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Polson rated No. 1 business-friendly city in statewide study

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POLSON — This fall Polson finished first in a study entitled “How Business Friendly are Montana’s 25 Largest Cities?”

The Montana Policy Institute and Dr. John Hill, president of American Indicators, collected and compared information on Montana’s 25 largest cities and completed the study.

With a score of 69.34, Polson came in first, followed by Sidney with 69, Glasgow 67.14, Bozeman 62.86 and Belgrade 62.05.

“Cities and towns are the real engines that drive statewide economy and Montanans should consider how they compare against each other with respect to economic, social and educational factors attractive to businesses,” Hill said in the introduction.

(The entire study can be viewed at On the home page, scroll down to the study.)

The cities were tiered in order of population, with Polson in the fourth tier. 

The “business-friendly formula” used to compute the results compared three different categories: economic vitality, 40 percent of the overall score; business tax burden, 40 percent of the total; and community allure, 20 percent of the total. 

Economic vitality was broken down into four chunks:

• Recent job growth (50 percent of economic vitality category

• Residential population growth from 2010 to 2011 (12.5 percent)

• Population growth from 2000 to 2010, divided by 10 (12.5 percent)

• Median per capita income (25 percent)

The business tax burden category compared the business property taxes of each city.

The community allure section scrutinized: 

• Cost of living index (35 percent of community allure category)

• Per-capita violent crime rate (35 percent)

• Percent of adults age 25 or older with at least a high school diploma (15 percent)

• Average Criterion-Reference Test (CRT) scores for all high schools in incorporated areas (15 percent)

Anaconda was at the bottom of the heap with 23.88 with Miles City at 30.17 and Butte at 31.31 directly above.

The study came soon after several Polson businesses closed their doors, such as True Value Hardware, Mountain Home Lighting and Home Decor, Crazy Mike’s Video, Page by Page Books, and DRS Technical Service, begging the question: How does what seems to be a climate of closures reflect the study’s finding? 

Montana Policy Institute Policy Director Glenn Oppel said the purpose of the study was to take a snapshot of each city, not to document all the nuances occurring all the time on the ground. 

The data sources are listed in the study’s footnotes. The economic vitality and business tax burden were weighted more heavily than community allure, Oppel said, since they are the “meat and potatoes data.”

One of the other purposes of the study was to provide the cities and towns with a benchmark they could use to gauge their business friendliness. 

“Maybe they had a moderate score, but if they improve on some of those indicators and some of those categories, they could jump up to the top 10,” Oppel said. The ratings could help towns promote themselves in-state and outside the state.

Polson Chamber of Commerce President Heather Knutson said,” It’s very exciting for our community. It’s based on Montana Policy Institute’s criteria, and that’s great, but there are always areas to improve upon.”

No one at the Polson Chamber was contacted for input on the study.

Asked if new businesses were required to be licensed, Polson City Manager Todd Crossett said, “No.”

There is a change-of-occupancy permit new businesses must fill out, and then the Polson Fire Chief takes a look to make sure the premises are safe and meet code.

“It’s very easy to start and have a business here,” Crossett said. 

He mentioned that the Polson City Commission reduced impact fees by 80 percent, which Crossett said sends a message that Polson is willing to do something to help business. 

Some businesses are going out of business for reasons more complex than just a crummy economy. 

“Our market paradigm is changing,” Crossett explained.

For instance, Netflix and Blockbuster other may have impacted the DVD rental business, and a local family business may have folks ready to retire with no one to take over for them.

At the same time, Crossett said there are a lot of positive things going on, such as new businesses coming into Polson or expanding.

Crossett mentioned Black Mountain Software as a business that wanted to be here and figured out a creative solution so it could stay. 

Also there are a fair number of employment opportunities, Crossett said, as well as educational opportunities. 

Lots of people who live in the area or who are working here are not necessarily geographically centered here, Crossett said. Sales people, consultants and IT people work here or are based from the Mission Valley. 

When young people leave the valley for college and get a job, which allows them flexibility in where to live, are they going to want to move back here and live here? 

By using the Heart and Soul grant and others as tools to solidify a vision, Polson can be the sort of place people where want to move, Crossett said.

The downtown business people saw the downtown areas become “increasingly vibrant,” he added, and more young professionals showed up during the summer months. 

“That’s a good trend,” Crossett said. 

“Yeah, it’s tough times,” he said, “but we have so much raw material here... we’re not a theme park. We still go and watch the kids’ band concert on the Polson Middle School lawn.

“That’s an attractive thing, that’s a marketable thing.” 


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