Lt. Governor Mike Cooney met with Troy area residents last Friday at the Silver Spur as one of six communities chosen for a new initiative of the Main Street Montana Project.
According to a release from the Governor Steve Bullock’s office, the new initiative is aimed at building economic opportunities in rural and tribal Montana communities.
Troy was chosen as one of six across the state because of efforts already going on in the community, Cooney told the community members — including business owners and members of local government — who he met with.
“Troy has been identified as a community where you’ve done quite a bit of good work bringing people together and, basically, building a vision of what you’d like to do and see in this community,” he said.
While the economy statewide is doing well, rural Montana is lagging behind other parts of the state, he said. “And that’s why we wanted to start focusing a bit more time and energy in rural Montana.”
However, the goal is to assist, not dictate directions, he said.
“The real purpose of this is for us to hear from you,” Cooney said.
“We’re not here to replace or repeat local effort. We’re not here to tell you what the solution is,” he said. “This has got to be driven by you.”
On the state’s side, government agencies will look at what they can do to help with those local initiatives, even if that just means clearing the way to make things easier, he said.
“We’re going to look at existing resources, of the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Commerce, as well as private sector resources, and even some of the federal partners that we work with that can possibly be used to further economic community development,” he said.
But they also want to learn from what communities such as Troy are already doing or come up with in the future, he said. And, the plan to help connect different communities across the state so that the ideas and successes can be shared.
“We want to create, kind of, a road map as we’re working with communities to, basically, put information out there,” he said. “Hopefully that will help spur them along the way so they can begin helping themselves.”
Shawna Kelsey, the Community Development and Education Director for the Yaak Valley Forest Council, led discussion at the Spur.
Kelsey, who is also a Troy City Council member, brought out four focus areas, but said that the list was not meant to be comprehensive.
“These are just things that have popped up for us as potential places for growth,” she said. “Don’t feel like I have this exhaustive list. There’s always more to add to it.”
During the hour and a half brainstorming session that followed, the community members discussed tourism and recreation, Community food and agriculture, broadband and infrastructure and small and outdoor manufacturing — such as businesses that make camping gear.
With 98 percent of Montanans reporting that outdoor recreation is important to their lives and as the second largest sector of the state’s economy, Kelsey pointed out the potential for Troy to tap into that market.
Several local business owners noted that they may benefit indirectly from tourism related to outdoor recreation, including people who come into their shops looking for information such as trail maps.
The group also discussed increased usage of the river, improved camping around Troy and the type of tourists they would want to attract to the community.
Kelsey brought up the concept of Geotourism, a term coined by the National Geographic Society.
The Society defines Geotourism as, “Tourism that sustains or enhances the distinctive geographical character of a place—its environment, heritage, aesthetics, culture, and the well-being of its residents.”
“It creates a nice place for tourists to visit, but the main goal of it is to make this a nicer place for us to live,” Kelsey said. “Because if it’s a nice place for us to live, people are going to want to stop and check it out.”
The group chewed on how to define the type of tourist they would like to have visiting Troy, including concerns over crowded trails and a desire to attract families.
Council member Chuck Ekstedt put some of the concepts into a single phrase: “Someone who wants to enjoy our beauty and not change it.”
Kelsey talked a little about the success that has come through the Troy Farmer’s Market, which has shown there is potential for even more agriculture in the Troy area.
Robyn King, with the Yaak Valley Forest Council, brought up the idea of networking in order to connect people and promote things such as landowners with people interested in farming who don’t have the land to do it.
She also discussed developing outlets for growers to get their produce to market or on to other local businesses that will use them in what they produce and sell.
Though no conclusions were reached that day, the group also discussed the lack of broadband access outside of city limits in Lincoln County, and potential ways to address that.
They also discussed the limitations of current providers and drawbacks of satellite service, though the group did not discuss the unavoidably slow upload speeds of satellite compared to fiber optic.
The group did discuss the potential of a cooperative — either existing or created for the purpose — to serve as a way of getting broadband service to more remote areas.
After Troy Mayor Dallas Carr brought up previous discussions with Senator John Tester regarding the subject, Cooney said that his office could reach out to the Montana Department of Transportation regarding possible restrictions on potential broadband projects related to the bridge west of Troy.
Kelsey told the group that when she first thought about manufacturing in Troy, she surprised herself realizing how many existing small manufacturers she could name.
She called on Dylan Root, owner and operator of home-based Borah Gear, as an example.
Root told the group that though his wife is from the area, one of their considerations when moving to the area was the low cost of living compared to where they had been in Colorado.
“I’m selling online,” he said. “I’m getting the same amount of money no matter where I work.”
Other local businesses that manufacture locally that were cited in the discussion include Sleeping Indian wool apparel and Shoo Fly Fishing Company.
Among others, Carr talked about the loss of mining and logging jobs, and watching timber that is harvested in the area leaving the area to be further processed instead of contributing to the local economy.
Kelsey invited those at the meeting to identify any area they would want to work on as a volunteer in helping to work on Troy’s future.
Anyone else who wants to work on local food, geotourism, telecommunications or small business development for the Troy area is also invited to reach out to Kelsey at email@example.com or to call 406-295-9736.