Flathead Valley Cost of Living Below National Average

By DILLON TABISH for the Flathead Beacon Newspaper

The overall cost of living in the Flathead Valley last year was slightly lower than the nationwide average, according to local data analyzed by the Council for Community and Economic Research.

A survey conducted by the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce and evaluated by CCER determined the cost of consumer goods and services in local communities was 2.6 percent below the composite average among 307 American cities.

The cost of living index measures regional differences in costs for professional and managerial households in the higher income quintile, or top 20 percentile. The index is based on more than 90,000 prices covering 60 different items. Analysts review the categories of housing, utilities, grocery items, transportation, health care and miscellaneous goods and services.

The index percentages do not correlate with absolute priced value. They gauge category items relative to the total data submitted from cities across the country.

The average cost of housing in Kalispell, Whitefish, Bigfork and Columbia Falls ranked nearly 12 percent below the nationwide average, according to CCER. Local housing costs were almost 8 percent lower than average in 2012 compared to 2011.

The cost of utilities, such as gas and electric, rose more than 8 percent last year but remains almost 7 percent below nationwide prices.

Health care prices rose 1.3 percent and rank almost nine percent higher than the U.S. average.

The cost of grocery items dropped 2.4 percent but remain more than 7 percent higher than average.

In comparison, the Consumer Price Index (CPI), organized by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, showed a nationwide increase of 1.7 percent in 2012 after a 3 percent rise in 2011, the third smallest hike in a decade. The average increase over the last 10 years has been 2.4 percent. The CPI measures price changes in the economy.

The Flathead Valley has consistently ranked either 5 percent above or below the average national cost of living index, according to Chamber of Commerce President Joe Unterreiner. Since 2009, the overall trend has been dropping favorably, according to eight years of data compiled by the local chamber.

“We know we’re doing well for cost of living so we’d like to continue to direct our efforts to improve revenues and family incomes,” Unterreiner said.

With job growth sitting atop the chamber’s agenda for this year, a local manufacturing alliance has been organized to keep expanding the industry, Unterreiner said.

“(Manufacturing) is a real strength in our economy right now,” he said.

Unterreiner said the chamber is also focused on advancing “pro-growth” legislation and regulatory reform, such as eliminating high regulation fees that “drive up the costs of job creators and make it harder to higher new employees.”

Expanding trade, tourism and transportation opportunities also rank high in this year’s chamber agenda. Three signature events are scheduled for summer — the multi-day Montana Dragon Boat Festival and United States Air Force Thunderbirds Air Show and the Montana Spartan Race, which has already attracted roughly 2,200 registered participants.

Along with encouraging further development of the Highway 93 Alternate Route, Unterreiner said efforts are underway to attract nonstop flights to Los Angeles from Glacier International Airport using a $200,000 grant from the Federal Aviation Administration.

To view the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce’s year-end report and 2013 agenda, visit www.kalispellchamber.com.