Opinion: Let's protect Paradise Valley's treasures

Andrew Field, founder and CEO, printingforless.com.

Andrew Field, founder and CEO, printingforless.com.

This opinion piece was originally published in the Billings Gazette. Andrew Field is the CEO of printingforless.com, a multi-million-dollar online printing company based in Livingston, Montana, and a member of the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition.

When I founded the nation’s first commercial online printing company in 1996, I did it in Livingston. Few employers in the country can beat the mountain view from our headquarters on the West side of town.

Those mountains, and our surroundings in Livingston and the Paradise Valley, have helped us become what we are today — a $30 million company that’s second only to the hospital as Park County’s biggest employer. We have more than 200 people doing innovative work, helping customers nationwide achieve their business goals. That’s why I’m one of 200-plus business leaders who’ve joined the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition to protect our jobs from two proposed gold mines in the Paradise Valley.

An Australian-backed company is proposing to explore for gold right on the border of Yellowstone. (Photo William Campbell.)

An Australian-backed company is proposing to explore for gold right on the border of Yellowstone. (Photo William Campbell.)

At PFL, we’re focused on building a great place to work in a great place to live. To us that means great neighbors, quiet mountains, clean water, and light traffic. This place allows us to attract and retain talented people with specialized skills. It’s much harder to become a press operator, for example, than it is to become a master electrician. Our employees put in their 40 hours here and then they get outside. They hike, they float the Yellowstone, and they enjoy everything we have here in Montana. If we lose the very qualities that make the Paradise Valley special, these skilled workers could find a new job somewhere else and be gone tomorrow — especially with PFL on their resume. What keeps them here is the quality of life.

That’s what keeps our company here too. And our contributions to Montana are significant. We pump $10 million in payroll into the local economy every year. This is money we’re bringing into the state — 95 percent of our orders come from out of state. And our quality of life is what keeps me and PFL here. I could easily base the company in Denver or Portland or Los Angeles. We’re based in Livingston because the clean air, the rural character, the Yellowstone River, and the proximity to Yellowstone National Park all help make PFL a great place to work in a great place to live, allowing us to attract and retain a world-class workforce.

We’re not alone. Park County attracts creative workers in an economy increasingly shaped by information and ideas. We’re in the top 6 percent of non-metro counties nationwide when it comes to this “creative class” employment, according to an economic study the coalition commissioned this year. We’re a fertile setting for entrepreneurs. Nearly 40 percent of all jobs here involve proprietor-owned firms or self-employment.

Our amenities-based economy in Park County is a figurative gold mine. We’re risking it if we allow foreign companies to develop literal gold mines up Emigrant Gulch and near Jardine above Gardiner. The Emigrant sites alone involve 2,500 acres of claims staked by a Canadian company. Almost four Berkeley Pits could fit in a site that big.

A Canadian mining company is proposing to explore for gold in Emigrant Gulch (the narrow valley to the left of Emigrant Peak - the pointy mountain to the right). Business owners in Montana's Paradise Valley are banding together to demand a timeout on risky gold mines. (Photo William Campbell.)

The Canadians say these would be underground mines, but that doesn’t reassure me or my Business Coalition colleagues — the ore would need to be trucked out somewhere for processing. The company is talking about 25 to 40 semis up and down the Paradise Valley every day. That’s ridiculous. Gold mines also threaten our water with acid mine drainage, and all of our businesses here, from agriculture to ziplining, need the Yellowstone River to be clean.

Like Colin Davis at Chico Hot Springs and other members of the coalition, I’m fully in favor of private property rights. And I’m not against mining. But there are simply some places where it just shouldn’t happen. That’s why we’re asking for a time-out on these mines. We’ve asked the Forest Service to press the pause button on any mining on our public lands up Emigrant and near Gardiner. They can help us protect jobs here in the Paradise Valley. This time-out will give us space to work with our neighbors and other partners to permanently protect our jobs and the public lands that fuel Park County’s economy.

The clock is ticking. Companies are planning aggressive exploration right now. You can help us make this right. Talk to any of the business owners in our coalition, learn more at dontmineyellowstone.com, and let your voice be heard. Together we can keep these job-killing mines out of the Paradise Valley.