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Are Californians trying to change Montana?

Ted Cote

"Montana’s full. Try Mexico."​

After 5 years of thoughtful contemplation, I moved my business and my family from Seal Beach California to Bozeman Montana in March of 2016. Shortly after we moved into our home, one of my new neighbors who is also from California approached me with a simple warning "don't mention that you're from California, and you might want to hurry and get Montana plates for your two vehicles".

My experience to that point with local people was that they were welcoming and friendly. New neighbors welcomed us into the neighborhood, the local restaurants and shopkeepers were talkative and inquisitive about us - often asking us why we chose to move to Bozeman. Frequently, we were asked "have you gone through a winter yet?" indicating that surviving a winter here is a test to someone's fortitude and commitment to staying beyond summer and fall. Maybe some Californians pack up and run after a cold winter here. Interestingly enough, most of the locals we were encountering, were not native from Montana, rather most of them migrated here from cities like Denver, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Portland and of course many cities in California. Statistically, one out of ten people in the United States lives in California, so proportionately you would expect a similar percentage of people to hail from California. Many of them had settled here for similar reasons. One common story I heard was that they had come here to go to the university, then after graduation, decided to call it home.

It wasn't until I wrote a blog about what inspired me to move my business to Montana that I experienced firsthand how some people feel about Californians moving into the Big Sky state. I boosted a post in Facebook to generate awareness about my business. Overall, I received a generally positive response. I had targeted people between 28 and 65 who live within 50 miles of Bozeman to see my article in their Facebook feeds. The title of the article was "IM/TMA moves to Montana" with a subtitle that read "After 12 years in Southern California, we needed to get outside." However, not all responses were neighborly or welcoming. One person commented "Now go back home. Nice trying to change MT to the places like you used to live. We've had enough Californians try to ruin our state." The profile of this person said they lived in Bozeman and were originally from White Sulphur Springs, Montana. Another person commented "We have had enough Californians. They have damaged the state of Montana." I replied with "You say it like all Californians are the same, as if we were a separate race and we all think and act alike." His final response was "Well, bottom line is this. I've met and had the unfortunate luck of running across a few. And yes they have all been horrible people. So yes I'm no longer willing to give any of them the benefit of the doubt." Other comments included "Montana’s full. Try Mexico" and a few that were jokes about following a rule to not tell anyone about Montana. One guy wrote "Quit Sharing....WTF!" A couple of people wrote friendly comments. A woman originally from Galveston, Texas who now lives in Bozeman wrote "I think it's wonderful that your family got away from California. Welcome to the great state of Montana, there's nowhere else like it." A mix of people liked the post. Others who didn't seem to like the idea of a family moving here from California expressed their displeasure with an angry emoticon. I wonder if they would have reacted that same way face-to-face or did their ability to do it via social media with relative anonymity make it easy to throw a few daggers.

Virtually every instance of a mean, rude comment or angry face, the person hailed from a small town in Montana. (Some may have just been joking) This got me thinking. For whatever reason, true or otherwise, these individuals have a fear or have had an experience that makes them think that people moving here from California come here to change Montana to be like California. One native I talked to while walking my dogs at the local dog park said, she dislikes Californians because one person from California told her she should have her dogs on a leash when she walks them. Another person who works as a plumber in new construction in Bozeman told me that he loathes Californians because other local contractors from California that he has worked with are always saying "this is how we do it in California" referring to some particular building code.

I can't speak for all Californians who have moved to Montana, because we all have our own reasons, we're all different in some way, we're individuals, we are U.S. citizens, not some illegal immigrant or refugee from a war-torn country. I moved here because I love living an outdoor lifestyle. I love big skies, big mountains, big rivers, big game, fishing, hiking, skiing, and want my kids to experience nature. Places like Montana was where I grew up visiting only on vacations. I want to be able to be out of town in 15 minutes if I want. The last thing I want is to do is change Montana to be more like California. First of all, that's pretty much impossible. Montana isn't suddenly going to have thousands of miles of coastline on the ocean and 80 degree weather in January and share a border with Mexico. 40 million people are not going to move to Montana any time soon. Most Californians don't have the fortitude to endure the long cold winters or are willing to sacrifice their lifestyle, which can be very nice or very blah. Mine had become blah. I lived less than a mile from the beach, but for me the hot weather, the lack of seasons, the sheer volume of people, the traffic was maddening. Admittedly, I would likely have remained in California if it wasn't so overpopulated. It is an amazing state, with beautiful beaches, mountains and deserts. For that reason, I can empathize with native Montanans fearing overpopulation, but there is a massive difference.

