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Press Release: Montana CDC Receives $4.4 Million from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Campaign

Montana First State Chosen to Receive Funds from New Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Initiative for Rural Regions Montana CDC Receives $4.4 Million from Goldman Sachs in grants and loans for lending to small businesses in Montana.

Missoula, MT- Montana Community Development Corporation announced this week a partnership with Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses to bring capital for small business owners to Montana. Goldman Sachs and the Goldman Sachs Foundation have pledged $4.4 million for Montana businesses through the Montana Community Development Corporation. $4 million will go directly into Montana CDC’s loan fund and will be available for lending to small businesses across the State. The remaining $400,000 will be used to build capacity at Montana CDC so that it can continue to provide vital business services to entrepreneurs across the State.

“We are thrilled to bring this additional capital to Montana,” said Dave Glaser, President of Montana CDC. “With these funds, we now have the opportunity to do more for businesses throughout the state.”

Senator Max Baucus put the wheels in motion for Montana’s inclusion in this multi-million dollar business opportunity through his Economic Summit in Butte in 2010 where representatives from Goldman Sachs were introduced to Montana CDC and its work for small business across Montana.

Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses is a $500 million initiative that aims to unlock the growth and job-creation potential of 10,000 small businesses across the nation by providing access to capital, entrepreneurial education and technical assistance services. The program in Montana will be focused on offering capital and technical assistance. Nationwide, the program works with Community Development Financial Institutions like Montana CDC. Montana is the first state to be awarded funds dedicated to the advancement of small businesses in rural areas.

“This great news highlights that our economic development summits truly can bring the right people together to create Montana jobs,” said Montana Senator Max Baucus. “My hat goes off to the Montana Community Development Corporation for bringing the 10,000 Small Businesses initiative to our state. This investment will go a long way toward helping our small businesses hire more folks and put food on the table.” Continue reading


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In Celebration of Main Streets

The following is a recent KUFM commentary by President Dave Glaser:

Today, people are lining up along Main Streets all across America to watch parades, fireworks,and commemorate July 4th.  As Americans, this is our day to celebrate.  And, what better place to show our pride than on the streets of our downtowns big and small

Nothing embodies the American spirit more than our downtown culture and Main Street businesses.  They represent how American communities have grown and changed throughout  the centuries while showcasing a collective community spirit that still resounds today.   Citizens, businesses, communities — vibrant Main Streets represent all that is good about America.

229 E Main Street- Montana CDC

At Montana CDC, we live on Main Street.  Not just symbolically, in the services we provide to business clients across Montana, but literally as well.  A few weeks ago we relocated our headquarters to 229 E Main Street in downtown Missoula.  You’ll also find us on Main Street in Bozeman and, in Kalispell, in Depot Park, directly off Main St.

Relocating our headquarters was a conscious choice. When it came time to grow our company and expand our home office, we embraced both the beauty and hardship associated with maintaining a downtown space. Yes,there were cheaper alternatives elsewhere and, yes, we did have to invest more time and money to preserve and restore the building, but the rewards have already been ample.  We have an amazing building in a location that is convenient, exciting, and fun.  We get to continue to support our community and local business development by helping to maintain a thriving Main Street and a vital downtown.  But, most importantly, we have stayed true to our mission and our own policies.

When clients come to us with a vision and dream for their business, we help them make it into a reality through business lending and consulting.  But it is not without an investment on their part.  We ask that through their contributions- their personal equity, collateral, and risk- each client puts, as Warren Buffet says,  “skin in the game”.  In other words, if a business owner is willing to invest their savings, and pledge their house as collateral, in order to see their vision come to life, then they are serious about their business.  “Skin in the game” is not just important in terms of the monetary value of these contributions, but for psychological reasons as well.  It represents commitment, trust, and loyalty to an idea and means that when a business may not be doing so well- its owner won’t be so quick to give up.

So for Montana CDC, moving to Main Street was making sure we had “skin in the game.”

We believe in downtown spaces.  They offer a common meeting ground for entire towns to come together to live, work, play, and celebrate. They are the foundations of a community.  When businesses and civic organizations invest in a city’s foundation, people respond. They create business ideas and concepts that grow business and help people prosper.

Recently Linda McCarthy, of the Missoula Downtown Association wrote an article in the Missoulian featuring all the business development that is taking place in Missoula’s downtown.  Montana CDC’s project was one among a dozen other renovation and construction projects here.  They range in size from the full restoration of the Missoula Mercantile, to tenant improvements for a hair salon.  Regardless of size or scope, these projects all point towards opportunity.

