Entrepreneurs Discuss Journey Into The Big Sky State

The Montana Standard, Butte

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) This article takes a look at those who have started businesses in the Big Sky state and the journey that got them to where they are today.

The Montana Standard, Butte

Many small business owners in Butte and Anaconda are natives to the region, but a number are people who have moved to Montana to experience a different way of life.

From missile silos to movie making
Don Andrews, co-founder of Butte’s Covellite International Film Festival, said he was only supposed to be in Butte for one day when he arrived in 2015.

What brought him and festival co-founder Brian Boyd was an invitation to stay overnight in the Mining City as the two traveled in a Winnebago bound for New Mexico, where they planned to scout for a movie location.

After arriving, the two were welcomed with opened arms by the city’s arts community, Andrews said.

And not only did they decide to stay in Butte, they also decided to embark on an ambitious project: starting a film festival that the city could call its own.

Since then, the Covellite International Film Festival has run for two iterations — drawing filmmakers from throughout the U.S. and abroad — and is coming up on its third year in September.

The two have also purchased a building on West Broadway Street in Uptown Butte, a fixer-upper they hope will one day house a post-production, animation and audio studio and screening room for their newest venture, Covellite Studios.

In addition, Andrews, has sought to bring more films to Montana and has traveled twice to the state capital to speak on behalf of the film industry.

Boyd, meanwhile, has become a familiar face in Butte’s art and culture scene, having starred in “No Greater Love,” a theatrical musical based on the 1917 Granite Mountain-Speculator Mine fire.

In many of his interviews with The Montana Standard, Andrews said he believes film can be a tool for economic development, and he often jokes that his motto is “make a movie in Butte, stay forever.”

Covellite alums Raj Amit Kumar and Damon J. Taylor may not plan to make Butte their forever home, but the two did film a movie in the Mining City, having recently wrapped up a micro-budget film called “Brown.”

Andrews, a native of Illinois, said landing in Butte is like coming full circle.

He didn’t start out in life as a filmmaker, and said in the early 2000s he was living in Great Falls serving as a mechanic in the U.S. Air Force.

Andrews, 39, said he wasn’t happy with the way things were going, so he moved to Portland, where he would later enroll in film school and went on to work for the Portland International Film Festival. Andrews said he vowed never to go back to Montana again, which makes the recent developments in his life all the more interesting.

“I went through this whole journey, and I wind up not even a couple hundred miles from where I kind of started out,” Andrews said.

Pets and people first
Veterinarian Dr. Bruce Pedersen says he’s not just in the pet business, he’s also in the connection business, and that if you want to be a veterinarian you have to like people as well as animals.

Pedersen and Dr. Dulce Coulson opened Mining City Veterinary Center October 2016 on Utah Avenue in Uptown Butte.

In October the practice announced it would be merging with Butte Veterinary Services and the business would be operating under a new banner: Butte Veterinary Center at 6000 Harrison Ave.

Since then, Butte Veterinary Center has moved into its new digs on Harrison, consisting of a 3-acre site dotted with four buildings, including a 2,500-square-foot main hospital, three-stall equine facility and what Pedersen calls an “integrative medicine building,” where the practice plans to house a physical therapy unit, swim tank and space for alternative therapies, among other services.

“It gave us more room to grow and expand,” said Pedersen of the move to the Harrison Avenue facility.

Staff at the facility includes about a dozen employees, including Pedersen and Coulson and two other veterinarians.
Since opening Butte Veterinary Center, Pedersen has been spending part of his time in the Mining City, and the other part of his time in Watford City, N.D., where he operates Watford City Veterinary Center.

Pedersen launched Watford City Veterinary Center, a 32,000-square-foot medical clinic, in 2012 at the peak of the fracking boom, which created a need for veterinary services as people, and their pets, flocked to the region.
“It was a ride like no other,” said Pedersen, recalling how he built his practice.

And part of that ride was meeting Coulson, who worked at Watford City Veterinary Center after hearing about Pedersen from her sister, who worked as a medevac pilot in North Dakota.

