Why Butte Has the Best Labor Force in the West

We’ve discussed on this blog before why Butte makes a great place to call home. From the picturesque mountains, ski-trails and blue-ribbon trout streams within an hour’s drive, to the famous Irish festivals, to the low cost of living, Butte really is a wonderful place to live.

A picture of butte, with downtown in the foreground and the hill in the background. Cars driving up and down main street.
The Richest Hill on Earth

Such a city attracts innovative, hard-working people that will help your business grow and prosper. Here are just a few reasons Butte has the best labor force in the west:

Willing to work

At the turn of the 20th century, Butte’s copper electrified the nation. In the midst of World War I, Butte ramped up their mining efforts, working around the clock to supply the lion’s share of copper for the war efforts and established telegraph connections with the rest of the world.

A black and white photo of miners posing outside their mine in two rows.
Miners posing outside of a mine entrance.

Meanwhile, Butte engineered a way to harness the power of water and worked tirelessly to keep its ever-expanding mines powered.

The people of Butte always preserved, even if that meant working all hours of the day, instilling a strong work-ethic that still persists in the town today.

Highly educated

But the tenacity of the town isn’t the only reason Butte is known for its talented workforce. The working population is highly educated. Around 90 percent of adults in Butte graduated college, while another 25 percent have a college education or higher, according to the United States Census Bureau. This is on par with nationwide education attainment statistics.

Moreover, the city of Butte has a strong relationship with its outstanding college, Montana Tech of the University of Montana.

Montana Tech, which was named one of the “Best in the West” universities in 2011 by the Princeton Review, focuses on engineering and health sciences and offers associates degrees in Aerospace Welding Technology, Machining Technology and Metals Fabrication (among others).  

An archway that reads "Montana Tech" in the foreground with buildings in the background.
The Arch entrance to Montana Tech.

With such a university, Butte’s workforce continually gets waves of excited, well-trained graduates for its manufacturing and other job fields.

Diverse Business Sectors

The county of Butte-Silver Bow is a mecca for business, spanning sectors in high-tech manufacturing, healthcare/life sciences, information technologies, energy utilities and geophysical consulting. More and more businesses continue to relocate to or expand in Butte, including FedEx, SeaCast and REC Silicon.  

A group of signs showing where businesses are in an industrial park.
Companies currently at the MCBDP

The diverse array of businesses attracts a strong labor from within the city, state and beyond. With the support of the city-county and this talented workforce, these industries are assured to continue to grow and prosper.

By starting or expanding your business in Butte, you’ll be able to tap into the talented, hard-working labor force that Butte is known for.

How Irish Immigration Shaped Butte

Once a bustling, mining town worth billions, Butte, population 35,000,  is a hard-working, no-nonsense town that’s known for marching to the beat of its own drum. After all, its nickname is Butte, America.

A quiet street with some businesses to the left and a couple cars driving.
A view down one of the most historic streets in Montana.

But you can’t appreciate Butte’s rich, unique culture—past and present—without understanding the influence of the Irish that migrated to Montana beginning in the late 1800s.

Finding the American Dream

People were first attracted to Butte through gold’s illustrious siren song, but by the 1870’s riverbeds had run dry and the town was on its decline. Then miners discovered Butte’s rich veins of silver ore and from there, copper. By the 20th century, Butte was the world’s largest copper-mining town. For decades to come it would be one of the most prosperous cities in America—especially for immigrants.

Men wearing kilts and playing bag pipes marching down the street.
A group of bagpipers marching during Butte’s famous St. Patty’s Day Parade.

This economic opportunity drew pioneering men from across oceans who desired to make a better life for their families. Immigrants came from around the world: Ireland, England, Lebanon, Canada, Finland Austria, Italy, China, Montenegro and Mexico. It’s said the “no smoking” signs in mines were written in sixteen languages.

A mine shaft entrance with a large NO SMOKING sign hanging above it.
The dangers of mining for a living.

