Missoula Economic Partnership Business Retention and Expansion Program

Business attraction often receives the publicity in economic development. Yet studies show that up to 80 percent of new jobs in a community are created by existing businesses rather than new ones. At Missoula Economic Partnership, we believe it is essential for us to make sure our local businesses have the tools they need to succeed and grow. Therefore, we are dedicating significant resources to support Missoula businesses with real potential for organic job creation.

Our Business Retention and Expansion Program (BRE) is a cornerstone of these efforts. This is a comprehensive, coordinated approach that begins by understanding local business needs. To do that, we visit local companies and learn about their concerns, challenges and opportunities for growth. We then connect their leadership to the programs and private sector resources they need to thrive. As the effort matures, Missoula BRE will also strive to build awareness of business issues and suggest strategic approaches to address these issues. Our continual aim will be to include local leaders, strategic partners in economic development and community members to collaborate on addressing a host of business issues.


The Missoula BRE program has five objectives:

  1. Demonstrate support for local businesses
  2. Increase local businesses’ ability to grow
  3. Increase local businesses’ ability to compete
  4. Identify challenges to doing business in Missoula
  5. Identify and cultivate community resources in support of sustained growth and development.

Strategic Partners

Though spearheaded by the Partnership, the Missoula BRE program will be a collaborative effort involving numerous partners in economic development. Partnering organizations will participate in business visitation as well as in prescriptive business assistance, often as part of a Business Assistance Team. Since most business retention and expansion programs take two to three years to develop and must be continually fine-tuned to adapt to changing needs, it is anticipated that many strategic partners will be added along the way. Given the urgency of assisting businesses now, the following BRE strategic partners have been identified to date. We anticipate adding public and private sector resource providers as appropriate to address business needs, and we welcome suggestions from the business community.

Initial strategic partners for Missoula BRE include:

  • BitterRoot Economic Development District
  • Destination Missoula
  • Governor’s Office of Economic Development
  • Hellgate Venture Network
  • John Balsam Associates
  • Missoula Area Chamber of Commerce
  • Missoula Building Industry Association
  • Missoula City Council Members
  • Missoula County Airport Authority
  • Missoula County Public Schools
  • Missoula County Public Schools, Adult Education Division
  • Missoula Downtown Association
  • Missoula Downtown Business Improvement District
  • Missoula Electric Cooperative
  • Missoula Job Service
  • Missoula Job Service Employer’s Council
  • Missoula Midtown Association
  • Missoula Office of Planning and Grants
  • Missoula Organization of Realtors
  • Missoula Redevelopment Agency
  • Montana Community Development Corporation
  • Montana Department of Commerce
  • Montana Manufacturing Extension Center
  • Montana World Trade Center
  • Mountain Line Transportation
  • Mountain Water
  • NorthWestern Energy
  • Small Business Development Center
  • Small Business Innovation Research Grant Specialists
  • University of Montana College of Technology
  • University of Montana MBA Program
  • USDA Rural Development
  • U.S. Representative Denny Rehberg
  • U.S. Senator Jon Tester
  • U.S. Senator Max Baucus
  • U.S. Small Business Administration

BRE Moving Forward

Business Visitation

As part of our strategic plan, Missoula BRE plans to visit 50 businesses by June 30, 2012, and at least as many businesses the following year. We are well on our way to this goal already since we have visited over 20 businesses as of December 2011.

Missoula BRE Tactics

In addition to formal business visitation, numerous tactics will be employed to increase the outreach and impact of the Missoula BRE program. The adoption of these tactics is a function of time and resources, knowing that we cannot do it all at once and that a good program adapts and evolves. That said, the following are likely to be components of a mature program.

Business Assistance Teams

Select BRE team members meet as a group and provide immediate feedback to select businesses. These businesses will have been vetted through prior visitation and completion of a grant intake form, which will aid in selection of appropriate Business Assistance Team members. Ideally, these businesses will have needs for business expansion that could be addressed by strategic partner programs or expertise. In some cases, Business Assistance Team members may be working to assist with issues of job retention not job expansion.

CEO Mentoring

Star CEOs will be called upon to assist struggling peers. In many cases, Partnership investors will play roles as mentors. In fact, this type of mentor pairing is already taking place.

