Bullock celebrates SBDC Day in Great Falls

Small business owners and the folks who help them get started or keep going got to take a bow Wednesday during the state’s second Small Business Development Centers Day.

Gov. Steve Bullock joined local Great Falls business owners, SBDC and Montana Department of Commerce staff, and small business owners from Butte for the event in Anchor Fitness’ new location at 316 Central Ave.

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Tamara Podry of Anchor Fitness and Michael Vetere of 2J’s Fresh Market said the local SBDC and it’s director Jason Nitschke were invaluable in helping them succeed.

“The SBDC has been invaluable to us and the fact that it is offered at no cost to the business is truly remarkable,” Podry said.

Vetere said that he and a partner purchased 2J’s in 2007 but the partnership dissolved and in 2016 it was looking like the store might go out of business.

Vetere got in touch with Nitschke who helped him bring the business back into the black and add more employees.

He said that he’d initially thought the SBDC was just for startups, but was happy to discover the extensive services available to established businesses.

“You guys did the work,” Nitschke said.

Last year, he worked with 200 businesses in the region and one of his clients, Electric City Coffee and Bistro, was recently named the 2018 Veteran-Owned Small Business of the Year by the Small Business Administration’s Montana District Office.

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“Montana is built on the innovative ideas of our small business owners and it’s an honor to celebrate them,” Gov. Bullock said. “These businesses, with support of the Small Business Development Centers, strive to make their communities and Montana a great example for future entrepreneurs.”

Bullock recognized March 21, 2018 as SBDC Day in Montana. The event unites 10 regional centers in Montana and nearly 1,000 SBDC centers across the country and the hundreds of thousands of clients they’ve served in their near 40-year history, according to the governor’s office. The Montana SBDC network has assisted more than 29,000 Montana entrepreneurs and nearly 6,500 businesses since it began in 1989. In just the last year, Montana SBDC’s have helped launched 78 new businesses and created or retained 841 jobs.

Bullock said he remembers the challenges and fears of starting his own business.

“This stuff doesn’t happen by accident,” he said. “All of these folks certainly started with a dream.”

But the dream isn’t enough and the SBDC resources help Montana entrepreneurs and business owners be successful, he said.

Pam Haxby-Cote, director of the Montana Department of Commerce, said that while big businesses are great to attract to Montana, “it’s really the small businesses that maintain the community. They help main street grow.”

Local businesses typically give back to the community regularly, provide essential services and “they become the center of the economy in a lot of communities,” Haxby-Cote said.

Local businesses is also a place to connect with fellow residents.

“When you walk into a small business, your customers become part of your extended family,” Haxby-Cote said. “That’s really what makes small business special. The connection to community, it’s personal.”

Bullock said that while there’s a balance in attracting larger scale corporations or national chains to Montana, “at the end of the day, most of our economies are driven by small business.”