Why Some Young Professionals Settle in Small-town Montana

The Montana Gap


Jeff Martinsen/Choteau Acantha; Jamie Drysdale/Solutions Journalism and John Blodget/Western News

Mark Major, 42, of Choteau, runs an insurance and finance firm in Great Falls but commutes in so he can raise his family in a close-knit community. Kaitlin Leary, 31, of Anaconda. "When you claim a spot, there's something kind of special about being a regular," she said. Riley Black, 27, of Libby works as a nurse at the county health department and runs a restaurant with her husband.

For much of rural Montana, brain drain has been a fact of life for decades.

Come high school graduation, the pattern goes, small towns see their most ambitious sons and daughters pack their bags, heading off to attend college or otherwise try out life somewhere else. And comparatively few of them ultimately come back.

Take Anaconda, population 9,000, a former company town abandoned by its founding industry in the 80s. These days it faces a demographic gap, with only 22 percent of its residents in their 20s or 30s, 5 percent less than the U.S. as a whole.

And it's not alone. Between 2000 an...

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