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This is a last-minute appeal to all Montanans who still have yet to vote. Here is some food for thought to vote against I-186.

The top four industries in Montana are construction, health care, agriculture, and mining. In 2015, mining directly impacted the economy annually with $1.6B Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 5,500 jobs; however, the indirect impact was at least $5.1B and 29,600 jobs. There are approximately 504,000 employed and 19,000 unemployed people in the state. Without mining, the unemployment rate would increase from 3.6% to 9.4%. That would be equivalent to nearly 1 in every 10 Montanans hitting the unemployment line.

To put that in perspective, let’s examine just two critical hard-rock mining communities in Montana.

Libby was once the combined timber/mining capital of Montana. Its unemployment is near 8.4%. They continue to hold out hope mining will make a comeback. But 35 years later, there is still no Montanore Mine. And 15 years later, there is still no Rock Creek Mine. Once approved, the two mines would directly add 600 jobs and $2 billion and indirectly add 1,500 jobs and $800 million to the economy for 30 years. Unemployment would drop to less than 3%.

Butte, Montana’s original mining city, has a current unemployment rate of only 3.6%. Montana Resources is a huge part of the economy. It has 360 employees and will add $2.2 billion to the economy for the next 30 years. The indirect numbers would be 1,000 additional employees in support industries adding $1 billion to the economy for the same time frame. However, without Montana Resources, Butte’s economy is known to suffer as historically noted by two key years, 1982 and 1992, when unemployment was on the order of 15% and 9%, respectively.

Throughout Montana, the story is the same. Employment is always high wherever the mining industry is active. Its why our beloved state is called the Treasure State, has the motto “Oro y Plata” meaning “Gold and Silver," and pictures a pick and shovel in its Great Seal.

As a final perspective, let’s compare a few other state economies from 2015. Montana: 5,500 direct employees and $1.6 billion GDP impact. Arizona: 17,700 and $12 billion. California: 11,100 and $3.2 billion. Colorado: 8,600 and $4.1 billion. Idaho: 3,400 and $1.2 billion. Nevada: 15,900 and $9.4 billion. New Mexico: 6,000 and $1.8 billion. Utah: 10,200 and $3 billion. These jobs are honorable and among the highest-paying. It’s why most of these states have had mining schools for well over a century.

If passed, I-186 will dishonor our heritage and destroy our future. Vote no on I-186!

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Courtney Young is a Lewis S. Prater Distinguished Professor and the department head of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering at Montana Tech.  The views and conclusions contained in this opinion piece are those of the author and should not be interpreted as representing the official policy of Montana Tech, either expressed or implied.


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