The rate at which we are coming out of the economic downturn depends a lot on who you're asking. According to the Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research, Gallatin County's economy can expect to grow at a rate of 3-4% per year.

Speaking to a packed room at the Best Western GranTree Inn, economists with the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research said they were more optimistic about Gallatin County over the coming four years than anywhere else in the state.

This statement was made during the Bureau's Economic Outlook Seminar, an annual presentation made in many communities across the state.

"We're forecasting relatively strong growth in the 2011-2014 period," said Bureau Director Emeritus Dr. Paul Polzin.

Gallatin County's growth is predicted to hover right around 3.4 percent annually. The Bureau predicts Montana's average growth over the same time period at 2.3 percent annually.

In the years leading up to the Great Recession (2001-2007), Gallatin County and Flathead County stood as the fastest growing areas in the state. This situation reversed completely beginning in 2008. The Gallatin and Flathead economies contracted the most sharply of any major counties in Montana.

The two counties are not predicted to emerge from the recession along the same track, however. Flathead County is not predicted to grow nearly as quickly.

"Even though Gallatin County declined during the last recession," Polzin said. "Its basic industries did not take a hit."

Construction bore the brunt of the recession in the Gallatin Valley. That was also true of the Flathead, but that county's more basic industries, such as wood products, suffered permanent closures.

The Gallatin area still faces serious challenges even with the rosier outlook. Polzin said the construction industry lost about half its jobs.