Archive for the ‘Alternative transportation’ Category

By CFS

Missoula is a fine city… a city I’m proud to call home because of its culture, people, neighborhoods, beer, scenery, architecture, etc.  I am one of those many thousands of people that are not “native” but were attracted here over the last three decades because of how great the Missoula lifestyle is and after nearly a decade of living here I feel like this is my hometown.  And so I hope you can understand my frustration when Missoula is derided as the basket case of Montana.

The argument heard over and over again from various people goes something like this; “Bottom line, the problem is Missoula is run and heavily populated by Liberals*,” originally from the evil, socialist, and morally corrupt state of California. Those damn hippies hate anyone who dares to try and start a business and, “are vocally anti corporate*”.  All these transplants are ruining Missoula for the Missoula natives; outsiders add to congestion, low wages, a bad job market, unaffordable housing, and worse government.  If only local government would get out of my bathroom, stop preventing me from getting from point A to B with all this traffic calming bullshit, and stop telling me how I can advertise my business Missoula would be a great place and Smurfit-Stone never would have pulled out.

I’ll attempt to address and dissect these complaints in an ongoing series about Missoula and will argue that Missoula’s liberal culture is perhaps its greatest asset and that many of Missoula’s weaknesses are in fact geographical in nature rather than political or cultural.

Lets start with the claim that liberalism is destroying Missoula economically.  Its perfectly true that Missoula is a transformed town from the mill-town it once was 30 or 40 years ago, but what western town or city hasn’t seen radical shifts in their economies?  Resource extraction, manufacturing, and the associated supporting infrastructure and jobs have seen major declines since the late seventies all across the country.  This isn’t because of liberals but because of capitalism… markets have been opened up and such industries are now mainly based in low wage countries in Asia.

So all you haters don’t blame liberals… blame other nations full of people working harder at lower wage rates… if only they would unionize we might get our jobs back.  The conservative blame game pointed at Missoula’s liberals comes out of frustration with change and an unknown future.  They see change all around them from the subdivision swallowing up farm fields and the mill jobs disappearing to the bike lanes going in all over town and they don’t understand where all this change has come from or where it will lead… so they lash out at the closest thing, local liberals.

Despite Missoula’s transformation and loss of old economy employment the town hasn’t been hit terribly hard economically through most of the last 40 years… in fact Missoula has experienced a higher rate of job growth than conservative leaning and business friendly Billings.  According to The Bureau of Business and Economic Research’s Montana Regional Economic Analysis Project Missoula experienced job growth of 216% from 1969-2008 while Billings job growth was 168% and Montana and National growth was a slower rate of 118% and 99% respectfully.  Average employment growth in Missoula beat Billings every decade since the seventies and thats with Billing’s boom in the oil and natural gas service industry.  Even in the current economic climate Missoula’s job losses have been less than those experienced in the early 80s, about 2.5% compared with about 9%.  Income growth has also outpaced Billings, with Missoula experiencing total personal income increase over the same time period by 318% as compared to Billings (273%), Montana (204%), and the Nation (228%) as a whole.  Not bad Missoula!

It is exactly because of Missoula’s more liberal and open culture combined with its recreational opportunities and lifestyle that has attracted such growth and not tax rebates and large corporations.  Economists Thomas Power and Richard Barret make a great case for the “New West” economy in their book Post-Cowboy Economies.   Their argument is that faltering industrial economies have opened up the west for new economic opportunities based not on resource extraction but on environmental quality, in-migration, recreation/tourism, and knowledge based services (finance, engineering, medical services, etc).  The old western economy and the new western economy were both mutually exclusive, unable to exist simultaneously within the same geographic space.  This new economy is bringing along more prosperity, wider ranging economic development, and booming growth as evidenced by the fact that the Mountain West was the fastest growing region in the 90s and aughts.

This “New West” economy has produced huge gains for Missoula.  Between 2001-2007 Missoula County saw net employment growth of 10,632, or 15%, with growth being the greatest in the professional and technical services (27%), healthcare (13%), arts/entertainment/recreation (44%), education (38%), real estate (70%), administration (41%), and finance (10%).  During that same time Missoula County’s poulation increased from 97,400 to 107,552, or 10.4%.

So yes… Missoula has experienced an amazing amount of change in the last several decades fueled mostly by in-migration and shifting employment and industrial sector growth.  Its utter poppycock that Missoula has a lousy economy even given the current situation.  Missoula has been a leader in many fields and has developed first class educational and healthcare services for our region that not only attract people to Missoula but also act as the area’s largest employers.

The recent closing of the last remaining mills in the area and the loss of Macy’s might play heavily within the communal psychology of Missoula but are largely beyond the control of locals.  While the loss of over 400 Stone Container jobs is a big loss and affects many families its a sign of strength and diversity that such a loss makes such a small dent in total employment.  Such local events are part of the process of resetting the economic playing field to allow capital to be freed from unprofitable economic pursuits.  New opportunities that are net yet in sight will come to occupy these vacant spaces.  We aren’t experiencing anything different from anywhere else in the country and are in far better shape than similar communities in the Detroit area or Phoenix suburbs.

So all you haters… get over the hate and embrace the closest liberal you can find and lets work together to bring Missoula into the future as a strong regional leader… otherwise suck on Missoula’s barm.

*Quotes from various local online comment sections

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by carfreestupidity

Carfreestupidity has graciously agreed to join us b’birders and share some of his postings here at 4&20. I’ve been reading his stuff over at Imagine No Cars: Thoughts on Alternative Transportation and Urban Design for some time. I love it. Good stuff. He’s got a a great thoughtful informative voice. I’m sure you will enjoy it too. Let’s give him a great welcome here – and take to the task of voicing support for more rail. Thanks carfreestupidity – and welcome aboard! – jhwygirl

An online version of the Restore the North Coast Hiawatha petition created by students at The University of Montana is now available on MontPIRG’s website. The petition was started in support of Amtrak’s passenger rail study and Senator Jon Tester’s push for reinstatement of the line. The original petition garnered over 1200 signatures in a matter of only a few weeks of gathering in Missoula. The first set of petitions will shortly be delivered to Senator Tester in Washington D.C.

It is the purpose of the online version to garner wider support for the rail line outside of Montana and to let our United States Senators know that the people demand more transportation options. The line connects many important cities in the region including Seattle, Spokane, Sandpoint, Missoula, Helena, Bozeman, Billings, Bismarck, Forgo, and many more. The restored line would be an important step in reducing green house gas emissions, providing transportation options, and offering vital economic infrastructure.




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