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Martin Kidston

Martin Kidston

It’s not the first time this has happened.

On Friday, the American Institute for Economic Research released its 2014-15 College Destination Index. I wouldn’t be writing about it if it didn’t contain good news, or had some measure of interest.

This year’s list places Missoula and the University of Montana in the top 10 among best College Towns, just behind Columbus, Missouri – home of the University of Missouri – and just ahead of College Station, home to Texas A&M.

Ithaca, New York; Ames, Iowa; and Corvallis, Oregon, took the top three spots.

Those who live in Missoula can agree on the rankings, though a few spots higher on the list could be lobbied for. That said, the list gave the Garden City high marks for its quality of life and other amenities.

“This ‘Hub of Five Valleys’ comes in 9th in our College Destinations Index for its high concentration of arts, entertainment, and recreation establishments and high level of brain gain, calling itself home to the University of Montana, a public research university,” the listing notes.

“The University of Montana calls itself a city within a city, giving students the opportunity to enjoy a varied cultural atmosphere while also enjoying available outdoor recreation,” the list concludes.

I went back and found as many “best of” listings that have come out in the past few years that included Missoula and UM, and the list is impressively long.

Back in 2012, the American Institute for Economic Research ranked Missoula 20th on the same list. At the time, it ranked just behind Auburn, Alabama, and Burlington, Vermont.

“The characteristics that make up a great college destination often make a location ideal for business, retirement and tourism,” Steven Cunningham, director of research and education, said at the time. “A top ranking should be just as important to the town or city as it is to the schools located there, and the families and students attending or considering them.”

In 2013, Livability.com gave Missoula the seventh spot among best college towns ahead of Madison, Wisconsin, and Fayetteville, Arkansas. That same year, Estately.com ranked Missoula 11th in the “best town for hippies” category.

Missoula was edged out of the top 10 spot by Berkeley, California, and Eugene, Oregon.

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Said the write-up: “It’s not just the vast array of sustainable transportation options or progressive nonprofits, Missoula’s government has worked to decrease arrests for marijuana possession and passed resolutions calling for a withdrawal from Iraq and to amend the U.S. Constitution to declare that ‘corporations are not human beings.’ That’s pretty hippie.”

That describes Missoula pretty well, at least in some circles. In 2010, MSN also named Missoula one of eight towns with an “authentic college vibe.” That ranking noted the city’s proximity to wilderness and its active residents who “fish, bike, ski or hike before most of us have stumbled into our first cup of tea.”

Whatever good these rankings are, it’s nice to get recognized, even if it is for your hippie vibe. On the serious side, Missoula continues to emerge from the recession and is making gains on the technology front. It’s nurturing entrepreneurs in business incubators, and it's growing from the inside out, a move that maintains vitality and makes use of existing infrastructure.

UM also continues to land its share of donations, both on the academic and athletic fronts. Last fiscal year, the school set a fundraising record of $37.4 million – money that included donations to the Montana Museum of Art and Culture, the School of Law and the School of Forestry and Conservation.

I’m still waiting for word on the museum and what its future holds.

Last week, the Washington Foundation also gifted $7 million to the university for a Washington-Grizzly Champions Center. The $14 million, 46,000-square-foot project could revolutionize athletic training for the school’s 15 teams.

The acknowledgements could go on and on, but when you’ve ranked as a top town for hippies, there’s no need to elaborate. That ranking while likely linger long after the others have faded.

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