Dave Glaser- President of Montana CDC

Montana is ready for new entrepreneurs, businesses, and ideas. The work going on in downtown Missoula points to a bigger trend of business development that we are doing are best to help foster.

So, this Fourth of July, while you are celebrating and taking pride in our country, keep a little bit of that pride local.  Celebrate your own community, your own downtown. Thank the shops and restaurants and coffee places that have stuck it out and welcome the new ones that are investing for the future.  Our future.

This is Dave Glaser, President, Montana CDC.  Happy Fourth of July.


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Plain Feather Construction: Rebuilding Montana and Themselves

The following is a recent commentary for KUFM by Marketing Manager, Julie Ehlers:

At Montana CDC we are always focused on the impact of our loans.  There are a lot of industry standards that we use to help us do this.  For instance, we can track dollars lent, jobs retained or created, the number of women-owned businesses, and more.  But many times, the numbers on the page don’t fully reflect what’s happening in real life. As a non-profit lender, our mission is to make an impact on lives and communities. To make sure we’re doing that, sometimes we just have to go see for ourselves.

Wylon Plain Feather- Plain Feather ConstructionI recently traveled to Billings to meet Wylon Plain Feather and Duffy Duffield, the owners of Plain Feather Construction. Duffy coordinates jobs and logistics and secures new deals. Wylon is on site, making sure he and his crew get the jobs done. Together they are a strong team, and it was exciting to follow along as they showed me their current projects.

We started at their office in Billings and then went on to see the federal courthouse where the company is installing water lines and pipes for the newly renovated building. As we go through this election cycle being barraged from both sides with the notion of “jobs,” it was gratifying to see a small Montana construction company actually creating some.

Next we headed south to the town of Lodge Grass to the Crow Reservation where Plain Feather Construction is updating several hundred feet of irrigation trenches.  The devastation caused by the floods in the spring of 2011 is still evident all over the reservation.  When the Little Big Hole breached its banks, roads were wiped out, bridges were lost, and houses were ruined.

Fortunately, Plain Feather was there to help their community.  As a growing, experienced, native-owned business, they were perfectly poised to step in and repair the damage. But, as the water kept on coming, Wylon and Duffy soon had more work than they could handle. With all of their resources maximized, they were forced to rent more heavy equipment to keep up with the need for their services.  Rental costs of the equipment skyrocketed as the demand increased throughout the region.  Wylon and Duffy knew they needed to act to get their costs back in line. They needed to buy their own equipment.  But to do this, they needed a loan. And to get a loan from a bank, they needed assets and collateral.  As a relatively new business, they just didn’t have it.

They turned to The Native American Development Corporation in Billings who brought in Montana CDC to help provide the final financing. Through this partnership, Plain Feather was able to get the equipment they needed in time to get the job done.  Wylon and Duffy were also able to establish a healthy line of credit to ensure that their business will have the means to stay agile in the face of future opportunities big or small.

Plain Feather got the equipment, finished the job, and is ready for the next big challenge.  It also had a huge impact on the community.  The people on the Crow reservation faced horrific losses but were able to rebuild thanks to Plain Feather.  They also saw a local business owned by a tribal member succeed and go on to hire more people from the community.

But that’s not all.  Empowered by their success, Wylon and Duffy have gone on to invest in their biggest assets — themselves.  Since last year, they have continued to work with their local Small Business Development Center to learn how to better manage the business’s cash flow. They have sought the resources of their local Procurement Technical Assistance Center or PTAC as they explore more federal certifications. And they continue to work with Montana CDC and a local bank to plan for their next phase

Personally, Wylon and Duffy are growing as well. Duffy moved the business into a new professional space, and encouraged his wife as she took on more office management responsibilities. Wylon is considering buying his first home and his wife’s daughter is headed for college in the fall- the first one in their family to embark on this journey.

Julie Ehlers - Marketing Manager, Montana CDC

Wylon and Duffy, their business, their families, their employees, their community, Montana — proof that success has a ripple effect. So when we measure impact, we have to go beyond the metrics and visit with the people making things happen every day here in Montana.  There is truly incredible work happening all around us.  We just have to take the time to see it.


This is Julie Ehlers from the Montana Community Development Corporation.  Thanks for listening.


