By Martin Kidston
Montana’s two largest cities made a national list of the most entrepreneurial small and mid-sized metro areas in the country, with Billings ranking 8th and Missoula landing 9th.
In August – and for the fourth year in a row – Montana topped the Kaufman Foundation’s list for its high number of startups looking to capitalize on market opportunities.
“Out of the 151 metro areas in our study, Missoula has the 10th highest rate of small businesses and the 19th highest rate of small business loans,” said Kara Gibson of Smart Asset. “About 75 percent of all businesses in the Missoula area have less than 10 employees, and there have been more than four small business loans per 10,000 residents in the past year.”
The study defined small to mid-size metros as cities with less than 1 million residents. To compile the rankings, it gathered data on certain business indicators, including new businesses, small-business loan rates, and the number of employees working for a new business.
Billings, Missoula and Bellingham, Washington, rounded out the top 10. The most entrepreneurial small to mid-sized metros in the country included Provo, Utah; Cheyenne, Wyoming; Greeley, Colorado; Bismarck, North Dakota; and Rapid City, South Dakota.
The study places Billings’ population at 169,329 residents and its unemployment rate at 4.5 percent, placing it fourth on the list. It ranks third for the number of small business loans.
“Over the past year, there were more than seven small business loans per 10,000 residents – that’s the highest in our top 10,” the study said. “Billings isn’t ranked higher in our study because it has a relatively low percentage of new businesses at 11.2 percent.”
Missoula was listed as one of the smallest cities in the study, with a population of 114,181 residents, “but it still manages to pack a punch.”
“We’ve recognized for several years the entrepreneurial spirit of Missoula, and it’s nice to see outside areas recognize that as well,” Grunke said. “There’s been a lot of work by a lot of people over the past couple years to develop entrepreneurship in Missoula and Montana.”
Among them, Grunke named the Hellgate Venture Network and Blackstone Launch Pad at the University of Montana. Other local groups, including 1 Million Cups – Missoula, also foster entrepreneurs.
While most of the city’s entrepreneurs are “tucked away” and flying under the radar, Grunke said, people outside the region are beginning to take notice. While the list is only a list, he added, such things get attention.
“Our community is reaching a tipping point, where we’ll become recognized in the region as the center of all things entrepreneurial,” he said. “People recognize there’s a lot of activity. We were ranked high in The Atlantic for venture capital, and it caused people to call us asking what’s going on. It generated a lot of outside calls to us, and I expect this will do the same.”
Contact reporter Martin Kidston at firstname.lastname@example.org