But no other cultural group flocked to Butte quite like the Irish. To escape the Great Irish Famine, which lasted between 1845 and 1852 and killed millions of Irish men and women, scores of people fled the country, escaping to America. And by America, I mean Butte.

At the height of Butte’s prosperity, the city housed more Irish than any other American city. According to the book, The Butte Irish, by the turn of the 20th century the Irish made up a quarter of Butte’s population, immigrating from Cork, Mayo, Donegal, Kerry, Cavan and Wexford.

A group of men pose for a photograph in front of a mine shaft entrance.
Unionizing enabled Irish miners to accumulate enough wealth to settle down in Butte.

The Irish immediately took to unionizing, protecting their economic interests that had been suppressed by the British back home, said Irish professor, Donnchadh O Baoill, quoted in a 2013 Montana Standard article. Thus began a long, sometimes deadly battle between the unions and the large mining corporations that controlled the town.

In spite of, or perhaps because of, the tremulous life in Butte, the Irish formed a tight, strong community that persevered through these dark times. Their influence shaped the city into what it is today.

Butte today

The city’s Irish heritage permeates everyday life in the city to this day. The Irish community in Butte is tightknit and fiercely loyal to the country from which they’re descended. Children learn Irish dance at the Tiernan Irish dancing school, famous Irishmen like the Irish ambassador to the United States  have stopped to speak in the city and local Irish band, Dublin Gulch, are beloved by the community.

They celebrate this heritage every chance they get—no way more obvious than the annual St. Patrick’s Day festivities (which started in 1882). According to the magazine, Irish America, over 30,000 people from around the state and country gather in Butte to celebrate the city’s heritage. Festivities include the famous parade through the historic Uptown district, held by the Ancient Order of Hibernians.  

A logo for the An Ri Ra Irish Festival in Butte.
Butte pays tribute to it’s Irish heritage in many ways.

The annual An Ri Ra Irish Festival is an equally impressive celebration of Irish culture. Held by the Montana Gaelic Cultural Society, the festival highlights traditional Irish art, including dance and music, and offers Irish language classes and impressive raffle prizes (like a trip to Ireland). It’s regarded as one of the best Irish festivals in North America.

Live in Butte and you’ll see why it’s known as one of the most Irish cities in America.

 

6 Ways the Butte Silver-Bow Local Government Supports New Business

Butte has a long history of great ingenuity, resilience in the face of adversity and a strong, unbeatable character. As discussed before, these attributes, among others, make Butte a great place to do business.

A sign stating the history of Butte made out of stone.
Butte, a little town with a big history.

But the city-county itself is another reason to make the plunge and relocate to this picturesque mountain town. The city-county of Butte-Silver Bow has a strong commitment to helping businesses start, expand and thrive.

Here, we’ve listed six ways the local government supports local business:  

City-county government

 

The city-county of Butte-Silver Bow is structured as a combined city-county government, which is a fancy way of saying that the government has jurisdiction of both Butte the city, and the greater county of Silver Bow.

An artists depiction of early Butte, MT. Smoke Stacks rise over a small down on a hill.
Butte has seen many changes.

This unique way of organizing government causes long-term savings, increased efficiency, improved resources and enhanced planning capabilities, according to the National League of Cities. Because of these benefits, a city-county style government allows for a stronger relationship to develop between the government and the private sector, which is better for your business.

Tax Increment Districts

 

Under the Montana law known as Tax Increment Financing, local governments are able to “utilize property taxes brought about by new development to construct infrastructure and assist with facility construction to support additional industrial uses in the area,” according to the Butte Local Development Corporation.

Butte has three Tax Increment Districts—including one within the Montana Connections Business Development Park—to help new and expanding businesses offset the cost of infrastructure. This means that funds are available to help your business with site development (adding capacity, building facilities, parking etc). How much you can acquire through these funds is based on total project investment and job creation.

Low cost-of-living

 

Starting or expanding a business in an expensive market can be taxing for you and your business. You can’t take the proper risks or focus on your startup if you are strapped for cash. That is not a problem in Butte. Currently, Butte-Silver Bow’s cost of living is nearly 7 percent lower than the U.S. average, with a median home listing price at $113k, according to real estate website Zillow.

