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The Growing Small Towns Show

Feb 17, 2020

On the show today, Sarah Calhoun, founder of Red Ants Pants and the Red Ants Pants Foundation, which started the Red Ants Pants Musical—the Montana Office of Tourism Event of the Year as determined by the governor of Montana. She shares her passion and love for small towns, along with valuable insights for starting a business and creating a movement regardless of the size of your small town. If you love your small town and want to be inspired to create something that puts your community on the map and gets everyone involved, listen in to this episode!


About Sarah Calhoun:

Sarah Calhoun has two decades of leadership experience in both the non-profit and small business sectors, working in the outdoor education industry before founding Red Ants Pants in 2006.

Raised on a farm in rural Connecticut, Calhoun was inspired to move to Montana by Ivan Doig’s This House of Sky. From her home in the small town of White Sulphur Springs, she has become an inspiration to entrepreneurs nationwide and is known for her dedication to supporting rural communities.

Tired of wearing men’s work pants that didn’t fit, Calhoun designed pants that would fit, function and flatter working women. Red Ants Pants are made in the USA and that will not change. Red Ants Pants is based out of White Sulphur Springs, Montana where the storefront, distribution center, and international headquarters all reside in an historic saddle shop. Known for their grass roots marketing efforts, including ‘Tour de Pants,’ the direct sales business model is proving effective.

To show support for the hard-working side of Montana and beyond, the Red Ants Pants Foundation was born in 2011. The Foundation supports women’s leadership, working family farms and ranches, and rural communities – the three things most important to Calhoun and the Red Ants Pants Community. That same year the Foundation launched its first program – the Red Ants Pants Music Festival. In 2011, over 6,000 fans came to celebrate rural Montana in a cow pasture. Over the years, attendees have enjoyed headliners including Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris, Dwight Yoakam, Wynonna Judd, and Keb’ Mo. The festival continues its success into its tenth year on July 23-26, 2020 aiming to improve upon the authentic, rich community culture the 16,000 attendees enjoyed during the 2019 festival.

Calhoun’s grit has brought her enterprises national recognition over the years – in 2018 she was named to the Montana Business Hall of Fame and the Festival received the prestigious Event of the Year award from the Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development. In 2016, featured in The New York Times and The Huffington Post. In 2015, selected as one of only 100 businesses nationwide to participate in the Small Business Majority’s Small Business Leadership Summit in Washington, DC. In 2012, named the National Women in Business Champion for the Small Business Administration. In 2011, invited by President Obama to attend a White House forum on jobs and economic development after serving as a US Delegate to the APEC Women in Business Summit in San Francisco. Closer to home, she was honored when Governor Schweitzer named her the 2011 Entrepreneur of the Year for the State of Montana. Calhoun and her company have been featured in many national publications including Entrepreneur, National Geographic, Delta Sky, Country Woman, and Sunset.

Calhoun has been called a “revolutionary figure in rural business today” and a “powerhouse of inspiration for women in business.”  Her dynamic style and inspiring experiences as an entrepreneur make her a highly sought after keynote speaker. She has given two TEDx talks, dozens of keynote addresses, and has been featured on national television programs such as CNBC, CNN, and Bloomberg.

As Calhoun has risen to the top echelons of success as a rural entrepreneur, she is paying it forward by actively encouraging and mentoring other women starting their own businesses.

Calhoun spends her free time enjoying Montana’s great outdoors, cutting firewood, hunting, and camping. She lives in White Sulphur with her dog Nellie.

In this episode, we tackle...

What makes being a transplant difficult for people?

Sarah personally didn’t struggle with this, but how she assimilated into a the town she chose with no natural network offers lessons for all of us. It starts with how you view the community you’re joining. If you come into a community roaring to change it because of all the experience you bring, you’ll likely create walls that never come back down. Sit back. Slow down. Observe your town. Immerse yourself in it as it is, before you set to the work of trying to change. Bottom line: if you believe that where you came from is “better”, you’re setting yourself up to create more enemies than community-altering changes. 


Listen to this episode to hear more about:

  • How to create something that people really want to be involved with
  • Why small towns can create things of significance more easily than large cities
  • How transplants can become assimilated into their new small town
  • Reasons to find ways to make your spot on the map bolder
  • What mindset you really need to pull off big things in your community


Connect with Sarah: