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Livingston, Montana's Steady Population Growth Reaches 35 Year High

City of Livingston

Livingston, Montana, a small historic town at the gateway to Yellowstone National Park, has seen a steady population growth in recent years. That comes after the railroad industry left the town a few decades ago, and more recently, the 2008 crash affected the community.

Livingston’s City Manager, Mike Kardoes has been on the job for about a year and a half. He told KPCW they’re recovering from the times when they saw zero or negative growth.

“It’s been pretty steady, three-percent a year for the last two to three years and it’s been increasing over the last six years. We’re at almost the max population we’ve had over the last 35 years and there were significant decreases in the last 90’s in about the 2008 downturn we lost about 400-500 people. We’ve gained back almost everything that we’ve lost and we’re about to reach populations levels we haven’t seen in a long time.”

Along with the modern-day cowboys who own large ranches in the area, Livingston is also home to modem cowboys who work from home, writers and artists, and a significant number of people who work elsewhere, but want to live in Livingston.

“I couldn’t give you a percentage but especially as Gardner next to the park is getting really expensive to live in a lot of those workers are living in Livingston and commuting to Gardner. It’s people that want to work in Bozeman because there’s more job opportunities but love the small-town community feel of Livingston. So, they choose to live here and work in Bozeman. Some of it is retiree growth this is a very popular spot to retire. Park County as a whole a little over 50% of the revenue or income that comes into the county is actually not from wages its from either retirements or investments.”

Among the population that actually works in Livingston, he said tourism is the fastest-growing segment.

“There’s still a large portion that’s Ag based. Especially when you’re talking the county there’s still a lot of agricultural ranching based, wheat growing base. There’s also between the hospital and Printing for Less those two more professional groups. Printing for Less is internet printing and they’re doing some internet delivery for other companies and they do both of that here. So I wouldn’t say that it’s all tourism but tourism is a significant portion especially when you talk about river guides and outfitters and outdoor supply stores that kind of thing there’s a significant portion.”

Livingston’s downtown is a Historic District of about three-square blocks. He said if a McDonald’s or similar business wanted to open in the area, the city has regulations to respond.

“If they did want to open up a store front in there, they would have to keep the historic look of the building. That’s a very strong undercurrent in this community is they love the historic feel of the downtown. So even new businesses that go in sometimes leave the old signs from old businesses. We have a flower shop where the sign in the glass is probably 80 years old and its for a clothing store. They just add their own sign below it and keep that historic flavor to downtown. So we would look at a McDonalds to come in if they wanted to meet all the requirements to keep that historic character.”

Kardoes said that chain businesses are more interested in locating at the town’s outskirts, to catch the interstate traffic. Even there, they have to follow the city’s guidelines to maintain a historic feel.

Finally, Park City has one ironic connection to the town. The TV series “Yellowstone” is filmed at the Utah Film Studios and around the Wasatch Back. But the fictional setting—a mega-ranch on the border of the national park—reflects the Livingston area.

“We have those kinds of ranches where they’re huge. We have some very wealthy land owners that live around Livingston. In fact, I think one of the scenes was even filmed in Livingston in one of our local bars. I wouldn’t say it’s accurate, but it does reflect the flavor of this kind of area.”

Known for getting all the facts right, as well as his distinctive sign-off, Rick covered Summit County meetings and issues for 35 years on KPCW. He now heads the Friday Film Review team.
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