Butte, a mining town almost a century removed from its heyday, is the unlikely landing spot this week for some of the business world’s biggest names.
Google’s Eric Schmidt and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg will be joined by CEOs from companies such as Ford, Boeing, Delta Airlines, FedEx, electric super carmaker Tesla, ConocoPhillips and Hewlett-Packard.
The glittering luminaries, drawn by the invitation of retiring Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, will be joined by other business leaders in an economically struggling city that was once one of the largest west of the Mississippi and dubbed “the world’s richest hill.” The Democrat readily admits his sway over tax and budget issues gets the business leaders to his home state.
Butte is about a third of its peak size today, at about 34,000 citizens. Gone is the bustle and famous red light district. Although it remains a colorful place, its aging population hasn’t kept pace with improving economies elsewhere in a state that features one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country.
For at least two days this week, though, it again becomes a bustling hotbed of entrepreneurial dynamos as several thousand people are expected for the Montana Jobs Summit.
Jon Sesso, a state senator and Butte booster, said that Butte make sense in many ways. Butte, still known for its parades and festivals, always loves a party.
“In some other cities it might be perceived as, ho-hum another day at the office,” Sesso said. “We really open up the town to these kind of events. We put on the best face for Montana and the area.”
This is the sixth such gathering Baucus has orchestrated — the third in Butte. They keep getting bigger. And Montana benefits.
Last time in 2010 an audience member asked Warren Buffett — whose business empire includes BNSF Railway Company — why Montana didn’t have an inland port facility needed for big, efficient shipments. That got the ball rolling on a transportation hub being built in the northern town of Shelby — expected to create 320 jobs.
A visit from the General Electric CEO led to a deal with a manufacturing firm in Butte to make airplane parts for the large multi- national. GE also opened a processing center in Billings.
Residents will be looking for more deals like those once the private jets start dropping off the bigwigs.