The Montana Contractors Association (MCA) is proud to announce Sarah Swanson as our Build Montana Coordinator. Swanson previously was the General Manager and an owner of Farm Equipment Sales, Inc., a multi-location John Deere dealer organization in eastern Montana.

As a small business owner, she experienced first-hand the struggles of building a workforce based on the trades. Sarah believes that strong partnerships with public schools are the key to ensuring Montana employers have the highly-skilled workforce required to Build Montana. After selling her dealerships, Sarah decided to put her knowledge to work in helping several industries address workforce development needs. Swanson has helped grow workforce initiatives with the Montana Equipment Dealers Association (MEDA) and the Montana Restaurant Association, where she chaired the board for ProStart, a high school restaurant management and culinary arts program. She is a past president of MEDA and the Montana Retail Associations, and has served on the boards of directors for the Montana Chamber of Commerce, Women Leading Montana, and Leadership Montana.

Build Montana is the workforce development initiative created by the MCA to deliver the message about the exciting careers in construction that await students and young people. The goal of Build Montana is to foster relationships with schools, educators, students, and their families to ensure construction and the trades is an option when considering a career path. Build Montana ultimately seeks to bring together talented, skilled individuals with contractors across the state. The workforce initiative is directed by the MCA’s Education Foundation, and has partnered with the Montana Equipment Dealers Association to provide a broad scope of career options.

As an independent contractor with a passion for careers in the trades, Swanson is taking the Build Montana initiative statewide to introduce teachers, students, and their families to exciting career possibilities that await them in construction. If you would like to learn more about how you can help young people explore careers in construction, please reach out to Sarah at (406) 263-3677, or at sarah@mtagc.org.

The Montana Contractors Association, a chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), is a trade organization representing commercial, industrial and public works construction firms. The MCA Education Foundation is a 501(c)(3) designed to promote and support careers in construction, and help build a diverse, skilled workforce for Montana contractors. Learn more at www.mtagc.org, and www.build-montana.org.

Jim Davison has been recognized for his life time achievements with the SBA’s Montana Legacy Award. Davison has served Anaconda, MEDA and the entire state of Montana well over his very distinguished career in economic development. He recently retired as Executive Director of Anaconda Local Development Corporation after 37 years of service. During his tenure, he seized every opportunity to diversify the economy of Anaconda-Deer Lodge County, create good-paying jobs and assist in developing a quality of life for Anaconda that has become second-to-none.

Jim’s work in Montana’s economic development arena began during a perilous time for Anaconda. Just two years before he took the reins at ALDC, Anaconda lost nearly 1,000 good paying jobs when Atlantic Richfield’s copper smelter closed in September of 1980. He was faced with the daunting task of reviving the Anaconda economy, whose success had been tied to the fortunes of the Anaconda Company for nearly a century.  Jim accepted the challenge and worked tirelessly over nearly four decades to diversify and strengthen the economy of Anaconda-Deer Lodge County.

Jim is a true collaborator and believes strongly in the power of partnerships to get things done. He is the only three-time President of the Montana Economic Developers Association (MEDA) and has served in various leadership positions for MEDA since the organization was established 26 years ago. Jim has continually volunteered his expertise when it was needed most, including his long-time involvement with MEDA’s Legislative and Public Policy Committee. Jim has also served as a Montana Ambassador, as Chair and long-time member of the Montana Board of Research and Commercialization and as a member of Anaconda’s Tax Increment Finance Board.

Finally, Jim’s significant contributions to the community of Anaconda extend beyond his professional responsibilities.  He is a founding board member of the Anaconda Community Foundation, served as a member of the Anaconda School Board, volunteers with his church and is active with the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

The legacy award honors an individual who epitomizes leadership, mentorship and philanthropy.  Jim Davidson exemplifies these characteristics and the SBA is honored to present him with this prestigious award.

Jim Davison was nominated by Paul Tuss, Bear Paw Development and Adam Vauthier, Anaconda Local Development.

