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MT Economic Development Summit recap, look ahead to what's next

By Lauren Maschmedt, KTVM Anchor, lmaschmedt@ktvm.com
Published On: Dec 24 2013 05:40:20 AM MST
Updated On: Sep 18 2013 05:49:13 PM MDT
BUTTE, Mont. -

Click here for live summit coverage and interview with Montana Chamber of Commerce CEO Webb Brown on the impact of the summit to Montana.

Click here for the live interview with Butte Silver Bow Chief Executive Matt Vincent on the impact of the summit to Butte.

As the Montana Economic Summit came to a close on Tuesday, folks like Alex Philp said the real point of the summit is just beginning.

"I have a meeting in ten minutes and we're still working the conference- so while everybody else is leaving, we're still having meetings," he said. And from those meetings, he said he imagines it will turn into revenue for his business.

Philp is the founder and president of Missoula technology company GCS, and said his company's attended every single summit. Within his business alone, the folks he's connected with at the summits have led to contracts for his company around the world.

"We meet with some of the largest companies in the world and get on their radar, become relevant," Philp said. He said his company just doesn't get that kind of access anywhere else.

While small businesses like GCS worked to strike up contracts, big names at the summit announced new partnerships and job announcements of their own.

A new Blue Cross Blue Shield call center in Great Falls is expected to create 100 to 150 new jobs. Boeing head Mim McNerny announced a 35 million dollar expansion of its Helena plant that will create 20 to 25 new jobs.

A November trade mission to the Bakken oil formation will bring Canadian companies to the oil rich region. A Peruvian national agriculture university struck up a forestry partnership with the University of Montana.

Oracle president and CFO Safra Catz told attendees that her company will continue to grow it's cloud computing operations in Bozeman. RightNow Technologies founder Greg Gianforte unveiled Code Montana, an initiative to get more teen interested in computer programming.

To get a good idea of the scope of how this summit has helped Montana over the years, we looked at what's resulted from past summits for other businesses.

"In the case of Burlington Northern from the last summit- they just announced a month or so ago the Shelby loading station," said Montana Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Webb Brown, referencing a new facility set to open.

In his opening remarks Monday morning, Senator Max Baucus pointed back to the first summit back in 2007. He told attendees that the GE facility in Billings was a direct result of the summit and created 200 jobs.

Baucus noted another success story from 2010- Butte's Seacast, saying the company tripled its work force as result of connections made at the summit.

But Brown said not every impact is right away, and most of them may not even be apparent.

"There are things that are going to come out of this, and quite frankly there probably will be results that we don't even hear about," he said.

As much as it's about putting Montana businesses on the global radar and creating those contracts & jobs, Brown said it's about connecting Montana businesses with each other.

"We're a big state, and not everybody knows everybody all over Big Sky Country," he said, adding "this brings folks together."

Philp echoed the importance of meeting other businesses from around the state.

"That allows us to get to know those leaders, meet those staff people and basically build momentum," he said. "We're in the tech industry, and so it allows us to compare notes and share information and basically build Montana's economy."

And with every conversation that comes out of the summit, every hand shake, we're told could lead to a future contract and more jobs.

A big part of the summit included small break out panel sessions on different topics- from health care to biofuels, to business technology.

NBC Montana attended one focused on starting a small business in Montana.

Folks packed the room to hear from successful Montana business owners- two from southwest Montana.

Serena Rundberg owns the Nova Cafe in Downtown Bozeman and John McKee founded Headframe Spirits in Uptown Butte. They answered questions on the challenges they faced starting up, and offered advice for success.

We talked one-on-one with Courtney McKee, who co-founded Headframe Spirits with her husband.

"To be able to kind of facilitate that process for other people and give them an opportunity to learn from our frustration, and shorten the time to start up- shorten the frustration for them, help them find a better way from concept to doors open means a lot to us," she said. "We appreciate the opportunity."

Mckee said by sharing their story, they hope to inspire others to kick-start a small business and help small business owners tackle big challenges on their way to success.

This is Senator Max Baucus' sixth summit. With him retiring next year, we asked Brown what's next for the summit itself.

He said it's up to Senator Baucus if he wants to continue the summits even while he's not in office. If he does, Brown said the state chamber is on board.