Where the mountains meet the plains, the 10 counties of the North Central Region are home to 150,000 people, the largest military installation in the state, the Blackfeet Reservation, the Chippewa Cree of the Rocky Boy’s Reservation, and the Fort Belknap Reservation, home of the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine Tribes. North Central Montana lays claim to many of Montana’s most iconic places. The Rocky Mountain Front, an area of immense diversity of wildlife and fauna, creates the western boundary. The Missouri River Breaks, famous for its trophy bull elk, looks much the same as it did when Lewis and Clark visited these waters 200 years ago. The Great Falls of the Missouri, roaring over the five sandstone steps, gives the largest city in the region its name. Charlie Russell, one of the most famous painters of the American West, called this country home.
North Central Montana has a workforce of approximately 65,000 people. Known as Montana’s Golden Triangle, agriculture is a critical driver of the economy and culture. The region is also a leader in renewable energy development, including generation of both wind a hydroelectric power.
Whether hunting pheasants or mule deer bucks along the Rocky Mountain Front or hiking the rounded hills of the Bea Paw Mountains, the people of the North Central Region see the quality of life afforded by outdoor recreation and the natural environment as strengths. However, many North Central communities have aging populations. Without an influx of new workers and growth in the working-age population, sustainability will become an even greater issue over time.
North Central Montana is pursuing business growth and recruitment opportunities. Agriculture is a key economic driver in the region, and survey respondents recognized value-added agriculture and diversification as important opportunities. Partnerships such as the AgriTech Park in Great Falls create locational opportunities for agri-processing as well as other industries, capitalizing on the resources and advantages the community offers.
Energy projects can potentially diversify the region’s economy and increase wages. Whether through expansion of current facilities or new developments, both renewable and nonrenewable energy sectors are poised for growth. The region’s institutions of higher education connect the workforce to these emerging economic opportunities. MSU-Northern in Havre, Great Falls College MSU and the University of Great Falls, Aaniiih Nakoda College in Fort Belknap, Blackfeet Community College in Browning, and Stone Child College in Box Elder provide opportunities for higher education that span North Central Montana. A national leader in bio-fuel research, the MSU-Northern Bio-Energy Research Center is a state-of-the-art facility working to develop patents converting bio-fuels into commercially viable jet fuels.
Expanding connections with our neighbors to the north is good news for businesses. Partnering with Canadian businesses and exporting our products north creates jobs and improves wages. Education, quality of life, and manufacturing driven by the oil, gas and coal industries may create new economic opportunities for Montanans in the North Central Region.