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High Quality Jobs

The following is a recent commentary by Montana CDC’s Risk Manager, Kaia PetersonImage

There’s a lot of talk this election year about creating jobs.  In this economy, it’s clearly an important topic – especially to those who are out of work.  But what many candidates aren’t talking about is the quality of jobs that need to be created.

At the Montana Community Development Corporation, there are a few core indicators that we look for in identifying a high quality job.  Number one is, of course, wage level.  Two is job security — are the jobs full-time and permanent?  And number three is employer provided benefits such as employer contributions to health insurance and retirement.  We also look for factors like work schedule flexibility, including sick leave and vacation time, and, finally, opportunities for training and advancement.

So how are jobs measuring up?  Over the past thirty years, the quality of jobs in the US has deteriorated steadily.  Both real wages and employer provided benefits have declined.  We see it with our clients’ businesses every day.  Instead of rising with the cost of living, wages have been stagnant or even lowered.  And employers who previously offered health care to their employees can no longer even afford to cover it for themselves.

When we look at wages what should our benchmark for quality be these days?  According to research from the Center for Economic and Policy Research more than one-fourth of jobs pay less than poverty level-wages – the amount that would allow a full-time year-round worker to lift a family of four out of poverty.  In 2011 poverty-level wages were about $22,000.  But that’s just enough to barely scrape by.

The organization Wider Opportunities for Women recently published their Basic Economic Security Tables or BEST, which factors in essentials like housing, food, transportation, and household items, but also health care, emergency savings, and retirement savings.  They calculated that in order for a family of four with two full time workers to cover these needs, they would need total annual earnings of  $68,000 per year, or $16 per hour per worker.  Even at this level the family would not be earning enough to save for their children’s higher education, or build assets toward home ownership. And, according to BEST, a whopping 45% of U.S. Residents live in households that don’t meet even this basic level of economic security. Do you?

And if you’re an employer, are you able to provide this level of wages to your employees? Statistics say probably not — at least not yet.  But, small businesses are known to be an important source of high quality job creation. They can provide wealth building opportunities for their owners, create more middle-income jobs and offer real opportunities for advancement.  As the businesses grow, their employees are able to grow with them.

Over the past two years, we’ve seen our clients struggle to keep their businesses viable and their employees on the job.  But they’ve done their best for the welfare of their employees.  Some have kept all of their staff but reduced their hours and are slowly building their employees back up to full time as their businesses turn around.  Others have stopped contributing to health insurance, but have maintained a group plan that provides better coverage at a lower cost than their employees would otherwise be able to access.  Some have also allowed for more flexible work schedules to accommodate other employment and family needs.

And these employers are being rewarded for their attention to their employees.  For example, I have a client who worked to keep all of her staff employed even as the business was struggling. When she honestly discussed the businesses’ financials with her employees, they all volunteered to donate the pay they would have received for employee training hours to a fund to save money to purchase new equipment for the business.  This employer and these employees alike are working toward a more stable business with stable, high quality jobs.

As we move deeper into election season and the debates about the economy continue, I hope to hear more frank discussions about the metrics that ensure quality as well as quantity of work.  And I hope that these conversations aren’t limited to the political arena, but are taken up at board meetings, staff meetings, and lunch rooms across Montana.  As our economy changes, we need to keep our eye on what we want out of our working lives, now and in the coming decades.  By all means let’s figure out how to create more jobs, but let’s also remember the ultimate goal — to create better lives.


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Don’t Go It Alone

ImageHi, I’m Amita Greer.  For the last three years, I’ve worked as a business advisor for Montana Community Development Corporation.  We provide free consulting to entrepreneurs throughout Montana.  We work with everyone from startups to established businesses and from tiny one-person companies to more substantial small companies.  But no matter the size or shape of the business, all successful entrepreneurs have one thing in common:  they know when to ask for help.

There is a great myth out there about entrepreneurs.  We think of them as solitary go-getters who can manage operations, do their books, create a vision, uphold a mission, increase sales, make the widgets, manage employees, and market the company all by themselves.  We assume that they are supernatural loners who enjoy working at all hours, creating in their garage, and finding success through sheer determination, steely will, and lots and lots of exhausting work.  While the hard work part is definitely true, the most successful entrepreneurs I know don’t go it alone – at least not completely.

According to a study done by the Kauffman Foundation in 2009 that surveyed 549 small businesses that made it past the startup stage, 73% of the business owners said professional networks were important to the success of their business. I’m not surprised by this statistic.

