Philipsburg is looking for a few good families. In an effort to shore-up its declining elementary school enrollment, the tiny Montana Silver Rush town (pop. 840) is putting out a formal call for its next wave of pioneers – this time the New Millennium kind. The local Rotary Club and other community leaders have launched a yearlong media campaign targeting the growing members of the new economy who can “telework” anyplace they choose. Those workers include dot-com employees, freelancers and sellers on sites like eBay. People who need only broadband, UPS and perhaps occasional trips through the nearby Missoula International Airport to make a living. The town believes its blue ribbon trout streams, a 9-to-1 student/teacher ratio in its schools, a low-traffic hospital, hiking, hunting, skiing, zero crime and a perfectly preserved jewel of a mining town are an unbeatable combination for young families seeking a more picturesque small town life. Men’s Journal recently named Philipsburg “America’s Coolest Town to Live in the Past” and many of the town’s residents, new and old, think it is a perfect place to live in the future. For more information, visit www.MovetoPburg.com.
Kevin Donlan, President of the Philipsburg Rotary Club (www.philipsburgrotary.org) and himself a 10-year Philipsburg transplant who raised a family here and logs nearly 50,000 air miles annually in his work as a pharmaceutical industry consultant said, “I moved here because I realized I could not only provide more for my business clients than I did from a base of a big city, but I could also do so without the associated big city distractions and stress.” He continued, “It’s really humorous, because when I explain to my typical clients (Fortune 500 Companies) why I moved here, their initial reaction is one of ‘I wish I could do that’. The universal follow up questions from these same people are how they might do the same. Minor logistics questions about travel, connectivity, production, etc., never about the rationale because the reasons are obvious to them. They just need to trust that they can take the leap as well and I always ask them – when have you ever heard of someone moving their family and business to a place of their dreams when they regretted it? Conversely, how many people do you know who regret raising a family in a crowded city who long for the dream that we have here in Philipsburg?”
The search for young families is especially key for Philipsburg at this time because dwindling school enrollment has become a threat to the community. The schools (Philipsburg Elementary and Granite High School) are ranked among the top 15% of Montana schools. “We offer a great educational approach,” said Mike Cutler, Philipsburg School Superintendent. “It’s akin to the charter school model that so many other cities are trying to create, with things like small class size, college-credit classes and creative approaches to broadening a child’s education in and out of the classroom. We want all prospective families to recognize the high-quality school experience available here in Philipsburg.”
The Philipsburg Rotary Club, which launched the outreach effort, prides itself on regularly tackling bold projects. It built an NHL-sized ice skating rink and activity center (complete with a Zamboni) funded entirely from donations, it annually hosts a summer concert series and is constantly seeking ways to improve and advance life in Philipsburg. Other Rotary Club board members spearheading the effort include Ed Lord, former President of the Cattlemen’s Beef Board responsible for the famous “Beef, It’s What’s for Dinner” campaign in 1986, and Jim Jenner, a former Montana State Senator and documentary filmmaker who has filmed around the globe, traveling as far away as China, but always returning to his Philipsburg home.
“All of us involved in the project have our own love of Philipsburg and the Granite County area and would like to share that with like-minded people,” said Ed Lord. “We’d love to see Philipsburg bloom into its full potential as a town and felt the time was right to embark on a strategic media campaign. We’re confident that out in America there are families who would love to join the Philipsburg community. Our job is to let America know how much this town is loved by its residents.”
“Doing business here gets easier and easier,” said Jim Jenner, who moved his documentary production company to Philipsburg in 2003. “With high speed broadband I can share film data with support people anywhere. If I need something delivered, it’s a day away by UPS and we ship our DVDs worldwide using the local post office. I just wish I’d been able to start my company here in the 1970′s instead of on the West Coast. I would have gotten a lot more fishing in!”
It’s evident that Philipsburg, already a tourist destination, has a great opportunity to attract new permanent residents thanks the explosion of telework as more companies recognize its efficiency in terms of both cost and employee satisfaction. It has been projected that by 2020, 30% of all employees will be hired and work online (http://gigaom.com/2012/03/27/elance-predicts-the-future-of-online-work).
One Telework P-Burg Pioneer is Sarah Brabender who moved with her husband and three young children to Philipsburg eight years ago and remotely manages a team of medical transcribers who all work in different cities around the country. “I’m grateful to live in an era that gives me the freedom to live exactly where we choose,” says Sarah. “And Philipsburg is where we have chosen to raise our family. It’s a great place for our kids. Just in terms of the school, the teachers are dedicated to their jobs and the small class sizes mean my kids get complete attention instead of being just another number on the rolls.”
Most recently, Philipsburg has been garnering national attention thanks to a popular blog, www.theminimalists.com, which chronicles the efforts of two friends who have given up their corporate lives, exited the rat race and relocated to P-Burg. CBS, ABC, NBC, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today and Forbes have all covered their quest for a simpler life and an embrace of the truer, more human values that life in Philipsburg and Montana nurtures.
Philipsburg has already dipped its toe into the online waters thanks to VoteSmart.org, a highly influential nonpartisan political open-information site (“It’s so good that even the federal government recommends it” – The New York Times) based there. After researching 15 sites in seven states, the P-Burg location was chosen, as the VoteSmart website explains, for three key criteria that had to be met:
* Top technical infrastructure required – 26 miles of fiber optic T-1 lines were laid to support it
* Year-round access required
* The environment (fishing, kayaking, skiing) needed to offer strong incentive for the hundreds of unpaid college interns. “The location’s uniqueness and the recreational opportunities it provided would be the only reward most of them would ever receive.”
Interestingly, for all the simple living the town embraces, Philipsburg has also received media attention for the other end of the spectrum as well. For instance the nearby Ranch at Rock Creek was singled out as the #1 “Most Expensive Hotel in the U.S.” and Amazon.com’s Senior Vice President for Ecommerce, Brian Valentine, maintains his $20 million Angel’s Nest Ranch near Philipsburg, a philanthropic effort to provide respite and vacations for ill and recovering individuals and their families.
Mr. Valentine also made a personal contribution to Philipsburg by donating a state-of-the-art computer lab to Philipsburg Elementary / Granite High School. It’s in fact the oldest school in Montana, established in 1896, and offers small class sizes, dedicated teachers and college credit classes, putting it on par with many urban charter schools, a reassuring, if not motivating, fact for parents considering Philipsburg.
In fact, Philipsburg’s “can-do attitude” has been featured twice on NBC’s “Today Show” during Bob Dotson’s “American Stories” segment. As Dotson explained, “Time and again I find entire towns confronting problems with patience, love and a leveling sense of humor… Philipsburg, Montana, is a working-class town that gets things done the pioneer way – together.” (http://www.today.com/id/45585751/site/todayshow/ns/today-today_news/t/pioneer-spirit-keeps-town-giving-ghost)