For the last three months, Missoula has been battered by unfavorable comparisons with Bozeman. Tech moguls convened at UM for a tech jobs summit only to hear endless praise heaped on Bozeman’s tech industry. MSU enrollment numbers continue to rapidly outpace UM’s. Candidates for city office point toward Bozeman as a city worth emulating.
Maybe it’s time for a reminder that plenty of people around Montana see Missoula as the most enviable of the state’s cities–like the reminder that appeared in the Great Falls Tribune at the end of October. A survey about Great Falls’ future, created in advance of a vote on an economic development mill levy, asked what city respondents would like to see Great Falls be more like. An astonishing 83 percent of respondents said Missoula. Bozeman garnered a measly 31 percent.
It’s not necessary that a compliment to Missoula be accompanied by a slight to Bozeman, but it doesn’t hurt, even if the results are a surprise. Tribune reporter Kristen Inbody says they ran the numbers several times to make sure. “I expected Missoula and Bozeman would be about even, just based on Cat-Griz support,” Inbody says. “There must still be something about Missoula that makes it a special place in Montana.”
The survey question asked, “Which city do you wish Great Falls was more like?” The choices were Bozeman, Billings, Missoula, Kalispell, Spokane, Portland, Pocatello, Cheyenne, Lethbridge, Sidney, “Great Falls should focus on doing its own thing,” and “Other.” Inbody noted in an email that “People wrote in Miami and Seattle. No one wrote in Butte.” Poor Butte.
Respondents didn’t specify why they chose the cities they chose, and they were allowed to pick more than one. Inbody suspects Missoula’s cultural scene is likely responsible. While Bozeman has a charming downtown and a thriving university, Missoula has more festivals, gets more touring bands and has more restaurants.
The survey also asked what amenities residents wanted, how they feel about Great Falls, and what they want less of. One respondent said the town needed to “get over the inferiority complex we’ve had since the smelter went under.”
Respondents said they want a Costco and more entertainment venues—point Missoula. They also want an Olive Garden—point Bozeman. But Great Falls has the Sip ’n Dip, the nationally famous mermaid bar!
Inbody, who’s from Choteau and went to school at UM, says Great Falls actually has a lot going for it.
“I think that Great Falls is not very good at embracing what it has, which is a lot of cool things,” Inbody says. “It’s just this narrative that this is what Great Falls is like, when it’s not even true. We have some really fun bars downtown, there are cool restaurants, there’s three really great breweries.”
And it’s affordable.
“It’s so much cheaper to live in Great Falls, and you’re more likely to have an affordable place to live and a good-paying job than in Missoula,” Inbody says. “And yet still people vote with their feet for Missoula, which is really interesting.”
Missoulians are welcome to check out Great Falls this the winter. “Be sure to emphasize our clear blue skies, as well,” Inbody says. “We bask in constant sunshine!”