What Mike Schmitz and Tim Helbling are doing for the Small Business Community
A thriving business Community oftentimes depends on the ambition of those leading it. Business is booming in the BisMan area, but with the proper goals, determination and guidelines, the next few years are looking better than ever for the community. I sat down with the Mayors of Bismarck and Mandan, Michael Schmitz (Bismarck) and Tim Helbling (Mandan), to discuss the business history within the area, how the cities have interacted with one another, the best resources for business owners and much more.
Bismarck-Mandan’s Business Background
While Bismarck and Mandan operate separately, they often interact with one another when it comes to business organizations, locations and more. Having interacted with each other since the late 1800s, their business communities have bonded and grown together for nearly 150 years. “I think that we have a really good working relationship with Bismarck. We share a lot of commonalities, and we share one Bismarck-Mandan Chamber EDC,” Tim Helbling, Mayor of Mandan, said.
While they are logistically very similar, they are also very different in the makeup of their communities, according to Helbling. With Bismarck as the capital of North Dakota, they may have different needs than Mandan. Mandan may also have slightly different standards than Bismarck, as they want to focus on and improve what matters most to their unique community.
“The joint development associations play an important role in what’s being done in our communities. However, we also had to focus on ourselves, and we were able to create our own business development department to focus strictly on Mandan. Within Bismarck, there’s the capital, colleges and two major highway systems, which are natural draws. In Mandan, we don’t have that luxury,” Helbling said. “Because of that, we have to go out and work hard to get new businesses into our community. Many will naturally come to Bismarck by the two highways, since that’s where everybody wants to be. We’ve been having great luck focusing our business development efforts on local people from Mandan and getting them involved in the community. Locals want to be involved in their community and help it grow, so focusing on that has worked out well for us.”
Today, the Bismarck-Mandan area’s joint programs are proving to be effective, as the economy continues to increase with a solidified team of problem solvers. “The individual programs that Bismarck has are not that much different than Mandan’s. Although, I think Mandan has a little bit more of an appetite for funding than the general populace of Bismarck has right now,” Mike Schmitz, Mayor of Bismarck, said.
“Right now, the Chamber EDC is in the process of examining what we need to do to help foster continual growth. We have a healthy economy in Bismarck-Mandan and we’re seeing what we can do to continue to foster continual growth to make sure it stays sustainable.”
Did You Know?
The City of Bismarck was founded in 1875, while The City of Mandan was founded in 1879!
Meet Mike Schmitz, Mayor of Bismarck
Mike Schmitz is new to the office as Mayor, having just been elected earlier this year. Over the next four years, he’s looking forward to making a positive impact on the Bismarck-Mandan community.
What Committees Have You Been On?
“I was on the original Special Task Force committee. Then, we merged that with the Infrastructure Task Force. I’ve also been involved in the Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Economic Development Committee.”
Mike Schmitz graduated from University of Mary with a double major in Business Administration and Accounting, launching his career path in accounting. “My first professional job was in an accounting firm and I fell in love with it. 38 years later, here I am still doing it,” Schmitz said.
What was your journey into politics?
It wasn’t necessarily a long journey into politics. What prompted it was that I was involved in a few different committees four and a half years ago through this last period. I was still on one of those committees, our special assessment task force, where we were looking at alternatives to how we can fund some of that infrastructure. That whetted my appetite for running for office. Around four years ago, I started debating whether or not [running for Mayor] was the right thing for me to do. There were a lot of discussions with my wife because it’s a joint thing. I felt like I saw a need for someone who has a willingness to try to make sure that Bismarck is transparent and I knew that I could bring my business background to the position.
What gives you business credibility?
I’ve been involved with many finance committees, boards and served as president of the foundation for Bismarck State College. All of those things not only build leadership, but also build skills for teaching leadership.
What do you have planned for your term in office?
I’ve got an initiative that I’m working on with the city administration to streamline and simplify the process of interacting with the city. How do we be responsive and treat our citizens, whether they’re corporate or individuals, as truly customer clients and give them that first-level “wow experience”? I think we sometimes get caught up in big organizations and won’t step back and consider what’s important to Joe or Judy Smith coming off the street, who needs good guidance so that they can get through the processes faster.
Meet Tim Helbling, Mayor of Mandan
Tim Helbling began on the park board at the young age of 27 years old, while the average age of a park board member, at the time, were in their 50s, 60s and 70s!
Tim Helbling has been a lifelong resident of Mandan, ND, with multiple family ties. Having served his city as Mayor of Mandan prior to his current term from 2008 to 2012, Helbling has significant experience under his belt and is prepared to continue improving Mandan.
