Migrating to Montana

This migration will change many of our communities for a very long time

By Mike Jopek

The movement of people from across America into more rural places of the nation is again underway. This migration will change many of our Montana communities for a very long time. The people moving to the Flathead are likely prior visitors from states like Washington, Texas, California, or New York. The Flathead is known nationwide as a place to recreate.

The great American migration is again underway as people escape the places where the coronavirus sickness or other natural disasters made living less desirable. Places like the Flathead remain attractive communities with decent internet, good air transportation, plentiful hospitals, great food, friendly people, and plenty of outdoor recreation time.

Housing remains a bargain, if you’re moving here from most anyplace where wages and home valuations are significantly higher. The housing market remains largely unattainable to local wage earners and yet a buying opportunity for anyone with a pocketful of cash.

In the beginning throes of a pandemic, Whitefish collected nearly the same amount of resort taxes from tourists as it did last year. Last fiscal year, from July through June prior, Whitefish collected $4.1 million in tourist taxes from downtown shoppers and lodgers versus the $4.2 million the preceding year. Who knows what winter 2020 has in store?

In total, Whitefish has collected under $40 million in revenue by taxing tourists over the years. A quarter of which has been returned as property tax relief, the balance used for streets, conservation, and parks.

The proceeds correlate to a constant hum of tires on the highway and a roaring sky from commercial and private jets approaching the regional airport bringing plane loads of jobs, opportunity, and commerce to the Flathead.

Enrollment in Whitefish public schools is up nearly 4 percent over last year, the bulk of which is attributable to elementary students. Nearly 2,000 students attend kindergarten through 12th grade in Whitefish.

Nationally, according to a recent Education Week survey, student enrollment is down while the number of teachers considering leaving the profession spiked to nearly one-third of educators. That’s nearly double the surveyed teacher exodus from just five months prior. Who can blame teachers? It’s not like the pay is great.

An ever-present pandemic provides people an opportunity to focus on what’s important in life. People are making big decisions that months prior seemed unthinkable.

There’s an urge to flee sickness in parts of the nation. There’s also weird weather, monster tornadoes flattening fields in places like Iowa, huge hurricanes that assault coasts from Texas to Florida and big wildfires burning in places like California and Colorado.

So far, our little corner of the world has missed much of this planetary degradation. We’re not immune: it can happen, and it has happened, even after morning rains. The smoke that pokes in and out of the valley from a burning nation-full of forests is plenty chaotic.

Most of Congress still denies the acceleration of planetary disasters. In a handful of months, a coronavirus killed hundreds of thousands of Americans, infecting millions more. Who knows what winter brings?

You can’t blame Americans wanting to move here to the Flathead, escaping the persecutions of Mother Nature. Newcomers have values that expect services to work more like their old hometown. In Montana, newcomers find solutions lay in helping out and making stuff happen.

Everyone and my friends are moving to the Flathead. About the only migration that’s decreasing is that of the bumblebee population, which is reportedly down 70 percent statewide over the past two decades.

Whitefish remains an attractive small rural town where kids can attend good public schools, regular people can start small businesses, and everyone can enjoy the great outdoors. The Flathead has it good and most of us want to keep it that way. Welcome home.

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