Project, symposium strengthen small businesses

new antsSomeone once said, “You don’t build a business, you build people. And the people build the business.”

In a state like Montana, where we are known around the world for our work ethic and hospitality, building up people and building relationships is the undisputed strength of our businesses.

That’s why, in 2014, when we were asked by Gov. Steve Bullock to help provide our perspective as small-business owners on his Main Street Montana Project, we were excited to help. Between the two of us, we’ve been in the Montana business community for a combined five decades.

Screen Shot 2016-06-25 at 10.53.03 AMWe both feel that the communities where we live and do business are our stakeholders as much as our customers who work hard and play hard outdoors. During the time we’ve both been in business, we’ve seen the global economy change and our local downtowns transform. In the face of these big transitions, we’ve always found it helpful to keep the lines of communication open with our neighbors, our peers, our customers and our elected leaders.

We appreciated the opportunity to share our ideas, challenges and concerns through the Main Street Montana Project, and also to engage our fellow business owners from every corner of the state. The power of the project comes from proactively engaging in a public-private dialogue. Too often, private business and public officeholders only interact when there’s a crisis.

The governor’s Main Street Montana Project included 13 industry-specific groups called Key Industry Networks (KINs) to collaborate, discuss and make recommendations that will continue to grow job opportunities in the state, cut red tape, promote our Montana-made products, and research and invest in our shared business future.

It’s also exciting to see our ideas, collectively, as Montana’s small business owners come to life. For example, we recommended that the governor hold an annual small-business symposium that includes discussion forums, training opportunities for employees and managers, networking venues, a dynamic job fair and the opportunity to build an ongoing grassroots alliance among small businesses.

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On July 13-14, Gov. Bullock will host the Peer-to-Peer Innovate Montana Symposium in Billings.

If you are a business owner, aspiring business owner, employee or entrepreneur at heart, the symposium will provide you with tools, insights and professional connections that will be invaluable as you grow your business, engage your community and contribute to Montana’s vibrant small business ecosystem.

We are also excited about the keynote speaker, Debbie Sterling, who is the founder and CEO of GoldieBlox, an award-winning company that’s “on a mission to disrupt the pink aisle” with toys, games and media for girls that encourage their interest in science, technology, engineering and math.

But the July symposium is just the beginning. We hope this annual business symposium will serve as yet another avenue for the Montana business community to stay connected, share ideas and resources and inspiration.

The Main Street Montana Project, as the governor has said, truly is a business plan for Montana by Montanans. By building each other up, we can strengthen our businesses and communities together. We hope to see you at the symposium in a few weeks!

To learn more or sign up for the July 13-14 Innovate Symposium, go to: http://innovatemontana.com/symposium.

Sarah Calhoun and Scott Brown are co-chairs of the Main Street Montana Project, Small Business and Downtown KIN.

Scott Brown is the owner of The Base Camp, outdoor specialty stores in Helena and Billings founded in 1975. Brown grew up in Billings and lives there now with his wife, Deb.

Sarah Calhoun founded Montana business Red Ants Pants in 2006 and is the founder and producer of the Red Ants Pants Music Festival (July 28–31) which benefits the nonprofit Red Ants Pants Foundation. She lives in White Sulphur with her dog, Nellie, and cat, Magpie.

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