The most successful entrepreneurs I’ve seen through Montana CDC are the ones constantly asking questions about their markets, industry, and how they can improve their business.  They know their own weaknesses and try to mange for it. If they don’t know how to read their financials or understand social media networking, they go out and ask for help. They may eventually outsource some parts of their business because they know they can’t do everything. These successful entrepreneurs ask for help because they know they can’t do it all and that they are not the best at everything.

Still, many entrepreneurs do have a hard time admitting they need help. Asking for assistance is difficult for many of us. We pride ourselves on our individuality and some view asking for help as a weakness. For many people, it never occurs to them to even reach out and ask questions.  

I’ve worked with entrepreneurs who were embarrassed to submit their business plan for review because they were asking for feedback. I’ve had small business owners on the verge of closing their doors because they came in too late to make any significant changes – all because they did not want to ask for help. 

I’ve heard lots of reasons:

“I’m a private person and don’t feel comfortable having someone else looking at my business.”

“I have a great business idea and I don’t want anyone to steal it.”

“It will cost too much to hire someone to help me.”

Or the two most dangerous ones:

“Nobody can help me.  Only I understand what needs to be done.”

And

“I’m just too busy to even talk to anyone.”

But, if an entrepreneur is truly going to grow a business, he or she must learn that they can’t go it alone. Many successful entrepreneurs have mentors, coaches, or an advisory council that can provide valuable feedback. The hardest and probably most rewarding thing is to be open, honest and willing to receive criticism.

So, who do you ask for help?

Advisors can come in many forms. Attend networking groups. Contact other business owners in the area or in your industry. Attend a business training or conference and talk to other owners and professionals. Go online to find business contacts and call them. Seek out those smarter than you and make the ask.

It’s also important to know when to ask for help.

Ask for help when you see a negative trend in your business. Bring in someone to help provide a different perspective and strategize on solutions. One of the biggest mistakes a business owner makes is waiting too long before seeking to make a change.

Ask for help when you need an expert. Perhaps you need to do a website or learn a software program. Maybe you want to learn how to increase sales through social media but don’t know how. You will save time and money in the long run if you work with an expert rather than trying to figure it out yourself.

Finally, ask for help when you need new ideas. Things constantly change in the business world. Having contacts in different industries can provide you with new insights that you may never have seen by yourself.

None of us have answers all the time. As entrepreneurs, it’s important to remember that going out on your own does not literally mean always working alone. Be open to advice, ideas, and new ways of doing things. Hire people that can do things better than you can.  Find others who you can talk to, share experiences with, and just plain commiserate with. 

Being an entrepreneur is tough. 

Don’t go it alone.

For more Business Resources from Montana CDC, review our business tools here.

Business Success Kit


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Resolutions: Healthy Finances for 2012

The following is a presentation that Montana CDC’s Business Services Advisor, Patty Cox, provided to the Missoula Women’s Business Network on January 11, 2012.  This information is meant to provide helpful tips and insight on getting your business financials in order for the New Year.  In addition to serving Montana CDC’s clients, Patty runs a small catering company called Patty’s Pantry.

Patty enjoying putting an order together for Patty's Pantry

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Thinking about fiscal responsibility in January is a good strategy for personal and business financial health.  Experience has shown me that careful planning in January and regular monitoring throughout the year is the best way to keep your business and personal finances in the pink.

Here are few helpful tips.

