Main Street check up

Business ‘wellness’ study underway in Central Montana
By 
Deb Hill
News-Argus Managing Editor
Tuesday, March 2, 2021
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A survey of businesses in Central Montana is underway with a goal of helping the business community as it transitions out of the pandemic.
Photo by Katherine Sears

How have local businesses survived a year of global pandemic impacts, and how is Central Montana positioned to move forward when things return to something more normal?
That’s what a new survey hopes to measure. The Lewistown Area Business and Economic Wellness Assessment online survey was recently released through Snowy Mountain Development Corp., on behalf of the Tax Increment Financing and the Targeted Economic Development districts.
Scot Solberg, chairman of the TIF/TED district board, said he feels the survey will provide an assessment of the impacts of COVID on the business community overall.

“It will also help us assess the needs. How are we coming out of COVID? How can we help businesses now, and also help them prepare if we are ever in a similar situation in the future,” Solberg said.
Solberg said the TIF and TED districts have funds available that can be used to improve or develop business properties.
“We have provided funding to downtown businesses to do things like façade improvements, window replacements, things like that,” Solberg said, adding there are new COVID funds available.
Solberg said he and his board members want to help local business owners, and part of that is figuring out exactly what their needs are. Although the survey asks for information on business staffing and finances, Solberg said all information will be kept confidential.
Carly Wheatley, development director at SMDC, said the goal is to find out specifically what can be done and seek resources to address those needs.
“There are new things that could be an issue, because COVID happened. The survey will help us see what the issues are now,” Wheatley said.
Wheatley said while she expects problems such as a tight housing market and lack of childcare will continue to be problems for businesses, she thinks the pandemic may have highlighted new concerns.
“With everyone working remotely, and with the increased use of telemedicine, broadband may be a concern now,” she said. “Do we have enough capacity in Central Montana, and does everyone have access to it that needs it?”
Wheatley said a silver lining that has emerged from the pandemic is the ability to work from home with more flexibility; for example, remote training that can be accessed at any time.
“That flexibility may be the new standard,” she said. “Attending meetings, attending trainings remotely can save people time or can allow someone to take a job they would not otherwise be able to hold. If businesses want to keep doing this, it’s possible we may need to address access to broadband.”
Selling online is another aspect of doing business during the pandemic that Wheatley thinks may continue into post-pandemic life.
“We just want to see where we’re at, where we’re going and how to help any of our businesses that are struggling,” Wheatley said, adding that the deadline to complete the survey is Friday, March 5. The survey is available at https://forms.gle/B3WN4Z1zWfsfMbN3A.
For more information contact Wheatley at 535-2591.

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