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Economic 'gardening' program nurtures local business owners [The Montana Standard, Butte :: ]
[April 27, 2014]

Economic 'gardening' program nurtures local business owners [The Montana Standard, Butte :: ]

(Montana Standard (Butte) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) April 27--For five select businesses in Butte, an economic gardening program has sprouted savvy business owners whose companies are thriving.

Butte-Silver Bow has spent $20,000 for the five companies to participate in the National Center for Economic Gardening program, a pilot project that was planted last March but sprouted in June.

The mentoring program gives business owners, free of charge, help in boosting company profiles, marketing plans, sales models, business models and social media tools.

"Of the six companies to start this journey, five have completed the process," said Karen Byrnes, the county's community development director and certified NCEG trainer.

Finishing 36 hours of collaboration with NCEG research teams are Employee and Administrative Support Enterprise (E.A.S.E), a medical records and management staffing company; MSE Technology Applications; Water Environmental Technologies PC; Headframe Spirits Inc.; and Port of Montana, a quasi-governmental agency. A sixth business, Empire Office Supply, needs only one more hour to complete the program.

Through video conferencing, email and face-to-face guidance, local entrepreneurs gleaned new strategies from regional and national experts to help them identify and prioritize sales leads and business opportunities, refine core strategies and create buzz about their products and services.

"Being a part of the Economic Gardening project helped us gain valuable information and a better understanding of today's business environment," said Barb Cook of E.A.S.E., in a survey conducted by Byrnes and presented to county commissioners. "But more importantly, our participation generated a newfound enthusiasm that we could build on to explore future business opportunities." Helen Joyce, MSE program manager, said the six-week mentorship "came at a perfect time." "The information on how to market our expertise through social media has been transformational," added Joyce. "As a small business, MSE could never have generated so many contacts relevant to our business areas in such a short time." Dave Erickson, principal hydrologist and manager for Water Environmental Technologies PC (WET), said he was impressed because experts helped him on several levels, especially how to market via social media sites.

"They immediately recognized the challenges we face in an engineering/consulting business," Erickson added, "and tailored the program to address, not only marketing issues, but topics such as recruiting and employee retention." Courtney McKee, Headframe Spirits owner, said the virtual mentorship has helped her make a drastic improvement in marketing via social media.

"Some of the social media help we received enabled us to pursue a well thought-out redesign on our website, as well as a thoughtful inclusion of ecommerce and mobile website," said McKee, whose new site is live while the ecommerce and mobile sites go live in a few months. "We're proud of that work." Byrnes said the success of the program warrants entering into another contract with NCEG.

Again, local first-time companies can apply for the intense 36-hour program. But businesses that recently completed it can "explore further into any one area of interest." Byrnes said details are forthcoming.

Last spring Byrnes and a committee of four others selected six of 11 applicants in Butte for the program, offered at no cost as long as for-profit, privately held businesses meet the following criteria: Exist in the county for at least two years; Generate $750,000 to $50 million in annual revenue or working capital; Employ 6 to 99 full-time employees; Demonstrate growth in employment and/or revenue during two of the past five years; Provide products or services beyond the local area to regional, national or global markets.

The Port of Montana was self-funded while Butte-Silver Bow partnered with the Butte Local Development Corp. and NorthWestern Energy as program sponsors.

___ (c)2014 The Montana Standard (Butte, Mont.) Visit The Montana Standard (Butte, Mont.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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