When rural communities thrive, Montana thrives

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Montana’s rural communities have always been the backbone of our economy, driving economic growth through a foundation of hard work and a strong tradition of agriculture. In Montana, when our rural communities are thriving, our entire state thrives.

Governor Bullock and I recently visited our rural communities to hear from rural Montanans as we tackle the issues facing our state.

Farmers and ranchers described what is a “perfect storm” threatening Montana’s most important industry. When we look at what is happening with trade or with the Farm Bill, it’s hard not to be concerned. Our agriculture industry is already dealing with uncertain weather, changing markets and razor thin margins, and now they are forced to grapple with trade policies that jeopardize the foreign market access we so heavily rely on.

We also heard from county, city and community leaders who know that we must make investments in infrastructure. Our rural communities cannot survive without quality public schools or reliable water systems, sewers, roads and telecommunications, nor can our rural communities be sustained without rural hospitals that provide good jobs and access to critical care.

During these visits, Montanans weren’t quick to point fingers or pass blame – instead they want to focus on working together and putting the greatest ideas forward that will result in solutions, made in Montana by Montanans.

Governor Bullock and I will be continuing our discussions in rural Montana communities over the coming months with the recent launch of the Main Street Montana – Rural Partners initiative.

Five years ago, Governor Bullock created the Main Street Montana Project as a long-term strategy to grow Montana’s economy with diverse industries all across the state. We engaged more than 4,000 Montanans, and as a result, we successfully repealed and streamlined hundreds of rules to make government more efficient and expanded work-based learning opportunities like apprenticeships and business mentoring programs.

This new vision will go beyond Main Street business development and focus on what each individual rural community needs to thrive and grow their economy. We know that by many metrics, economic growth is happening in more populated areas of our state. More Montanans are working than ever before with the fastest growing middle-class in the nation and we have the highest median household income growth in the nation. We must ensure that economic growth is shared all throughout Montana.

It’s our hope Montanans will join us on this new path forward for our rural areas – to look at how we can better address some of the unique challenges and opportunities that exist in these areas of Montana.

We will learn from the communities, like Choteau where we launched this initiative, that have come together to make real progress towards a more prosperous future. We will look at public and private resources that can be used to further economic and community development. And we will connect communities across the state, because we know that often our rural communities aren’t alone in the problems they face and that there ought to be a roadmap to address these common challenges.

Let’s not let our rural communities just become places on a map, let’s empower them to get ahead and stay ahead. Let’s build the capacity of rural communities so that they can attract new jobs and new residents. Let’s strengthen opportunities, especially for young adults so that they can run the family farm or start a business. And let’s diversify rural economies to improve community resilience.

If we do this, our rural communities will prosper, and our entire state will continue to prosper.

— Lt. Governor Mike Cooney

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