By HDN staff
Fall is upon us and with the new season many changes are reflected. Green fields and leaves change quickly to golds and oranges. Baseball gives way to football. And summer vacation comes to a halt as a new school year begins.
This fall heralds another change, one that is part of a continuing trend our declining student population at the elementary school levels. In a comparison released by the Havre Public Schools, the trend shows a steady decline over the past five years from 1,039 students in kindergarten to grade five in 1995-96 to 883 in 1999-2000.
The reasons for the decline are absolutely no reflection on the Havre school system or the quality of education provided.
But the numbers do show us that the downward spiral of Havres population is continuing. Recent county population figures show the same trend. The Montana Department of Commerce forecasted Hill Countys population at 17,720 in 1999 and dropping to 17,570 by 2005. The same report showed the city of Havre falling well below the 11,000 mark.
So what does all this mean for Havre and Hill County? Well, if we dont heed the warning signs, it means we are losing the economic development battle.
As weve mentioned in this column before, the new small businesses that have sprung up in Havre are impressive and good for the community. But we need more. We need new dollars, an increased work force, and a vision for the future.
And we have to realize our limitations.
Shipping and transportation make it difficult, if not impossible, to bring industrial projects to Havre.
So lets see what we do offer. Well, the people. A friendly, helpful community. The school system. An excellent education in a safe environment. And speaking of safety, an extremely low crime rate, most especially in violent crimes. A reasonable cost of living. All this adds up to a quality of life that many people around the country long to have.
So, how do we get them here? The easy answer is jobs. But what kind?
Its time to look to the future and use the technology that of late has been our enemy and turn it to our advantage. Technology has reduced the work force of what was once Havres bread and butter. The railroad, with computers and centralization, cleared out in a hurry. In agriculture, it no longer takes a two- or three-generation family to farm the land. Technology has cut the work force to only a few hands.
So, lets use that technology to our advantage. Havre needs to look towards a new industry. One example is telemarketing firms which can bring hundreds of jobs and require only minimal investment in buildings and computer wires. Great Falls is a perfect example of such growth.
A few steps have been taken in that direction. Efforts by Bear Paw Development and the MSU-Northern Internet Business Incubation Center have opened just such doors. Now its time to quit saying, Its not my job. Its time for all of us city government, county government, local businesses, and the community to walk through that door and seize our technological future in the new millennium.