Innovate Montana Symposium

The Innovate Montana Symposium was held in downtown Billings July 11-13.

For Sadie Floding of Helena, spending three days in Billings among other energetic professionals was the right boost for her fledgling online clothing brand.

Floding, 25, attended the Innovate Montana Symposium to build her list of contacts and learn how to market her year-old firm, Live Life Clothing Co. During one session, a presenter noted the iconic dogs of Budweiser, from Spuds Mackenzie in the 1980s to a Super Bowl commercial in 2015 about a lost pooch. They boost the beer giant with just an image, he said.

“That really resonated with me. How can I connect customers with our brand?” Floding said during a break at Starbucks inside the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel.

Floding was one of roughly 600 attendees at the symposium, which is in its second year and is one of Gov. Steve Bullock’s Main Street Montana programs.

The group was a mix of entrepreneurs, state officials, economic development pros, educators and nonprofit types. They listened to talks from inspirational business leaders with Montana ties, including Native American clothing designer Bethany Yellowtail, pressed the flesh and absorbed as much as they could.

In his opening remarks, Bullock noted that Montana is frequently mentioned at the top of lists for entrepreneurship and startups. That’s despite the challenges business owners face trying to attract skilled workers and navigate the vastness of the state.

So what did attendees think? I interviewed close to a dozen during their Thursday lunch break, a few hours before the symposium would wrap up.

Keeping employees is a challenge for Sanderson Stewart in Billings, just like most Montana businesses, but D.J. Clark said he was happy to hear at the symposium his firm is doing some things right.

“It really kind of validated a lot of the things we’re doing. One specific thing was getting away from the traditional, 8-to-5, punch-a-clock work week and allowing flexibility for people that have kids, need to work from home, or want to sleep in and work more in the evening. It’s more about getting the work done in the time you need to,” he said at the food truck court on First Avenue North.

Sitting across from Clark was Jim Bennett of the Montana State University-Northern Foundation in Havre, who noted he’s almost out of business cards from all his networking.

“We need to have more of that kind of collaboration, where industry is informing education, and education is informing industry, too, about trends we’re seeing,” Bennett said.

Brenda Schilling made the long trip from Glacier County to learn more about economic development opportunities in her new job with the regional port authority. She said she was glad to see so much focus on rural Montana areas and Indian country, where help is needed to grow their economies.

Even those at high levels of state government made new connections. Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney, while pausing from his tasty street food lunch, noted he’d met several business owners who view Montana as their brand.

“Hopefully, we can do a better job as a state working with these local entrepreneurs and helping them flourish, grow and do the things they need to do to be successful,” Cooney said.

Out and about

  • Magic City Real Estate has opened a new office at 649 Main St. in Billings. Broker/ owner Reatha Montoya moved from her home office to the retail front this summer. The business has four Realtors — Marcie Anderson, Shelby Fossum, Ron Gray and Trina Soria. The phone number is 406-850-9858.
  • Signed, Sealed & Delivered, a gift and card store at 1212 Grand Ave., Suite 13, is closing at the end of the month. The shop is holding a big liquidation sale through the end of the month and has been operated for about 27 years.
  • A new eatery, Time 4 Burgers and Such, is moving into Rimrock Mall.

Inside the numbers

$120,000 — The illegal stock gains allegedly made by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology research scientist, who authorities say used insider information on the takeover of Stillwater Mining by a South African firm, Sibanye Gold Ltd.

Reuters reported last week that Fei Yan, 31, was arrested on suspicion of placing trades ahead of the merger based on insider information from his wife, a corporate attorney.

Yan learned of the proposed merger last August, about four months before it was announced publicly, and began buying stock of Stillwater, Montana’s largest mining company.

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Once the merger was announced Dec. 9, Yan then sold his Stillwater shares for a profit, U.S. Securities and Exchange regulators allege.

Yan was charged in a criminal complaint with securities and wire fraud and released on a $500,000 bond.

80,000 — The number of Montana drivers now eligible for new roadside assistance from Farmers Insurance. The Los Angeles-based firm announced recently it’s implementing a new program that will allow customers to better dispatch tow vehicles and other service from smart phones.

The app can also provide real-time notifications for claims, a live progress map and other features, the company announced.

Farmer’s controlled about 6 percent of Montana’s total insurance market at the end of 2015, a spokeswoman said.

Haikus from the valley


for One Big Sky, finally.

But wait continues.

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