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Here's how much 2 businesses (First Interstate Bank, Ultra Graphics) are willing to pay to rename the arena at MetraPark First Interstate Bank ( hiring ) and Ultra Graphics ( hiring ) are willing to spend serious money to put their names and logos on MetraPark's arena. First Interstate made a bid for a 5-year contract, paying $175,000 per year for naming rights to the arena. Ultra Graphics proposed a 5-year contract with an option to renew for another 5 years, starting at $100,000 for the first year and climbing to $165,000 the 10th year. Both companies said they would assume the costs of replacing the signage inside and outside the arena, which was required by the county. The call for bids came about after Rimrock Auto Group notified Yellowstone County commissioners last summer it would not seek to renew its contract. The dealership instead will put that money into digital marketing and sales. Steve Zabawa, co-owner of Rimrock Auto, has been heading up the development of the WebBuy app , which allows people to buy cars on their phones. Both proposals have been turned over to MetraPark staff at the county where a committee will evaluate them. From there, staff will make a recommendation, and the county will sit down with either First Interstate or Ultra Graphics and negotiate a final contract. The committee hopes to have a recommendation ready for county commissioners by mid-January. [ Billings Gazette ] Gallatin County grows as Montana sees more outbound movers statewide According to a study conducted by United Van Lines, 55% percent of moves in the state of Montana in 2018 were outbound. In the same study, Montana ranked #9 on the most outbound states in the nation. Yet, even though more people are moving away from Montana than moving to the Treasure State, Gallatin County continues to grow. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Gallatin County is the fastest growing small county in the country and is expected to grow by more than 50,000 by 2045. But, with the expansion does come growing pains. According to Bozeman Chamber of Commerce President Daryl Schliem, with almost a zero percent unemployment rate the city has to deal with issues such as affordable housing, keeping the minimum wage jobs filled and employee retention. [ KBZK ] Missoula business, Sustainable Lumber Co., turns old fence posts, pallets and beetle-killed pine into sustainable wood products Reusing wood that might otherwise go to waste, like an old oak fence post from a horse pasture, beetle-killed pine trees or unused shipping pallets is the goal of Sustainable Lumber Co . of Missoula. Founder Ryan Palma spent years importing and exporting sustainable wood products from Asia until eight years ago when he decided to strike out on his own. He’s now shipping products all over the U.S. and planning on moving into a large new warehouse space near Arlee. Main products, flooring and wall paneling, come from pine trees killed by the mountain pine beetle and other bugs. The fir products come from Sustainable Forest Initiative-certified trees from Pyramid Lumber Co. ( hiring ) in Seeley Lake. According to Palma, “Our main facility is located in a Mennonite community. There are 11 families. And, collectively, we all kind of work together. We create all the products, we own all the wood, do all the sales and marketing. And each family has their own trait. So, one family does all the milling, another family does all the pre-finishing, another family does all the cabinets, and another family makes our wall paneling and doors. We employ probably 23 of them.” It is important to Palma that his team gets paid well and works in safe conditions. “Traveling in China really gave me a sour taste because we saw a lot of Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood, but the working conditions were horrible”. [ Missoulian ] Four Anaconda high-school students embark on web-design, social-media marketing company Between homework and all the trappings of teenage life, Anaconda high school student Kai Bauer has somehow found the time to start his own marketing company, with a focus on web design and social media. Bauer, 17, launched Foxabella Web Designs in September 2017. Now, after hiring on fellow students Ryan Hessler, Blake Johnson and Seamus Hoolahan, the high school junior can add job creator to his curriculum vitae. Bauer said he got inspired to start his own business while attending a Rotary Youth Leadership Awakening summer camp. Bauer started his company by first helping business owners navigate the ins and outs of social media. Soon, business owners began asking Bauer to create websites. He intends to grow Foxabella over the next couple of years and eventually sell it or pass it down to another high school student. [ Montana Standard ] Eagle Bancorp Montana completes purchase of The State Bank of Townsend in Townsend, Montana Eagle