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The Other Yellowstone Ecosystem

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Southwest Montana’s nature-enabled business ecosystem

This column explores the idea that just as natural resource based bio-ecosystems operate in a complex natural balance, business ecosystems require deliberate, conscious management and shepherding of their resources to thrive.


Tourism is Montana’s second largest industry behind agriculture, and the southwest Montana businesses that have grown around the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are a major contributor. Although we seldom think of the GYE as a business enabler, it is the key to our continued economic success.

Just as we have to manage the precious Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem to minimize negative impacts, we must also consciously and proactively maintain the surrounding businesses as an ecosystem. Cooperative, proactive, thoughtful and deliberate management of both ecosystems has the potential to increase our natural and financial wealth by orders of magnitude.

Dr. James F. Moore was the first to publicize the idea that business ecosystems are “economic communities supported by a foundation of interacting organizations and individuals,” and just like biological ecosystems, they must inter-operate in mutually beneficial ways. Moore, who earned a doctorate in human development from Harvard, asserted that these business ecosystems also have food chains, hierarchies of leaders, hunters and gatherers, and even predators and prey to maintain a balance.

When functioning in natural balance, the GYE’s bio-ecosystem provides us with an unequalled opportunity to maximize both the enjoyment and commercial opportunities it provides. Just like the bio-ecosystem, the business ecosystem can interoperate and provide mutual benefits for both the GYE and the Yellowstone-Big Sky-Bozeman Business Ecosystem, or YBBBE.

As in a naturally occurring bio-ecosystem, a business ecosystem operates around core resources. In the case of YBBBE, these are the rich wildlife habitat and natural wonders of Yellowstone National Park and the GYE; the majestic rise of Lone Mountain peak and the phenomenal skiing on its flanks; the rugged, accessible expanse of the Bridger Range above charming downtown Bozeman; and the resources and business climate that have grown around Montana State University.

We have world class parks; natural, educational and cultural resources; and a wealth of activities available in the GYE. We have a foundation for what can become the most thriving, responsibly growing, bio-ecosystem-based tourism business model in the world. Our challenge is to take full advantage of the resources we’ve been given to become the natural ecosystem leaders we’re capable of being.

Greg Ruff has consulted Fortune 500 companies and startup businesses on management, market and growth strategies since 1987. He first visited Big Sky in 1983 and recently relocated here.

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