Great Falls Minds the Gender Pay Gap

Great Falls businesses work to narrow comp inequities between genders.

By
Bill Lewis
On Tuesday, February 9, 2021 - 11:16
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Talent, hard work and dedication are the keys to success in Great Falls, where both female and male professionals are able to earn a fair income, pursue a career or launch a business.

For example, Brooks Lindquist launched a gym called Volta Athletics in September 2011, and he has seen great growth since then – in his business and the region.

"There's so much opportunity in this town because it's kind of just on the rise … if you can be on the front end of that wave, I feel like you can really make some big splashes," Lindquist says.

One big splash the area has seen is a change in the gender pay gap, as it has declined by more than 7.5% over the past decade – the 88th fastest of the 664 areas tracked by LendEDU, a financial guidance company.

Not only do men and women earn more here, but they get to keep more of their salary since they aren't charged sales tax. If these aren't reasons enough to move here, a number of area organizations offer entrepreneurs guidance and host events to connect them with their peers, such as Connect Great Falls, which hosts social gatherings and volunteer activities, or the Small Business Development Center, which provides counseling, training, mentoring and networking services.

"Our community really wants to see women and small businesses succeed," says Candice English, who founded The Farmer's Daughter Fibers, a yarn-dyeing business. 

While English was initially unaware of her resources as a budding entrepreneur, she has since engaged with helpful organizations.

"It was very lovely to be recognized by the Great Falls Development Authority last spring for the Fire Within Award (an annual event held to honor exemplary women in business)," English says. "(And) Hopa Mountain has been an amazing resource for our nonprofit, Sisters United."

English launched Sisters United in 2019 to empower indigenous women and children. Hopa Mountain invests in rural and tribal citizen leaders.

Cooperation Gets Results

Cooperatives are a good way to address the wage gap and community needs, says Tracy D. McIntyre, executive director of Montana Cooperative Development Center (MCDC). She serves on the state's Equal Pay for Equal Work Task Force.

"The average wage of Montana cooperative employees, including benefits, is $84,950, where the average wage of Montana lingers around $44,000 to $45,000," she says.

Child care is an obstacle to equal pay for many women, which MCDC is moving to address.

Equal Work, Equal Pay

Neal DuBois, who owns local law firm 406 Attorneys and is one of Tracy's Family Restaurant partners, is committed to closing the wage gap.

"Our starting wages for all employees are above average, and we have always paid equal wages to similarly situated employees, without regard to gender," he says. "At Tracy's, gender is not a consideration. … Our male and female employees alike equally succeed, and we foster a work environment that is team-oriented, comfortable and fun."

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Capital Ideas

Great Falls entrepreneurs now have a leg up when it comes to launching a business through the U.S. Small Business Administration's SBA 504 loan program. Through the program, small businesses and entrepreneurs are eligible for a 10- to-25-year loan at a fixed rate of 2.2% to 2.4%.

Funding is available for eligible businesses through High Plains Financial, a certified SBA community development corporation affiliated with the Great Falls Development Authority, the third-largest Community Development Financial Institution in the state. 

To receive the loan, a participating bank must first approve the project, then the small business/entrepreneur's application will be sent to the SBA for authorization. Once authorized, the loan can be used to buy, build or renovate commercial real estate as well as purchase machinery or equipment.

A Great Falls company that has already benefitted from SBA 504 is Big Sky Managed Care, which began in 2015, offering pharmacy services to the state of Montana. The company secured the SBA 504 loan from High Plains Financial and now operates out of an expanded 10,000-square-foot facility.

Another success story is The Quilt A Way, a small business operated in Great Falls for more than 20 years and sells quilting accessories and sewing machines. When the business's owners, Dennis and Toni Eckart, retired, two of their employees, Patricia Sue Nelson and Annemarie Neiffer, were able to purchase the company with the help of an SBA 504 loan.

If you'd like to learn more about the Great Falls area, check out the latest edition of Livability Great Falls, MT.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bill Lewis is an award-winning business journalist whose work has appeared in publications across the United States.