MSA: Billings, MT
Best places ranking: #1 among small metro areas
The biggest city in Montana, Billings is still a small town in size and spirit. It's the largest urban area between Fargo, N.D., and Spokane, and it serves as the regional hub for more than half a million people. But with a population of a little more than 100,000 (150,000, if you count the suburbs), Billings remains the sort of place where the average commute time is a mere 16 minutes and business proprietors are on a first-name basis with their UPS delivery guy.
Major local industries are agriculture, energy, transportation, healthcare and education. An eclectic mix of businesses call Billings home, including three oil refineries, First Interstate Bank and Kampgrounds of America, which operates campsites throughout the U.S.
The city's business climate is best described as temperate. Unemployment is rising but remains well below the national average. The national real estate bubble skipped Billings -- today, Montana's foreclosure rate is the fourth-lowest in the country.
Billings is not complaint-free, however. Some argue that Montana's lack of a state sales tax places an excessive burden on property owners. Others point to Montana's general isolation and wish that there were more price competition among the airlines serving Billings Logan International Airport. Helaine Olen
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"It's not for our customers, or the needs of our product, that we are based here -- it's definitely the lifestyle. Billings is a great town. " -Paige Darden