By Jeffrey Durham
Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton met with government and business people in Big Timber during a two-day “Things that Matter” tour on Dec. 12 and 13.
Saying he “had a great time” in Sweet Grass County, he sought feedback from business people about how the state and particularly his office can help them to thrive. His tour included speaking to a lunchtime chamber of commerce discussion group at the Grand Hotel. He told the group that the state is “going digital” with its business registry. He also noted that his philosophy is to develop resources on state trust lands instead of “the government locking up lands.”
The Republican, a former state senator from Billings, also praised the turnout and success of the Nov. 6 General Election count in Montana. Sweet Grass County is one of “about six” counties in the state that continue to hand-count ballots, calling that a surefire way to defend against computer hacking of ballot counts.
“You can’t hack what’s not online,” he added.
“I was very impressed. We had a really high turnout and some long lines some places, but I thought it went very well,” Stapleton said. “All the numbers stood up and all the recounts held up.”
Stapleton said he has already visited about 20 of Montana’s 56 counties on his tour to promote a “cross-pollination” of government and business people to pass along ideas. He also said he was surprised when told there is a housing shortage problem in Big Timber.
Stapleton urged local small business people to start a website to boost their business reach. He offered some other tips about starting a new business.
“First, make a business plan, a 1 to 3 to 5-year plan and get your financing in order,” he said. “To be successful, identify what you do well and do it a lot. Identify your customers and get an online presence. You need a visual representation and search engine representation.”
He added that start-ups that fail generally had no business plan and “didn’t know what they wanted to be when they grew up.”
Stapleton acknowledged one of the biggest problems both in Big Timber and nationwide is finding workers. Representatives of the Roe and Circle T construction firms in town told him they can’t find help or keep help, and it is a struggle dealing with a “massive shortage” of workers in the construction industry.
“You must be a salesman, recruit and go out and get them,” Stapleton replied. “You have enormous advantages here,” citing the beauty of the area, and good transportation ties in the state.
The Secretary of State’s office operates on a budget of about $6 million annually with around 38 employees, he said.
Stapleton visited several businesses while on the two-day tour to the county, saying he early on pledged “not sitting in Helena”, but finding out “things that matter” to people in their communities. Among the places he visited were the county offices, meeting with county commissioners and Clerk and Recorder Vera Pederson, as well as Pioneer Medical Center, Shiloh Rifle, Ullman Hardware, Sibanye-Stillwater Mine and Cliffside Trucking, among other stops. He also met with 32 seniors at Sweet Grass County High School to discuss the role of his office, how other states oversee elections and national politics.