The Montana Gap

Look at statewide numbers and Montana’s economy seems to be doing well. Between 2000 and 2015, the number of jobs in the state of Montana grew 20 percent, according to a report released last year by Headwaters Economics. Personal income grew, as did statewide employment.

If you live outside a city, though, there’s a good chance you won’t see much evidence of that growth. For the next six months, a group of journalists from western Montana, supported by High Country News and the Solutions Journalism Network, will dig into the question: What are Montana communities, especially rural ones, doing to respond to this trend, to help their residents weather the economic winter? And what could they learn from other communities?  This project is funded by the LOR Foundation.

Small towns under the Big Sky address challenges to secure their future, as centers boom.
When Copper Kings leave, what happens to the slag?
When Copper Kings leave, what happens to the slag?
To jolt its economy, a town explores the many uses of the byproduct of its smelting history.
Libby, Montana, tries to shake its ‘Superfund stigma’
Libby, Montana, tries to shake its ‘Superfund stigma’
Rebranding could help the town distance itself from past asbestos pollution.
Want to revitalize a depressed economy? The EPA can help.
Want to revitalize a depressed economy? The EPA can help.
A Montana town is using an obscure program to help clean up contaminated areas.
Rural areas short on workers turn to overseas professionals
Rural areas short on workers turn to overseas professionals
Montana has a shortage of nurses, teachers and other workers.
Social services give rural families a safety net
Social services give rural families a safety net
Issues of affordable housing and transportation impede rural families from getting out of poverty.
In a shuttered mill, a Montana town sees business potential
In a shuttered mill, a Montana town sees business potential
Frenchtown is waiting on a Superfund designation to clean up toxic remnants.
In a district losing money, students from afar fill the gap
In a district losing money, students from afar fill the gap
After a mill closure, a town is offseting losses by allowing out-of-district students.
No zoning? No problem.
No zoning? No problem.
Lack of zoning laws allow entrepreneurs to thrive in East Missoula.
On the outskirts of Missoula, growth comes with challenges
On the outskirts of Missoula, growth comes with challenges
An influx of new people to nearby communities has strained town systems.
In Montana, houses are replacing farmland
In Montana, houses are replacing farmland
Can lessons from Vermont keep local agriculture alive?
How to turn motorized rec into a sustainable economy
How to turn motorized rec into a sustainable economy
In 2010, Challis, Idaho, created a trail for ATV riders. Now, it’s enjoying an economic boost.
What the two-wheeled tourist can offer tiny towns
What the two-wheeled tourist can offer tiny towns
Cycling tourism contributes nearly $377 million annually to Montana’s economy.
Craft breweries aren’t a new trend — but co-op pubs are
Craft breweries aren’t a new trend — but co-op pubs are
In Montana, the town of Ronan hops on the brewery bandwagon.
Can rural towns stem the trend of population decline?
Can rural towns stem the trend of population decline?
Small-town Choteau, Montana, is working to find answers to the question that is plaguing 23 of the state’s counties.
A majority of Montana counties face primary care shortages
A majority of Montana counties face primary care shortages
The gap in health care access is particularly acute in rural areas.
The ‘scenery economy’ reinvigorates a Montana town
The ‘scenery economy’ reinvigorates a Montana town
Tourism has given Philipsburg new life — but it’s brought few permanent families.
Nonprofits make rural home ownership more plausible
Nonprofits make rural home ownership more plausible
In the final part of a series on Boulder, Montana, a pathway for solutions for affordable housing woes.
There aren’t enough affordable homes for rural Montanans
There aren’t enough affordable homes for rural Montanans
In the second story of the series, the town of Boulder’s aging population is likely to put more pressure on housing.
How to turn a struggling small town around
How to turn a struggling small town around
In the first part of a series on Boulder, Montana, a well-rounded economic development effort.
The future of small-town Montana rides on public lands
The future of small-town Montana rides on public lands
From Dupuyer to Columbia Falls, a look at the growing recreation economy.