Kris Holmes clutched a thick pile of informational pamphlets after she’d made one loop through the booths Tuesday at the Missoula Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Resource Fair.
The fair was designed to help connect small-business owners like Holmes, who regularly have their hands full with work duties, with helpful community resources that can help ease some of the everyday stresses.
The vice president of operations for Missoula’s Black Knight Security and Investigations LLC, Holmes was happy she took the time to tour the booths.
“I came because as a small business, you’re always looking for resources,” Holmes said. “I’m pleasantly surprised. I made a route and talked to all the vendors and learned something from everyone.”
Among Holmes’ papers was a Lifelong Learning Center pamphlet providing more information on the tailored training classes the center can provide. Black Knight employs 18 people, many of whom provide security detail for events and private businesses. They could benefit from the Lifelong Learning Center’s computer training classes, Holmes said.
She also was happy to have gotten an introduction to the Big Sky Society for Human Resource Management, which provides things like legal updates and certification study groups for human resource managers.
“We’ll be for sure joining that,” she said.
Small business was the focus of the day at the DoubleTree Hotel on Tuesday, which started with the resource fair and included a luncheon and the chamber’s State of Missoula Commerce Report, “The Impacts of Small Business: A National, Regional and Local Perspective.”
Small businesses have the opportunity to rejuvenate Montana’s economy, said Barbara Wagner, a senior economist for the Montana Department of Labor and Industry’s Research and Analysis Bureau.
Northwestern Montana hasn’t recovered from the recession as quickly as other parts of the state, but it has shown to be a strong place for startup businesses, Wagner said. That’s important because startups have created more than 60,000 jobs in Montana during the past five years.
“It’s really the new startup firms that are driving our economy at this point,” she said.
Missoulians now need to focus on helping startups succeed and grow, she said.
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“Missoula has a high birth rate and high failure rate (for startups). We need some more research to see if there are new ways to protect new startups,” Wagner said.
Panelist John Hart, Region 8 advocate for the Small Business Administration, highlighted a handful of resources his office can provide small-business owners to help them succeed in the ever-changing world of federal regulations.
Hart’s office also wants small-business owners to know about the multitude of federal incentives that can help their bottom line, like the new home office tax deduction, which can provide a deduction of up to $1,500 a year for qualifying small businesses.
Montana Community Development Corp. president Dave Glaser shared his “silver bullets” of advice small-business owners could use to help their businesses survive.
“We are lucky to have close connections between each other, the ability to pick up the phone and know the person we’re talking to at the other end,” Glaser said.
Good communication between entities is key to economic success, he said.
University of Montana School of Business Administration associate professor Michael Braun noted area professional service providers, like lawyers and financial consultants, could help small businesses foster growth.
“Those people can try to understand what it means to be a family business and gear service toward that base,” Braun said.
Braun reminded the audience of several “wonderful distinguishing traits” that help a small business thrive, including the fact that families’ emotional investment in small businesses can support long-term growth that isn’t always the focus of larger companies.
“It’s really a tortoise vs. the hare story,” Braun said. “In the long run, family businesses end up winning.”
Reporter Jenna Cederberg can be reached at 523-5241 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.