Helena: Economy

Major Industries and Commercial Activity

For many years Helena has enjoyed a record of economic stability. It serves as a major governmental center for the county, state, and federal government. It is also a trading and transportation center for nearby livestock, mining, and farming enterprises. In an area rich in silver and lead deposits, Helena maintains an interest in mineral production and processing, and the nearby city of East Helena is the site of smelters, quartz crushers, and zinc reduction works. The Helena area is also a telephone communications center, and industries such as sand and gravel and ranching remain important. Statewide, Montana's fastest-growing industries include education and instruction, waste management, and construction. Specific occupations showing significant growth include textile machinery operation, septic and sewer maintenance, and computer software engineering.

Government positions account for 31 percent of Helena's workforce, while private sector jobs comprise 62 percent. Many of the private businesses rely on the government and its employees as their customers.

Items and goods produced: refined and smelted metals, paints, ceramics, concrete, machine parts, baking products, sheet metal, prefabricated houses, bottled beverages

Incentive Programs—New and Existing Companies

Local programs

The Montana Business Information Center (BIC) in Helena is a one-stop center that provides a multitude of planning tools as well as free onsite counseling provided by the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), Small Business Development Center (SBDC), and other Small Business Administration resources. The Montana BIC's resources include a reference library, a video center, and a computer lab designed specifically for small business research. The Small Business Administration offers a variety of financing options for small businesses, including long-term loans for machinery and equipment, general working capital loans, revolving lines of credit, and microloans. Similarly, Gateway Economic Development Corp. offers loans and tax rebates to new or expanding businesses in Lewis and Clark County and the surrounding area. The Downtown Helena Business Improvement District offers grants up to $2000 for retailers opening or expanding in the downtown area.

State programs

The state of Montana offers general incentives including net operating loss carry backs and carry forwards, depreciation, and dependent care assistance. New and expanding incentives include license tax credit for new or expanded jobs and reduced property assessments for research and development. Various tax exemptions are available for qualified businesses in research and development, domestic international sales corporations, free port merchandise, and business inventories.

Job training programs

The Small Business Development Center provides training, counseling, research, and other specialized assistance through its Helena office. NxLevel Entrepreneurial Training Programs, available through the Montana Department of Commerce, are in-depth training courses for entrepreneurs and business owners. NxLevel for Entrepreneurs is a 12-session course designed to help existing business owners improve growth and profits. NxLevel for Agricultural Entrepreneurs and NxLevel for Microentrepreneurs are similar programs aimed at new ventures and the self-employed.

Development Projects

Projects currently planned for Helena focus on business development, transportation, and branding. An ongoing downtown revitalization planning process has resulted in suggestions for an outdoor market, building restoration, and increased residential space. The City Commission voted to construct a new traffic lane on the Downtown Walking Mall, and to rename the road leading from the I-90 to downtown Last Chance Gulch (currently the name of the main downtown street only) to improve accessibility for tourists. Other plans call for new or upgraded freeway interchanges and improvements in water quality and availability.

Recently completed projects include the full restoration of the State Capitol building and construction of the Great Northern Town Center, a main street business and shopping district.

Economic Development Information: Small Business Administration-Montana District Office, 10 West 15th Street, Suite 1100, Helena, Montana, 59626; telephone (406)441-1081; fax (406)441-1090. Montana Finance Information Center, 301 S. Park, Helena, MT 59601; telephone (406)841-2732; fax (406)841-2771. Downtown Helena, Inc., 225 Cruse Ave., Suite B, Helena, MT 59601; telephone (406)447-1535. Montana Department of Commerce, PO Box 200501, Helena, MT 59620-0501; telephone (406)841-2700; fax (406)841-2701

Commercial Shipping

Air freight service is provided by FedEx, Airborne Express, and UPS. Freight service is also provided by Montana Rail Link, which provides national coverage in connection with Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway.

Labor Force and Employment Outlook

The Helena area labor force includes a high percentage of young, educated workers. The percentage of adults in the community who have received high school and college diplomas is considerably higher than the state and national average. Helena's stable economy is based primarily on a range of government agencies and small businesses. Skills in demand include textile machinery operation, septic and sewer maintenance, and computer software engineering. In recent years, growth has been observed in the fields of education and instruction, waste management, and construction.

The following is a summary of data regarding the Montana labor force, 2004 annual averages (Helena figures not available).

Size of nonagricultural labor force: 411,575

Number of workers employed in . . .

natural resources and mining: 7,242

construction: 24,717

manufacturing: 19,100

trade, transportation and utilities: 86,067

information: 7,800

financial activities: 21,058

professional and business services: 33,050

educational and health services: 54,225

leisure and hospitality: 54,458

other services: 17,000

government: 86,917

Average hourly earnings of production workers employed in manufacturing: $14.87

Unemployment rate: 5.5% (January 2005)

Helena: Economy

Largest private employers Number of employees
St. Peter's Community Hospital 565
Blue Cross/Blue Shield 470
Veterans Administration Hospital 375
Shodair Children's Hospital 220
Qwest 210
Dick Anderson Construction 198
Carroll College 189

Cost of Living

The cost of living for Helena residents is comparable to the national average. According to the Helena Chamber of Commerce, housing, utilities, and goods and services all have lower than average cost. The cost of health care in Helena is slightly higher than the national rate.

The following is a summary of data regarding several key cost of living factors for the Helena area.

2004 (3rd Quarter) ACCRA Average House Price: $218,169

2004 (3rd Quarter) ACCRA Cost of Living Index: 96.3 (U.S. average = 100.0)

State income tax rate: 2% to 11% (corporate business tax rate: 6.75%)

State sales tax rate: None

Local income tax rate: None

Local sales tax rate: None

Property tax rate: 647.74 mills minimum, applies to taxable value as set by the state of Montana

Economic Information: Montana Department of Commerce, Census and Economic Information Center, 301 S. Park Ave., PO Box 200505, Helena, MT 59620-0505; telephone (406)841-2740