Montana State University Report Highlights Newcomers to Treasure State


People who move to Montana seek the same things its residents value: access to the outdoors, less congestion, and a slower pace of life.

In fact, 66% of newcomers to Montana rated a desirable natural environment as an important factor in their relocation, the most desired feature among a list of 22, according to a study recently released by Montana State University Extension.

“Newcomers indicate that they frequently take advantage of their new community’s amenities such as rivers, trails, community events and more,” said the study, titled Montana Movers Study 2021 Report. “They report high levels of engagement in their new community, including volunteering, attending public meetings, and making social connections in their new community.”

Clearly, people moved to larger communities in Montana, according to the study. But he said that so much media attention has focused on the “decline and despair” of rural towns, “less is known that people are moving to rural communities in Montana as well.”

The Montana survey noted that it closely replicated an earlier “Brain Gain” study conducted in Minnesota. The study said the Montana public who heard the Minnesota study results were skeptical that the data would be true in Montana, but the research findings were similar.

“We know people are moving to every nook and cranny of Montana,” said Tara Mastel, associate community development specialist at MSU Extension, in a phone call Monday.

She also said that people who move to rural areas think they’ll stay longer: “I think the narrative of our rural areas in Montana tends to be pretty negative, that they’re dying, that they’re fall back. It shows that yes, the places are facing challenges, but there are still people who want to live there.

MSU Extension’s mission is to improve the lives of Montana residents through research that strengthens the social, economic, and environmental well-being of families and communities. The Montana Movers study noted that COVID-19 accelerated migration to the Treasury state, but it also said that only 4% of respondents said their move was prompted by the pandemic.

The study looked at people who moved to rural areas, big cities and working people, or those aged 18 to 64. About half of the respondents moved from Montana and about half from outside Montana, according to the survey results.

The study found that most people from outside Montana came from California, Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Idaho. In addition to large spaces, the main factors that have motivated the relocation of newcomers of working age are:

  • 57% want to live in a less cluttered place,
  • 53% want to enjoy a slower pace of life,
  • 51% want to live in a small community,
  • 44% want a safer place to live,
  • 43% want a good environment to raise children, and
  • 41% want to live among people with similar values.

As such, the research sheds a different light on a conventional economic development strategy in Montana, Mastel said. Often people talk about bringing jobs to Montana for economic development.

“(But) people don’t necessarily move for a job, they really move for quality of life reasons,” Mastel said.

So the small improvements people make in their communities, such as public events and beautification efforts, are worth it because those are the things people care about when choosing a place to live, a she declared.

“It lends a lot of credence to the argument that it’s worth making our communities better places to live,” Mastel said.

Additionally, she said the reasons foreigners move to Montana are similar to the reasons people already living here value their state: “Although we’ve been focusing sometimes lately on our differences, I think that we have a lot in common, especially the quality of life. we have here in Montana.

The report noted that housing availability is a challenge in rural areas as well as in larger communities, and housing availability was one of the lowest ranked factors in the survey. He said only 32% of those surveyed said they moved to find lower-cost housing: “Aren’t lower-cost housing available in Montana?”

The study also indicated that a sense of welcome affects people’s interest in staying in a community, which in turn affects Montana’s economy: “Those who rate a community as unwelcoming say it They are unlikely to stay in the community long-term, which has significant implications for recruiting labor or remote workers for employers in Montana.

“Being welcoming to newcomers is free and can have a significant impact on retention of the workforce or new residents.”

Once people landed in Montana, Mastel said they not only took advantage of amenities like lakes and trails, but got involved, volunteered at high rates, made friends and attended public meetings. She said these things are important.

“The challenge is welcoming these new people and giving them a place at the table to be able to contribute because sometimes they don’t know where to dig,” Mastel said. But she said Montana needs fresh new faces who are willing to help run communities.

The survey was conducted in April and May 2021 by sending questions to households about parcels that had changed ownership in the previous five years based on information provided by the Montana Department of Revenue. Surveys were conducted in all 56 counties, although responses did not come back from Powder River and Petroleum counties.

The survey elicited 907 responses from rural addresses and 856 from larger metropolitan/micropolitan addresses as defined by the US Census Bureau out of 8,848 surveys delivered. For the main group examined in this survey, people who changed postal codes, the relative response rate was 13.62% and the error rate was +/- 3.09%.

The study noted that its limitations included the lack of systematic inclusion of tenants given that the source information came from title transfers. He also noted that tribal communities were not captured due to source data, although Mastel said examining migration to indigenous communities is a research priority.

The Montana Movers Study was funded by lead sponsor, the Montana Community Foundation and the Montana Farm Bureau Foundation.

This story originally appeared in the Daily Montanan, which can be found online at


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