within the 250-499 employee number section. The next section is private and public sector employers with 100 to 249 employees. The profile did not rank them in terms of the number of employees, but those employers include the city of Livingston, Livingston School District, Park County, Chico Hot Springs, the Church Universal and Triumphant, and PrintingForLess.