Home to Montana’s capital city, Helena, the Southwest Region is Montana’s birthplace. In 1858, gold was discovered in waters flowing from the Flint Range, and the rush of miners and boom in population that followed resulted in Montana’s admission to the Union in 1889. The region is flush with history and culture, still living with us today through the sagebrush on the Nez Perce Historic Trail high in the Big Hole Valley, and the wooden boardwalks in the mining town of Virginia City. It is a history where economic boom times in Butte coincided with monumental acts of preservation in Yellowstone. Called America’s Greatest Idea, the designation of Yellowstone National Park as the world’s first national park has protected this iconic landscape for generations. Montana is the Gateway to Yellowstone, and local communities benefit every year from the thousands of visitors drawn to the Park’s natural wonders. The 13 counties in the Southwest Region are crisscrossed by two major interstates connecting the cities of Butte, Dillon, Deer Lodge, Bozeman, Helena, and beyond. Around 260,000 people, half of them in the workforce, call Southwest Montana home.
The profound history, scenic splendor and world class recreation are among the assets that contribute to the Southwest Region’s high quality of life. It’s what makes this region, and all of Montana for that matter, unique in a competitive global economy. The grass is greener in Montana, and our quality of life can attract top talent and knowledge-based businesses looking for a great place to live.
Driven by innovation and advances in technology, partnerships between private businesses and the region’s workforce and education system are linking research to commercialization in areas like geographical information science and optical electronics, propelling economic development and expanding the economic base. The region’s access to high value advanced training and nationally recognized higher education programs are a significant asset and opportunity to develop a technically skilled workforce. With Montana State University and Gallatin College-MSU in Bozeman, the University of Montana-Western in Dillon, Helena College-UM and Carroll College in Helena and Montana Tech and Highlands College of MT Tech in Butte, the doors are open for career opportunities and wage growth in these communities.
The Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport is the busiest in the state. Tourism, driven by Yellowstone National Park and year-round world class recreation, is considered the region’s greatest economic opportunity. Whether for the skiing, fishing, whitewater or wildlife, people come from all over the world to visit Southwest Montana.
While the economy of the region is growing, adding 2,860 jobs in 2012 for a growth rate of 2.2 percent, challenges remain. Residents in the Southwest Region see a need to overcome low wages and find opportunities to help struggling downtown businesses. Survey respondents expressed a sentiment that Main Streets in rural communities are hurting, despite the region’s overall economic growth.