As an experienced fishing guide, Butte Local Development Corp. executive director Joe Willauer knows very well that fabulous outdoor experiences are part of Butte's culture.
And so he believes it's vital to Butte businesses to leverage that priceless asset.
"Look, we know that we have fabulous hunting, fabulous fishing, great skiing, mountain biking, and hiking," he said Thursday. "So why are we not leveraging that? It's the best possible tool we have to lure business – and employees."
Willauer, determined to jump-start that process, on Thursday sponsored something called "B.O.S.S." — the Butte Outdoor Sector Summit — at Butte Brewing. He called the summit "an effort to start the conversation" about how to best take advantage of outdoor recreation in building Butte's economy.
In addition to Willauer, speakers included:
• Marne Haynes of Big Sky, consulting director for Business for Montana Outdoors, a nonprofit advocating for the preservation of the state's outdoor heritage. Haynes is an ardent proponent of the value of public lands to Montana business.
• Rachel Vandevoort, who is the recently appointed director of Montana's Office of Outdoor Recreation, charged with facilitating outdoor-industry business in the state.
Willauer, Haynes, and Vandevoort joined several others in a panel discussion on the way outdoor recreation is shaping business and motivating employees.
Jon Wick, owner of Butte's 5518 Designs, said the "energy around outdoor stuff" is a motivating factor for him and a significant underpinning for his business. 5518 Designs bills itself as "Butte's outdoor lifestyle retailer, offering in-house designed and produced apparel, outdoor accessories and unique local gifts." Wick says that he believes his store, at 27 N. Main St., has a big role to play. "We want our little shop to be a networking place, where people can share information about the outdoors," he said.
Willauer has a similar vision, writ large. That's why this spring or early summer, BLDC will launch "Base Camp Butte," a resource for people to find out where to go to enjoy the out of doors in the surrounding area.
"We want to answer the question for people who come into town and say, 'I want to go snowshoeing, but I don't know where the trails are,'" he said. He sees Base Camp Butte as having a strong web and social media component.
Also invited were some Bozeman businesspeople who obviously are already successfully leveraging their outdoor environment. Joseph Romano, who was working in Las Vegas when he and his family "instantly fell in love" with Bozeman more than a decade ago, found the best way to make their Bozeman dream a reality was opening two restaurants, Urban Kitchen and Salted Caramel Café.
"Running my two restaurants, increasingly I see that our employees all are drawn by one thing – not working for us, but enjoying the outdoors," he said. "Just like I was and my family was."
Willauer said next steps for the BLDC include launching Base Camp Butte and "finding out what local business owners want and how we can leverage our outdoor resources." He says with businesses opening and growing in Butte, he sees 150 to 300 new jobs in the offing, short term. "About half will come from out of town," he says, "And we have to use what we have.
"Our outdoor resources are the best advertisement for new employees that we can present," he added.