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Why Entrepreneurs Are Pouring into Great Falls, MT

High quality of life and outstanding support are among the reasons people are moving here for business opportunities.

By Brittany Anas on February 4, 2022

Enbar cocktail lounge
Visit Great Falls

Come spring 2022, The Wild Hare, a hip bar and lounge, will make its anticipated debut on Central Avenue. Once open, it could be what you’d call a living room for downtown Great Falls, MT – a place to connect with neighbors, watch sporting events on big-screen TVs, sip tequila in a tasting room, enjoy elevated pub fare, and, perhaps in the future, belt out karaoke tunes in a speakeasy-style basement.

The Goat Group, which operates bar and entertainment ventures in Hawaii and California, is behind the project, turning a century-old building into a modern space while retaining some of its charm. The team, which includes partners Ryan Sweeney, Alen Aivazian and Matthew Robb, zeroed in on Great Falls for its expansion after Sweeney took a family vacation to the luxury resort in Belt called The Ranches at Belt Creek and was blown away by the welcoming spirit of Montana.

It’s not just the Goat Group taking notice. In fact, entrepreneurship in Great Falls is thriving. Visionaries are helping shape a vibrant downtown district, and there’s a vast network of support in place for those looking to launch or grow their companies. Plus, the community is eager to support local businesses.

“When you start looking at the downtown area, you get chills because you can see the potential of what it can be and what it’s becoming,” says Robb, who imagines The Wild Hare being a place that brings people together, complementing other great bars in town like Elevation 3330 and Enbar.

A Revitalized Downtown

Jeff Miser, who recently retired as a helicopter pilot from Malmstrom Air Force Base, is also filling a niche in downtown Great Falls by opening Mountain Wave Distilling, the city’s first craft distillery in the Metropolitan Building.

Mountain Wave Distilling is producing batch spirits using locally sourced grains and ingredients for its vodkas, gin, agave and whiskeys. “I want to get as farm-to-glass as I can,” Miser says.

Waves of Local Grain

Mountain Wave Distilling’s Goal: To make vodka from a neighboring ranch’s spring wheat and source local botanicals for gins — ultimately tying the spirits to the community and being a place downtown where different segments
of the population can come together.

The craft beer scene in Montana is already top-notch, he says. Now, there’s potential for a spirits movement in Big Sky Country, too. With spirits and small bites, Miser envisions Mountain Wave as a pre- or post-dinner spot that brings more people downtown for a full night of drinks, dinner and entertainment.

“This whole effort to develop downtown has been invigorated,” says Miser, who first got acquainted with Great Falls between 1999-2002 when he was stationed in Montana.

Thad and Heidi Reiste

Crafting Coffee

Downtown Great Falls also stood out to Thad and Heidi Reiste
as the perfect place to open Electric City Coffee.

Great for Entrepreneurs

It’s easy to see why entrepreneurs are attracted to Great Falls as a place to live and open up shop. It offers an enviable quality of life (Ahem, beautiful scenery, top restaurants, a thriving nightlife, friendly residents, great jobs – need we say more?) at a lower cost.

Plus, the Great Falls Development Authority (GFDA) provides support for homegrown entrepreneurs as well as those who relocate here.

For example, the GFDA launched the Small Business Development Center Entrepreneur Mentor Network, which works to link mentors with entrepreneurs to help them navigate business challenges they may encounter. With a diverse network of mentors, there’s opportunity to spark new business ventures.

Success Story: Cassiopeia Books

Millie Whalen, an attorney from Brooklyn, moved to Great Falls after purchasing Cassiopeia Books in 2019. Whalen had vacationed in Great Falls for years and made it a tradition to visit the bookstore on her way out of town to grab a book to read while on the plane back to New York.

Since purchasing the bookstore, she’s attended webinars organized by the GFDA, including one based on setting up an e-commerce site and another on accounting. “I feel incredibly supported,” Whalen says.

When she’s not in the bookstore, Whalen says she’s been enjoying the wide-open spaces, hiking trails in the summer, and snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter. “Every weekend, I get out and explore a new area,” she says.

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