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The snow-capped mountains in Montana are calling...but we don't want to go...quite yet. While hoping for the return of fall for just a bit, get caught up with this week's skim of Montana business news below. Talent and technology: Kalispell-based insurtech firm WaterStreet supports customers and employees through continuous improvement Kalispell-based WaterStreet Company ( hiring ) takes a serious approach to making its employees and its clients happy. The company provides a software platform and managed business services to property & casualty insurance companies. Founded in 2000, as the technology of the day shifted into the cloud, the new company grew with it, evolving from a two-employee niche services operation to the 82-employee firm it is today. In 2019, WaterStreet was named a Top 10 Policy Administration Provider by Insurance CIO Outlook. As WaterStreet nears its 20-year anniversary, Bernadette Johnson, Software Engineering Manager, said there are exciting developments in the works, including a new software architecture that will help easily integrate WaterStreet’s platform into older and more complex systems, as well as open doors for new projects. [ Montana High Tech Business Alliance ] Montana county officials approve $406M wind farm project Oregon-based PacifiCorp recently received approval to build a 114-turbine wind farm south of Billings that would generate enough electricity to power more than 76,000 homes a year. The Carbon County commissioners approved the $406 million project last week, and construction is expected to begin this fall. [ US News ] SBA awards Montana a nearly $500k trade grant The U.S. Small Business Administration announced that the Montana Department of Commerce will receive a $499,488 grant to support export growth among small businesses through SBA’s competitive State Trade Expansion Program (STEP). This year’s grant amount is a $174,488 increase over the dollars awarded in 2018. The 2019 STEP awards will help Montana assist their small businesses with the information and tools they need to succeed in export-related activities. Exporting activities include: participating in foreign trade missions and foreign market sales trips, obtaining services provided by the U.S. Department of Commerce, accessing expertise in designing international marketing campaigns and export trade show exhibits, and participating in training workshops, as well as other important means of engagement. [ Helena Independent Record ] Northern Seed’s business acquired by Nutrien Ag Solutions Nutrien Ag Solutions ( hiring ) has acquired Northern Seed LLC’s Montana-based seed business, including all seed plants and its Bozeman research center. “This is a great opportunity for our business to provide its Montana customers with a broader portfolio of products and services. Nutrien® also brings a great deal of resources that will allow us to elevate to the next level in research, marketing and operational capabilities,” said Ryan Holt, Snake River Division Seed Manager and formerly Vice President of Northern Seed. Nutrient Ag Solutions will continue with the Montana-focused research and development programs for all crops with the goal of supplying the highest quality and best yielding genetics for Montana farmers. [ Belgrade News ] 'Can Do:' Headframe Spirits unearths new opportunities in Butte In the latest Montana Public Radio episode of “Can Do: Lessons from Savvy Montana Entrepreneurs,” Headframe Spirits ( hiring ) founders John and Courtney McKee share their business journey and how their products have thrived in a competitive industry that has grown from 350 distilleries in 2011 to now more than 2000 nationwide and over 20 in Montana. In addition to running a successful distillery and tasting room, the McKees also manufacture stills and distilling equipment. Headframe Spirits Manufacturing is currently the only company in the world to produce continuous flow distillation equipment for the micro-distilling industry. [ Montana Public Radio ] MyVillage childcare startup takes off, increases presence in Missoula Venture-backed, high-growth company MyVillage ( hiring ) is making great inroads in Missoula, where at least four in-home child care and preschool businesses have sprung up to help alleviate the high price of daycare. Founded in Bozeman in 2017, MyVillage helps those who have a passion for kids ages 0-5 open and operate high-quality, home-based early childhood education programs. Co-founders Erica Mackey and Beth Szymanski – both moms and entrepreneurs — saw a great need for lessening the stresses and cost of working parents. As of September, their are 80 new childcare and preschool programs open or in the process of opening across Montana and Colorado. Looking for a career change where you can care for our own kids, be your own boss, earn great income and be a superhero for your local community? Learn more about starting your own successful home-based childcare or preschool program with MyVillage here .  [ Missoula Current ] Smart Foodservice Warehouse Store coming to Kalispell  Smart Foodservice Warehouse Stores , a warehouse-format store that has catered to the foodservice industry for more than 60 years, will open a new store in Kalispell (and is hiring ). The Kalispell store will be the second store in Montana and its 68th location in the Western United States. "Our stores provide foodservice operators access to high-quality ingredients, without having to worry about inflated delivery prices and fees," says John Mathews, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Smart Foodservice. "We offer an assortment that includes major national brands, as well as excellent private label products through our First Street-branded items. We are excited to serve new and existing customers in the Kalispell area." [ PR Newswire ] Researchers at Kalispell-based neuroscience company Expesicor awarded $1.4M grant Kalispell-based neuroscience company Expesicor ( hiring ) recently announced it has received a $1.4 million Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Institute of Health, a reward for its cutting-edge research on treating and preventing neurological disorders and traumatic brain injuries. Company co-founder and CEO Braxton Norwood said the grant will be vital in helping the fast-growing company develop therapeutic and imaging agents for neurological disorders. “Basically treatments for things that don’t have treatments, like Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy,” Norwood said. Expesicor will receive $343,042 over the first year of the grant, and upon approval will receive the entire grant over the course of three years. Two Bear Capital, a venture capital firm based in Whitefish, also just made a “substantial investment” in the company, Norwood said. The receipt of the grant and recent investment are timely as Expesicor, which was founded in 2016, has quickly outgrown its current space and is now looking at a second and third lab location as well as hiring a half-dozen more people. [ Daily Interlake ] Report: Bozeman, Montana ranks #1 among the Most Popular US Micropolitan Areas for New Startups, according to census data Bozeman, Montana ranks number one among 536 U.S. Micropolitan Areas in new business startups, according to the most recent census data in a report published by ShivarWeb . The U.S. Census defines a Micropolitan Area as one or more adjacent counties or county-equivalents that have at least one urban core area of at least 10,000 population but less than 50,000, plus adjacent territory that has a high degree of social and economic integration with the core as measured by commuting ties. Explore the full report for startup highlights of the Top 20 Micropolitan Areas, along with links to the full census data set here . [ PR Newswire ] Missoula-based MoFi awarded $187K grant The Montana Community Development Corporation, MoFi , ( hiring ) has received a $187,000 grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration to help emerging micro-entrepreneurs gain access to capital. The PRIME grant will help low-income entrepreneurs gain access to capital to establish and expand their small businesses through the Program for Investment in Micro-Entrepreneurs. The 2019 PRIME Grant will help MoFi offer training and technical assistance to strengthen economically disadvantaged businesses. “Montana has achieved a great amount of national attention for its innovative outreach efforts to rural communities and high-tech businesses,” said SBA Montana District Director Wayne Gardella in a statement. “This PRIME grant to MoFi will allow the organization to focus its lending outreach energies on mostly rural areas across Big Sky Country.” [ Missoulian ] Hemp processor moves to Ronan, Montana Green Ridge Biosolutions US Inc. is relocating its headquarters to Ronan to facilitate the expansion of its hemp processing and manufacturing. The company aims to create a more collaborative workspace and grow its manufacturing operations office as demand for products increases. "Green Ridge Biosolutions is one of only a few hemp CBD product manufacturers capable of producing high-quality hemp extract from its own farms in volumes that can meet significantly increasing market demand," said Sam Belanger, chief operating officer of Green Ridge, in a statement. The high-quality 100% Montana-grown hemp will be processed through proprietary extraction methods to create full-spectrum hemp extract that will be used in Green Ridge Biosolutions products for sale in 2019 and 2020, the company said. [ Missoulian ] Bozeman business boom: Ressler Automotive starts its own training program Ressler Automotive started in-house technical trainings designed to help new and existing employees