In an effort to expand the possibilities of CEO mentoring, peer-to-peer groups may be initiated through such strategic partners as the Missoula Chamber of Commerce and the Missoula Downtown Association. For example, the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce runs successful BOSS (Business Owners Sharing Solutions) groups where members take turns presenting their challenges, thoughts and plans, one person per month. After sharing, the other members provide feedback from their unique perspective(s).” To maximize holistic feedback, only one person from each field is assigned to each BOSS group (i.e., tech support, marketing, retail sales, etc.).

As noted, CEO mentoring is already underway. However, formal establishment of peer-to-peer groups through strategic partners is targeted for May of 2012.

Sponsor Seminars on Pertinent Mission-critical Topics

Missoula Economic Partnership has initiated this process with a September 2011 seminar on Financing High-impact Ventures and a November 2011 seminar on Intellectual Property Protection. We are responsive to the businesses we serve in planning such seminars and will in most cases work collaboratively with our strategic partners in economic development to orchestrate them. We anticipate that the Partnership will participate in four or five such seminars annually.

MBA Student Apprentices

The Partnership plans to work with The University of Montana’s MBA program on several levels. First, we envision that MBA students could accompany BRE staff on outreach visits on a limited basis starting in spring 2012. Next, we plan to work with UM’s School of Business Administration to incorporate knowledge of BRE-related programs into student curricula and to facilitate placement of BRE-knowledgeable MBA students within Missoula-area businesses. In this manner, we broaden our army of effective volunteers, offer UM students a unique opportunity for practical application of skills and help more businesses experience immediate benefits from Missoula BRE involvement.

Business Walks

Government representatives and business owners will join core Missoula BRE team members to actively canvass predefined business areas in and around Missoula. Canvassing groups include four to six people and arrive at businesses unannounced. (Best results are achieved in conjunction with a larger public relations effort to let the business community know that business walks are happening.) Business owners/CEOs who meet with the group are thanked for conducting business in Missoula and are asked three fundamental questions about their businesses:

1)    Why do you do business in Missoula?
2)    What keeps you up at night when you think about your business?
3)    What suggestions do you have for a change that could help your business?

The Partnership plans to conduct business walks in 2013, once our standard BRE visitation program is well established.

Focus Groups

Focus groups composed of select area business executives, owners and leaders are key to flagging issues that must be addressed and then arriving at meaningful suggestions for positive change. Groups are organized in such a way as to produce insight on general trends and on industry-specific issues. In addition to discovering new opportunities to help existing businesses, focus groups provide key insight into possible extensions of area business clusters — which can improve our ability to identify and attract complementary businesses and industries to Missoula.

State and Peer Research Review

Although informal communications will always be helpful in program development and refinement, it may make sense to establish a formal peer review process with other economic development organizations within the state where we talk about our BRE efforts in a peer-to-peer roundtable format. A candid discussion of what is working and not working throughout the state would be beneficial for all, and could positively impact work with the state of Montana as well as with the state legislature.

Montana Economic Development Association meetings already offer ideal forums for this type of collaboration. It is hoped that Missoula BRE can take this excellent work a step further in an effort to drill down to effective tactics for change and even failures that we all can learn from.

BEAR Presentation to Partnership Board and Investors

Annual presentation of data as well as compelling commentary collected from businesses as part of Missoula BRE should be shared on a regular basis with the Partnership Board of Directors and investors in an appropriate high-level format. The presentation should revolve around discussion of priority projects and program development and/or issue-oriented actions. Each year, one or two priority projects should be defined and assigned to investor committee members who have ideas, time and/or other talents to contribute to these projects.

Day-to-Day Operations

In an effort to make sure all businesses are being served in a comprehensive, collaborative manner, Missoula Economic Partnership welcomes all business assistance inquiries. In many cases, there will be an immediate referral to a partnering organization — for example, referring very-early-stage entrepreneurs or existing business owners who need basic business assistance to the SBDC. In other cases, we will identify a company that is at the right stage of development to create jobs or is in danger of shedding jobs. In these instances, we will play a direct role in business assistance.

For more information about our Business Retention and Expansion program, please contact Brigitta at bfreer@missoulapartnership.com or 406.541.6461.

Brigitta Miranda-Freer, director of business development, Missoula Economic Partnership

Missoula Economic Partnership | 500 N. Higgins Ave. | Suite 300 | Missoula, Montana 59802 | P: 406.541.6461 | F: 406.541.6464