Bancorp Montana, Inc. (NASDAQ: EBMT), which is the holding company of Opportunity Bank of Montana ( hiring ), recently announced that it has completed the acquisition of Big Muddy Bancorp, Inc. and its wholly owned subsidiary, The State Bank of Townsend. The transaction, valued at $16.4 million, includes four State Bank of Townsend retail bank branches and approximately $108 million in assets, $92 million in deposits and $92 million in gross loans. The combined company now has 21 branches across Montana. [ Globe News Wire ] Outlook 2019: Healthy job market to continue Montana’s economy is expected to continue to grow in 2019, but little is expected to budge in terms of employment as the state continues to wrestle with a worker shortage. The November 2018 seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dipped to 3.7 percent in Montana, below the normal range and matching the nationwide mark. In 2013, Montana’s unemployment rate was 5.4 percent. Projections have the unemployment rate holding steady, if not dipping even lower in the coming years. Meanwhile, the Montana Department of Labor and Industry expects 0.7 percent job growth in 2019, slightly lower than recent years, something partly attributable to the tight labor market. While a low unemployment rate may sound like a good thing, the reality of the current economy is a bit more nuanced. “There’s both good things and bad things,” Barbara Wagner, the labor department’s chief economist, said of the low unemployment rate. “It’s hard for businesses to find workers to fill open positions and that can restrict growth, but there’s some positive things on the worker’s side like faster wage growth - a benefit both for our workers and the economy. Those wages are spent within the Montana economy.” To combat the worker shortage, the state’s Registered Apprenticeship program, which offers learning opportunities in a number of fields through both classroom and on-the-job training, has been steadily growing. In 2017, 554 Montana businesses sponsored 2,082 active apprenticeships across all industries. And, there were 687 new apprenticeships in 2017, more than double the number (324) in 2012. [ Flathead Beacon ] Can Do: Opening a worldwide audience for Montana businesses Many Montana entrepreneurs looking to enter into the global market turn to the Montana World Trade Center (MWTC). The MWTC is located on the University of Montana campus in Missoula and offers an array of services to assist businesses in taking their products into the world. On a recent episode of "Can Do: Lessons From Savvy Montana Entrepreneurs," MWTC Executive Director Brigitta Miranda-Freer shares how Montana businesses can successfully operate on an international scale through lessons learned during her 20-year career in economic development and international trade and commerce. [ Montana Public Radio ] Analysis: Montana high-tech industry on pace for record year The outlook for the high-tech industry in Montana has never been stronger, according to the executive director of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance , Christina Henderson. And three high-profile moves at Missoula companies are major reasons why Henderson said her assessment of how the tech industry will grow in 2019 is “more positive than it’s ever been.” First, the acquisition of Advanced Technology Group ( hiring ) in Missoula by the global company Cognizant was “huge” for the community. According to Henderson, “Cognizant plans to add more jobs in Montana, upwards of potentially hiring 30 new people a month for the foreseeable future. That’s hundreds of high-paying Montana jobs, and it’s hard to overestimate the impact of even that one company on this community.” Additionally, last February, a Missoula-based outdoor tech company onX ( hiring ) closed on a $20.3 million venture capital funding round. OnX has opened a second office in Bozeman and is now closing in on 100 employees. Finally, the decision by a fitness tech company called ClassPass ( hiring ) to hire more than 100 workers in downtown Missoula was a big boost to the local economy. According to Henderson, “All the signs point to the train isn’t stopping, and the momentum is accelerating,” Henderson said. “We continue to get contacted by other companies that are looking at coming into Missoula and Montana.” [ Missoulian ] Montana Code School seeks to bridge the state’s tech sector talent gap Thanks to a 12-week coding “boot camp” offered by the Montana Code School , a University of Montana -affiliated program, Montanans can obtain the skills needed to land Montana jobs in the state’s growing tech sector. Montana’s tech sector is a bright spot in the state’s economic landscape. But, as noted in several recent reports, a big factor holding Montana’s tech industry back is talent: the skills gap between the jobs that companies will pay top-dollar salaries to fill and the experience Montana workers can