to grow from entry-level technicians to "full-line" technicians. Gabe Geer, a new dad, says the training offered by Ressler Automotive has been a great chance to learn new skills. “Getting this opportunity, to make enough money to live in the most expensive city in Montana, I mean, is amazing,” Geer said. With the City of Bozeman booming and businesses expanding, unemployment rates are very low (2.8% as of March). But companies across the valley are feeling a pinch as they look for skilled employees to fill the ranks, according to Troy Mossing, service manager for Chevrolet and Cadillac. “There is an industry shortage for technicians right now,” Mossing said. “We’re trying to train people in house and afford them the opportunity to work and get an education after hours.” [ ABCFox Montana ] Caring Transitions Western Montana expands to better serve Kalispell and the Flathead Valley with second full team Caring Transitions Western Montana ( hiring ) is pleased to announce they are expanding the business by hiring a full team in Kalispell to serve Kalispell, Whitefish and the Flathead Valley, including the communities of Big Fork, Lakeside and Polson areas. Caring Transitions’ specially-trained team can handle organizing, packing, de-cluttering, moving, resettling, in-person and online estate sales, liquidations, and preparing homes for market. Caring Transitions specializes in managing senior relocations, but the services are also perfect for busy families and individuals in need of assistance. Caring Transitions of Western Montana originally focused on serving only Missoula, Hamilton and the surrounding areas. [ ] Cowboy Cricket Farms to open new edible insect farm in Montana in 2020 While media and investor interest in ‘alternative proteins’ is focused on plant-based meat, cell-cultured meat, and proteins produced via microbes, demand for cricket protein is still growing, claims Cowboy Cricket Farms , which will open a new edible insect farm in Montana in 2020. [ Food ] Montana's minimum hourly wage to increase to $8.65 in January Gov. Steve Bullock announced earlier this week that Montanans earning minimum wage will see their pay increase to $8.65 per hour beginning January 2020. The 2019 minimum wage in Montana is $8.50 per hour. Currently, 29 states and D.C. have minimum wages above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. A press release from the governor's office says that an estimated 10,200 Montana workers, or 2.2% of the workforce, are paid less than $8.65 per hour and are likely to receive higher wages due to the 2020 minimum wage increase. In 2018, the industry with the largest number of workers earning minimum wage was the accommodations and food services industry followed by the retail trade industry. [ KTVQ ] Hemp boom brings Montana jobs, investment to Missoula Less than a year ago, industrial hemp was essentially an outlaw crop. Today, it’s transformed into the wellspring of an emerging billion-dollar industry. The cannabis extract cannabidiol is a hemp byproduct, better known as CBD. Demand for CBD-infused products such as bath salts, balms and body bars is through the roof. It was this shift in demand that took a small Missoula biotech firm, Blue Marble Biomaterials, which produced natural compounds for the food, fragrance and cosmetic industries, to catching the attention of CBD-manufacturer Socati ( hiring ), which produces what are called "broad spectrum" hemp extracts. The Austin, Texas-based company acquired Blue Marble this spring. James Stephens, general manager of the Missoula plant and former CEO of Blue Marble, says Socati’s more than $40 million in capital is bankrolling the company's plant near the Missoula airport. "We grew from 11 to 42 employees in the last three months. What we're doing now is we're in the process of permitting and working with the local community on about a 10x scale-up of our capacity at this location. We're probably looking at doubling or tripling staff by early next year, if not the end of this year. We could be looking at between 100 to 150 people needing to operate this facility at this location." Stephens says over 80% of his employees are Montanans who are now earning above-average wages and benefits. [ Montana Public Radio ]
