Lisa Harmon: Downtown Maven
Originally published in Magic City Magazine
Lisa Harmon’s path to Downtown Billings began with a cookie. The Executive Director of the Downtown Billings Association and the Business Improvement District, Harmon relocated her family and her cookie business to Billings 18 years ago.
“When I moved the company, this was an amazing community to do business in,” Harmon said. “There is a strong small business mentality and initiative here.”
Harmon’s cookies—a healthy treat free of additives and preservatives—were created as a response to her mother’s cancer. Given no more than six months to live, Harmon’s mother lived four years beyond her diagnosis, a result, Harmon believes, of healthy eating. “It was pretty amazing. We tried to live as naturally as possible and took that into our home,” she said.
Harmon was advised to market and sell her cookies, and, “like a crazy person,” she did. Harmon’s cookie business took off, and her two sisters joined in the venture.
Their mother passed away at 54 from the cancer, and following her death Harmon moved west with her husband and two children, bringing the cookie business with her. Her sisters followed shortly after, and they ran Montana Moon Cookies from Billings for 10 years.
“We had a wonderful journey together,” Harmon said. “We were trying to educate people about eating and health choices and how it could impact their health. We weren’t preachy or anything, but we sold really good cookies. People would tell us their stories of health and wellness; it was a real honor. That is were I understood the power of business.”
Harmon is a woman of many hats. In 2005 she stepped into the role as Executive Director of the Billings Improvement District and into the Executive Director role of Downtown Billings two years later when the positions were merged. Harmon is also on the mayor’s committee on homelessness, and she represents Billings as a board member on the International Downtown Association, where she serves as the membership chair.
“Downtowns, we’re all pretty much the same. There are 65 Business Improvement Districts in New York. Guess what they deal with? Trash, cleaning, safety. We all deal with the same things.”
Harmon has overseen Downtown Billings for six years and has presided over its recent growth, from streetscapes to planters to the growth in business. “It is a really exciting time to be in the position that I am in,” Harmon said.
A merging of roles: There is a lot going on in Downtown. For me to be the director of both, I see the movement of both. The delivery of our service is more efficient, we have more members than we ever have, and I think it is because we are better responding and to the needs of property owners and businesses.
Socially conscious: I’ve brought a little of my personality to the position. I always say I’m a frustrated Peace Corps volunteer. Wherever I go, I’ll always have a heart for service. I don’t know how a downtown cannot be engaged in issues of diversity and urbanism.
Forward movement: Even though we’re an area of 100,000, our trade area is half-a-million people. People come here searching for that urban center. I want downtown to be clean, safe, and vibrant. If our locals are starting to dig our downtown, then our visitors and guests will want to be there as well.
What the future holds: I don’t have that long-range plan mapped out, but I still have a lot of service to do here. I am so lucky that I get to serve in this job. Every day is different in downtown, and that is such a joy for me.