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Full steam ahead

Business in Montrose big opportunity

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When TEI Rock Drills relocated to Montrose in 1988, the town essentially ended around East Oak Grove Road and Townsend Avenue, said Sue Frank, the company’s president.

While most of the businesses then were agriculturally based, she said, many new businesses like JCPenney and Home Depot have since opened.

“Those bigger stores moving in obviously means the community has grown because they feel like we have the numbers to support being here,” Frank said. “Bringing more businesses in brings more people, which allow (things like) the rec center. We couldn’t have supported that when we moved here 30 years ago.”

Frank said as the city grows some of the agriculture may vanish. That’s something she would not like to see, saying there’s a fine line between old business and growth.

With Montrose growing at a steady pace, a balanced business community is key, said Frank. To create balance, the company, which manufactures drilling equipment such as drilling attachments and drifters, offers an internship program.

TEI has worked on projects such as the Crazy Horse Memorial, AT&T Stadium (home of the Dallas Cowboys) and Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas. Although it does not have many local customers, its equipment is sold around the world, including in Sierra Leone, New Zealand and Australia. The U.S. and Canada are the main markets, Frank said.

Montrose has been a good fit for the company. Having access to shipping options, as well as room to grow, has led to the company’s success.

Currently employing about 43 people (as well as 20 outside sales people and distributors), the company uses coloradoworkforce.com to advertise its jobs. The company has a skill set it looks for and some employees have moved from out of state to fill positions. For a couple of TEI employees, the draw of the outdoor scene and the job opportunity brought them from the East Coast to the Western Slope.

One such employee is Engineering Manager Luke Zamoyski, who moved to Montrose from New York to train under TEI founder and Frank’s father, Bill Patterson, as part of an internship. Internships allow room to train properly and helps balance the demographics in the area, Frank said.

If you want to see a community continue to grow, you need to have a younger generation, she said, adding she believes younger people will be the ones to drive new growth and improvement.

“It seems to me in the last few years there have been more younger people moving into the community, which I think is a really positive thing because again you need a balance,” Frank said. “You can’t be all retired people. You need that balance and I think it makes for just a healthier atmosphere and healthier community altogether.”

In with the new

Creating that balance is important when bringing and maintaining businesses in Montrose as well. Chelsea Rosty, executive director of the Montrose Chamber of Commerce and the city’s director of business innovation, said the focus right now is diversifying the economy to safeguard the community in case there is another downturn.

Rosty explained Montrose is not reliant on just one industry. The city houses businesses in the agricultural, tourism and service fields, among others.

“The things that we’ve identified as making Montrose just absolutely the place to be, in our opinion, is that Colorado right now as a whole is hot and people love to live in Colorado because of the lifestyle (and) because of the beauty that it has to offer. But it’s becoming overpopulated in eastern Colorado,” Rosty said. “So what we have to offer is all of those same amenities; we have the lifestyle, we have the beauty, we have everything you need here in Montrose to live. So we think that really sets us apart.”

Many businesses already in Montrose were formed out of necessity, but again there is a lot of diversity, she explained. Rosty gives credit to Montrose City Manager Bill Bell for the city’s shift in its business mindset.

Businesses that are looking to call Montrose home have either reached out to the city or have been recruited, Rosty said.

An industry that would benefit Montrose is technology. Rosty noted the reasoning for this is there isn’t a large tech company in town, and this type of business would provide sustainable jobs.  Outdoor manufacturing companies are another sought-after industry because they fit well with the area.    

When companies are looking to locate in Montrose, the City of Montrose becomes an adviser to them, Rosty said. Officials provide information about what Montrose is all about, including population, traffic and tourism information.

The city also offers incentives primarily for small and retail businesses. Incentives vary from business to business. Ross Reels, which employs about 40-50 people, is growing and has a job-creating incentive package it’s planning to implement, she said.

Other incentives could include a partnership with the city on sewer tap fees or on external infrastructure. Rosty said these would be features another business could use if the original company decided to leave Montrose.

Along with incentives, the city can also help with funding, as it has a loan fund, administered by Region 10.

“I would recommend just going and meeting and connecting with as many people as possible because this is a town that works on word of mouth and it’s just really important,” Rosty said.

A helping hand

The business community has grown substantially over the last few years, Region 10 Executive Director Michelle Haynes said; so much so that its loan fund has almost doubled in the last two years. She noted people are now looking to start new businesses or expand existing ones.

Additions to the community, such as the Montrose Community Recreation Center and the construction on Columbine Middle School, are contributing factors that show the community is moving forward, a place where businesses like to be, Haynes said.

According to data monitored by Dan Scinto, director of the business loan fund for Region 10, over the past two years, there was twice the number of jobs retained and jobs created, which indicates a growing economy.  

There are two primary ways Region 10 serves the small business community: through development and loan assistance. Although some work has been done with start-up businesses, the focus is on ones that have already started and have a solid business plan.

Nancy Murphy, the small businesses development director for Region 10, does one-on-one business counseling or the owner(s) take classes. There were 48 different workshops last year and fewer than 400 people attended those, Murphy said.

Classes include bookkeeping bootcamp, market plan in a day, 10-week business planning series and cash flow breakthrough.

“We tend to help people in the functional areas of their business that they have never had to deal with before,”  Murphy said. “So what we see is the majority of people who come to us are really good at that thing that they do; say for example, they are great lawyers but they don’t know how to get a customer in; they’ve never had to keep books, that type of stuff.”  

