LODGE GRASS, Mont. — The Crow Tribal Legislature recently passed a resolution to sell a piece of land to the town of Lodge Grass for the community’s planned business incubator.
The town of Lodge Grass had requested the parcel of land to build the facility with grant money awarded from a U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Business Development Grant it received earlier this year.
Lodge Grass Mayor Quincy Dabney said the town plans to break ground on the project in 2020.
The $352,220 grant, Dabney said, will help the community continue its work to meet the basic needs of its residents.
“There comes a point when the only way up is to start climbing,” the town’s application for the grant stated.
According to the application, the development of the coal industry played a large role in the development of Lodge Grass. The construction of a new highway in 1973, diverted travelers away from facilities and businesses in Lodge Grass.
“This development marked the beginning of a sharp decline for the once-thriving town of Lodge Grass, historically the largest on the Crow Reservation and home to more than half the Crow Tribe’s chiefs and chairmen,” the application states. “Its current status is markedly different: 450 residents, one grocery store, one school performing in the bottom 5% of the state, no roadside services, 75% of housing listed as substandard, and, like other towns experiencing industrial crashes and extreme poverty, an emerging opioid epidemic.”
As a result of the growth of the coal industry, the town’s economy failed to diversify and, like other areas of the country, families and businesses have been impacted by the downturn in the coal market.
“Men who used to work in the coal industry took pride in being able to contribute positively to their families by doing respected work,” the application states. “As layoffs in the tribe and with the mine have increased, mental health impacts resulting from lack of meaningful work, particularly for men, are being increasingly documented by health care providers.”
But Dabney hopes to reverse the downward trend Lodge Grass has experienced over recent decades. For more than a year, with the support of a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the grassroots community group Raising Places — Lodge Grass, has met with community members monthly to discuss issues the town is facing and develop a plan.
The community’s first steps focused on creating a united vision, cleaning up the town and increasing safety for children. Next, the community’s leaders aim to begin working on growing small businesses and employment opportunities.
No match is required for the grant, which comes out of funding set aside for projects on Native American reservations or for Native American businesses. USDA Montana Director for Rural Development Charles Robison noted that the funding is meant to act as seed capital to develop businesses. He said a similar grant was provided to Lame Deer several years ago, and the USDA staff has been pleased with how that project has benefited the community.
“I live in Helena and I take for granted that there is physical space available,” Robison said. “There are rural communities where that just isn’t available. Lame Deer was like that. There is not a lot of space for rent. By working with the tribe to provide the business incubator space, we made it available. Lodge Grass will do the same thing. It will give people a chance to start and grow a business.”
The building planned includes 3,700 square feet, which will include a commercial kitchen, conference room, community work space and retail space. Project leaders expect five to 10 businesses to rent space in the incubator. Dabney has said they could see small businesses like bakeries, Native American arts and goods, a T-shirt company and potentially activities for children in the area utilize space.
“During our community evaluation process, many residents noted that a lack of employment meant that adults in the community, especially men, had no strong identity as fathers, providers, or contributors,” the grant application stated. “They believe that a lack of meaningful work is behind much of the drug and alcohol abuse within the community.”
By helping Lodge Grass residents find gainful employment through the business incubator, leaders like Dabney hope to address mental health issues alongside economic ones.