On a cold, damp, February evening, roughly 70 residents of Bonner, Montana, population 1,633, filed into the cafeteria of the local elementary school to talk about their new neighbors. For two hours under the fluorescent lights, community members trudged up to the podium in their snow boots to voice concerns about the sound coming from the town’s old lumber mill. Some claimed the wildlife — particularly the hummingbirds and the deer — were nowhere to be found since the roar began around six months ago. Over decades, they’ve grown used to the sounds coming from the building when it was a lumber mill. In recent months, with bitcoin’s value and cultural prominence rising spectacularly, dozens of cryptocurrency mines have popped up in the rural West, following in the geographic footsteps of a previous gold rush. In January, an unknown company working in the blockchain space purchased 67,000 acres at the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center in Nevada, right next to Tesla’s Gigafactory. And here in Bonner, a town of less than 2 square miles nestled along the winding banks of Western Montana’s Blackfoot River, one of North America’s largest bitcoin mines has set up shop.
The locals have questions — about how it all works, about how cryptocurrency mining might revitalize the area’s sluggish economy, and most important, about whether it can be trusted to stay in the region for the long-term. Jim Davison, executive director of the Anaconda Local Development Corporation. And it appears that maybe they have. Davison’s organization works with companies looking to do business in and near Anaconda, a town of just over 9,000 about 100 miles southeast of Bonner, and he has watched closely as cryptocurrency companies have courted the region.