Butte-Silver Bow has selected three more companies to fertilize.

The county is launching the second round of its economic gardening program, which gives companies virtual access to specialists helping them to expand their operation.

Five companies completed the process in round one. Three new ones were selected for round two – New Horizon Technologies Energy Services, UDAP Industries, and Synesis7. In addition, first-round participants Empire Office Machines, E.A.S.E., Water & Environmental Technologies PC, MSE Inc., and the Port of Montana all came back for seconds.

Businesses get strategic guidance and access to databases and information via a one-on-one partnership over 36 hours of consultation. Conversations are had via private, secure conference calls or online.

Is a round three in the works?

“We would love it to be a continuous program,” Community Development Director Karen Byrnes said. “We just haven’t gotten that far.” Further funding would need to keep the program going.

Before the county makes any decisions, it wants to ensure the program is working. It partnered with Northwestern Energy to analyze businesses that have completed the program.

“We want to gather all that data to see the impact, then we want to propose how to make it continuous,” Byrnes said.

Northwestern contracts with a company that has access to a program that computes how a single business impacts a local economy; numbers are plugged into a formula, which yields a five- or six-page report.

“It spits out the economic impact of the business,” said Northwestern’s Rick Edwards.

An analysis is conducted before the companies begin the gardening program to give officials a baseline. About 12 months after companies finish the program, another one is conducted, and officials compare point A and point B.

“We can’t directly attribute all the improvements to the economic gardening program,” Edwards said, since other economic factors influence businesses. But that doesn’t mean the data isn’t useful.

“It’s repeatable,” said Edwards. “It’s consistent. We’re not fudging the numbers to make things look good.”

Analysis is ongoing for companies that participated in round one.

When the county selects businesses for the program, it doesn't want ones that are already wilting. The idea is to identify businesses that are growing or show the potential for growth -- and maximize that potential.

The latest economic reports say start-up rates for small businesses in southwestern Montana are healthy, but businesses have trouble sticking around. And those that do make it rarely expand.

Said Byrnes: “It’s truly about growing your own.”

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