A screen shot of a zillow map of Butte Montana homes for sale.
Few real estate markets are better suited for expanding businesses.

Butte-Silver Bow seeks to continue keeping the cost of living low, while striving to raise the already high standard of living.

Access to grants funded by the state of Montana

 

Butte-Silver Bow is committed to helping you find the grant money you need to expand your current business or get your new business off the ground.

The county will help you find the proper grant program that’s likely to provide necessary funding. Available grants include workforce training grants, incumbent worker training grants, economic development grants, business infrastructure grants and a host of other programs designed to bring business to the state of Montana. For a comprehensive list visit the BLDC’s website.  

The Butte Local Development Corporation

The Butte Local Development Corporation (BLDC) is a private/public organization that serves as a liaison between you and the government. They are there for you to help expedite project activity, as well as work as an intermediary for introductions to all the key players you may need in launching a successful business.

Not only that, but the BLDC boasts on their website that they provide key market intelligence including demographics, labor availability, taxes, cost of living comparisons, and research on workforce, recruitment and training assistance.

Taking a team approach

 

Kristen Rosa, who works in Community Development in the Butte-Silver Bow government said the number one way her city-county supports new business is by taking a team approach when it comes to supporting startups.

The Montana Connections Business Development park works alongside the BLDC, Headwaters, a non-profit focused on improving the economic well-being of Southwest Montana, and the local government to figure out what kind of help your business needs.  

A collection of business buildings with mines in the background.
Butte’s beautiful business district hasn’t aged a day.

From there, they continue to work together to meet with the people who can provide this help. They don’t give you a name and leave it at that—they introduce you to those who have the resources you need. They are by your side every step of the way.

The success of your new or expansion of your current startup is one of the top priorities for the city-county of Butte-Silver Bow. And is just another reason Butte’s a great place to be a business.

Why Butte’s Outdoor Access Makes it the Perfect Place to Call Home.

 

A clear water area of a river with tall trees and mountains in the background.
The crystal clear waters of Montana’s lakes and rivers.

Montana is called the Last Best State for a reason—its swoon-worthy, award winning nature, spanning valleys, mountains, rivers and lakes.

The city of Butte is no exception.

The sixth largest (by population) city in the state, Butte is a mecca for every type of outdoor enthusiast. Whether you’re a fisherman, a mountain biker, skier or all of the above, Butte has what you need, making it the perfect place to call home.

Hiking/ mountain biking/ rock climbing:

Surrounding Butte are 3.2 million acres of National Forest with trails for hikers, horseback riders and mountain bikers alike. In fact, the singletrack trails within the forest are known to be some of the best in the state.

Large spires of granite jutting out of the ground with rolling hills in the background.
The Humbug Spires south of Butte, Montana.

Rock climbers can find their own paradise within 30 miles of the city, in famous smooth granite routes like Humbug Spires and Spire Rock (which sits on the Continental Divide).

But the trails don’t stop at the National Forests. Butte is also within a few hours of the Anaconda-Pintler and Lee Metcalf Wilderness areas and National Parks, Yellowstone and Glacier.

a large pool puts off hot steam against a blue and cloudy sky.
The geysers and heat pools at Yellowstone National Park.

Fishing:

According to the Montana Angler, some of the best fly-fishing rivers on Earth are found in Southwest Montana—not too far from Butte. The closest fishing rivers to the city include the Clark-Fork just west of Butte, the Big Hole River, and the Madison River.  

Less than a three-hour drive away sits the mighty Smith River. Add your name to the Smith River lottery and cross your fingers that you’ll have the opportunity to spend the better part of four days rafting along the beautiful, cliff-enclosed river, catching fish all day long.  

Hunting:

Montana is known to possibly be the best state in the lower 48 for hunters. Not only because of the millions of acres of public lands and mountains, but because almost every huntable animal there is can be found within the Treasure State.

A large elk wades in a stream.
Few places offer better hunting.