What was your journey into politics?
My family is deeply-rooted in Mandan and still has ties to several businesses in the Bismarck-Mandan community. I’ve always had a really strong business background, but I didn’t fully get into politics until I was stock car racing with my brother. We were on some boards while we were there, but the track that we had was going away. We asked ourselves, “How do we get a new race track? How can we make this work?” Our stock car club didn’t have ties to any of the park boards, so we were sitting in the bar one night and I drew the short straw. So I got on there in 1990 and enjoyed my time. Afterward, I jumped to the City Commission from 1998 to 2008, then Mayor. To this day, I’ve been involved in politics in Mandan for over 30 years.
What gives you business credibility?
I’ve been surrounded by business for as long as I remember. My family still has several businesses in the community to this day and I’m the owner of Corral Sales RV Superstore. Business has been very successful and I’ve been able to expand my business ventures with rental properties and more over the years.
What do you have planned for your term in office?
Our biggest goal is to preserve Mandan and its history. I don’t want Mandan to become “another Bismarck,” meaning that I don’t want Mandan to become something that it’s not. I want to see steady growth, but not an explosion of growth. That typically comes with financial struggles. We have a long, proud history and I want to see that stay. So we’ve had consistent, steady growth and I just want to keep that going.
The Future of the Bis-Man Small Business Community
Bismarck and Mandan have most certainly made progress in a positive direction as time has moved on. However, Helbling and Schmitz see a future that’s not only brighter and better for both cities, but also a community that’s more interactive. With detailed plans set in place, as well as educational events and incentive programs, both cities are focused on improving the economy without changing the original “feel” of the city.
“We’re hoping for it to be more seamless. I truly hope that there will be shared recreational facilities between the two communities. For example, Mandan is building a new indoor tennis facility. I would love for the residents of Bismarck to utilize that facility. Bismarck can develop a facility for alternative uses in the winter that both communities use. We have to take care of our schools, but a lot of crossover should be able to occur when it comes to business,” Schmitz said. “If [Bismarck and Mandan] need to work together for the next big thing, whether it be a manufacturer, data center or anything else, we need to look at it as a two-sided community working together where we’re both able to contribute to each other. Our Chamber EDC is a great example of something that benefits both communities. It’s not just the Bismarck area; it’s called the BismarckMandan area, and we really need to look at it that way. I look forward to having a collaborative effort with Mayor Helbling over the course of our terms.”
Did You Know?
The Liberty Memorial Bridge was the first vehicular bridge to connect Bismarck and Mandan across the Missouri River when it was dedicated in September 1922.
City of Bismarck: Bismarck was founded in 1872, quickly becoming a business hub for populations nearby. With impressive land development and progress in the area, Bismarck was the central location for many to meet. Marked as the capital of North Dakota, it’s the center of a great amount of government and business activity.
City of Mandan: Mandan was founded shortly after Bismarck in 1879, with the intention of Western expansion. With more than 100 miles of walking trails in the area, it’s not surprising that 24/7 Wall St ranked Mandan #2 on America’s 50 Best Cities to Live in 2018.
Bismarck-Mandan Chamber EDC: The Bismarck-Mandan Chamber EDC is home to more than 1,300 members, making it one of the largest business organizations in North Dakota. The organization is involved in a wide range of community events and committees, ranging from entrepreneurial networking events and supporting their members in government, to educational opportunities that support rising entrepreneurs and the next generation of business owners. To get involved, contact them at (701) 223-5660 or [email protected]
Bismarck Mandan Chamber | EDC
With both Mayors wishing to collaborate more in the future, it’s natural that they have a vision for not only while they’re in office, but what they hope to see in the Bismarck-Mandan community years from now.
“I want to build a consensus regarding all sectors in Bismarck. What’s good for Northern and Eastern expansions is good for the whole area. I’ve been holding meetings to ensure that we’re all in this together. I’d also like a further consensus among the other political stops, such as the public schools and parks. Also, we need to develop the river with more businesses and activities. We’re working on that, as I believe that we can do more,” Schmitz said.
Mayor Helbling, however, is looking at what can be done to further their attractions and public appeal. “We have a lot of new and exciting stuff going up in Mandan. We’re working on a new rodeo facility, football field and a lot more going up that will attract young people to the community. Young people don’t want a community that doesn’t have things that interest them. So we’ve been working hand in hand with our park and school districts to share resources and information, and ensure that the community is taken care of,” Helbling said.
