Grappling with rural ‘brain drain,’ Montana leaders mull incentives to lure in college grads

HELENA — A state program that would have offered professional workers grants and tax breaks to settle in rural Montana didn’t pass muster at the state Legislature this year.

However, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Joel Krautter, says he’ll take another run at the idea — dubbed the “Catch and Keep Act” — in 2021. And, as Montana leaders and lawmakers look at ways to help rural communities draw in skilled workers, it isn’t the only incentive program in play.

Lawmakers, for example, did fund a program geared toward addressing rural teacher shortages by offering educators help to pay off student loans when they take jobs in small districts. In healthcare, the Montana University System has had a loan repayment program for rural Montana doctors since the early 1990s.

The recruiting challenge for small-town employers is that they often can’t compete with the wages and benefits offered in cities. Rural positions

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