More than ever, the American economy and population seem to be heading toward the country’s largest cities. That has left smaller states such as Mississippi, and small towns such as Greenwood, in a fix.
To prevent readers from giving in to pessimism and proclaiming that things will never get better, it may help to know that some small towns have thrived in recent years. The Washington Post visited one of them and discovered some very specific reasons why.
The Post went to Hamilton, Montana, where the population of 4,728 has grown by about 10 percent since 2010, “reflecting a Western renaissance that contrasts with the experience of small towns in other regions.”
Four things seem to be drawing more people to Hamilton. It’s only an hour away from the amenities offered by the state’s second-largest city, Missoula, population 75,000. It’s in a valley surrounded by majestic mountains that offer plenty of outdoor activities.
As for Hamilton’s economy, two local guys who came back home after college opened a microbrewery and restaurant that now sell more than $1 million worth of beer annually. More importantly, the town is home to a federal facility of 450 employees that researches the world’s deadliest viral diseases.
Hamilton has some assets that can’t be matched, such as the Rocky Mountains. And it has other things working in its favor as well.
The Post noted that Western states always have been far less dependent on manufacturing jobs, which have been decimated in recent decades, than other regions in the country. And there’s a little more public sector employment in the West than everywhere else.
The larger point of Hamilton’s success, though, is that other small towns don’t have to give up without a fight. Part of Hamilton’s appeal is quality of life — less traffic, fewer people, easy access to outdoors and recreation activities. Any small town in Mississippi can make the same claim. True enough, there is no beautiful mountain range here, but we have plenty of space for outdoors activities of our own.
One other great advantage in Mississippi is a lower cost of living, especially when it comes to housing. In many of America’s growing cities, housing costs have gotten out of reach for the middle and working classes.
Another lesson that Hamilton provides is the value of young entrepreneurs and their willingness to stick around and make a difference in a small town.
The two microbrewery owners looked at other states for their business but got a starter loan in their hometown. They’re not a big employer, but 40 percent of their beer is sold in other parts of the state.
Greenwood has a decent share of young risk takers, and they need to be encouraged. You never know: Every business that’s big started out small. A few of those could make a big difference in this community.