When people complain that Bozeman is getting crowded and that traffic is worsening, I'm sure that is true from their perspective, but rest assured, that Bozeman is not crowded compared to most fast-growing cities. Traffic will never get close to LA bad. The longest I've had to wait in traffic in Montana is waiting for the freight trains that pass through daily. I might have waited 7 whole minutes once. To say we want things to be like California refers mostly to the quality of local Mexican restaurants we have here in Bozeman. Admittedly, I'll confess that Montana would benefit from that upgrade. As for mostly everything else, I want Montana to stay the way it is - and if it does change - I only hope that it improves the quality of life for all Montanans.

Some people think that every person who comes here has just sold their house in California for millions and can come to town and pay cash for a big dreamhouse in Bozeman or Big Sky, but this is not the case for my family. We work hard, struggled to save for a down payment on a home and don't like rising prices for real estate. We now know about the dreaded "Mountain-Tax" which seems to be something that Montanans have sadly bought into. Employers pay low wages for qualified workers across the spectrum. Montana is ranked close to last for wages in the U.S. That particular stat will and does keep people from moving here. One writer seems to take pride in earning less. Believe me, I would have moved here in 2011 if I could have found a job that paid a competitive salary in my profession. Personally, it upsets me that it seems business owners exploit this situation. I plan to pay my employees higher than average wages because I want to recruit and retain the best people, and I want them to be happy and get what they deserve. They should not be penalized for living in a beautiful state. Unemployment is at historic lows across the country and I hope this gives Bozeman a good reason to compete for the best people locally and I hope those businesses who refuse to increase wages to retain employees get taught a lesson by losing employees to progressive and fair employers.

I can also say that if you're a city slicker at heart - you definitely won't fit in here. I happen to love anything outdoors and I thrive in cold weather. Since I've come here, I can honestly say I love Montana and could see myself living out my days here. I was bummed how smokey it can be during fire season, but I understand that some years this is inevitable. I will be annoyed at too many tourists visiting Yellowstone or Glacier during the summer, because I saw what happened to Yosemite over the years, but it's FAR to get here from most places and EXPENSIVE to fly in and out of. A round-trip ticket to Salt Lake can be $600+ even with advanced purchase. That may keep a few people away for sure.

Another thing, not every one from California is liberal. There are many conservatives, but the media focuses on places like Hollywood and San Francisco and paints everyone to look like a snowflake. I love that Montana is balanced in that respect and that it values the second amendment. Knowing that many law abiding citizens are carrying a firearm gives me peace of mind, not the other way around. A lot of migrants in Western states move to other Western states, and Montana is a prime example. The population of Montana born in California, Washington and Oregon has doubled since 1980. Montana is somewhat like Idaho in that a large share of natives move to other states, but tend to not move very far. Since 1980, the only significant change in the pattern is the movement has increasingly included Colorado and Oregon. in 2012, 54% of Montana's population was born here, compare to 1970 when 61% were born here. In 2000, 6% of the population was born in California. Interestingly enough, 55% living in California now were born there.

One great thing about Montana is that it is a state with a lot of small towns and cities that could use a boost here and there - and when people living in Bozeman yearn for the good ol' days, they can consider moving to another beautiful small city in Montana. The state has a long, long, way to go before it gets crowded like many parts of California, Oregon, Texas, Arizona and Colorado. You should read about the growth happening in states like Tennessee and North Carolina. For God's sake, there's barely over a million people living in the 4th largest state geographically. I look forward to the day that I've lived here long enough to approach a new neighbor and tell him in my non-surfer dude accent that he might want to hurry and change his license plates if he know whats good for him. Damn Californians!

That's my take.

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