Gianforte, chamber promote Montana to former residents, out-of-state businesses


Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte’s goal to create 10,000 more jobs paying at least $50,000 a year has a chance with programs like Come Home Montana and legislative measures that remove barriers to opening a business in the state, some analysts say.

“How do we attract people to come to Montana?” Bridger Mahlum, government relations director for the Montana Chamber of Commerce, said in an interview with The Center Square. “Or even better yet, and this is what the governor has honed in on, how do we get Montanans who left Montana to start their careers to come back for the rest of their careers and settle back into Montana and return home?”

Coupled with a state income tax that Wallethub ranks as third lowest in the country, Ronda Wiggers of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Montana told The Center Square that actions and policies from the governor can bring more people, businesses and well-paying jobs into the state.

An effort by the city of Shelby in which former residents who were visiting for vacation were asked in pamphlets to “Come Back Home” helped spark the idea, Wiggers said. The city printed a flyer to ask former residents to return back home to raise their children and bring their businesses, jobs and families with them. The flyer talked about improved internet connections and listed available business spaces.

A dozen people moved back home to Shelby, which has a Class C school that graduates 25 or 30 kids a year.

“To get 12 people to move their business back to Shelby was a pretty big impact on the community,” Wiggers said. “And it didn't cost anything; it just cost a flyer.”

The flyer reminded people who were visiting on that summer weekend filled with class reunions and a local fundraiser common across Montana that they were loving their time back home. It reminded them that they would be happy moving their families back home, Wiggers said.

Gianforte and the state have adopted the “Come Home Montana” idea as a state program.

The governor also pushed an incremental set of steps to be more competitive with states like Idaho, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming by lowering the income tax rate and core pass-through rates, Wiggers said.

Mahlum agreed that reducing the cost of doing business in Montana through lower taxes, dealing with regulatory compliance and workers’ compensation premiums could bring more business – and jobs – to the state.

“How do we help reduce some of those cons to help these business owners be able to reinvest those savings potentially into raising the wages of their workers?” she asked.

In Gianforte’s first legislative session since taking office as governor, Mahlum said he introduced a set of tax reductions, from reducing the equipment tax on Montana manufacturers to removing capital gains taxes for new startup companies in specific instances.

Another area targeted by the governor’s office and the Montana Chamber is fostering growth in business sectors with a lot of potential. Among those are manufacturing, as the state serves as a great hub for small and mid-sized manufacturers, Mahlum said.

“Also, the tech community, I think, is starting to really blossom, especially in the Gallitin-Bozeman areas,” he said.

The governor is going beyond the state borders to attract business and jobs, Mahlum said. The state is budgeting several business-recruitment professionals. While one will be based in Montana, the others will work in target areas like California and Texas to promote Montana to companies.

“I would just say that there's a more concerted effort by the Department of Commerce to get businesses to come to Montana and create high-paying jobs than I've certainly seen in years past,” Mahlum said.

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