40 Years Ago
By Evelyn Pyburn
The Big Sky Business Journal is celebrating 40 years in business this year.
The Big Sky Business Journal was the first stand-alone business publication in the state and it came at a time when business news was kind of a new idea. Up until then, other than the Wall Street Journal and Barron’s, there wasn’t much attention given to business news by media. I recall one journalist, totally surprised that we talked to business people for news, asking, “How can you do that? They are so self-serving?”
I was surprised that he didn’t know that most people are self-serving. But, he revealed in that statement much of what was to come in journalism, and a realization that bias in media isn’t something new; it’s been building for a long time. He reflected a pervasive lack of understanding that pursuing self-interest and having the ability to do so is the engine that drives not only economic success but innovation and a wealth generation that is beyond imagination.
So it is that being a business owner has taught me many things, but being able to get to know others in business in Montana has been a great privilege. Nothing could reveal more what incredibly great people there are in our state. Self-serving or not, they first and foremost serve their communities in so many ways that whatever they gain for themselves is hugely earned and just, and we would be sorely lost without them.
Looking back over the years reveals a lot of ups and downs and one is reminded that no matter how bad one moment may seem, just hang on and it will get better.
When we started business it turned out to be one of the worst times possible to start a business. It turned out that Billings was headed into one of the worst economic declines in its history. It was the oil-bust of the ‘80s.
We never quite realized what a boom the oil business had been for Billings until it started to deflate. What a contrast. Billings was brimming with the enthusiasm and success of the booming oil fields. Young professionals from every part of the economy were here participating in one way or another in the boom. Billings was headquarters for a lot of different oil companies and transportation companies. New cars and new homes and new office buildings spoke loudly about the economic well-being of Billings. Retail stores and shopping malls bustled with activity. Late every afternoon was a celebration at crowded happy-hour bars and fine dining restaurants. Everywhere it was apparent that Billings was boomng.
And, then suddenly it wasn’t. All those bright and engaging professionals were packing up their families and moving to Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and some were moving to other countries where oil field jobs still existed. Going-away parties became the social events of the day. So many were moving that one could look up and down any given residential street in Billings and see several moving trucks being loaded. It felt like Atlanta burning. The community was infused with a sadness. Many businesses closed and others were doing a belt-tightening that probably laid the foundation for some of best and strongest companies that we have today.
But it was also a great time to be starting a business. The computer age was emerging. Today, it is very easy to forget the huge boost that computers and improved communications gave to small businesses. In so many ways it put mom-and-pop businesses on a par with big businesses. Suddenly supplies and materials and services were available from across the country and around the world, bringing down prices and increasing opportunities and introducing entrepreneurs to current product information and other vital industry and market information in a timely manner that had never been experienced before.
Computerization over time has pulled Montana into the mainstream of business activity in the country. When the Big Sky Business Journal began business, one of the biggest economic discussions going on was how disconnected Montana was from the rest of the world and what an impediment that posed to attracting business and doing business with other parts of the country. While that remains something of a problem, it’s not the issue it was. In fact, as we are seeing today, Montana’s remoteness coupled with the improved communications available today has become a positive that is attracting people to the state because they can enjoy both the lifestyle and the work-at- home employment opportunities.
Having our own business has given us a wonderful flexibility in life, in life-style choices and in being able to raise our children in a very hands-on way, which has been wonderful. It has also given us a unique opportunity to be part of the community and to know so many wonderful people who make Yellowstone County a great place to live. For this we say thank you to all our advertisers and subscribers and other supporters. It couldn’t have happened without you.