bring to the table. Coding boot camps seek to bridge this divide with fast-paced, hands-on courses. The Missoula-based Montana Code School has operated since 2015, running full- and part-time courses in Missoula and Bozeman. The program averages 40 students a year. [ Bozeman Daily Chronicle ] Netflix hunting show MeatEater opens headquarters in Bozeman Inspired by Montana’s culture of outdoor recreation, a popular hunting show is moving its headquarters to Bozeman. “ MeatEater ,” currently in its seventh season, follows its host Steven Rinella as he hunts, fishes and cooks game around the world. It’s also part of an outdoor media company that regularly posts recipes and articles about conservation to its website. The show has filmed several times in Montana and plans on shooting more episodes in the state after receiving a $40,000 film grant from the Montana Department of Commerce to feature Montana locations in the video series. It will be the first Netflix series shot in Montana with support from the Big Sky Film Grant. Montana-based investment firm Next Frontier Capital has also invested in the show. The show originally started in 2012 with four staff members and has now grown to 18 employees. Rinella said it plans to hire more from within and outside Bozeman. According to Rinella, there was a consensus among employees that Bozeman was the right place to base operations - with a university to draw from and plenty of amenities to make people want to make the town their home. [ Bozeman Daily Chronicle ] Montana raises minimum wage in 2019 Montana’s roughly 8,000 minimum wage workers saw a 20-cent-per-hour pay bump to $8.50 an hour. Barbara Wagner, Chief Economist for the Montana Department of Labor and Industry , says it’s not a wage increase as much as it is an adjustment for inflation. “It does not increase their standard of living. It’s just keeping somebody at the same level they were at the prior year,” she said. Besides Montana, up to 21 states and the District of Columbia will see minimum wage increases next year. [ Montana Public Radio ] Billings 14-year-old finds quiet business success in 3D printing and wood carving Billings teenager, Riley Scherer, got his first 3D printer as a gift in the sixth grade and quickly started a lucrative side business, Riley's Manufacturing and Design , by creating fidget spinners to sell to his friends. Eventually, Scherer earned enough money to buy a second 3D printer. By early 2018, Riley had saved money to put toward the purchase of a CNC machine (a tool used in prototyping and full production for cutting, carving and machining wood), bought with the help of his grandfather and his parents. Starting with simple designs created on special software, Scherer is now making multi-layered illuminated signs from wood, plexiglass and ribbons of LED lights. And, his creations are selling as fast as he can make them. As a freshman at Skyview High School, Riley juggles his work in the shop with his school, drivers ed and music lessons. And as Riley works in his shop, he's crafted some plans for the future. He hopes to become a mechanical engineer or a machinist. But sooner than that, he knows his next big purchase: a laser or plasma cutter. [ Billings Gazette ] CEO says company intends to move forward with proposed $251-million crypto mining facility west of Butte The CEO of the company that hopes to build a data center equipped for mining cryptocurrency west of Butte says he’s not worried about the price of bitcoin, which has fallen from its all-time high of $19,783 in December 2017 to around just $3,200 as of last month. In fact, Aaron Tilton, co-founder of Power Block Coin LLC , the entity behind the proposed facility, says the fallen price may actually be a boon for some miners as the cost of mining equipment also tends to decrease during the downturns, making it a good time to invest in equipment for those who are willing to stay in the crypto sphere for the long haul. Power Block Coin first announced its intentions for its Butte facility back in February of 2018, estimating that the project would break ground last summer and that the site would initially support around 15 employees. Now, 10 months later, Tilton says the company is still in the midst of securing electricity for the facility and won’t be able to move forward until the electrical component of the project is complete. Butch Larcombe, spokesperson for NorthWestern Energy , said the power company has had “continued contact” with Blue Castle Holdings, but said he couldn’t give any additional details. [ Montana Standard ] Billings ranked no. 1 city in Montana by Money Magazine Nicknamed “Montana’s Trailhead” because of its city conveniences in the midst of a vast natural landscape, Billings was recently named the No. 1 city in Montana to live by Money Magazine . While the ranking evaluated cities in each state with populations of more than 50,000, the perks of