Getting ranked in 8th place on WalletHub’s list of “Best Large Cities in which to Start a Business,” has garnered Billings, Montana a lot of national exposure during the past few weeks, as the list is being reported by Fox News, Forbes, CNBC, CNN, NBC, The Atlanta, New York Daily News and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other business journals and newspapers across the country.
WalletHub, a financial website, reported that they “took a close look at many metro areas across the country to determine the best big cities for starting a business, and found that cities in states like Oklahoma, Texas, South Dakota and Montana actually beat out places in California and New York.”
The listing came as little surprise to two Billings bankers, Bill Coffee, CEO of Stockman Bank, and Wayne Nelson, Market President of Stockman Bank Billings, who attributed Billings’ standing to the business people already in the community.
This isn’t the first time that the strength and resiliency of the Billings business community has put Billings at the forefront, claimed the financial duo in a recent conversation with the Big Sky Business Journal. Back during the “Great Recession,” Billings emerged as a standout in successfully holding its own, when so many communities were not. The attribute was reflected in Stockman Bank numbers – numbers which ranked it as a top financial institution in the country.
As a consequence, a nationally recognized banking expert Alex Sheshunoff, called Bill Coffee, in 2010, to invite Stockman Bank to join The Partnership For Banking Excellence. And, he asked Coffee, how does Stockman “manage to be so dynamic and successful in a time when many financial institutions are struggling.”
Coffee said, “I told him it was because we have great customers…they didn’t do the crazy things others in the country were doing. They are honest and hardworking and weren’t living beyond their means.” Coffee said he explained that their company serves only the people of Montana, and surrounding communities in neighboring states, where their customers and employees “embrace the western work ethic and way of life, and abide by the code of the west.” It’s also a place where “The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well…”
Sheshunoff told Coffee that in all his decades of analyzing banks he had never heard a banker credit the character of his customers as the reason for the bank’s success.
That Billings and Montana might be a good place to start a business is well known by many entrepreneurs who have done so in the past, since Montana has long ranked at the very top among states for its level of entrepreneurship.
The fact that Billings, as a community, is very pro-business, also makes it a good place to start a business, added Wayne Nelson. Billings’ economic leadership through the Billings Chamber of Commerce and Big Sky Economic Development has had a tremendous impact and continues to make it a standout in the region, he said.
The community’s support of education is also very important— including the caliber of School District 2, City College, the Career & Technology Education Center, Montana State University-Billings, and Rocky Mountain College— in attracting business startups. Nelson lauded the efforts of the Chamber and EDC in looking to the future in support of education to develop a strategy to build a bigger and better -trained workforce, which looms as one of Billings’ biggest challenges. “They are very forward thinking,” said Nelson. “I see that we are working with more vigor to support our education system …we have stepped on the gas peddle.”
Any business startup or relocation has to seriously consider Billings as a location because it is Montana’s economic power house, given its population and that it is the largest city in a multi-state region. It is a retail and wholesale hub supporting other businesses and drawing shoppers from throughout the region. Adding to that is the broad diversity in the kind of industries represented by existing businesses, which helps to sustain a stable economic foundation and steady rate of growth.
Billings also has an advantage of having “very affordable housing” – it’s an advantage even over other Montana cities, said the bankers. They also pointed to the fact that Billings has good transportation infrastructure, which is in the process of improving even more. Airport services are being brought up to a par with that of competing communities.
And, then there is the lifestyle advantage. If there is any trend that Coffee and Nelson identified, it is that many of the entrepreneurs and other clients, whom they see, are people returning to Montana, primarily for the lifestyle. They have had enough of the hectic pressures of more populated areas. And, that includes those who are from the region and gained “seed” capital from their endeavors during the Bakken boom. They have settled on Billings as the perfect place to live and to start a business. It is close enough to remain near the action and yet have the advantages of a larger, stable community, and still be in the midst of a coveted outdoor lifestyle.
Missoula was also on WalletHub’s list. At the top of the list was Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Others included Austin, Texas; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Durham, North Carolina; Bismarck, North Dakota; Cheyenne, Wyoming, Charlotte, North Carolina and Raleigh, North Carolina.
WalletHub compared 182 cities, including 150 of the most populated U.S. cities plus at least two of the most populated cities in each state, and evaluated them on three dimensions — business environment, access to resources and business costs — using 19 relevant metrics.
Missoula and Bozeman were also listed in the top ten of WalletHub’s “Best Small Cities in which to Start a Business.”