Commerce Joins 'Math in the Mountains' to Analyze Future Population Growth, Housing Trends in Montana

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Press Release issued by the Montana Department of Commerce

HELENA – The Montana Department of Commerce announced today a collaboration with Carroll College’s Math and Data Science Department and Commerce’s Research and Information Services (RIS) Bureau to build population and housing projection models. These models will be used to forecast and plan for future community development and land-use planning in the state.

The partnership is through Carroll College’s "Math in the Mountains" program, an interdisciplinary course in which students engage in a hands-on learning experience using mathematical modeling to understand current major societal issues of local and national interest.

“Commerce is proud to partner with the talented instructors and students at Carroll College on this project. The information gathered from our collaboration will enable Montana communities to look ahead and determine their next steps for enhanced economic growth and development,” said Montana Department of Commerce Director Scott Osterman.

Currently, Montana is one of a few states in the U.S. that does not build data models to forecast population, mainly due to a lack of staffing. The Math in the Mountains program will be working with Commerce to set up a base model to forecast the state’s population. Eventually, the model will become more complex by including other trends, such as ethnicity and age populations, housing unit numbers, business startup numbers, and community development planning.

“I am thrilled to be partnering with the Carroll Math in the Mountains class to develop more sophisticated population and economic forecasts at various geographic levels,” said Commerce’s Research and Information Services (RIS) Bureau Chief Mary Craigle. “This is a win-win, since it extends the RIS Bureau’s capabilities and provides a creative math challenge for the students.”

The students will act as consultants to Commerce’s RIS Bureau to help analyze data records to identify patterns and help them make best use of their data. At the end of the project, the students will make a presentation and provide a formal written report of the results. There are no charges for the services performed by the students; instead, the program provides real-world problem solving with data for the class participants.

“The students and I are very excited to work on this project for the Montana Department of Commerce,” said Dr. Kelly S. Cline, Carroll College Math and Data Science Professor. “This project is a very valuable learning opportunity, which will allow our students to put their math and data science skills to work in the real world, while helping out the state."

Previous collaborations between the Math in the Mountains program and local organizations have created many effective and useable results. The program has analyzed inventory data for the Helena Food Share, initiated a more efficient scheduling system for physical therapists at St. Peter’s Health, and analyzed membership and visitation data for Helena’s ExplorationWorks science museum.

The finalized information that results from the Commerce and Math in the Mountains collaboration will be available for anyone to search for a variety of data on Commerce’s Census and Economic Information Center’s website. The project will run until December of 2024.