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. In small towns, contracting economies, shrinking population and social issues including a lack of mental health services offer mounting challenges. For a year, a group of journalists from western Montana, supported by High Country News and the Solutions Journalism Network, have investigated what Montana communities are doing to be resilient to change, from economic shifts to mental health. This project is funded by the LOR Foundation.

Small towns under the Big Sky address challenges to secure their future, as centers boom.
Examining the disparity of urban and rural growth
Examining the disparity of urban and rural growth
A new project taps into how rural Montana is grappling with its uncertain future.
In Montana, rural fairs cling to a tenuous future
In Montana, rural fairs cling to a tenuous future
Long seen as a way to fuel local economies, summer festivals are getting harder for some to justify.
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.
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