Billings TrailNet honors corporate member, First Interstate Bank
Supporting Billings’ growing, thriving trails network makes good business sense, according to a local executive whose bank is a corporate member of Billings TrailNet.
The network allows people to bicycle, walk, walk their dogs and skate, to mention prime recreational activities, on almost 50 miles of designated trails. It’s a key factor in “attracting and retaining good people for us,” said Brian Brown, Billings market president of First Interstate Bank. Headquartered in the Magic City, First Interstate does business across a wide swath of the west.
“It comes full circle. People who come here for the quality of life buy homes, buy tires, go shopping. It’s their whole economic life,” and that requires financial services offered by First Interstate and other area banks, he said.
Noting the importance of the medical and agricultural industries to Billings’ thriving economy, Brown said he can’t quantify the contribution made to the business climate by recreational opportunities. Yet, “it all works out at the end of the day.”
Business leaders need to think of how the city will look in five to 10 years, he said, advising them to see the big picture of how a robust trail system fits into the overall commercial outlook.
Brown summarized First Interstate’s view of where Billings TrailNet fits into the bank’s strategic thinking:
“With more than 150 branches across six picturesque states, First Interstate understands and appreciates the natural beauty of our surroundings.
“What better we way to enjoy the places where we live and play than to hop on a bike and hit the trail. We support Billings TrailNet and commend their efforts in ensuring our community has avenues and opportunities to exercise and enjoy the great outdoors.”
Brown, who has been associated with First Interstate for 22 years, said he’s unsure of the exact date when the bank became a corporate sponsor of Billings TrailNet but that backing probably started with the inception of Billings TrailNet (formerly BikeNet), some two decades ago.
“We firmly believe it’s a vital part of the community. It’s important now and down the road for the future growth of the community.”
Brown said he hasn’t enjoyed the trails “as much as I’d like to or should,” but First Interstate employees readily take advantage of the network – a trend that’s increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has motivated people to play outside rather than risking contracting the virus by congregating inside.
First Interstate employs about 2,200 people, and about a third of them (700) work in Billings. That’s too large a group for Brown to be able to track everyone who gets on the trails, but “I know several people who use the trails as a routine part of their life.” And, he added, those numbers appear to be growing.
The City of Billings received an $11.6 million federal grant in December, which will allow the city to finish the Inner Belt Loop road project connecting Billings Heights to the West End. The grant also will allow the city complete the Skyline Trail, a 3-1/2-mile paved trail that will run along Airport Road. The project includes construction of new parking lots along the path to provide better access.
When the grant was announced, Kristi Drake, executive director of Billings TrailNet, said the windfall “changes everything. This just takes a huge burden off. This is huge.”
Speaking as a bank president, a member of the Billings Chamber of Commerce board of directors and a Billings resident, Brown agreed with Drake.
“This will help us attract and retain families,” he said, and he pointed to other recent local votes to provide additional funding for education and public safety.
“They all go hand in hand,” he said.
The pandemic temporarily shut down one longstanding Billings TrailNet tradition, the Ales for Trails event held every fall.
“It’s a fan favorite around the community. Hopefully that will come back stronger than ever,” Brown said.