  • Set your projections/plan your budget
  • Take a look at your historical financials and project income and expenses for the next year.  Putting together a budget for your business or personal finances may seem like a painful process, but in the end you will be more confident on where you can go with your business and how to manage your finances, rather than letting your finances manage you.
  • Make sure when you set your budgets that you include line items for the fun or worthwhile stuff–such as donating back to your community or for staff recognitions.   These line items need to match the profitability of your company, but know that they can go a long way to increase your outreach and customer base.   One thing I do is donate gift certificates for my services to a variety of auctions.   Through these donations, I have increased awareness of my personal chef services and gained new customers.   By setting budgets for the fun stuff you know how much you can give—so your bottom line doesn’t suffer if you have a big heart.
  • My next tip is to understand your cost of sales.  For businesses, it is important to budget your expenses, but also to understand sales goals and cost of goods sold.    Cost of goods sold or COGS refers to the inventory costs of those goods a business has sold during a particular period.  Cost of goods made by the business includes material, labor, and allocated overhead. For example, if I make pot pies, I have to understand the cost of my labor, the cost of the ingredients, and some overhead costs related to the product.   Looking back over my historical financials and understanding COGS gives me an idea of how much to charge for my products to meet my sales and profit goals.
  • Price it right.   Don’t under price your product or service.  Remember to consider the COGs when setting the pricing.   This is not just the cost of inventory but also can include labor costs, and overhead.    There are many pricing strategies for businesses, but one component for pricing is to understand your margin.   Calculate your profit margin, or revenues divided by expenses, and use it as an indicator of your pricing strategies as the profit margin should remain consistent among your products or services.
  • Be curiousReview your financials monthly.  Most importantly, review your financials monthly to see how your actual financials track with your projections. If sales or profitability are coming in off your projections, make adjustments as needed.   Keeping track of your profit margin will help you measure how well your company controls its costs.  If your margins are low or if you find yourself consistently losing money on a certain product line or service, take it out of the mix, or investigate why this is not working for you.   In my business, my biggest seller was turkey pot pie, but I never found I made enough profit on this item.  When I checked into my numbers, I realized that this product required more labor and had higher priced ingredients.    I switched from turkey to chicken (which has a lower price point) and the margin for my pot pies improved.

Now that you are ready to tackle your finances in 2012, be sure to mark your calendars, so that next year you can start your planning in November or December to get a jump start on 2013!


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Keep your Holiday Cash in your Community

From “Occupy Wallstreet to “Liberate Mainstreet” people are talking about the importance of supporting America’s small businesses.

Occupy Wallstreet is a protest against the inequality of wealth in the country where activists attribute the stagnation of the average person’s wealth to the concentration of profits in large corporations and wealthy individuals. The 99% makes reference to discrepancies in income, wealth or political powers between the elite, and the remaining 1% of America.

“Occupy Mainstreet” or “liberate mainstreet”, claims small business owners should be liberated from unnecessary regulation from government. While some characterize these two movements as being on opposite ends of the spectrum, they really share many of the same goals.

What Occupy Mainstreet and Occupy Wallstreet have in common is a desire to help the little guythe average Joe – the mom-and-pop store. People in both camps value the unique contributions that small business owners bring to their community, not just in terms of jobs, but in terms of culture and character. Nowhere is this more true than in small communities across Montana.

One group of Mainstreet supporters have started a movement this holiday season, called “Shift your Shopping.” The “Shift “ campaign which represents more than 38,000 locally owned and independent businesses across the U.S. and Canada is designed to boost the economy and preserve and create jobs in local communities.

The idea is simple – shift your shopping – at least some – to local independent businesses rather than feeding holiday dollars to national chains and corporations. Since Americans do a large portion of their annual retail shopping between Thanksgiving and Christmas – about $700 – per shopper – this is a time of year that your dollars can really do your talking.

Studies show that dollars spent at locally owned businesses generate far more economic benefits for local communities than money spent at national chain stores with corporate headquarters outside the community. The numbers differ from study to study but in general, dollars spent at local shops generate about 20% more revenue for the local economy than the same dollars spent at a chain store.

Local storefronts in Downtown Missoula, Montana

Here’s why: Independent local businesses use a wide array of local supporting services. They hire local architects, engineers, and contractors for construction. They use local accountants, insurance brokers, consultants, and attorneys. They buy products from local office supply stores, grocery stores and other retailers. Local businesses also tend to build strong neighborhoods by sustaining communities, linking neighborhoods and supporting local events. Look at Missoula’s Higgins Ave hip strip as a great example as they host an annual block party and support local events through sponsorship dollars.

There’s a place in our communities for both small and big business. Both serve their functions. But in a tight economy it’s easy to be swayed by the lowest priced goods or the glossy advertising. But the true price of using the lowest priced seller for all of our purchases should not be overlooked.

If we forgo buying from local retailers, they cannot survive. If we lose our local retailers, we lose our unique downtowns, the economic ripple effect that local businesses have on the overall economic health of our communities, we lose choice and diversity as shoppers. Our loss is big businesses gain. And it’s this disparity between corporate wealth and mainstreet health that has so many people concerned.

So if you consider yourself in the 99%, but you are not quite ready to pitch your tent on the courthouse lawn, or if liberating mainstreet is more your cause, you can make a difference this holiday season by shopping at local retailers.

Julie Ehlers, Marketing Manager with Montana CDC

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