Besides being a noted hotelier in Billings, Mike Nelson is a tireless advocate for business in the Billings community, which is why he has been name as this year’s Small Business Champion.  Nelson is always showing up to educate, inspire and support those around him, according to Steve Arveschoug, Executive Director at Big Sky Economic Development Authority, who nominated Nelson.

He is a hands-on business leader and serves on the board of Big Sky Economic Development and was recently appointed Chair of the Billings Chamber of Commerce Board in 2020. 

Nelson is actively involved with MSU-Billings College of Business and with entrepreneur students at Billings School District 2.  He provided a unique opportunity for culinary students from the Billings Career Center to take over the kitchen of the TEN Restaurant, located in the Northern Hotel, for one day.  Students designed the menu, ordered the food, prepared meals, and presented their creations to the community and civic leaders they had invited. The evening was an overwhelming success, showcasing the talents of area high school students and supporting young entrepreneurs in their beginning stages.

Mike has been an instrumental part of the community effort to address public safety challenges.  He has twice hosted community panel discussions to talk about how to make Billings a safer place to do business.  These discussions spurred an actionable plan by the Downtown Billings Alliance and the Billings Chamber of Commerce to provide small business owners with matching funds to assess and provide recommended infrastructure improvements to their businesses.

Mike successfully breathed life back into the historic Northern Hotel when he and his brother purchased the run-down, vacant building in 2009.  He spent the next five years restoring this important piece of Montana history located in downtown Billings. The re-opening of the Northern hotel has created a new hub for business travelers, tourists and visitors and has revitalized the downtown area. The economic impact of this project is estimated at roughly $82 million.

Mike Nelson is a catalyst for growing the Billings small business community and knows that it takes hard work and dedication to make it happen. He stands out from other leaders as a true champion as he is more than just a voice, he is a partner on the ground.

Keelan and Brianna James of Belgrade as owners of Easy Lawn Hydroseeding, LLC have been named as Montana Small Business Person of the Year by the Small Business Administration.

Both Keelan and Brianna grew up in Montana and met while attending Montana State University in Bozeman.  Keelan was pursuing a degree in Civil Engineering while Brianna earned her degree in Education.  After they got married, the couple decided to stay in Southwest Montana and raise their family in Belgrade. 

Keelan has always been a self-driven individual, and after college, he set out on a path of entrepreneurship.  His passion for the outdoors inspired the idea of starting an environmental restoration business in 2008. 

Easy Lawn Hydroseeding provides seeding, erosion control and land reclamation services for commercial and residential customers.  The company focuses on land restoration after major construction projects, environmental clean-up, river and stream restoration, wetland mitigation, and private land improvements and management. 

When the business first started, Keelan and Brianna were the only two employees but over the past twelve years the business has expanded to a staff of twelve.  By 2016, the company had outgrown their original location. SBA financing made it possible for the business owners to purchase property and build a new, larger facility to house their business operations.

The new location allowed the business to expand their service area to other states including Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota.  Future plans include expanding their service area into Idaho, Washington and Oregon.

Keelan and Brianna James are strong supporters of their community. They started a mentoring program to help struggling families that have experienced a financial crisis.  The program focuses on education of sound financial practices and helps with real life implementation of those lessons and even grant funds to help families get back on their feet. They focus their efforts to help homeless teens in their community. 

As a high school teacher, Brianna has seen the rise in homelessness in young teens who are displaced from their parents. The program will provide life skills and solutions with the goal of teaching kids self-reliance and how to succeed on their own.

Keelan and Brianna James were nominated by Randy Tyler, Assistant Vice President at The Yellowstone Bank, Bozeman.

Levi Clark of Geraldine has been named as SBA’s 2020 Montana Young Entrepreneur-owned Business of the Year.