Trounce through the large swaths of public land, like the 3.32 million acre Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest  that surrounds Butte. And get your fix multiple times a year: hunting season spans over a few months in both the spring and summer, depending on your animal of choice.

Skiing / Snowboarding:

A family skis down a slope with a large snow covered mountain in the background.
Montana offers some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the US.

There are seven alpine ski areas within three hours of Butte, as well as nordic ski trails Mount Haggin and  Moulton Reservoir. With all of the public land within the state, it’s also easy to find backcountry routes, if that’s more your style.  

In Butte, as your company thrives, your inner outdoorsman can too. That’s just business in Montana.

How Butte Ingenuity Powered Montana

In 1812, the town of Butte was little more than an assortment of mining tents. Fast-forward nearly 100 years and Butte was booming as one of the most prosperous cities in the United States. Butte, America generated millions of dollars mining the Richest Hill on Earth, while creating thousands of high-paying jobs and a rich, multinational culture.

There was only one problem: Mining operations require an ample, reliable supply of energy, which in the late 1800s wasn’t exactly easy to come by. But rivers were.

As a headwaters state, Montana boasts roaring rivers, including the headwaters to the Missouri (which in turn becomes the Mississippi), Columbia and Hudson Bay basins.

Early residents decided to harness the power of these waters, and as the largest and richest city in the state at the time, Butte was at the forefront of this innovation.

Hydroelectric Beginnings:

Less than ten years after the first hydroelectric facility opened in the United States — engineers built the Black Eagle Dam in Great Falls, Montana. Shortly thereafter, the bulk of hydroelectric projects shifted to be closer to Butte and its mining operations.

The Black Eagle Dam

A series of small power companies formed, merged, then reformed, harnessing the energy from the Madison and Missouri Rivers, two mighty bodies of water that flow within a few miles of Butte proper.

Almost all of the mining operations in Butte and nearby Anaconda ran off of this hydro power, creating a legacy you can still see in the state today. According to a 2015 U.S Energy Information Administration report, over 30 percent of Montana’s generated net electricity stemmed from hydroelectric sources, compare that to to 6 percent nationwide.

The Creation of the Montana Power Company:

Still, these smaller power companies could not meet the demands of the newest economic powerhouse in town — the Anaconda Mining Company. In December of 1912, the head of the Anaconda Mining Company and the president of the First National Bank in Great Falls, Montana incorporated the Montana Power Company, merging the Butte Electric and Power Company with three of its subsidiaries.

Thus the Montana Power Company owned nearly all of the power facilities within the state — the bulk of which were hydroelectric generating plants on the Madison and Missouri Rivers.

This Butte-based powerhouse continued to acquire their competitors, while expanding the generating capacity of the assets they already owned. Between 1890 and 1975, Montana experienced a boom in electric power facilities that powered the entire state and beyond.

This golden era of power generation largely stemmed from Butte engineering and ingenuity — their answer to the state’s increased levels of power consumption.

The Montana Power Company thrived throughout the rest of the 20th century, expanding into the natural gas, oil and coal sector, creating jobs across the state.

In 2000, the Montana Power Company switched gears and became the telecommunications company, Touch America. They sold their remaining assets to Northwestern Energy, whose Montana headquarters remain in Butte, the city where it all began.

Butte’s history is long, rich, and full of remarkable resilience. Its ability to be innovative in the face of challenges, like utilizing the state’s abundance of rivers to generate power, is a trademark of its history and part of what makes the city an inspiring place to do business.

In Butte, you’ll never be left in the dark.

12 Reasons Butte is Good for Business

As we’ve discussed on this blog before, Butte is a place of history and character, hence the nickname Butte, America. Nevertheless, history and character don’t put food on the table.  In addition to being a great place to live, Butte is a great place to locate your business.  How is that, you ask?  

We can think of 12 reasons how, which we’ve listed here.  

