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Creating Unique Solutions to Provide Support to Business Members

Belgrade, MT


[Intro] Welcome to chats with chambers with your hosts Patrick Kirby and Sami Bedell-Mulhern. Each week we connect and learn from executives of chambers of commerce from across the country. These short episodes will share success stories, challenges, best practices, and tips and tricks to inspire you, and provide resources for hitting your organizational goals. From recruiting new and retaining current members to finding new and creative revenue sources. You’ll hear straight from those leading chambers and communities throughout the US. Chats with chambers is proudly brought to you by the Nonprofit bootcamp. Learn more and check out the show notes for episodes at 

[Patrick Kirby] Everybody welcome to another episode of chats with chambers. I’m your host, Patrick Kirby. I’ve got a great one for you. Today we’re chatting with Kristi Gee. She is the executive director of the Belgrade Montana Chamber of Commerce, Christy, welcome to chat with chambers.

[Kristi Gee] Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here this morning.

[Patrick Kirby] I am very excited. And again, one of my favorite things about this particular show is that I get to learn about a city or learn about a place and learn about an economy that I have no idea really what goes on there. So Kristi Give me a high level sort of what is Belgrade, Montana, all about?

[Kristi Gee] Yeah, so we’re a small community, although smalls relative anymore. We’ve recently had a huge growth in the last 18 months or so. And with the 2020 census, we did pop over 10,000 in our community and growing. So we sit in southwest Montana, we’re about 10 miles away from Bozeman, Montana, which a lot of people tend to know. We’re about 45 minutes away from Big Sky and about 90 miles from both the Northeast and the west entrance of Yellowstone Park. So we do see a lot of visitors in town. We’re a small community, like community that is very welcoming to both business and residents and visitors alike. So we’re definitely growing. We’re seeing some of those growing pains and kind of working through that right now.

[Patrick Kirby] I love it. Give me the give me the awesome things about the business community of Belgrade. What do you got going on there?

[Kristi Gee] Yeah, so our business community is very supportive of our community, we know that the residents of Belgrade do have other options being so close to a big town. So we are very cognizant of making sure that we’re taking care of our local residents. So our community, our business community’s great about being really supportive of school functions, Little League, softball, swimming, you name it. Our community business community’s really supportive of it. And I’m really fortunate the business community is really supportive of our chamber and the efforts that we’re trying to do. It’s a full circle. We want to make sure that we’re taking care of our businesses as well. And in doing so they take really good care of us.

[Patrick Kirby] Outstanding. All right, tell me something really cool about Belgrade, Montana, that people listening to the show would not know about it’s or something cool, quickly, or what is the cool thing.

[Kristi Gee] So we sit Montana’s best and busiest airport, it’s called Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport actually sits in Belgrade. So we that’s kind of our claim to fame. We also are kind of that gateway town for Yellowstone Park, as well as the premier skiing in Big Sky. So we’re kind of we’re a lot of things to a lot of people. We also, like I said, super welcoming, we have some great restaurants and great places to check out. And we just couldn’t be more proud of our community for being so welcoming.

[Patrick Kirby] It sounds like a fantastic place to your base of operations. If you’re ever going to explore the old Montana countryside, what a great place to stay. Okay, so we’d like to brag a little bit, or like help folks brag a little bit about the awesome things they do. What has the chamber Belgrade chamber done that you just super proud of? Or what has been in the business community that you just super jazzed about? That you just want to tell the world that they don’t know? Yeah,