Clark grew up in rural Geraldine, attended Montana Tech and graduated with an Associate’s of Science degree in Metal Fabrication in 2008.  After spending five years in the coal mining industry refining his welding and fabrication skills, Levi returned home to Geraldine.  With the support of his wife Ashley, Levi pursued an innovative idea to serve farmers and ranchers in rural Montana and give back to his hometown community.

Hybrid Steel Design initially operated as a mobile welding unit. Levi is a certified welder and able to streamline on-site equipment repair saving farmers countless hours in downtime and money.

As word of Levi’s skills spread throughout the Golden Triangle area, new opportunities presented for the company, including mill wright services such as onsite consultation, design, installation and assembly. Over time, the projects grew from agri-production equipment earning hundreds of dollars of revenue to full agri-processing facilities in the tens of thousands of dollars and beyond.

Currently, the company’s primary focus is construction of agricultural processing facilities.  Over the last 18 months, they have built three major value-added agriculture facilities in Montana’s Golden Triangle.  Pardue Grain is a pulse processing facility in Glacier County.  Hodgkiss Seed Plant is another processing facility located near Choteau. They are working on another major processing facility in the Golden Triangle, but for confidentiality reasons, are not able to divulge the details of that project.  Levi and Ashley utilized the Great Falls SBDC starting in 2018 for guidance and assistance in growing their budding company. They are active PTAC clients and have participated in state and local matchmaking events with government agencies enabling them to diversity revenue and continue to grow the company.

The company has experienced stellar growth in the last three years, with 2019 the best year yet.  Growth is due to diversification, going from a welding and fabrication company to providing on-site mill wright services including building huge agricultural plants.

Levi Clark’s commitment to his customers and his integrity and work ethic are extraordinary and continue to drive the success of this business.  

Hybrid Steel Design was nominated by Jason Nitschke, Great Falls SBDC Regional Director and Teresa Schreiner, Investment Director at Great Falls Development Authority.

Abby Coffee recently joined Stockman Wealth Management as a Junior Portfolio Manager in Billings. Her responsibilities include financial planning, investment account management, economic analysis and business development.

Coffee earned her Bachelor of Science degree in business finance with a minor in accounting from Montana State University in Bozeman in the fall of 2019. She is currently preparing for the Series 65 exam requirement and will be working towards the designation of Certified Financial Planner certification as well.

Coffee was an active member of the Alpha Omicron Pi Sorority, as well as several other organizations/programs while attending MSU Bozeman. She has volunteered and helped with fundraising efforts for Eagle Mount, NAMI, Arthritis Foundation and Huntsman Cancer Institute.   

She is located at 2700 King Avenue West.

Montana’s Woman-owned Business of the year is Kathleen “Nikki” Edmundson of Harrison, Montana, as named by the US Small Business Administration.

Edmundson began her business, Canty Boots in Butte, eight years ago. Edmundson was born and raised in Butte and graduated from the University of Montana-Western in Dillion with a degree in elementary education.  She and her husband moved to the small town of Harrison so he could continue the family ranching business with his father.

Canty Boots began eight years ago in the Mining City of Butte when Nikki Edmundson bought a pair of eel skin boots in an antique store that were tight fitting and not very comfortable. To make the boots work, Nikki cut and folded the boot top and worked some magic so they felt good on her feet. While running errands in town that same day, men and women alike complimented her unique boots. Clearly, Nikki had something special and she wanted to share her designs with others.

Canty Boots is a unique boutique that celebrates individuality in every pair of boots they design.  Nikki loves to create beautiful things, handmade with love, and brings new life to vintage cowgirl boots. The boutique also carries hats, scarves, jewelry and bags. The leather boots range from classic to extravagant and every pair is unique.  Everything is designed, cut, sewn, packed and shipped from her store in Harrison. She is committed to providing high quality products with personalized service to her customers.  

Nikki Edmundson reached out to the Butte SBDC in fall 2019 for help with marketing and input on how to increase visibility for her thriving boutique. The SBDC helped Nikki identity opportunities for grant funding and loan funding to help her grow her business. 

