City’s growth is better than the alternative

6/10/2017 Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Guest Column by Tyrel Thronton, NextGen Advisory Board

Here in Bozeman, 20 minutes from “real Montana,” there is a lot of talk about change.

“I remember when 19th was a dirt road and lift tickets cost a dollar, and can you believe the traffic these days, and there was a time when I could drive from Bozeman to Belgrade in three minutes.”

I grew up in “real Montana,” a small ranch outside of Lewistown, a town with an economy driven by agriculture, a few mines, and a little bit of manufacturing. When I was a kid it felt like the big city; Main Street was fun and always filled with people and shops. We had big-name fast food restaurants and a drive-in movie theater. When you are a ranch kid, fast food is a real treat. I loved getting to go to town. A trip to the grocery store felt like a vacation, and don’t get me started on the county fair or getting to go see the Harlem Globetrotters (yep, they came to town). I can still smell the concession stand at the drive-in theater and feel the energy at the Christmas stroll.

I went back last summer. I knew the lumber mill and many of the mines had closed. I knew Dairy Queen was converted to a used car dealership. I knew people were struggling to make ends meet, but the extent didn’t hit me until I went to the grocery store. Seeing the degree to which the store has fallen apart shocked me: A store that was brand new when I was a kid, literally had dust on shelves. Driving down Main Street on a Saturday seeing no people and every store closed or vacant made a clear point that my hometown is shrinking. And this story is not unique, a lot of small towns in this country, and in this state, are hurting.

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