While taking in this spectacular little glimpse of the Northern Lights recently from Bozeman, Montana (as captured by the talented David Hebert ), get caught up with this week's skim of Montana business news below. Montana startups to watch 2019 The Montana High Tech Alliance recently announced its annual list of Montana startups to watch. And with more support for startups, it’s no wonder the 2019 list is up to 11 companies. With nominations from experts at Next Frontier Capital , Frontier Angels , Montana Manufacturing Extension Center , MSU Blackstone LaunchPad , and UM Blackstone LaunchPad , startups in Billings, Bozeman, Missoula and Whitefish made the final cut. Finalists include companies five years old or younger that fit at least two of the following criteria: steep revenue growth and/or are working in a high-growth sector, poised to launch high-potential products or services, own or are developing valuable intellectual property, on track to land major clients or enter new markets, plan to expand operations or add a significant number of Montana jobs in the next year and/or have management teams led by experienced entrepreneurs or top experts in their fields. Finalists include: Bozeman-based Blacksford , DugalHealth , My Shipping Post and The Insight Studio (which also has offices in Missoula); Billings-based Cardsetter , Ferho and RavenCSI ; Missoula-based Charmed , DRIMS and Prime Labs and Whitefish-based Neuro-ID [ hiring ]. [ Montana High Tech Business Alliance ] SoClean plans to open Kalispell facility SoClean , a company that sells continuous positive airwave pressure (CPAP) machines, has plans to open a facility in Kalispell that eventually will employ upwards of 250 people. The New Hampshire-based company is opening its Kalispell facility in October. A press release said SoClean plans to fill 80 to 100 positions in the first year and will eventually hire “upwards of 250 or more employees.” “We see Kalispell as an ideal location to expand our offices into the West,” SoClean Chief Executive Officer Bob Wilkins said in a prepared statement. “Our goal is to leverage the talented personnel locally and create additional Kalispell jobs and business opportunity.” The Kalispell location will serve as the company’s second North American office and will operate as a technology hub, customer call center and sales location. SoClean also has locations in Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, with plans to expand to Australia as well. [ Daily Inter Lake ] Bozeman airport adding new direct flights to Los Angeles, Philadelphia American Airlines is adding new direct flights from Bozeman to Los Angeles, plus the airport's first service directly to Philadelphia. “We started service to the east coast to Newark back in 2012, and we continue to see that east coast demand grow,” Airport Director Brian Sprenger said. “More marketing efforts have been including the east coast, and we’ve seen it just [develop] very strongly. It’s a tremendous increase in seats compared to what we’ve had. We started out with 76 seats a day on American four years ago. We’re at 876 seats on a Saturday this coming summer on American alone,” Sprenger continued. Daryl Schliem, president of the Bozeman Chamber of Commerce , says they'll be able to speak with more financial investors from the East Coast. The chamber president says whenever there is a new direct flight there is a direct correlation to new home mortgages being taken out from area banks. [ ABCFox Montana ] Helena-headquartered Anderson ZurMuehlen to acquire Information Technology Core Helena-headquartered Anderson ZurMuehlen (AZ) ( hiring ), a certified public accounting and business advisory services firm, has announced its intent to purchase Helena-based Information Technology Core (ITC). The transaction will expand the firm’s information technology consulting division, Anderson ZurMuehlen Technology Services . ITC staff will join the Anderson ZurMuehlen team making AZ one of the largest technology service providers in Montana. Information Technology Core is headquartered in Helena, Montana with additional locations in Missoula, Montana and Salt Lake City, Utah. AZ CEO and President Don Laine states, “AZ is pleased to add to our already robust line-up of information technology services. Our team has worked with ITC for years. We have come to know Ken and Donny very well, and we have a great relationship.  AZ is thrilled to have ITC join our team and are excited about the expanded IT options we will be able to offer to both of our clients.” The transaction is expected to close on October 1, 2019. [ Anderson ZurMuehlen ] Morton Buildings expands into eastern Montana Morton Buildings is making its way out west and has now established a location in Sidney, Montana, as of January 2019. With a salesman on the ground and several buildings up, Morton knows one thing for sure — its economic boom in the area is just beginning. The employee-owned company sells a variety of buildings, from suburban garages to large shops, warehouses, dealerships and even homes. The buildings are categorized as residential, agricultural, equestrian, commercial or community. “Let’s say Morton does 3,000 buildings this year,” Janke said. “Two-thousand of them would be farm buildings.”As more buildings began to sell in western North Dakota and eastern Montana, Sidney became the next logical location. [ Sidney Herald ] Federal grant awarded to MSU’s TechLink Center to help high-tech companies Montana State University’s TechLink Center has been