Governor Steve Bullock walked between yellow safety lines painted on the floor at the Anderson Steel Company in Great Falls Tuesday. Bullock choose the steel fabrication plant to announce new proposals aimed at spurring economic growth through legislative action.
"Today we are here to talk about several new proposals that will help small business in impactful ways with a new form of incentivizing business owners to invest in their businesses through tax rebates, and two new rewards for hiring and proving workers and on-the-job training."
The governor’s plan hinges on three proposals his office will submit during the 2017 legislative session, although Bullock will have to first win his bid for reelection.
Bullock says one of his proposals will cut the taxes for new and expanding businesses.
"So what this can provide is a 75 percent reduction in the business equipment tax for the first five years. The saving achieved through that proposal if you’re an on-the-ground business will allow businesses to create more jobs, ultimately create higher wages, put more Montanans to work all across the state."
Tuesday’s announcement also called for incentives for businesses that hire veterans. Under the governor's proposal the state will provide businesses a $2,000 tax credit if they hire a veteran and provide on-the-job training.
The proposals also outline a $1,000 tax credit to businesses that hire and give job training to any new worker.
Susan Humble, the CEO of Anderson Steel, says there is a shortage of skilled workers. She has 53 employees right now and she wants to add 15 more by the end of the year. She says incentives to bring in and train new workers could really help her business grow.
"They’re basically on-the-job learning. And it is kind of a slow process for us. Our business is to get product in and out of the door and we have to produce it efficiently to be competitive and make a margin."
Bob Reiman, VP of operations at Anderson Steel, led a tour through the fabrication plant, which makes steel beams for construction.
He says all of the governor's proposed incentives can help the company grow, especially the equipment tax break.
"That’s huge for us. 'Cause the equipment you just saw down there is $1.2 million. Susan leveraged her life, she’s 70 years old, and she leveraged her life to make it happen. So I want to see a return on investment for her as well as to keep the company running."
Although the governor’s office hasn’t done an official cost buildout for their plan, they say they expect the three proposals announced Tuesday to cost around a $1 million a year.
The health of Montana’s economy and the foundation the state provides for new and growing businesses is a top issue in this year’s gubernatorial race.
Anderson Steel’s Bob Reiman says the current administration has always been working with the small business community and job entry programs, but the volume of that support has turned up during the election year.
"Although it is a political season and we see more of it, it has been an ongoing process and they’ve been working really well with us to up our wages to keep our students here."
High-wage jobs and employment options for Montana students so they can stay in their home state are key issues in the campaign of Bullock’s Republican challenger Greg Gianforte.
Gianforte is a software entrepreneur from Bozeman.
Earlier this year, Gianforte released a tax plan outlining his goal to eliminate the business equipment tax within four years, the tax that Bullock announced Tuesday he would cut for some business if elected to a second term.
Gianforte called Governor Bullock’s announcement a press stunt.
"This governor had the opportunity to provide these types of tax incentives and get rid of the business equipment tax; he failed. And now Montana’s revenues are in decline and we are seeing high-wage jobs layoffs across the state. This is the time for a real leader, not half measures. If the governor had actually done something these past four years we probably wouldn’t be in this position."
Bullock says his proposals do not at all legitimize issues raised in his opponent's campaign. He says Tuesday’s announcements are branches of the his 2013 Main Street Montana Project.
That project aims to create a private-public partnership to support Montana’s businesses.
Whoever wins November’s race for the governor's seat will likely have to work with a legislative majority of Republicans in passing legislation aimed at improving the state’s business climate.