Liquid Planet’s innovation is something the U.S. Department of Commerce would like to see from businesses nationwide, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker said during a visit to the Missoula business Friday.
The business was in the midst of its 10th anniversary when the secretary stopped in as part of her national listening tour, which has included stops in cities around the country in an effort to gather feedback on how the public and private sectors can work together to grow business and spur job growth.
Missoula was the 13th and final city Pritzker visited during the tour.
The secretary’s stop was an opportunity for 16 local business leaders to share successes and concerns with her, Missoula Mayor John Engen said.
The roundtable discussion took place behind closed doors.
“One of the things that we’ve discovered, and I suspect that the secretary will hear on her tour, is that small-business people are pretty much engaged every day in doing their business and their ability to access or navigate any sort of complicated program is pretty limited,” Engen said.
“There is help available and there are folks who need it, so how do we tie those two together? And that’s a big part of what this conversation, I think, should be about,” he added.
Ultimately, what the secretary hears in Missoula could shape national policy.
“We came to Missoula to better understand what’s going on in Montana and have the opportunity to see business in action,” Pritzker said.
After a tour of the business and doing some shopping, Pritzker praised Liquid Planet’s CEO and founder, Scott Billadeau, for innovative products that are available in Missoula and in other places around the world.
“And that’s the kind of innovation that we’re hoping to see from small businesses around the country,” she said.
The top things she’s heard from leaders in cities across the country are: help with trade, support for immigration reform, need for infrastructure investment, and support for partnerships among government, businesses and universities to prompt innovation.
“They’re anxious to get an assist, if you will, in things that they’re not so strong in that we have the ability as the federal government to help them with,” she said.
When it comes to helping with trade, the International Trade Administration offers help for businesses interested in expanding their reach, Pritzker said.
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“Companies want to know: Where should I be exporting to?” she said.
“We help them figure that out. Then we help them meet the right people in those countries, so that they can either meet distributors or partners so they can get their products sold in other parts of the world,” she said.
One way the government can help businesses find enough skilled labor to grow is to make workforce training best practices available. Businesses need to be clear about what they need and then work with local education organizations to line up training and job openings, Pritzker said.
The president also has called for 45 new national manufacturing institutes to draw entities together to increase innovation, she added.
Global businesses especially also are interested in decreasing the corporate tax rate, she said.
In the end though, entrepreneurs are the ones who will create business.
“What our job is is to create the environment that allows an entrepreneur to be successful. And so our goal is absolutely to be supportive of states like Montana and all the states within the United States so that entrepreneurs have the opportunity to be successful,” she said.
Missoula boasts myriad businesses, and the Missoula Economic Partnership strives to help create a positive environment for business, no matter the type, Engen said.
“We’re primed for it all, I think in no small part because fundamentally we have something great going for us in Missoula. We are a great place to live,” he said.
Infrastructure is a drawback, and Missoula is not a transportation hub, he said.
“One of the challenges is that we are still a little bit remote,” he said, adding Missoula also can do a better job of telling others the story of why the city is a good place to locate.
Friday’s visit was an opportunity to make connections and smooth communications to help local businesses take advantage of federal opportunities, he said.
“So we have an opportunity to reach out at all those levels, state federal and local to help businesses, again, facilitate that growth,” he said.