awarded a federal grant to expand its assistance to technology-related businesses across Montana. The U.S. Small Business Administration announced last month that it had awarded a Federal and State Technology Partnership Program grant for $125,000 to fund TechLink’s Montana Innovation Partnership. Montana is one of 24 states to receive a FAST grant for the upcoming fiscal year. Grants are awarded through a competitive application process. Proposals were reviewed by a panel of representatives from the Small Business Administration, NASA, the Missile Defense Agency, U.S. Navy Office of Naval Research and the National Institutes of Health. Montana has received this grant in seven of the last nine years. “Montana State University is dedicated to expanding high-tech development and entrepreneurial opportunities in Montana,” said Brett Cusker, executive director of TechLink. “FAST funding will help more Montana companies focused on high-risk technology successfully compete for important seed capital through the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs.” [ Belgrade News ] Three Bozeman businesses selected for 2019 Employers’ Choice Award Three Bozeman businesses are being recognized for their efforts in creating workplaces deemed “great” by their employees. The Montana State Employers’ Council (MSEC) and the Bozeman Job Service Employers’ Committee (JSEC) made the announcement last week for the MSEC Employers of Choice Award. According to a press release, Anderson ZurMeuhlen – Bozeman ( hiring ), Buffalo Restoration ( hiring ) and Foundant Technologies ( hiring ) were selected for their dedication to providing healthy and positive workplaces and commitment to employees. “These three businesses created workplaces that balance work and life commitments to attract and retain talented employees,” Bozeman Job Service Employment Specialist Susan Hanken said. “With the low unemployment rate in Bozeman, businesses here are making the workplace a good place to stay and providing excellent perks, benefits and professional development opportunities.” [ KTVH ] Report highlights Montana job, wage growth Wage growth in Montana was 6th fastest in the nation over the last decade. That was one among a number of rosey statistics shared by the Bullock administration during its release of the 2019 Labor Day Report . According to the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, Montana's average annual wages increased by $10,000 from 2009 to 2018. The report notes that the current economic expansion is now the longest in recorded U.S. History. Over the last decade, state data reports that the southwest region of the state has seen the greatest percentage of payroll employment growth, followed by northwest Montana. Central and eastern portions of the state have seen significantly less job growth. Montana, like other states, is facing a tight labor market as the baby boomer generation retires. Officials say Montana will lean, in part, on people moving to the state to fill the open jobs. They say the trend of more people retiring than joining the workforce each year could continue through 2025. [ Montana Public Radio ] 'Can Do': How Bozeman-based MyVillage is working to remake childcare In a recent episode of Can Do: Lessons from Savvy Montana Entrepreneurs  by Montana Public Radio , MyVillage co-founder & CEO Erica Mackey and Chief Community Officer Elke Govertsen talk with host Arnie Sherman about what it’s like to be a daycare owner in need of business mentoring, or a parent desperate to find high-quality childcare. According to the Center for American Progress, 51% of Americans live in a daycare desert; a place with almost no openings for infants or toddlers in nearby licensed daycares or preschools. Those lucky enough to find openings often spend more on childcare than they can afford, and many educators can’t earn enough as preschool teachers to make ends meet. It was from firsthand experiences that two women and mothers saw an opportunity and drew on their past entrepreneurial experiences to launch MyVillage ( hiring ) in 2017. The platform that connects parents with trained, licensed daycare and preschool providers has grown at a rapid pace attracting $6 million in seed capital earlier this year, the largest seed round ever for a Montana start-up. In this episode, their concept of living as a village is also explored as well as what empowers them to challenge such a pervasive problem at the national scale. If you're one with a passion for young kids and looking for a career change where you can be your own boss, care for your own kids and earn great income, learn more about starting your own in-home childcare or preschool program with MyVillage in Montana or Coloardo and what it can offer your family and community  here . [ Montana Public Radio ]  
