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The Region

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Southeastern Montana

The Southeastern Montana Development Corporations district is comprised of the four counties of Rosebud, Powder River, Treasure, and Custer. Covering 13,280 square miles (approximately the same geographical area as the state of Maryland), the area’s population is about 22,000, the density is sparse with only 1.4 people per square mile.

Geography

This region is home to a beautiful and vast landscape of prairies, badlands, ravines, forests, and waterways. Three rivers and several creeks run through the District, providing cherished water to this semi-arid climate. Southeastern Montana is filled with many natural resources such as coal, methane gas, oil, and timber; land ownership and natural resource development are key features of the economy. Natural disasters and severe weather such as floods, droughts, forest, and rangeland fires pose threats in this area. Floodplains exist along the three major rivers in the District. The District’s larger communities have built dikes for protection from the flooding, but it is astounding how enormous the cost burden of flood insurance is for small communities. Miles City in Custer County had the highest flood insurance claims in Montana.

Population

The population has consistently decreased since the ’70s;  Treasure County has seen the most significant population loss. Between 2000-2003 the Census showed Treasure County to have the 2nd highest percentage of population loss in the country. However, Rosebud and Custer Counties recently had a slight increase, with a 0.6% population increase between 2008 and 2009. The southern portion of Rosebud County is home to the Northern Cheyenne Reservation; other than the Northern Cheyenne community; there is very little ethnic diversity in this area. There has been a consistent decline in the youth population and an increase in this region’s senior population.

Poverty, Income, and Business

Over the past four years, there has been a slight rise in the poverty level and the unemployment rate. This region has a relatively low average wage compared to the state and national averages: In 2008, the USA National Average Wage per job was $45,716; Montana Average Wage per job was $33,299; Southeastern Montana Average Wage per job was $28,719. On average, women in this area get paid almost $10,000 less than men annually.

Housing

Housing on average in this region is aging; there is a shortage of low-income, senior, and temporary housing; and at least 1 in 5 households experience a cost burden with housing. Recognizing the increase in the senior population in the next 25 years, this could be an opportunity to develop senior housing and assisted living, which would bring more construction jobs and diversified job sectors to the area.

Health, Education, Social Services

There is a high percentage of medically underserved communities and a high population of uninsured people. High school graduation completion rate is relatively average compared to the state; however, college and university completion is relatively low. Overall social services such as low-income energy assistance and TANF and SNAP distribution have increased between the years 2002-2009, even though the population had decreased.

Business Patterns and Regional Economy

Between the years 2000-2008, business establishments in Treasure and Rosebud counties decreased, while business establishments in Powder River and Custer counties increased. Agriculture and coal mining/energy production is the region’s primary industries. Health, education, government services, and small businesses also make up an essential part of the economy. Other industries such as hunting, camping, and tourism bring in a significant amount of revenue to this region.

Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Development

The agricultural industries of ranching and farming make up a large portion of the residents’ economy and livelihood in southeastern Montana. Western Energy Company (WECo) has operated a surface coal mine near Colstrip, MT, since 1968. Located in Rosebud County, WECo’s mine produces approximately 10 million tons annually. Colstrip’s power plant is the second-largest coal-fired plant in the western United States and is operated by TALEN Energy, formally PPL. Together WECo and TALEN employ over 700 workers in the District.

Infrastructure

In dealing with the tax-base in rural communities and small populations is limited, which creates a lack of financial resources. Infrastructure such as paved roads, gravel roads, water and sewer lines, cell phone towers, internet service, dependable electricity, and plumbing services are often a need in this area. The Miles City Converter Station in eastern Montana is one of eight sites nationally that tie the National power grids together. It increases system reliability by connecting the separate grids and enhancing energy exchanges and system operating flexibility.

Environment

This region has a variety of plant and animal species, a unique landscape of prairies and buttes, and an economic base of agriculture and natural resource development. It is vital to have a high level of stewardship and environmental analysis in this area, not only for the species that inhabit this region but also for the economy based on agriculture.

Most farmers use chemicals, weed, and insect control, which does involve some threat to water and wildlife. However, the economic impacts of not using these chemicals currently maybe even more detrimental to the area. Methane gas extraction is being done minimally in this region.

Both precipitation and temperature have increased, which has been a trend throughout the Northwest USA. It will continue to cause various changes in the environment and agriculture.

The Pallid Sturgeon and Whooping Crane are the only endangered species in this region.

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