Is Small Business Success
Possible in Montana?

by Tom Egelhoff

Author Tom Egelhoff

On April 15th I dutifully mailed my 1040 off to Uncle Sam. Then I turned to the "Tax Freedom Day" web site to see how many days I had to work in 2018 to pay my taxes.


To my surprise it was April 11th the earliest since 1967. And, for Montana it was even better April 4th.

Resident of 36 states worked more days to pay their taxes than their Montana counterparts.

Alaska was best at March 26th. Connecticut was worstApril 28th. So Montana doesn't sound so bad does it?

In my ten years in Montana I've seen many businesses come and go. In spite of the above figures, the new business owner in Montana has a lot to consider.

Customers that have one of the lowest per capita incomes in the US, a business equipment tax, a state corporate tax structure that doesn't exactly favor small business in every case, a rail and air transportation system that's pretty much out of the mainstream, and a society that wants a better state but will not give up the "last best place on earth" to get it.

In other words, "grow if you must, just don't let me see it."

Housing developments eat away farmland; logging and mining are slowly becoming fodder for future museum displays.

Future electric power in Montana is suspect. Jobs in almost every industry are finding their ways to foreign shores. Have I depressed you enough yet? So, why would anyone want to start a business in Montana?

The answer is the same as it's always been. Montana folks have that pioneer spirit.

Like the tiny flower that fights for life in the crack of a downtown sidewalk there are some people who simply will not be denied. They force the "American Dream" to take place even in Montana.

As I travel around my hometown of Bozeman I drive by Revelation Engineering. Housed in a dilapidated tin building sitting in a field on the edge of town.

Behind the rusted walls the ABC-TV sign in Times Square in New York City was conceived and constructed. They recently replaced their gravel parking lot with asphalt.

In the basement of the Medical Arts building, Bioscience carries out the day-to-day testing of medical products for Johnson & Johnson.

Down the road new tech businesses have found their crack in the sidewalk at the Tech Ranch, an incubator organization that nurtures new technology businesses until they can venture out on their own.

Spencer Williams of West Paw Design makes pet toys. When he came up with the formula for an indestructible rubber dog bone the initial advice was to have it manufactured overseas.

Instead he contacted Quake Industries, a plastic extraction firm in Belgrade, Montana and made a very interesting deal.

West Paw would buy the necessary machinery to make the bones and give it to Quake Industries. In return Quake would pay off the deal with production and be able to use the machinery in Quakes own operations creating an additional profit center for them.

It was a win-win deal for both companies and jobs and dollars stayed in Montana. Companies should not be asking whether we send jobs overseas; they should be asking how could we work together to keep them here.

Is small business success possible in Montana? There is an old grade school rhyme I remember that goes, "As I was sitting in my chair, I knew the bottom wasn't there, nor legs nor back, but I just sat, ignoring little things like that."

In spite of taxes, weather, transportation challenges, politics, distances, low population, and all the other reasons that say no — the true Montana entrepreneur carries on — ignoring little things like that.

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