The City of Mandan has also put an emphasis on the improvement of the exteriors of their downtown buildings through the Downtown Storefront Improvement Program. The initiative allows commercial property owners and business tenants to apply for a $30,000 forgivable loan with the intent of rehabilitating a building facade or storefront.
“If you drove down Main Street in Mandan 20 years ago, you would have thought the town was almost done. I would say 60 to 70% of the buildings were empty and dilapidated. But with this program, we have new buildings in the heart of our city that saw a huge step in the progression from where they were before,” Helbling said. “We want to improve the public look of downtown Mandan. We want to improve windows, doors, landscaping, awnings and more. The reasoning behind this is if their business happens to not succeed and the inside is remodeled by the next owner, the building’s exterior will still have a lasting effect on Main Street. It’s been working out very well for us and is still well-participated in today.”
Did You Know?
Mandan was named after the Mantani Indians, or “people of the bank.”
Bis-Man Resources for Small Business Owners
Business owners, or those interested in pursuing a business venture of their own, can sometimes find themselves in confusing territory without a clue of where to go. Mayors Helbling and Schmitz are here to remind us that resources are abundant in the Bismarck-Mandan community. Ranging from events and organizations, to reports and resources, there are plenty of directions to go when searching for help in Bis-Man’s entrepreneurial community.
One of the first organizations that Schmitz recommended when in search of guidance is the Bismarck-Mandan Chamber EDC. “My first reaction would be to direct them to the Chamber EDC. They manage many resources in the community and know where the tools are. I think we have the ability, not just in our community, but across the whole state, to direct people where they need to go efficiently. It’s not a guarantee that we’re going to have all of the answers for a person’s exact situation, but the Chamber EDC is going to offer all of the resources that we have and do the best that they can,” said Schmitz. In Mandan, Helbling spoke highly of their Business Development & Communications Office, as they often promote assistance for businesses in the area.
“A big tip for business owners is to find somebody who’s smarter than you are. I always look for somebody a lot smarter than me if it’s about something that I’m less ‘in the know’ on so that I can be educated. We’re really fortunate to have Ellen Huber and Kari Schmidt doing such a wonderful job in the Business Development Office,” said Helbling. “Every year, we do an annual report of business development for the community. We’ve done a lot of strategic planning as we’re focused on trying to make Main Street, as well as the rest of the community, look better than it had in the past. We highlight some of the expansions every year that have gone on in the community, along with useful tools for community development.”
Additionally, Helbling was thrilled to discuss other events in which Mandan aims to boost their business development, as well as inspire local entrepreneurs. “We do a business pitch challenge, where we invite people in the community to come and pitch their idea for a new business, and that’s worked out very well for months. They become friends, gain confidence and it’s a success for everyone involved. Furthermore, we do a downtown tour of places and spaces every year where we take out all the realtors and show them what’s available. It also benefits us by giving them a perspective of what’s changed over the past year,” Helbling said. “Also, through Lunch & Learn events, members of the business community come together, listen in and discuss their businesses and help mentor people in different ways to assist them in starting their business. The biggest resources have to be the other businesses in town. They’re your neighbors; find out what their strengths and weaknesses are to them. Most of them are bound to be very honest and upfront with you. They’ll tell you where they had trouble, where they excelled and what they would have done differently.”
Mayors Helbling and Schmitz both have high standards for the future of the community, with goals that extend far beyond their term. Despite their plans to look into the future, that doesn’t detract from the efforts and progress they wish to make, as well as the focus they want to put on the current people in the present that are impacted by the decisions made today.
“I want them to not be afraid to reach out, as I’m willing to take communication. From my perspective as the mayor, I can always promise that business personnel has all of the answers and then I’m going to have the answers that are gonna make them happy. I will do my best to get back to them within 24 hours if I’m unavailable so that we can develop a plan. The community offers a wonderful place to live,” Schmitz said.
Contact City of Bismarck / Mayor Schmitz:
Phone: (701) 355-1300
Address: P.O. Box 5503 Bismarck, ND 58506
Contact City of Mandan / Mayor Helbling:
Phone: (701) 667-7460
Email: [email protected]
Address: 205 Second Avenue NW Mandan, ND 58554
Bismarck-Mandan Chamber EDC:
The Bismarck-Mandan Chamber EDC is home to more than 1,300 members, making it one of the largest business organizations in North Dakota. The organization is involved in a wide range of community events and committees, ranging from entrepreneurial networking events and supporting their members in government, to educational opportunities that support rising entrepreneurs and the next generation of business owners. To get involved, contact them at (701) 223-5660 or [email protected]