Billings make it clear it deserved the ranking for more than just its size. With a population of just over 110,000 and relatively low property taxes, Billings offers a reasonably affordable cost of living with a median home price of $255,000. Coupled with unique attractions like ZooMontana, Yellowstone Art Museum, an unofficial “brewery district” (offering a walkable, self-guided tour of nine breweries) and the nearby Little Bighorn Battlefield monument are benefits that set Billings apart. And, the quick access to the scenic Beartooth Highway draws appeal to a wide range of people. [ Money ] Figure’s first year: $50 million California FinTech startup brings blockchain technology and dozens of jobs to Helena and Bozeman 2018 was a big year for Figure ( hiring ). Not only did the company raise about $50 million in a Series A round, but it introduced two new products and grew to 103 employees nationwide — 19 of whom are in Helena and 11 of whom are in Bozeman — with plans to further expand their Montana teams. It doesn’t look like things are slowing down anytime soon for the new FinTech company, which also has locations in Reno and San Francisco. Despite already employing more than 100 people, Figure’s Nate Lampert with People Operations said the company’s hiring practices have been more about the quality of growth than the speed of growth. “We really are trying to spend a lot of time and effort on pulling in the right people,” Lampert said. “Very skilled, high-quality folks...we’re looking for quality over quantity.” [ Montana High Tech Business Alliance ] Montana ranked 2nd in nation for number of craft breweries Using data collected by the Montana Brewers Association , the Big Sky state is ranked second nationwide when it comes to the number of breweries, with about 9.6 per capita. Matt Leow, executive director of the Montana Brewers Association, said the state’s breweries have doubled from 2012 to 2017, to about 80 now. Montana is the nation’s second leading producer of malt. With an abundance of key ingredients in the state, it’s clear why Montana has so many breweries. Montana’s great quality of life is another reason for the uptick in breweries, Leow said. Leow said the number of breweries in the state is bound to increase in 2019. Statewide, the annual economic impact from breweries is about $417 million, with about 800 direct Montana jobs. Montana is known for its tourism and hospitality industries, and with more breweries opening, manufacturing is also becoming a bigger part of the state’s economy. Breweries in general have provided a substantial economic impact in terms of the state’s size. [ Missoula Current ] MSU helps local manufacturing collaboration Montana manufacturing businesses can easily find themselves competing for the same skilled workers locally and for customers and orders on local, national and global scales, according to Alistair Stewart, business adviser at Montana State University's Montana Manufacturing Extension Center . Additionally, he said, businesses can struggle to understand the challenges and realize the opportunities afforded by new technologies. That's why a group called the Greater Gallatin Valley Manufacturing Partnership is so important, said Stewart, who has provided guidance to the group since it began roughly three years ago. The group's goal is "to improve the collaborative advantage of our region’s manufacturers," Stewart said. This means coming together to find common ground and crossing boundaries to tackle problems or seize opportunities. The all-volunteer group includes roughly two dozen local manufacturing businesses as well as partners such as MMEC, MSU's Gallatin College and the Montana Department of Labor. The group is structured around a system called Strategic Doing, which MMEC's Stewart introduced to them in 2016. “By coming together in these partnerships, Montana manufacturers will not only become stronger as individual businesses but will also strengthen and grow the state's manufacturing sector,” Stewart said. [ Montana State University ]
Billings Public Library open to entrepreneurs The Billings Public Library is making moves to become a place for not only books, but for workforce and economic development. By collaborating with existing partnerships, the Billings Public Library helps train future workers in the Yellowstone Strengths Academy , a program created to address identified specific needs of employers in the Billings community. Given that Montana has more entrepreneurs per capita than any other state, with ten percent of Montanans owning a business as their primary jobs compared to just six percent of the rest of the U.S. population, this endeavor seems to be one of value. [ Billings Gazette ] Report: Guided outdoor activities in Montana a big business Guided activities in Montana include hunting, fishing, rafting, horseback riding and snowmobiling. And per a new report by the University of