Dr. Stacy Shomento, who moved to Bozeman with her family in 1999, is typical of newcomers to the area, according to employment data from the 2000 census, which shows the community attracting more and more professional workers.

As Shomento was completing her residency at the University of Rochester in New York, she and her husband, Bill, checked out places to settle down. They looked at mountain towns such as Cody and Jackson Hole, Wyo., and all around Montana. They picked Bozeman.

"We wanted to live in kind of a small town that has all the amenities of a bigger town, like the university and a good medical community," Shomento said.

And when you specialize in obstetrics, as Shomento does with Ob Gyn Associates, it's a good idea to locate in a young, growing community.

Bozeman Deaconess sees about 850 births each year and the number is increasing, Shomento said.

"We've already added one partner and will be adding another partner next summer," Shomento said.

One in five workers in fast-growing Gallatin County is employed in health, educational and social services.

Add strong growth in other professional ranks, including finance and real estate, and it's clear that Bozeman and Gallatin County are increasingly shaking the dirt from their roots in farming and forestry.

It's khakis and loafers instead of Carhartts and work boots.

Employment in resource industries including agriculture, forestry and mining dropped 21 percent in a decade that saw the county's population grow 34.4 percent.

The occupation numbers come from long-form questionnaires completed by about one in six households.

"We've certainly seen a strong growth in the demand for medical care," said Ron Farmer, vice president of First Security Bank. "We've absolutely become a regional medical center."

The U.S. Department of Labor reworked some industry classifications between 1990 and 2000, so employment numbers are not comparable for some categories.

The 2000 census shows a drop in retail trade employment in the county, for example. That seems impossible given the ribbon of retail that is Bozeman's North 19th Avenue, and it likely reflects changes in the category, said a Labor Department data specialist.

But looking at broad categories, Gallatin County clearly has seen some shifts in its economy in 10 years.

Government employment now makes up 17.9 percent of the work force compared to 23.1 percent in 1990, suggesting a healthier private sector.

Ten or 15 years ago, Farmer said, news of layoffs - or even pay freezes - at Montana State University sent economic shock waves across the community.

The economy is much more balanced now, he said, with surprising gains in manufacturing and a growing high-tech sector that is bringing some Montanans home.

Eighteen years ago, Bozeman native Steve Daines collected his Montana State University degree in chemical engineering and promptly left town for a job in Proctor & Gamble's management training program.

"I'm a third-generation Montanan, kind of that classic Montana kid, who graduated in 1984, and had to leave the state to find a career," Daines said recently.

But he was speaking from his office in the Genesis Office Park, off South 19th Avenue. Daines returned to Bozeman five years ago, and now he's working at RightNow Technologies.

Unlike in the mid-1980s, when Bozeman's economy was stagnant, startup companies in manufacturing and technology are bringing new jobs to the area, Daines said.

"I'm thrilled by what's happening," Daines said. "They're making the pie bigger, if you will, rather than slicing up the pie in smaller pieces.

The strong growth in the generally high-paying medical and high-tech industries has spurred other sectors, with one of the strongest beneficiaries being construction.

Nearly three times as many Gallatin County workers worked in building trades in 2000 compared to 1990.

Mike Schlauch, another Montana kid who left the state for a career, came back in 1996 after 13 years working out-of-state jobs. Now he's a partner in Schlauch-Bottcher Construction, which specializes in high-end homes.

"We've gone from 35 to 40 guys to over 80 guys in a year and a half," Schlauch said.

The manufacturing sector has been a quiet surprise, adding more than 1,000 jobs in Gallatin County in the past decade. Probably because there is no single dominant factory, manufacturing has remained all but invisible.

"You don't see them," Farmer said of companies such as Gibson Guitar and West Paw Design. "They're smaller businesses but they're there and they're making a significant difference."

For Shomento and her family, the community is a perfect fit.

"Bozeman seemed similar to where we grew up" in terms of its small-town feel, said Shomento. She and her husband are both from Minot, N.D.

Bozeman's amenities, Shomento said, draw high-caliber workers who have plenty of choices in where to live.

"We get real high quality medical care here because a lot of doctors come here from (residency programs in) universities and everybody really comes here for the lifestyle," Shomento said. "We're really happy here. We're not leaving."

Ron Tschida is at rtschida@gomontana.com

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