  • Location – Situated at the intersection of Interstate Highways 15 and 90, and along both the Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroads, we are the best placed location for manufacturing expansion and development, and also the best placed location for distribution anywhere in the Rocky Mountain West.  
  • Infrastructure – Butte’s rich history of both light and heavy industry has resulted in well developed infrastructure and capacity.  The Bert Mooney Airport offers daily flights to regional hubs, just a few minutes’ drive from uptown.  There’s ready access to water, sanitation, gas and electric utilities, high speed fiber, as well as the highway and railroads listed above.  In addition, local crane and heavy hauling services, equipment rentals and dealerships make doing business in Butte more convenient and affordable.
  • Reduced Import/Export Costs – The Port of Montana services rail cars and trucks, with a 86,000 pound lift capacity and both indoor and outdoor storage.  The Port of Montana and Montana Connections are located in a designated Foreign Trade Zone, which eliminates costs on import and export duties (explained in greater detail in each entities’ linked pages).  
  • A Talented Workforce – Butte is home to businesses spanning sectors including high-tech manufacturing, healthcare/life sciences, information technologies, energy utilities and geophysical consulting, which combine to generate and attract a talented workforce.  
  • An Outstanding University –  Montana Tech of the University of Montana has earned such accolades as the fourth best value in higher education nationwide and the fourth best public university in the west by the Princeton Review, and the ninth best public university for return on investment nationwide by the Wall Street Journal.  With degrees ranging from earth and health sciences, and in 12 engineering fields, Montana Tech keeps the workforce talent pool fresh and deep.
  • An Outstanding Technical/Trade School – Montana Tech offers certificates and Associate’s Degrees in fields including Aerospace Welding Technology, Machining Technology and Metals Fabrication, ensuring that Butte’s manufacturing base is staffed and state-of-the-art.
  • Low Home Prices -As of this writing, Realtor.com reports the median listing price of homes in Butte is $119k, compared to Missoula’s $315k and Bozeman’s $385k. Butte is an inexpensive place to be a homeowner, plain and simple.
  • Access to Outdoor Recreation –  Surrounding Butte are 3.2 million acres of National Forest, with ample opportunity for mountain biking, rock climbing, dirt biking, hunting and fishing.  There are 7 alpine ski areas within 3 hours of Butte, and Moulton Reservoir hosts nordic ski trails, operated by the Mile High Nordic Ski Club.  Three golf courses serve the area, including the Jack Nicklaus-designed Old Works Golf Course in nearby Anaconda.
  • Work Ethic –  During its peak production years, Butte’s mining industry supplied copper to electrify the nation, supply the World War I buildup and establish telegraph connections with the rest of the world.  Around the clock, thousands of people toiled underground in Butte’s mines, instilling an unwavering work ethic that persists to this day.
  • Great Food –  Keeping the old world, neighborhood grocery store alive, the Front Street Market operates a full service deli, offers a full wine selection, and has something for the gourmet in all of us.  The M&M Bar and Cafe first opened in 1890, and has enough neon and polished stainless steel to satisfy the diner enthusiast in all of us.  They make a great burger, too.
The M&M Bar and Cafe | Source: Flickr
  • Summertime Festivals –  The Montana Folk Festival is one of the Northwest’s largest music festivals, hosting more than 20 acts, with food vendors and artists’ booths scattered throughout uptown.  Even better, attendance is free of charge.  For the more adventurous, Evel Knievel Days bills itself as ‘the only extreme sports festival of its kind in the world,’ a claim that can’t be refuted.  It’s three days of stunts, spectacles and generally following Butte native Evel Knievel’s risk-taking example.
  • Strong Cultural Heritage –  Butte is steeped in its Irish heritage, which it celebrates any chance it can.  St Patrick’s day in Butte is a regional draw of revelry in the streets, which, without any open container law can get quite spirited.  The An Rí Rá Montana Irish Festival celebrates Butte’s Irish heritage, and is regarded as one of the best Irish festivals in the country.

We’ve listed 12 reasons Butte is good for business, but there might as well be a million.  The point is, it’s a great place to live, work and play.  After all, that’s what doing business is for, at least in Butte, America it is.