By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
An idea hatched in Liberty County has turned into a statewide project to entice Montana natives back to the state.
More than 40 communities are participating in a Web site created by Julie Foster to invite former Montanans to return home.
Foster was a member of a resource assessment team, sponsored by the Montana Economic Developers Association, that visited Liberty County last March to evaluate the area's strengths and weaknesses and propose possible community projects.
She heard many people in Liberty County say they wanted their children to stay in the county, or to return home.
Foster was already running a jobs Web site as executive director of the nonprofit Montana Jobs Network. She started the new companion site - the Come Home Montana site - five months ago.
Foster said Thursday a lot of people want to come back to Montana, and a lot of communities want them to come back.
"I thought, 'We have to connect these two groups of people and the rest is up to them,'" she said. "I wanted to let (former Montanans) know there are opportunities here and we want them back as much as they want to come back."
Some Golden Triangle communities are among the communities listed at the site, including Big Sandy, Chester, Chinook, Harlem, Liberty County and Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation.
The jobs site provides information about people looking for work in Montana and listings of businesses who need employees.
Craig Erickson, planner for Bear Paw Development Corp., said the Come Home Montana site is an opportunity for communities to draw people back.
"It offers the communities a way to promote themselves in a way that's very user-friendly and inexpensive. All it costs is the time to enter and update the data," he said.
Hobson's entry is an impressive example. It includes a history of the town, recreational opportunities, community activities, transportation, churches, medical care, community orgranizations, and services, including high-speed Internet access, a modern water and sewer system, and package delivery by UPS and FedEx. Hobson's listing also provides an extensive description of the school system, and tells about the challenges the town faces and its vision for making improvements.
"Hobson really went after this," Erickson said.
It is working, Foster said. A native of Glasgow contacted her about moving back to Montana, but was interested in Hobson after she read about it on the site, Foster said.
It's too early to assess how much impact the site will have, she said.
But, "if a person moves back to Hobson in a year-and-a-half (after the site started) that would be something," she added.
She said interest and support for the site is growing. The Montana World Trade Center contributed $4,500 to sponsor workshops to get communities interested in joining the site, and Qwest has contributed another $9,400 to hold more workshops this spring.
Erickson said he hopes communities continue to join the site, and that they continually update their information once they do. He said towns could list what commercial space they have available, what they need for workers, be it plumbers, electricians, pharmacists or fifth-grade teachers, and what amenities communities have to offer to people.
"You could talk about the quality of the schools, the quality of life in the community. If you have an asset you are particularly proud of, you can point that out," he said.
On the Net: Come Home Montana: www.comehomemontana.org
Montana Jobs Network: www.montana-jobs.net