The New Montana Territory
The Madisonian explores growth trends and cultural shifts growth pressures consumer services
Growth and weather. These are the two main topics of conversation around Madison County. While weather conditions are quantified easily by reading your temperature gauge, windsock or checking your weather app, “growth” as a phenomenon is, while observable, less measurable, at least against those benchmarks available to The Madisonian.
Data from the 2020 U.S. Census bear out the growth we’ve all experienced in our state from 2010 to 2020, and based on those numbers, Montana will gain an additional seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Conventional wisdom says that since last year’s census was conducted, even more folks have poured into Montana and noticeably into Madison County.
We’ve all seen the circumstantial evidence: skyrocketing real estate prices, more customer demand on contractors, crowded grocery and hardware stores and fewer parking spaces at public fishing access areas. Since we’re not selling admission tickets to Madison County, how do we know how many people are really moving here?
In our series, “The New Montana Territory,” The Madisonian is examining all aspects of growth: how it is affecting the way we live, if it will continue and if so, what kinds of planning should be underway.
Consumer companies are on the front-line of growth, fielding more demands from more customers and innovating to meet future expectations from a growing customer base.
Many Madisonians have complained that one daily consequence of growth is too much traffic for the local cellular infrastructure. Dropped calls, no bars and cross-talk are frequent aggravations, and the situation doesn’t seem to be improving. When asked if Verizon plans to build more towers to improve service, the company responded with an email from Heidi Flato, a Verizon communications manager.
“We are closely monitoring the situation,” Flato wrote. “I know that seasonality can impact our network capacity in certain parts of Montana (tourist attractions, vacation spots, etc.). We are always looking for opportunities to improve our network performance and ultimately the customer experience. However, at this time I don't have any specific plans that I can share.”
Verizon doesn’t release data on local network patterns “for competitive reasons,” Flato wrote, but noted that “as more people are doing more things, in more places, with more mobile devices, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in voice and data traffic on our network across the U.S. We only expect that trend to increase.”
A local company, Madison River Propane, said its sales of propane have increased dramatically and cited sales figures that make the point.
“Our company’s sales of propane tanks have skyrocketed,” said district manager Danielle Stoker. “In less than eight years, we’ve gone from selling 100,000 gallons per year to now more than one million gallons.”
In its relatively short existence, the internet has become essential to many aspects of daily life, spurring debate about whether it should be regulated as a public utility like electricity. 3 Rivers Communications, based in Fairfield, Mont., has seen a rise in new broadband customers in Madison County in the last year, and shared what it found.
“Over the past few years, 3 Rivers has seen a significant increase in the number of customers we serve in Madison County, with most of that growth coming on the broadband internet side,” according to Don Serido, 3 Rivers Communications Marketing Director.
Noting that 3 Rivers has the “ability to offer broadband-only service, without requiring a telephone line,” Serido provided information that shows significant increases in 3 Rivers’ total customers, with sharp growth in its broadband customers, as cited below:
Growth in new 3 Rivers customers (broadband and telephone):
Ennis area – 29% increase (from 1574 customers at end of 2019 to 2028 customers end of June 2021)
Sheridan area – 8% increase (from 904 customers at end of 2019 to 973 customers end of June 2021)
Twin Bridges area - 8% increase (from 425 customers at end of 2019 to 458 customers end of June 2021)
Serido is confident 3 Rivers will meet the challenges of future customer demand because “3 Rivers’ network is robust, and fully capable of handling the increase in broadband use in all areas we serve, now and in the future.”
Northwestern Energy’s planning engineers are staying busy this summer setting up new customers, according to Jo Dee Black, spokesperson for Northwestern Energy.
That growth has been steady over the last five years, according to a summary of new residential accounts provided by Black:
Growth in Northwestern Energy residential accounts, May 2016 – May 2021 County-wide – 6.7%
Ennis area – 17.17%
Sheridan area – 7.29%
Twin Bridges area – 2.88%
In the coming months, The Madisonian will look at the impact of growth and change on other aspects of our daily lives, including government planning and services, school enrollment and traffic.