"As we were ready to reopen our region, we needed a way for decision-makers and [residents] to feel confident in the actions we were taking to resume business, encourage safe tourism, and promote continuing community development."
Bozeman, Montana, Builds a Path to Economic Recovery
While communities across the country transition to reopening after pandemic-related closures, the City of Bozeman, Montana, is supporting residents and businesses with a public information hub site , Bozeman Recovery Dashboard, which tracks recovery of business, tourism, and development. Since its launch, the site has had more than 3,000 visits.
Throughout the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak, Montana experienced one of the lowest number of cases in the United States and began a phased approach to reopening at the end of April 2020. After months of closure, government officials issued COVID-19 guidelines for residents and businesses to safely return to activities. During phase two of the state's recovery, Montana Governor Steve Bullock permitted group gatherings of up to 50 people, resumed business operations with reduced capacity and safety guidelines, and lifted the travel quarantine for visits to Montana.
"As we were ready to reopen our region, we needed a way for decision-makers and [residents] to feel confident in the actions we were taking to resume business, encourage safe tourism, and promote continuing community development," said Chris Kangas, geographic information system (GIS) analyst for the City of Bozeman.
Recognizing that smaller, more rural communities take longer to recover and their economies are impacted more severely, the city decided to track recovery across its county, Gallatin, and the two neighboring counties of Madison and Park. The Bozeman Recovery Dashboard empowers communities to come together as a region, using GIS analysis and tools.
Meeting the Needs of Local Business and Tourists
One of the first priorities was to get the business community back on its feet. With high national unemployment numbers and many small businesses affected across the country, city leaders needed to understand whether the local business community was benefiting from programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding.
The Bozeman Recovery Dashboard site tracks weekly unemployment claims across three counties, giving decision-makers insight into whether the actions they are taking are getting Montanans back to work. As Governor Bullock distributes $1.25 billion in CARES Act funding, the region can monitor which communities are benefiting and from what type of assistance. Tracking grants awarded down to the dollar amount allows the region to identify gaps. A side-by-side comparison of the three counties reveals similar yet varying levels of needs based on location.
Bozeman, which relies heavily on tourism, needed to be prepared to welcome visitors for summer 2020. The recovery dashboard site showed that once the travel quarantine was lifted on June 1, Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport saw a dramatic rise in passenger arrivals.
This insight informs local businesses to prepare operations by having necessary personal protective equipment, enough staff to assist customers, and plenty of products to sell as traffic increases. The recovery dashboard also shows that Bozeman is experiencing higher hotel occupancy than the national average, giving a more complete view of economic recovery.
Community Development Projects for a Rapidly Growing Community
As the state moves to reopen, Bozeman city leaders are still tasked with approving building permits, business license applications, and new development applications. As a fast-growing community, the city has a lot of new construction and development to monitor.
The recovery dashboard site displays active and open permits that were backlogged for approval during the pandemic and are now being processed. The growing rate of approved business licenses is setting an expectation for continued business growth. As the state reopens, entrepreneurs opening new businesses will expect quick approvals on business licenses. Adding to the city's growth, the number of new development applications doubled from May to June.
Sharing Economic Recovery Progress with Residents
Using the recovery dashboard site and other GIS tools to visualize and analyze the impact to business, tourism, and community development projects, city leaders could see the interdependence between efforts. By sharing this insight with the public, business community, and decision-makers, the recovery dashboard site gives everyone a view of the region's economic recovery progress. Residents can also monitor the equitable support and funding distribution across counties.
While the state of Montana progresses toward the next stage of recovery, the City of Bozeman will continue to centralize important economic data for decision-makers and the public. The city's GIS team is working to document phase data, showing progress throughout each stage of recovery. This analysis will help government officials make data-driven decisions and determine whether phase requirements are working and if any changes are needed to help the state progress.
Beyond the pandemic and economic recovery, leaders from the City of Bozeman along with those from the three counties will continue to build and use the recovery dashboard site to visualize and share important information.