Some say that the grass is always greener on the other side. I live in a land where the prairie meets the mountains, and the grass doesn't matter so much as the people do.
With a total area of 147,040 square miles. It is the fourth largest state in the United States after Alaska, Texas, and California; the largest landlocked U.S. state. One would think that the space between communities alone, never mind the long and windy winters, would be less than perfect for creating a statewide community of people and businesses.
Montana is different. The people of Montana embrace the challenges of creating relationships and business opportunities over long distances. More than any other place I have lived or worked, the people of Montana are willing to put competition and ego behind for the benefit of others. They are willing to travel a great distance to meet, share and listen to others, especially if it helps improve the lives and businesses of fellow Montanans.
This sense of community and fellowship was on display this past week at the Innovate Montana Symposium, held in Billings, Montana. Present and future entrepreneurs from around the state gathered together to connect, learn, listen and share. Unlike similar conventions and symposiums, this event was absent of sales pitches and overblown egos, telling attendees what they were doing wrong, or what they needed to purchase for sure success. This was real people telling real stories from a variety of perspectives. It was a forum where I heard people at varying levels of success (both financial and community) admit there were things they did not know, and mistakes they made.
The panels were diverse in that they communicated that a business person developing a niche in a small community was equally as important as person running an investment firm. The challenges of operating a large pharmaceutical company were not all that different from growing and operating a specialty furniture store in a small eastern Montana town. The challenges of developing an off the grid environmentally friendly home could be applied to the challenges of running a large hotel operation.
In the end, I came away with a better understanding, that all of these people, businesses and places are pieces of a bigger puzzle that completes and grows the economy of Montana.
There are of course many challenges that we face as business owners in the state of Montana. How do we better finance small businesses, that do not have the fast rate of return investors are looking for. How do we maintain and grow our communities with the least impact on the environment. How do we better communicate and build statewide markets for the products we produce, and how do we incentivize long term revitalization and reinvestment in our rural (and sometimes urban) infrastructure that is quickly eroding and disappearing.
The most important thing is that Montanans are working together, planning and creating opportunities to meet these challenges and others every single day. That is why I am proud to choose Montana as my home. As the author Jennifer Savage write's, "I choose to live where a sturdy fence is still a compliment".