The Main Street Project has seen great success, and by many measures our economy is thriving. However, there are still challenges we face, and the promise of economic opportunity is not a reality everywhere in Montana. Job growth has been and continues to be clustered around seven urban centers- Billings, Missoula, Bozeman, Kalispell, Great Falls, Helena, and Butte. Rural areas have fewer residents and fewer jobs. Those urban centers include 72% of the jobs and 68% of the population. For example, in 2016 there were about 119,000 jobs spread across the 35 eastern counties, compared to 109,000 in Billings alone. We also know our rural communities are feeling workforce pressures, aging infrastructure, and broadband is not readily available, or affordable, in many communities.
At the same time, communities across the state are taking it upon themselves to advance economic goals and are making extraordinary progress with limited resources.
Understanding this economic discrepancy within our state and taking what was learned in the first stages of the Main Street project, Governor Bullock and Lt. Governor Cooney launched the Main Street Montana- Rural Partners Initiative in September 2018. The Rural Partners project focuses on empowering small towns in Montana to stay ahead, support their efforts, and ensure economic opportunities are shared throughout the state. We are asking the same questions; What’s working? What isn’t working? How can agencies and programs work better for business and Montanans? We are asking these questions in the context of rural communities and their unique challenges and position.