As you gear up to (hopefully) unplug a bit over Labor Day weekend and spend some quality time outside on the trails, rivers or lakes with friends and family...get caught up with this week's skim of Montana business news below. #fishingfamily #teachemyoung #shecaughtarainbow #eastgallatin Bozeman high-tech firm (Bridger Aerospace and Ascent Vision Technologies) provide jobs for veterans and Montana State University graduates Tim Sheehy is a combat-wounded veteran who returned home with a vision. "After my tours overseas, I recognized there was a need for enhanced aerials supervision capability to be applied to the public safety sector," said Sheehy, CEO of Bridger Aerospace and Ascent Vision Technologies . "Whether that’s border security, whether that’s law enforcement, or whether that’s wildfire mitigation." Bridger Aerospace provides advanced aerial fire fighting services in Montana and across the country. They assist the Forest Service and other agencies year round in wildfire response and suppression. The company started in 2014 with one plane and two people. Today they have twenty planes and more than 100 people working for the company. Housed under the same roof is Ascent Vision Technologies, which specializes in the manufacturing of gyro-stabilized camera systems. Bridger Aerospace and Ascent Vision Technologies provide the area with high paying, high-tech jobs. Many of the people that work here are either veterans or graduates of Montana State University . "It’s incredible that our footprint here in Bozeman, Montana is making and helping the, not only military customers, but commercial customers across the world," said Ben Keeley, Engineering Manager with Ascent Vision Technologies. "In a global footprint, and really making an impact to National Security and global security." [ KBZK ] Missoula County leading state in job growth Missoula County is leading the state in job growth according to the Montana Department of Labor and Industry. "I think it's the fundamentals of our economy right now. We have great leaders in our businesses. We have abundant talent coming out of our university and people who live here with these are really exceptional partnerships," Missoula Economic Partnership CEO Grant Kier said. "I think between the public and private sector making smart investments in growth." The county has the highest job growth rate thanks to a variety of factors including great economic leadership and business innovators. Job growth is coming in a variety of fields, including healthcare, construction and manufacturing. And one sector that is seeing steady growth is the tech sector. Along with job growth, wages have also gone up in Missoula County and officials say the combination of the two increases really show that the Garden City has a healthy growing economy. [ KPAX ] Flathead-based Agape Home Care service expands, flips name After 12 years in the Flathead Valley, Agape Home Care is expanding across Montana. The home-care service is franchising its model and rebranding under the name Epaga, or Agape spelled backward. “We’ve always known that we wanted to expand Agape Home Care,” said Chief Operations Officer Julie Brubaker. In 2007, she partnered with Inga Lake to create the in-home, non-medical care service for people who are elderly or those who live with disabilities. The idea to expand had been percolating for many years between them and General Manager Kevin Lake, Inga’s husband. The actual franchising process has been in the works for about a year, according to Brubaker. Part of that extensive process involved navigating legal particularities such as the trademark name. In the first year of franchising, Brubaker said the goal is to expand throughout Montana. “We know Montana,” Inga said. After that, they hope to branch out into other Western states and beyond. They expect to spend considerable time training new owners at first, but they emphasized, “The franchises are all independently owned and operated. They have our standards, as well as Agape’s resources, training and years of practical wisdom,” Inga explained. [ Daily Inter Lake ] Cloud Peak Energy selling Montana, Wyoming coal mines to Navajo tribal firm Cloud Peak Energy recently announced that it's selling its three Power River Basin coal mines to the Navajo Transitional Energy Company , the winning bidder of its Chapter 11 bankruptcy auction. The Gillette, Wyoming-based company said the sale, which was approved by a federal bankruptcy judge in Delaware, includes nearly all of Cloud Peak's assets. Navajo Transitional Energy will pay $15.7 million in cash, a $40 million secondary lien on all assets and a five-year royalty on future coal produced. In a news release, Navajo Transitional Energy leaders said they're excited to continue operations of the mines, which employ about 1,300 people, nearly all in Montana and Wyoming. "NTEC will continue its efforts to lead conscientious energy development while striving to balance job growth and