From the high alpine tundra of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness to the meandering Musselshell River, the South Central Region is a landscape as diverse as any in the nation. Small towns dot the landscape and yet the region is home to Montana’s largest metropolitan area, Billings. About 75 percent of the region’s 200,000 people live within Yellowstone County. This concentrated population also has concentrated economic activity, but there are opportunities for growth outside of the urban area. In addition to the state’s largest city, this region is home to the Crow Reservation and the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. Over 100,000 people living in 10 counties make up the region’s workforce.
No region added more jobs in 2012 than the South Central Region. Billings is a regional hub for health care, transportation, education and other services, leading the charge in job and wage growth. Emerging sectors of the economy like high-tech manufacturing and medical services are diversifying the economic base and providing high paying jobs. With rivers and mountains, plays and powwows, the quality of life offered here is attracting lifestyle immigrants who want to work and live in a bustling and growing community.
Like the distinction between the plains and the peaks, there are significant differences between the region’s rural areas and urban center. In the small towns, survey respondents expressed their opinion that Main Street businesses are struggling, wages are low, and access to job training and education is limiting. Residents consider natural resources development as the greatest opportunity to bridge that gap. In addition to having mines and wells nearby, strategies to vertically integrate natural resources-based industries into the economy will provide longer lasting stability.
Education and workforce development resources are critical components to the region’s job growth. With MSU-Billings, City College at MSU-Billings and Rocky Mountain College in Billings, as well as Little Big Horn College in Crow Agency, access to resources for basic job skills, technical training, apprenticeship programs and advanced degrees is turning jobs into careers. Distance to the programs is an issue in some communities, and improving accessibility will supply highly skilled workers throughout the region and help businesses grow.