Tester hosts small business workshop at UM
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester hosted his 15th annual Small Business Opportunity Workshop at the University of Montana on Friday, drawing marketing experts, shipping professionals, government officials and successful entrepreneurs together to discuss the challenges and opportunities of the state’s economic climate.
A crowd of nearly 200 showed up at the University Center Theater to network and listen to panelists discuss everything from digital marketing to manufacturing to building a successful brand.
For the past six years, Tester has hosted workshops across the state to help entrepreneurs secure the resources necessary to grow successful small businesses and create jobs.
“It is no longer a secret: Montana is the best place in the country to do business,” Tester said. “In fact, Montana is ranked as the top state in the country for successful start-ups and we are ranked No. 6 for long-term job growth. I have connected leaders in manufacturing, exporting and finance with Montana entrepreneurs who were hungry to transform their idea into a thriving business.”
Attendees heard from people like Jake Cook, a marketing professor at Montana State University, and Roger Hopkins of the Small Business Administration, who outlined tools that small-business owners can utilize to strengthen their name recognition.
The keynote speaker on Friday was Alex “Papu” Rincon Jr., a longtime Helena resident who founded the lifestyle brand “fourOsix” to promote art, music, style, forward thinking and Montana living. United States soccer superstar Abby Wambach has posted photos of herself on social media in fourOsix clothing, something that Rincon said he was humbled by.
Rincon described why he chose to open his retail store in Helena after he saw a need to grow the arts, music and recreation in his community, especially for youth. He also said that great customer service is vital for any small business.
“It’s like driving a fancy nice car,” he explained. “It doesn’t go anywhere without fuel. Our customers are our fuel.”
Molly Bradford is the co-owner of GatherBoard, an online community events software platform service, based off of missoulaevents.net. It can be used for issue-based communities or geographically based communities. Bradford was one of the small-business owners who took advantage of the free workshop.
“I attended today’s workshop because I was hoping I could do some business development for GatherBoard and find out about selling our licenses in other areas in Montana and out of Montana,” she said. “And also because I have some contacts out of the country, I wanted to understand what we needed to do correctly, so I wanted to connect with folks at the Montana World Trade Center.”
Bradford said she got a lot out of the event.
“I got a huge amount out of networking, whether it was the Governor’s Office of Economic Development or the Small Business Administration, the Women’s Business Network, all are going to be great resources for me expanding within the state and more of the rural communities and understanding how that works and where funding could come from,” she said. “The rest of the workshop was awesome. I work in a small office downtown and it can get a little bit lonely. My business partner has another job. So to hear other stories like ‘I could do that differently or yeah I’m on the right track,’ you know, it was great.”
Tester, for his part, participated in many of the panels and took questions from the audience.
“I want to thank all our panelists,” Tester said. “This is about creating an economy, creating jobs and allowing businesses that want to be here to be able to survive and thrive and grow and experience a lot of the things we just talked about.”