protecting the environment for future generations.” said CEO Clark Moseley in a statement. “We have proven by our extremely successful management of the Navajo Mine that we know the business and are capable of returning the Cloud Peak mines to, safe, stable and profitable operations while maintaining their excellent safety performance and reclamation efforts.” [ KTVQ ] Construction underway on $18 million hazardous waste processing plant outside of Butte Processing elemental phosphorus waste at the old Solvay site eight miles west of Butte could begin as soon as next year. The more than $18 million plant, now under construction in the Montana Connections Business Development Park off Interstate 15, is the result of a nearly 20-year-long process to determine what to do with the roughly 500,000 gallons of highly flammable elemental phosphorus waste stored on the site. Belgian-based Solvay , which owns the site, and the Environmental Protection Agency agreed a couple of years ago to the concept of Solvay constructing a new plant that is expected to process the waste for the next seven or eight years. Once all the on-site hazardous phosphorus has been put through the furnace, the company will accept elemental phosphorus waste from outside sources and keep operating. Once the plant is ready to operate, Solvay will hire about eight new workers to handle the toxic material and the plant will operate on a 24-7 basis, Bersanti said. [ Montana Standard ] ClassPass continues hiring in Missoula; grows workforce to more than 100 Calling it a valuable tool for economic development, Missoula County this week agreed to amend a state grant that will enable ClassPass ( hiring ) to create 80 additional Missoula jobs, bringing the positions filled in the company’s Missoula office to more than 100. Provided by the Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund , the grant provides a reimbursement of up to $7,500 for each job created. The positions must pay at least $18.99 an hour to be eligible for that level of reimbursement. The contract was extended from the company’s original plan to create 40 jobs and is valued at up to $600,000. “Their award amount has been doubled, and they’ve been assisted to create another 40 jobs. That’s a total of 80 jobs,” said Nicole Rush, grants administrator with the Missoula Economic Partnership . “I’m pretty sure they’ve already hired most of these people.” Roughly 24 companies in Missoula have used the Big Sky grant to create 532 jobs since 2013, according to MEP. They’ve received a collective $3.7 million in funding and pay roughly $20.6 million annually in new wages. [ Missoula Current ] Billings airport gets ready for its $55M launch into the future Next month Billings Logan International Airport begins a four-year juggling act, balancing a massive $55 million remodeling project while carrying on with daily operations. As painful as the process may be, it's a welcome challenge, said airport director Kevin Ploehn. This project has been a long time coming. Starting next month, the Billings airport begins phase one of a massive remodeling project that will expand its two concourses and increase the number of flight gates from five to eight. It will add a cafe, gift shop and bar, and include a wide-open "great room" with a wall of glass facing the runways, a fireplace and children's play area. The entire project is scheduled to finish by March of 2023 and will be paid for through FAA grants, airport funds and revenue bonds. The whole goal of the remodel is to expand the number of flights and airlines the airport can accommodate, and to give the airport a modern look and feel. [ Billings Gazette ] Apprenticeship program brings training and employment opportunities to Superior, Montana (Mineral County) Last week the Montana Department of Labor & Industry officials visited the Idaho Forest Group St. Regis Mill as 12 apprentices signed paperwork to join the company’s first Montana Registered Apprenticeship program. Chris Clairmont, Principal of Superior High School, said the School to Registered Apprenticeship partnership is bringing new opportunities for young people to stay in the area. “We want kids to have a plan for after high school. We can help them start their future careers and stay in the community through things like this,” Clairmont said. “We want to provide a good future for whatever our kids want to do, and this is a good option.” This apprenticeship opportunity and mill has brought a much-needed source of employment growth to the area. Unemployment in Mineral County is currently at 3.9%, placing them 51st when compared to all 56 Montana counties. Our department is committed to implementing training programs like this to work to give Montanans the skills they need to join the workforce for increased economic stability. [ Clark Valley Press ]  
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