For about three years Coulson split her time between helping at the Watford City Veterinary Center and working at Highlands Veterinary Hospital in Butte until the duo decided to open Mining City Veterinary Center together.

Coulson grew up on her family’s property in the town of Racetrack, nine miles south of Deer Lodge. There she helped raise horses, cattle and pigs in addition to the family pets.

“That’s definitely my heart, that’s where I’m from,” she told The Montana Standard in 2016.

Pedersen said he also grew up taking care or animals and knew from an early age he wanted to be a veterinarian.

A native of Nebraska, Pedersen said he’s taken up the family trade, noting that his father is also a veterinarian and that his son is currently studying to become one as well.

Pedersen says when you love what you do, you can’t really call your occupation work.

And that’s an attitude he says he looks for in new applicants.

“We hire attitudes and train for skills,” said Pedersen, noting that he’s interested in recruiting people who feel they have a calling, rather than those who are just looking for a paycheck.

Pedersen says he doesn’t experience workforce shortages the way some other industries might, because for many people who go into the veterinary field, taking care of animals is passion and they’re willing to travel to work at a facility that shares their vision.

Pedersen described Butte Veterinary Center as a place where compassion meets science — and that’s a vision he says he proud of.

From a far off place
Anthony Blacklock, owner of Blacklock Block Manufacturing, 119920 Rick Jones Way, says that what brought him to Butte from his native country of Scotland was love.

Blacklock took a chance in the early 2000s and moved to the Mining City after he cultivated an online romance with his now wife Whitney, who he called in a 2016 interview “a Butte girl born and bred.”

Blacklock launched his business, a cement- and paver-manufacturing company, September 2016 in the Montana Connections Business Development Park, 9 miles west of Butte.

Since then, the Blacklock said, he’s had a whirlwind of experiences.

In 2017, his company was tapped to pave a section of the Original mineyard, a project that involved the installation of 45,000 bricks and 12,000 permeable pavers.

In addition, Blacklock was named 2017 Butte Local Development Corp. entrepreneur of the year and was honored as a “success story” in an annual report put out by the Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development on behalf of the state’s Small Business Development Centers.

During the event, Blacklock met Gov. Steve Bullock, and he similarly received a letter from Sen. Jon Tester congratulating him on his BLDC award.

“Amazing, absolutely amazing,” Blacklock said of his meeting the governor, adding that the letter from Tester “made me smile.”

Blacklock said what he likes about living in Butte is the authenticity of the people, adding that he feels Montana really is the last best place.

“What you see is what you get,” he said.

Blacklock isn’t the only person who has come from afar to settle in southwest Montana and start a business.

In 2011, Michaela Brown, a native of the Czech Republic, and her husband moved from Florida to Mill Creek Highway in Anaconda, where the couple built a home.

Brown opened Sugar & Spice at 303 E. Park Ave. in December 2016 and says what brought the couple to Montana was a love for wide open spaces and a slower pace of life.

“It’s nice here. It’s peaceful,” said Brown.

Mike Williams and May Huang, a couple from the Bay Area, are renovating a home in Butte, where they say they plan to live part time.

Williams and Huang launched M&M Trading Company in July at 3960 Wynne Ave., where they sell prefabricated stone countertops.

Williams, whose parents and grandparents grew up in Butte, said work on their project at 1131 W. Copper St. is what inspired him and his wife to start the countertop business.

The home was built as a convent in 1917 for Butte’s Immaculate Conception Church and at one time housed Safe Space.
Before the couple purchased the building, it had 11 small bedrooms on its second floor. But the couple has knocked down walls, pulled out plaster and other materials and is giving the place a total remodel. When all is said and done, they said, they’ll have a five-bedroom, four-and-a-half-bath, two-story home.

“The history here can’t be beat,” said Williams when asked what it’s like to live and do business in Butte.
Huang said she’s met a lot of Butte residents through her business, spending time in the centerpiece of their homes: the kitchen.

“I’ve really begun to feel the sense of the community,” said Huang.

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