[Kristi Gee] so we have noticed since COVID, you know, we’ve had everybody’s had to do business differently. And so we do have a really big workforce shortage here in our area. A lot of the residents that are moving here are bringing their jobs with them. So they’re not necessarily contributing to our workforce, which which presents a little different dynamic here. So we’re having to work through that. But one of the things that I’m super proud about is a new product. RAM that we’re just getting off the ground. And we’re calling it the boss program. And it has to do with our school district. So a little backstory here, I’ll try and be short, one day, I went to go to our local bank and make a deposit, the lobby was closed, I was a little confused. It’s the middle of the week. So I caught when I got back to the office called one of my contacts there. He said, Well, the one of the elementary schools is closed, they didn’t have enough enough substitutes to cover and so they had to close the elementary school. So it made me start thinking, Well, if that shut down a whole bank, because people had to stay home with their kids, what other businesses to that effect. So we started talking to other businesses. And lo and behold, while I’m doing this, the school district is also doing this. And they’re realizing that when we have an elementary school that closes or even a large daycare that has to close, it affects our business community and the way we do business. So we’re putting together a program, we’re going to roll it out this fall called boss, and it’s businesses offering support to schools. And what we’re doing is we’re asking businesses to maybe dedicate an employee a month to come in and be a substitute teacher and work in those school districts, because we’re realizing that if a business can send one employee a month, to be a substitute teacher that keeps that elementary school open, and it doesn’t affect our business economy. So we’re super excited. It’s something that we’ve heard of, there are some other chambers and school districts working to do this in the United States. But so far, we’re the only one in Montana and in the Northwest that are exploring this. And so we’ve got a lot of eyes on us, because we’ve been talking about it a lot. And but we’re really excited to get this going. And, and and have that that connection together.

[Patrick Kirby] There is something so fantastic about a smaller community having big, hairy audacious goals like this, and creativity and coming up with some really cool ways of sort of exploring how to use chamber resources and ideas. That’s a really good one. Christine, I have not heard of that. I love it. I hope everybody steals it. I hope they give you a whole bunch of credit for for sort of pioneering that as well, because that’s a really great use of not only the talent in your chamber membership, but using the talent of sort of, you know, your position as a chamber to to make good happen in the business community. It’s amazing. Now, we know it’s not sunshine and rainbows, we already kind of talks about the workforce development, what sort of challenges outside of workforce are you experiencing? And then what’s that? What’s the Chamber’s role in trying to kind of help come up with a solution to that?

[Kristi Gee] Yeah, so we have three big challenges workforce, of course, housing, housing is a huge issue in our community. We saw housing prices raise over 100%, in like early 2020, the base house price in Belgrade was sitting about 275. Now, it’s up to about 550. And what we’re finding is, even though some of our businesses have adjusted their wages to that, it’s still not not able to make it happen. So we’re seeing a lot of young talent having to move away, as well as some of our older retired folk that were kind of filling in some of the cracks a little bit doing some part time jobs, they have to move away, they can’t afford to live here. So we’re, we’re tackling that, when that goes hand in hand with that workforce. And then daycare. During COVID, we had nine daycares closed down in Belgrade. And that was that was huge. So again, we have an amazing school district here we have an I don’t want to call it an abandoned elementary school. But it’s an elementary school that they built a new school, they haven’t replaced this with anything. We’re actually putting a daycare center in that older elementary school, they’re doing some updates on it this summer, that’s going to roll out this fall as well. So we’re those are kind of things that we’re tackling, were asking Chamber members to kind of buy into that for some seats at the table and for some spots in the daycare. And so that’s something else that we’re working together with, because our business communities come to me and they said, Hey, we got to figure out this housing issue in the daycare issue. And and once we get those kinds of tackled, that’s going to help our workforce as well.

[Patrick Kirby] What I love about this is you you’re using the Chamber of Commerce to fill gaps in services now, you know, you’re using the expertise of your members and the perspectives of your members to help facilitate some of those things. And that’s again, one paper You look at a chamber of commerce membership, you don’t think about all those things. And that’s a wonderful value add not only you giving to the community, but your business members giving back as well. All facilitated through your chamber. Well, this sounds really great. And let’s just hypothetically say that I’m going to go and move my business to Belgrade, Montana. It’s gorgeous. I like to be in the gateway Yellowstone, I watched that show, I think I want to be a kind of a cowboy. But I also want to do consulting. So I can probably work there as well. I’ve moved, I now need to decide if I want to be a chamber member. So Christy, I’d love you to give me an elevator pitch on why I should join your chamber of commerce.

