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Montana Entrepreneurship Center: the university system assisting the state's business community.

Never has the need for economic development in Montana been more acute than at the current time. Historically, the state has been heavily dependent on its basic industries: mining, oil and gas extraction, agriculture, forest products, and tourism. Downturns in several of these industries contributed to the recession in the early 1980s, while mechanization meant the loss of quality jobs. Even though the state's economy has stabilized and forecasts call for slow growth, Montana is expected to lag behind the nation in recovery.

Low per-capita incomes, generally low levels of business and economic activity, and net out-migration experienced in the 1980s all underscore the need for increased business development in the 1990s. TO date, Montana's state government has not entered the competitive arena of tax incentives, below-market business loans, or other relocation incentives to lure businesses to Montana. It is critical, therefore, that Montana support existing and emerging small businesses within the state to close the gap between Montana's growth rate and that of the nation.

Small-Business: The Keys to the Future

David Birch, one of the nation's leading researchers in the area of small-business issues, emphasizes the critical importance of entrepreneurship in revitalizing the economy of the western states. According to Birch, states like Montana are economically weak and vulnerable, but have the potential for long-term rejuvenation and growth if the state can improve the entrepreneurial and small-business climate.

Montana provides the ideal setting for small-business development. The state has the nation's highest concentration of small-business establishments (95.8 percent) and the nation's highest percentage of small-business employment (68.4 percent). In addition, Montana is blessed with a highly qualified work force and a quality of life that attracts talented people to the state. Montana can use this propensity toward small-business to facilitate the economic growth and industry diversification critical to the future. The challenge lies in creating the nurturing environment and infrastructure necessary to encourage and support entrepreneurship and small-business development.

How Universities Can Help

Recognizing the dynamic and powerful role that Montana's universities can play in the state's economic development, the Montana Science and Technology Alliance awarded the University of Montana, Montana State University, and Eastern Montana College a planning grant in 1988 to research the need for a business assistance and entrepreneurial center. In 1989, the Alliance provided additional funding to establish the Montana Entrepreneurship Center.

The alliance recognized that Montana's universities have resources and expertise unmatched by the private sector. Faculty expertise ranges from management, finance, accounting, marketing, and economics to mechanical, electrical, chemical, civil and industrial engineering. Faculty can offer consulting expertise in international business and law, computer technology and systems design, microbiology and biotechnology, agriculture and range management, water and resource management, environmental and toxic-waste management, petroleum and geological exploration, metallurgy and mineral processing, architecture and construction technology.

Montana's universities offer distinctive programs and centers that can support business development. A sampling of these include:
 * University Technology
 Assistance Program;
 * Bureau of Business and
 Economic Research;
 * Mansfield Center for Pacific
 Rim Affairs;
 * Institute for Tourism and
 Recreation Research;
 * Montana Center for Excellence
 in Biotechnology;
 * Engineering Research Center;
 * Advanced Technology Park;
 * Big Sky Telegraph Network;
 * Montana Bureau of Mines and

Access to specialized equipment and laboratories can make the critical difference for businesses developing new products and technologies. Montana's universities house facilities that can be used by the business community on a for-fee basis. Special research facilities include laboratories dedicated to research in biotechnology, forestry, engineering, laser technology, industrial technology, agriculture, wildlife, and mining.

Montana's universities offer student programs such as internship programs, Small Business Institute case studies and student research programs that can provide assistance and technical services to the business community. These outreach programs are supervised by faculty members and are available free or for a minimal charge.

Carrying Out the Center's Mission

The center's mission is to use the strengths of the Montana University System to address business development and economic diversification by creating the infrastructure necessary to encourage and support entrepreneurship and small-business development. To carry out this mission, the center will:

1. Provide business owners and entrepreneurs with an integrated system of resources to include management and technical assistance vital to start-up, development, and growth.

2. Provide information through a comprehensive database of public, private, and university resources to include programs, services, facilities, equipment, and expertise.

3. Provide electronic bulletin boards and computer conferencing systems to network business owners and entrepreneurs statewide and to bring expertise to the state when experience is lacking.

4.Build a venture capital network to link entrepreneurs with the financial resources they need to make ventures operational.

5.Encourage research activity both in the academic and business communities to develop new products, concepts and technologies.

6.Facilitate technology transfer of research products to the private sector by matching new products and technologies with entrepreneurial skills and venture capital.

7.Identify business and entrepreneurial opportunities and disseminate that information to the business community.

8.Identify ventures with the potential to impact the economy and work closely with these ventures to ensure their success.

The Center's Structure

Current demand for business and technical assistance, plus geographic dispersion of throughout the state, create the need for three offices strategically located at the University of Montana, Missoula; Montana State University, Bozeman; and, Eastern Montana College, Billings.

Central offices at the University of Montana house the executive director, a database manager/system administrator, and administrative support staff. Regional offices at Montana State University and Eastern Montana College house regional directors and their support staff.

Directors at each location meet with clients to assess and prioritize client needs and then link them with the resources they need to make their ventures operational. Recognizing that the three campuses have unique facilities, expertise, and programs, the directors at all three campuses work together to create a uniquely cooperative and complementary package of services to address client needs.

Each office has established an advisory board to provide advice and guidance to the directors at each location. Advisory boards are composed of local business leaders, business owners, entrepreneurs, public officials, and university administrators.

The center's board of governors is composed of the deans of the three business schools, the director of the Montana Science and Technology Alliance, and four members from the business community.

Dr. Larry Gianchetta, Dean School of Business Administration University of Montana;

Dr. James Brock, Dean College of Business Montana State University;

Dr. Andrea Corbeau, Dean School of Business and Economics Eastern Montana College;

Jon Marchi, Owner, Marchi Angus Ranches and member of the Montana Science and Technology board of directors;

Don Hanson, Manager Economic Development US WEST Communications;

Ken Thuerback, C.E.O. Alpine Log Homes, Inc.

Larry Johnson, President and C.E.O., ILX Lightwave Corporation; and

Wayne Schile, Publisher Billings Gazette.


Montana provides the ideal setting for small-business development in the 1990s. The Montana Entrepreneurship Center represents a proactive yet cost-effective approach to this development, using Montana's universities to deliver business and technical assistance to business owners and entrepreneurs statewide. Serving as the gateway to the Montana University System and its unique resources, the center will make the critical difference for many new and developing businesses.

For more information about any of the center's services, call:

Central Office: University of Montana, Missoula (406) 243-4009

Regional Offices: Montana State University, Bozeman (406) 994-2024

Eastern Montana College, Billings (406) 657-2813
COPYRIGHT 1990 University of Montana
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Lutz-Ritzheimer, Kay
Publication:Montana Business Quarterly
Date:Sep 22, 1990
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