A Great Falls To Bozeman Eye-Opener

Last week I took a trip to Bozeman, MT and spent a couple of days in the area. Wow, talk about an eye-opening experience! I hadn’t been there in a good many years and I assumed it was pretty much the same Bozeman I knew from back in the day and have since heard about: a smallish college town with the attendant economic and cultural advantages and average growth. Oh boy, that doesn’t even begin to cover it, folks.

The Bozeman area is booming. What do I mean when I say ‘booming’?

Well, just driving around the area for awhile my wife and I were amazed at the new construction going on everywhere, and I mean everywhere. Both commercial and residential – lots and lots of residential.

We went downtown on a Friday morning and there was no place to park for blocks and blocks (no meters either). There was quite a bit of both foot and vehicle traffic in all of the commercial and business areas we visited. A “bustling downtown” would be a big understatement for sure with shops and restaurants and stores all doing a very brisk trade.

We saw a busy diverse nightlife, a vibrant cultural scene, and lots and lots of younger folks everywhere we looked. There is a palpable atmosphere of excitement and activity in Bozeman that is pretty rare in my experience and basically non-existent in Great Falls, which seems like a sleepy little retirement community in comparison.

Soon after we returned from our trip a friend sent me a Bozeman Chronicle newspaper article written almost a year ago by a former Great Falls resident and GF Tribune reporter, Eric Dietrich. Following are several quotes from Dietrich’s piece which I found to be especially relevant and poignant because of his unique Great Falls-to-Bozeman perspective as a journalist.

On crime and poverty“Plus — compared to Cascade County, which includes Great Falls — Gallatin County has a quarter less violent crime, half the child poverty and a third the teenage birth rate.”

On population trends – “Great Falls, its economy anchored by Malmstrom Air Force Base, is in a similar boat. Hovering around 60,000 for decades, the Census Bureau’s most recent estimate is that its population dropped by 370 people between 2015 and 2016.”

Source – US Census Bureau (from Dietrich Bozeman Chronicle article)

On age demographic“At one point, I swung by a young professionals group in Great Falls hoping to make friends, only to realize that their cut off for “young” was age 40…

Nearly half our (Bozeman) population is between the ages of 18 and 34, according to census data, compared to just a quarter of Montanans as a whole. Of the 47,000 Montanans in that age range who hold a college degree, Bozeman is home to 12 percent of them — three times our share relative to our portion of the state’s overall population.”

I encourage everyone to read Dietrich’s article in its entirety here.

On crime and poverty“Plus — compared to Cascade County, which includes Great Falls — Gallatin County has a quarter less violent crime, half the child poverty and a third the teenage birth rate.”

There’s no doubt that the Bozeman/Belgrade area is booming with opportunity, enthusiasm, economic activity and cultural vibrancy. There’s also no doubt, however, that along with all of that there are problems as well, like sky-high housing and other cost-of-living prices.

I think many folks in Great Falls need to take off the rose colored glasses and stop pretending that we’re “doing just fine” here. We’re not. Take a couple of days and go to Bozeman and really look at what’s happening there. Compare what’s going on in Great Falls with what’s going on there – it’s two different worlds.

If we want more money for public schools and infrastructure in Great Falls we’re not going to get it by hitting up the same aging demographic of taxpayers living on fixed incomes time after time.

“If we want more money for public schools and infrastructure in Great Falls we’re not going to get it by hitting up the same aging demographic of taxpayers living on fixed incomes time after time.”

If we want local small business to prosper and have a chance to be sustained long-term in Great Falls then we need a growing population and higher incomes.

If we want to attract modern industries and higher paying jobs then we need a skilled workforce, leadership with a vision and an end to the crony politics, not-in-my-back-yard attitude, and small-town good ol’ boy mentality that currently reigns in River City.

I love my hometown of Great Falls and I’m not moving anywhere, not yet at least. I’m also not suggesting we should or could be exactly like Bozeman, Missoula, Helena, Kalispell or Billings, all places on the move while we continue to struggle to remain stagnant – but we can and should do a better job of creating opportunity and prosperity.

