The Great Falls Poverty Industry Is Thriving

In an article titled “What city is hit hardest by extreme poverty in your state?”, written by Evan Comen and Samuel Stebbins of 24/7 Wall Street for USA Today and published July 13, 2018 in the Great Falls Tribune, Great Falls gets the dubious distinction of being the hardest hit by extreme poverty in Montana.

Here are the troubling and distressing stats from the article:

“Great Falls, Montana

  • 2010-2016 increase in concentrated poverty: +10.7 ppts (0.0% to 10.7%)
  • 2010-2016 increase in concentrated poverty: +1,254 people (0 to 1,254)
  • 2010-2016 avg. annual GDP growth: +0.9% (Montana: +1.8%)
  • Unemployment: 5.1% (poor neighborhoods) 5.0% (all other)


The number of Great Falls residents living in poverty climbed from about 10,600 to nearly 11,700 between 2010 and 2016. The increase was not spread evenly across the city, however. There were no neighborhoods with a 40% or greater concentration of poverty in Great Falls in 2010. But as of 2016, 1,254 of poor metro area residents lived in a region with highly concentrated poverty.

More poverty and higher concentrations of it are likely due in part to a sluggish economy. Great Falls’ average annual GDP growth rate of 0.9% since 2010 is below both the state 1.8% rate and the national 2.0% average economic growth rate.”

It brings to mind a conversation I had recently with a young couple who are considering making a move “out West”. They’re looking at a few different locations including Bozeman.

When I asked if Great Falls was on the list of possibilities they looked at me like I had an extra appendage growing out of the middle of my forehead.

“This town reminds me of a cheesy, government run casino cruise ship stuck out in the middle of the frozen nowhere filled with senior citizens, a sketchy, drug-addled staff, no work hustle and lots of folks just along for a free ride.”,  I was told.

“This town reminds me of a cheesy, government run casino cruise ship stuck out in the middle of the frozen nowhere filled with senior citizens, a sketchy, drug-addled staff, no work hustle and lots of folks just along for a free ride.”,  I was told.

I took offense but held it in and told them that this town and the people here are awesome, we just need to focus on where we can go and remember where we came from. Once upon a time, not long ago, Great Falls was the envy of Montana, competing with Billings for ‘biggest city in the state’ bragging rights. We were a bustling, thriving city full of potential and optimism. So, what happened?

Well, in my opinion our current malaise is partly due to about 30 years of incompetent, self-serving and dishonest “leadership” with no vision and a deep culture of cronyism. Because of that lack of vision it’s just easier to encourage and foster what I call the “Poverty Industry”, which rewards the very few who have figured out how to make a pretty good living “helping the less fortunate”.

And if you build it, they will come. The stats and facts in the article referenced above proves that point pretty well.

Instead of developing a city and county policy direction which is pro-business and pro-growth, the local good ol’ boys and gals club has instead chosen to make Great Falls the low-income, nonprofit, welfare, government dependent capital of Montana, if not the whole region.

Instead of developing a city and county policy direction which is pro-business and pro-growth, the local good ol’ boys and gals club has instead chosen to make Great Falls the low-income, nonprofit, welfare, government dependent capital of Montana, if not the whole region.

I explained some of this to the folks looking to relocate somewhere in the beautiful Great Northwest. “Whatever”, I was told, “Someone better figure out how to re-shuffle the cards here, because this town looks like a short walk to a dead end for anyone seeking opportunity.”

I couldn’t argue, and that pisses me off.

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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.

9 COMMENTS

  1. The young couple didn’t sound very hip using old slang like cheesy and sketchy. They are not going to fit in a city like Bozeman if they talk like senior citizens. How young were they?

  2. I am coming up next month for a couple of days to check out the area for a place to retire at, went to Kalispell last year, it’s nice, but expensive.
    Can anyone tell me the best part of Great Falls to look at houses?
    Don’t want to waste time in that poverty area referenced in the story

  3. Great Falls is one of the only major cities in Montana to not have access to funds from an economic mill levy. Billings has had one for many years, Butte, Bozeman, and Missoula. So why haven’t we voted for the mills? The cash can be used to bring in new, larger employers, GF can be competitive with incentives for relocations for companies, and give loans to small businesses (80% of economic growth – jobs and wages – come from small businesses).

  4. Economic growth can come from small business, however, what is the #1 enemy and killer of small business? Taxes. Levies are taxes. Levies are permanent, despite what the language in the proposed levy says. More levies=more taxes=small business closures. Talk to any small business owner (like me, for example). Mismanagement also can hurt. How many times have you heard if a government agency ran like a private business, they would be out of business? Maybe the stagnation Great Falls is in is not so much due to a lack of levies, but maybe a lack of proper management in our government agencies. Food for thought: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Heard that before? Our government gets its consent from the governed (us, we the people.) Unfortunately, those is such positions soon forget this, and then it is not what we, the people want, but becomes what they, the overseers want.

  5. A question and answer from Lola Galloway on “Candidate Responses” here on ecitybeat:
    Question 3.) Why is Cascade County/Great Falls so far behind other Montana cities and counties in growth and economic development and what do you plan to do about it as a legislator?

    (Lola’s answer:)
    Because we have branded ourselves as a low income community. We build too many government grant low income housing projects and wonder why we fill them up with low income families.
    I will Encourage Great Falls to clean up our entryways into our town through positive incentives instead of penalties and fines. Put some PRIDE back into property ownership. Quit punishing people through higher property taxes when they improve their property. Visitors see our city’s boundary clutter as they pass through not seeing our beautiful interior neighborhoods and judge us as an unsafe city of casinos and crime.

    It all starts with those who have a vision of what our community can be, instead of what we have allowed it to become.

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