Montana’s Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research , those activities made up a $374-million-dollar industry for Montana in 2017. Jeremy Sage with the institute says the findings aren’t surprising given the trend of increased spending on professional guides in Montana. It was reported that outfitters and guides served more than 700,000 clients in 2017, of which almost two-thirds were from out of state. [ Flathead Beacon ] Does remote work bring Montana workers big-city wages? Yes — for some As better internet access connects even far-flung rural communities with the rest of the world, it seems to promise Montanans a way to have their cake and eat it too: a fulfilling career at a city wage without having to leave the Last Best Place. The state has sometimes been cited as having one of the highest telecommuting rates in the nation, yet reliable data on the number of Montana remote workers and their wages isn’t readily available. And while there are companies hiring Montanans for work-from-home positions such as customer service jobs, the typical remote worker in the state is someone with big-city experience who has found a way to bring their job with them to Montana. Montana-based remote workers interviewed for this piece — all in tech sector jobs — said they tend to like the arrangement because it allows them to avoid the cubicle and manage their own schedules. That said, they also acknowledge the barriers that telecommuting poses to social aspects of their work. And while remote workers in Montana may tend to clump within commuting distance of the larger cities, there are also great examples of companies offering telecommuting opportunities for those living in the smaller towns across the state. For example, event marketing materials company says it has customer service representatives successfully working from home in small towns in central Montana. CEO Lance Trebesch, of Bozeman, said the company employs a seven-person customer support team working remotely from Billings, Columbus, Lewistown, Big Timber, and a ranch outside Two Dot. (The company’s main production facility is in Harlowton, population: 1,000.) [ Missoulian ] Butte’s Thompson Distributing sold to Great Falls company After operating as a family-owned business in Butte for more than 40 years, Thompson Distributing Inc. has been sold to Eagle Beverage ( hiring ) of Great Falls. The purchase, which occurred October 1, will allow Eagle to expand its footprint in wine distribution. For the former owners of Thompson Distributing, the move was a major and calculated investment that allowed the family to maintain the real estate. The family will maintain ownership of the business park that was home to the distribution company. Today, the building boasts approximately 20 renters, including Eagle Beverage, which is leasing space for vehicle storage, and another Thompson business called SMT Storage. [ Montana Standard ] Custer-Gallatin recreationists spend $223 million, add 2,000 Montana jobs Outdoor recreation in the Custer Gallatin National Forest supports thousands of jobs in Montana, including dozens in Park County, according to a new report from the Outdoor Alliance . Overall, the report found that 3.5 million people — hikers, mountain bikers, skiers, rock climbers and paddlers — spend $223.1 million annually across local Montana communities. Additionally, the report noted that visitor spending on human-powered recreation helped create 2,172 full-time Montana jobs that provide $65.7 million in wages. The report comes at a time when the U.S. Forest Service is considering a forest plan revision for the Custer-Gallatin. That revision dictates how the forest will be used for the next two decades or so, including whether land will be designated as wilderness area. While most human-powered recreation is allowed in wilderness areas, mechanized recreation, like mountain biking, is not. [ Livingston Enterprise ] New Cargill R&D facility opens in Great Falls Cargill ( hiring ) has chosen Great Falls for an R&D facility conducting groundbreaking research, which includes the development of omega-3 fatty acids from canola plants to reduce reliance on fishmeal, increase the viability of farm-raised fish and reduce pressure on oceans. We’re thrilled one of the world’s largest privately held companies has chosen Great Falls, Montana, for their innovative research facility,” said Brett Doney, president and CEO of the Great Falls Montana Development Authority (GFDA). “This type of international research partnership is the first of its kind. Projects like this are essential components for advancing our food system and the heart of Montana, Great Falls, is the perfect location to achieve those breakthroughs.” Great Falls has seen a boom in investment, including larger, Japan-based companies like Pasta Montana , Columbia Grain , Montana Specialty Mills and Helena Chemical. In 2016, GFDA opened the