In June of 2019, Canty Boots opened a brand-new flagship store in rural Harrison, Montana, a town with a population of 160 people. Canty Boots brings full and part-time jobs to this small town, pays competitive wages and has made a huge difference in this very rural community. The company currently employs three boot designers and a designated cobbler and plans to hire another employee in the spring.

As Canty Boots has gained recognition, sales have reached international markets.  Nikki is passionate about her small business and her dedication, hard work, and vision drive her extraordinary success. 

Canty Boots was nominated by Julie Jaksha, SBDC Regional Director, Headwaters RC&D, Butte.

Mason O’Donnell recently joined Stockman Bank as a Financial Analyst. His responsibilities include modeling interest rate and liquidity risk; and assisting in the analysis of the balance sheet strategies, funding options and firm capitalization.

He will also provide credit write-ups and analysis on fixed income investments for the bank’s bond portfolio, as well as the reporting of key measurements, performance ratios and credit standards.

O’Donnell earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics and Finance at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa in 2019. He is currently a level 2 candidate in the CFA program.

He is located at 2700 King Avenue West.

Friday, October 2 is Manufacturing Day. It is an opportunity for manufacturers to highlight their work and energize a future pipeline of skilled workers. The Montana Manufacturing Extension Center is urging manufacturers to make it a Manufacturing month, showing the community what your business is all about, how hard you’ve been working this year – both at your facility and ways to advance the industry in Montana.

A tool kit to provide information and ideas is available at www.creatorswanted.org/ wp-content/ uploads/ 2020/08/ MFG-Day-Host- Toolkit-2020.pdf

By Dan Nordberg and Brent Donnelly

As leaders within the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), we have the privilege to partner with businesses and entrepreneurs pursuing their American Dream – even amidst extreme challenges. Last week, we visited Bozeman, Butte, and Belgrade to learn how local businesses are weathering the pandemic, and we were encouraged to hear about the ways so many not only kept their businesses viable but went above and beyond to support their community.

Take Bridger Brewing Company, for example. Known in the area for locally sourced pizza and brews, Bridger has made community partnerships a central component of their business model. When the coronavirus pandemic impaired their ability to continue business-as-usual, Bridger applied for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan through the SBA to supplement their income and keep their employees on payroll. Because of the financial flexibility provided by this loan, the restaurant committed to serving their community in one of the ways they know best: they delivered free pizza to fire stations, non-profits, and other first responders.

Mountain Hot Tub was also impacted by the economic challenges of recent months. An integral part of local tourism efforts, Mountain Hot Tubs experienced challenges based on the supply chains of national manufacturers. Though business was uncertain and they weren’t getting the inventory they needed, the hot tub retailer was able to bring back their entire staff through the help of a PPP loan. Kelly King, Mountain Hot Tubs’ co-owner and president, said the PPP allowed them to change their mindset from insecurity to innovation, and they utilized the time of reduced sales to dig into business strategy and consider opportunities for forward advancement.

These stories are just a few that demonstrate the incredible actions of your business community, and the SBA is honored to play a part in making them possible. In recent months, more than 30,000 Montana businesses have received over $2.2 billion in SBA loans. These dollars fueled local economies, made sure families continued to receive paychecks, and kept hometown businesses afloat.

Visiting your region, we were reminded that so much good is happening despite the challenges around us. People are giving back to the community. Neighbors are helping neighbors. Companies are going the extra mile. Yes, times are tough, but by investing in local businesses, we’re truly building a foundation for a stronger tomorrow.

We are profoundly grateful to your local business community for hosting us last week. Together, we’ll continue empowering Montana entrepreneurs to serve their hometowns and pursue their American Dream. To learn more about the PPP or other SBA programs, visit sba.gov/mt.

Dan Nordberg serves as the National Director for Rural Affairs for the U.S. Small Business Administration, and Brent Donnelly serves as Director for the SBA Montana District Office.