One way to help do that is to find out what others are doing and learning to adapt and adopt their vision and success.

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Rick Tryonhttp://www.ricktryon.com
Rick Tryon is an entrepreneur, a singer-songwriter, and is currently serving a four year term as a Great Falls City Commissioner. Helping Montana become an even greater place to live, play and work is Tryon's passion.

10 COMMENTS

  1. People really need to get out to these other cities and see for themselves how well these places are doing but a lot of people will believe what bull our city will tell them sad

  2. If we had a major university filled with kids from Colorado and California with dad’s credit card, and a large private ski hill that people fly their jets into for the weekend, we could be just like Bozeangeles..

  3. Bozeman has A LOT of out of state money along with MSU. UP can grow but it will take little longer and Great Falls will follow because Montana will change

  4. Mediocre Falls bills it’s self on being an ag town, so why not run with that by becoming a leader in ag tech? I don’t mean a HUGE slaughter house town. Tech in agriculture is changing every day, there has to be a way to tap into that. With Bozeman going the industrial tech direction, I could see shifting the ag programs to GF and allowing the expansion of the Bozeman ideas there. I also don’t see a problem with a reasonable sized processing operation for local animals that is not set up for only the Hutterite’s and Canadian companies profits. If this town wants to roll with just ag and medical, fine, let’s get people in place to get it rolling.

  5. If Great Falls wants to get back to growth, the city will need to attract industry that will need people to keep it going. Perhaps this might be a time to capitalize on the economic growth that has been happening by offering land and tax benefits to major corporations as an incentive to locate facilities here. Having a major interstate and rail certainly helps, and with the rising land prices in places like Bozeman and Missoula, Great Falls should be able to offer better deals at this point. A meat processing plant might not be the most attractive type of business to have, but it could be located on the outskirts of town and add to employment as well as business with some local firms for supplies and services. The more attractive Great Falls becomes for business, the more attractive types of business to have will likely show up. Perhaps it is attitude and perspective that will make the difference in trying to turn the current stagnant situation around.

  6. Two suggestions: first, consider the phenomenon of the self fulfilling prophecy. Second, if you are convinced somewhere else is so wonderfully better, move there

    • Hey Mark – how did that cheap and phony attempt to get an audience for your unprovoked personal attack against me work out for ya? LOL!

      Kind of a new low using the Remember Great Falls When FB page to try and whip up support for your childish insults against me.

      Your credibility just took another huge dive. Way to go, dude. 🙂

  7. If your only answer to “Great Falls needs to change and can do a lot better” is “if you don’t like it here then leave”…then you’re part of the problem with Great Falls and part of the reason so many young folks ARE leaving.

    Unfortunately you’re part of the problem with our hometown, Mark. And you should know better.

    No I’m not leaving and no I’m not going to shut up until folks like you pull their heads out of the sand, because I love Great Falls.

  8. Spot on! GF is stuck in another time. How can you attract young professionals to an Ag town that doesn’t even allow Urban chickens? Or have tech based jobs (love the Ag tech suggested by D). This town is a difficult area for young entrepreneurs. My knowledge is mostly in the food area. Holy freakin crap you can’t even have a hot dog cart! It’s nearly impossible for a successful food truck. And the lack of affordable rental housing is an issue. I’m a transplant but care deeply for GF. The most important thing any community member can do is get involved. That’s how change happens not just bitching about it.

  9. It seems difficult for new business to excepted by the Great Falls community. I have heard “it’ll be just like Anaconda” it will close and employees will loose their jobs.
    Great Falls relies on Malmstrom way too much. GF leaders and community members should figure out a way too increase the tax base by getting business to GF. There is no or little competition amongst companies, so pay is rather stagnant.
    There is at least 3 places of incarceration. What type of people does that bring to the the GF area? How long do the people stick around?
    Cascade is a large county and I believe back in the day had a larger tax base do to logging and mining. But with all the restrictions, logging and mining went away with that the tax base did as well.

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