Everyone can agree that Bozeman has seen big changes in the past decade. The population has continued to increase as Bozeman became the fastest-growing micropolitan for two years in a row. Home prices have been steadily rising and it has gotten difficult to keep up with all the developments, especially with the number of condos going up downtown. All of this has changed the community and has certainly created some growing pains. One thing we can all agree on is that Bozeman has always been known for its friendly people. But, with all the growth is this getting lost? Is Bozeman still a welcoming place for a newcomer? It seems as if it is not quite the same as it used to be.
When did we stop being welcoming?
If you ask someone who moved to Bozeman 15 years ago they would most likely answer that they were welcomed with open arms. Early 2000's Bozeman was growing at a reasonable pace and Bozemanites were happy to embrace newcomers to the community. It was fun to meet people from a new place and find out why they had chosen Bozeman. It was a time when most people had never even heard of Bozeman Montana. This was long before we made it on all of the "best of" lists. Then things changed. Bozeman was discovered. It was slow at first, a few articles with Bozeman named on them, more tourists coming to town, but no real noticeable change. It's been in the last few years that we've started to hear more comments about too many people moving to Bozeman or concern of becoming the next Boulder Colorado. People are hesitant to extend the "welcome to our town" mentality as we get more protective of all the things we love here. This leads to the sense of entitlement in Bozeman...when exactly should they have closed the doors to our city?
Native vs Local vs Newcomer
A native Montanan is getting harder to find in Bozeman, but they're out there! Because they are native they are naturally a friendly and welcoming bunch, but certainly don't want to see the vibe of the town change which is why many resist the growth. Then there are locals who are happy they got to move to Bozeman, but want to shut the door behind them. When exactly does a newcomer become a local? How many years do you have to put in? We all know someone who talks about "old Bozeman" or "back before Bozeman became Boz-Angeles". Have they lived here 15 years so feel like they have more entitlement to Bozeman than someone who's only been here 5 years? Or can you only get away with statements like that if you've lived here your whole life? What about those who were born and grew up in Bozeman, left and then came back? Technically they're native but haven't lived here so how do they fit into this? Basically what it comes down to is this...no one is entitled to a place. Whether you are a native, long-time local or brand new to Bozeman we should all strive to be welcoming because that is what Bozeman's foundation is built on.
What can we do?
The talk of our town growing too fast or changing all comes from a place of concern. Residents of Bozeman, regardless of how long they've lived here have a fear of our town losing what makes it so special in the first place. This is valid, as we've seen it happen to towns near us. Boulder Colorado, Bend Oregon, Jackson Hole Wyoming...all towns that have changed tremendously and seen the negatives that come with that. Home prices becoming out of reach, finding employees to work, seeing an increase in crime and traffic, these are all real concerns. What's important to remember is that we all want the same thing. Those of us who are already lucky enough to call Bozeman home, don't want to see the negatives that can develop. Those who are looking to move to Bozeman are doing so for a better quality of life. People move to Bozeman for a smaller town, a sense of community and access to the endless outdoor opportunities. For those coming to Bozeman for those reasons, we welcome you with open arms. It's for those moving in with big-city attitudes (rushing around, road rage, bad trail manners) that it's hard to roll out the welcome wagon. We all want Bozeman to remain a special place that prides itself on its friendly residents, whether they've lived here 5 months, 20 years or their whole lives.
We recently sat down with Tyler Wilkinson, a North Carolina native who has lived in Bozeman for over 10 years. We got his take on if Bozeman was welcoming to him when he made the move and how that has changed over the years. You can listen to the podcast here.