The whole goal is to make the business profitable. Without that profitability, the business does not exist, Murphy said.

Murphy works hand-in-hand with Scinto. When Scinto speaks with the business owners, he said he is able to see the holes in their plans and may direct them to Murphy. It also works vice versa where a business owner may start in classes but will eventually need financing and contact Scinto.

Region 10 loans out of several different funds, Haynes said. There’s a micro-lending program, as well as others, that can lend all the way up to six figures, she added.

Region 10 also offers partnerships with banks. For example, if the bank is asking for a certain percentage down but the owners do not have the full amount, Region 10 might be able to fill the gap.

The relationship between the bank and the business is often strained due to regulations. Although it may seem similar to a bank, the loan fund policies at Region 10 are more flexible on terms.

“Our program is actually designed to take on more risk, and to help these businesses make sure that they can get access to the funds they need,” Haynes said. “It still needs to have a solid business plan because one of the things we don’t want to do is loan a business money and see them fail. Now they have additional debt and might not be able to start another business ... Entrepreneurs tend to start several.”

Scinto added once the financing has been provided, the relationship with Region 10 doesn’t end. Region 10 will also provide additional ongoing technical assistance for that business, which includes the classes. Scinto will also visit and call throughout the term of a loan to make sure the business is getting everything it needs.

Partnerships with other entities, such as Montrose Economic Development Corporation, the City of Montrose and Montrose County are important because they each have a role to play, Haynes said. It’s about making sure they work together for the success of each business.

“We all have different things that we can bring to a table and when a business sees that a community is business-friendly and they have those resources available, then they are more willing to stay in our community and work with us,” Haynes said. “So I think that’s what contributes to the success.”  

In addition to Region 10, local business owner Scott Stryker has found helpful support from existing local business owners and managers. Stryker, the president of Stryker & Company Inc., said the community has a positive business climate.

A Montrose native, Stryker studied marketing at the Colorado State University. After earning his degree, he returned to Montrose and became president of a local construction company.

His father also had a construction company and when the time came to open his own business, construction was a natural fit for him, combining his love of construction and his business degree, Stryker said. In 2015, he broke out on his own and started Stryker & Company Inc.

“Business mentors that I look to are open to answering questions and people are helpful,” Stryker said. It’s a positive mentor-type environment, a benefit of living in a small town, he added.

“If you have a question, you can find someone in the community that could help you answer that question, as long as you are willing to reach out, they are willing to help,” Stryker said.

Collaborating for success

Creating solid relationships and working together is what is helping to drive business, including those downtown.

Although many people are busy, connecting points are one aspect of bringing a community together. Downtown Development Authority Manager Sonia Dumas said the establishments along Main Street, including more than 200 businesses and over 300 properties, allow visitors to reconnect with things they enjoy, like community, friends and family.  But it’s hard to do this if there is nothing available. In response, DDA has started its collaborative event series.

The DDA promotions committee is looking at what can be created that’s different, Dumas said. For its latest event, DDA did a twist on the classic dinner and a movie. Bringing together the Fox Theater, the restaurants downtown and live entertainment, Dumas said they have created Dinner+Magic+Movie. It’s about connecting people with things they already enjoy and encouraging retailers, Dumas added.

So far the community has been supportive of the collaboration events, Dumas said. Those who are collaborating are very supportive and helping guide the DDA to the right resources and asking what they can do to make things happen.

When it comes to Main Street, people request more restaurants, but Dumas said what is really needed is variety. There was a need for music venues and interesting events and places like Intrinzik have evolved.

“It’s all about having complementary industries like entertainment and food go hand in hand; anything that basically extends the day or the evening,” Dumas said. “You could go to dinner then you’re, ‘OK, what’s next?’ If there’s nothing next, you go home and go to sleep by 9 o’clock.”

Dumas noted downtown has a good level of traction, though some may want things to change faster or slower than they have been. Right now DDA has asked entrepreneurs who have ideas or concepts they think would work for Montrose to get in contact with it, MEDC or the Office of Business and Tourism, Dumas said.

“Show up and start doing something because that’s what’s really going to drive economic development,” Dumas said. “No government entity could ever drive economic development in any city. It’s always the private entities. Take a risk, jump in it. This is a good place to experiment with what works.”

Bringing people into the community and downtown is important to Frank as well. TEI hosts two events a year; drill school and its open house that does just that.

Frank explained drill school teaches students the drilling process from beginning to end, and the open house is more of a customer appreciation day. During the latter, the company shows customers new products, then takes them around town.

In both cases, Frank said the company uses locally owned and operated businesses when accommodating their guests.  

“I think it’s important to support the community that you’re living in and to help to make it better, stronger, and grow in positive ways,” Frank said. “Everybody likes Montrose because it’s not Denver so we don’t want to be Denver. But there still has to be growth and trying to balance that out.”

TEI is one of many businesses involved and committed to making Montrose a better place, Rosty said a common trait among the entire business community.

Although she doesn’t like the cliche, she said many area businesses believe a rising tide raises all ships.

“It’s not just that they get it as an economic driver for their business but they actually just want to be involved because they care about our community, which is really cool to see,” Rosty said. “So from a business perspective to come here, it’s a really good time, because there are still holes and there are still opportunities in our economy for new businesses to come and fit right in.”

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