Entrepreneurial spirit alive and well
Montana women make major contribution to state
It can be argued that entrepreneurship by the women of Montana has been thriving for some time. Even in 1918, when women showed their power to organize and create change by pushing for prohibition, some renegade Montana ladies saw opportunity.
Cooking hooch in the kitchen was commonplace in some homes as the business often became a lucrative family affair. Wives found ways to supplement their husbands’ incomes and widows found the means to survive.
They were smart about it, too.
“Female bootleggers included such diverse practitioners as Nora Gallagher, a widow who brewed in her kitchen so she could purchase Easter outfits for her five children, and eighty-year-old Lavinia Gilman, who was caught running a three-hundred-gallon still,” an article titled “Montana’s Whiskey Women: Female Bootleggers During Prohibition” stated. “Helen McGonagle Moriarity recalled her role in her mother’s liquor trade, which was cleverly paired with her existing laundry business. Moriarity’s mother, Mary Ann, washed for miners living in a boarding house. As a teenager, Helen delivered booze hidden among the clean clothes for “fifty cents a pint and two dollars a gallon.”
Then there was Josephine Doody, who homesteaded near Glacier National Park. After her husband’s death – hooch was her ticket to survival.
“Researching Doody’s life, author John Fraley found that the men working on James Hill’s Great Northern Railway became her best patrons: “[T]he train would stop at Doody siding, and each toot of the whistle would mean one gallon of moonshine. Josephine delivered it across the Middle Fork of the Flathead River in a small boat,” the article also stated.
A little over a century later, women in Montana are still embracing their entrepreneurial spirit and are making a major mark in the state economy – albeit now by legal means.
Montana has nearly 38,000 women-owned businesses, employing more than 36,000 people and generating nearly $5 billion in revenue, according to the ninth annual State of Women-Owned Business Report commissioned by American Express. The study shows that Montana is ranked 43 in growth for the number of women-owned firms since 2007, with a 4.5% increase; 17th in job creation with a 5.7% increase; and ranked 13th in terms of growth of firm revenues, with an 8.5% increase.
None of this is a surprise to female entrepreneurs in Big Sky where women function as pillars of the community and major contributors in nearly every area of businesses and nonprofits.
Growth of Big Sky has allowed for opportunity. Longtime Big Sky resident and entrepreneur Marjorie Knaub, owner of Knaub & Company remembers the early days of her career, warming her car in the wee hours of the morning and doing the daily two-hour commute to Bozeman. She did the Big Sky to Bozeman commute for 23 years.
“When the kids were little they would run upstairs to the bedroom to wave goodbye to me as I drove away. That was the most heartbreaking thing, seeing their little faces. J.c. [her husband] had to get them to school. He had to pick them up. He even tried to be a lunchroom mom, which really didn’t work very well,” she said.
She remembers serving dinner at 8 p.m. and never having the time to relax, watch t.v. or read a book. The demands of job, home and commute created an exhausting and dizzying schedule.
“I was always catching up, doing laundry and doing all those things you have to keep up with and there was never any time to relax, really. So, now that I’m two minutes from my office, I’m in heaven,” she said.
There is a community of support with women entrepreneurs in the area.
“There are so many amazing, powerful female entrepreneurs in Big Sky, it’s amazing,” Dr. Andrea Wick said.
Alex Omania, owner of the Lotus Pad also expressed excitement and described an overall supportive community.
“Women power! Yes!” she said.
None of the women interviewed described a longtime dream of business ownership, instead they described a natural process; something organic or as Omania said of her own venture “the stars aligned.”
For Knaub, it was about having less bureaucracy, no unnecessary meetings and creating a team of people she did not mind spending most of her time around during tax season.
“I just knew I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life working with men I didn’t really enjoy being around – they were my partners,” she said. So, she launched Knaub & Company, P.C. Sept. 1994.
Although none said the process and lessons learned were without growing pains. It seems business ownership is a continual process of growth and discovery: make a mistake, learn from it, repeat.
“I’m just one person, I can’t do everything. I had to dig deep and look at all these things that weren’t working. I’m using this knowledge. Last winter was really good for us. I fell into the well and climbed out,” Omania said. She tried opening a Lotus Pad in another state where the demographics were not right.
“I had a failure. I’m grateful for that experience. It was difficult, but I learned a lot,” she said.
Her advice? Follow the signs and go with the flow.
“Women are so intuitive. We can tap into that – it’s easier and a little more organic for us. In the history of women, at least in the last 100 years, we haven’t been able to do that,” she said. “We are just now coming back into it – coming back into our power.”
The Lotus Pad, now in its 13th year, has an all female management team. Knaub & Company is completely female owned and operated.
“We don’t seem to have any of the office drama that some places have. We just do our work and get along. I have great employees,” Knaub said. “I think being a woman business owner who has had kids, I’m more understanding of the need to be flexible for my employees. So, I have happier employees, because they know if they need to take time to be with their families, I’m not going to hold that against them.”