[Kristi Gee] Yeah. So beverage Chamber of Commerce is very active in our community. Not only do we do community events, but we also do this for our business members. We know that business education is big, as laws change, other. There’s other things that are going on. So we want to make sure that our members are always focused, we always only promote our members, when we get asked from the community, and our phone rings a lot on the community knows to come to us as a resource for good people who do business well. And we also know that people in our area like to do business face to face. So we like to give our members lots of opportunities to meet with each other, as well. I don’t like to use word networking, that’s kind of connotated a little bit. Not great anymore. But we do like to do business after hours. And we like to do different activities where they can get together, they can do business face to face and you know who you’re doing business with. We also are up to date on our not only city legislature, but also state legislature. We’re very active in that. And making sure that business always has a seat at the table.

[Patrick Kirby] I love it. So all the moving in, I’m going to become a chamber member. That’s going to be great. One of the final question kind of for you. And we love to leave chambers of commerce with this, which is, you know, I think people are looking for tips and tricks of things that are working in different communities that maybe other Chamber members who are listening today, Chamber Leadership, listening to the show, can take away and try in their own communities based on recruitment, retention, giving value to members, whatever the case may be. Christine, do you have a tip or a trick that someone else can kind of steal away and use? Because you found it effective in your own community of Belgrade, Montana?

[Kristi Gee] Absolutely. So I mentioned that our members still like to do business face to face, they like to know who they’re doing business with. We roll that into the chamber as well. We believe that going out and visiting our members, creating those partnerships, and walking in and not always having an asset. You know, I don’t always want to walk into a business and just ask for money or ask for something. So when they, when it’s a renewal month, my membership directors come up with some really great little cute, fun little gifts. They’re very inexpensive. But we’d like to go in and hand those out and say thank you for being a member. And then just while we’re in that business, getting a chance to know that person, and creating those partnerships, I think those bonds and those partnerships are super important. And that’s my takeaway is I hope that bigger small chambers, you still have that opportunity to go in and talk to your members and know who they are and they should know who you are.

[Patrick Kirby] I feel like that is probably the best organic marketing plan that any chamber can take away is that if you just show value until you actually care about the success of the business and asking different questions, renewal is a no brainer. Christy, thank you so much for spending time with us here on the podcast. Thanks so much for your leadership. Thanks for much for your for your perspective today. Thanks so much for being the Chamber of Commerce leader Dean outside of the box when it comes to sort of coming up with solutions and gap filling within your own community. I think it’s brilliant, and has been a wonderful guest here on our podcast chat with chambers. Thank you for being a guest.

[Kristi Gee] Awesome. Thank you so much. I really enjoyed it.

[Closing] Hey, thanks for listening to chats with chambers. For more information about the chamber featured in this episode or to check out show notes for links and resources. Visit nonprofitbootcamponline/podcast. Hey subscribe, give us a five star review if you liked what you heard and if you are a chamber would like to be a guest on this show. Hey, email us Or Links in the show notes

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Belgrade, MT is a small community that is experiencing large growth! They are in SW MT, 10 miles away from Bozeman.

Workforce issues are real – especially since most people moving to the area are bringing their jobs with them.

When a local elementary school had to shut down because they didn’t have any substitute teachers, it meant that local businesses also had to close because their staff needed to be home with their kids. Kristi took this problem head on and developed the B.O.S.S. program. Launching this fall it has business owners providing one of their employees one day a month to support the elementary school so it can stay open!

Belgrade is facing three big changes, workforce, housing and daycare. Nine daycares closed during COVID. They are now using an older elementary and turning it into an daycare. They are working with chamber memebers to rally support and help make things happen.

Questions We Asked

  • What is the Belgrade Chamber all about? [1:17]
  • What are some wins? [4:20]
  • What are challenges you face? [7:46]
  • How can you learn more about Belgrade? [10:30]
Belgrade, MT Chamber logo

Kristi Gee

Belgrade Chamber of Commerce

The Belgrade Chamber of Commerce is a voluntary group of professionals striving to strengthen our local economy. We are fully financed by member investments and projects, and independent of all other organizations and groups.

The Chamber of Commerce is people. We’re a collection of community members, hard-workers, and problem solvers making this area a better place to live, work and do business.

The Chamber of Commerce is your community. Our hard work is for the mechanics, doctors, and grocery store owners. It’s for the farmers who grew your food, construction workers, and the realtors who found your home. The Chamber is a business and it’s yours! Instead of making a profit in dollars and cents, our purpose is to profit our members through an improved market place.

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