Great Falls AgriTech Park to provide fully-served heavy industrial sites for food and agricultural processors. It's the region's first industrial park and is certified by BNSF Railroad to offer ready-to-build lots with access to utilities and rail. [ Feedstuffs ] Missoula women launch law firm with full business services for entrepreneurs A new law firm in Missoula is the only one of its kind in Montana, offering legal counsel and business-specific services to entrepreneurs. SOVA , founded by Jenn Ewan and Erika Peterman, combined their passions for creativity along with 25 years of experience in law and economic development to create a new approach to traditional legal services for entrepreneurs. They provide in-house counsel such as meetings, legal research, and letter writing – along with assistance in general business and corporate matters such as contracts, large- or small-scale employee issues and business expansion. Ewan said they also specialize in commercial and real estate transactions and business litigation. SOVA also represents companies seeking funding and can assist in creating pitch decks, structuring raises, and connecting their clients with investors, Ewan said. The firm utilizes its strategic partners specializing in web design, graphic design, in-depth intellectual property expertise and other services. [ Missoula Current ] Missoula nonprofit wins $1M grant from Facebook founder Zuckerberg, Rockefeller Foundation Missoula-based nonprofit, MoFi ( hiring ), recently won a highly competitive $1 million grant called the Communities Thrive Challenge from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan , along with the Rockefeller Foundation . MoFi was one of 10 winners among more than 2,000 entrants from across the United States. MoFi will use the money mainly to hire specialists who will help businesses hire low-income workers across the Northern Rockies. “The grant we’ve received will allow us to scale up our work with entrepreneurs and business owners across the Northern Rockies to work with them to have a more inclusive and robust workforce,” explained Dave Glaser, president of MoFi, a community development financial institution. [ Missoulian ] JetBlue about to take off in Bozeman As Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport continues to grow, a new airline is about to take off. JetBlue will offer direct flights between Long Beach, California, and Bozeman starting this week, becoming the seventh airline to set up shop in the small but busy airport. Bozeman Yellowstone International has quickly become the busiest airport in the state, with about 600,361 people flying out in 2017. It also plans to expand by adding five new gates to the existing eight by 2021. According to airport director, Brian Sprenger, “As we grow, we will continue to see more options, with airlines and destinations.” [ Bozeman Chronicle ]
Thanksgiving came. Thanksgiving went. You ate all the food. Maybe shopped some sales. And hopefully took in a few of the recent Montana sunsets (#nofilter). Now, go ahead and take a minute to get caught up with this week's skim of Montana business news below... Billings Clinic to build 97,000-square-foot ambulatory center in Bozeman Billings Clinic ( hiring ) officials recently announced plans to build a 97,000-square-foot ambulatory center in Bozeman that will include a multi-specialty physician group practice, urgent care and an outpatient surgical center. The center is estimated to cost from $35 million to $40 million and will be built on 54 acres adjacent to I-90 near the 19th Street exit. Billings Clinic expects to break ground in 2019 and open the center within three years, Billings Clinic CEO Randy Gibb said last week. A two-year feasibility study was conducted to determine the projected needs and growth of the Gallatin County community. "Bozeman is the fastest growing community in the state, at about 10 percent a year," Gibb said. "When we looked at the feasibility study, eventually there won't be enough providers in Bozeman to keep up with the growth." He estimated that the ambulatory center will add 125 to 150 Montana jobs in the Bozeman area, just within the first phase. [ Billings Gazette ] Missoula’s LumenAd and Consumer Direct share $450K state grant for 63 new Montana jobs The Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund at the Department of Commerce awarded a state grant of $450,000 this week to support two MIssoula companies, LumenAd ( hiring ) and Consumer Direct ( hiring ). The grant funds will be used for expansion and to add dozens of new Montana jobs in the local market. Bitterroot Tool and Machine , based in Hamilton, also received a $50,000 grant to create 10 new Montana jobs. “Montana’s economy continues to grow when public and private sectors come together to create jobs and provide training for workers,” Gov. Steve Bullock said in a statement provided with the announcement. The two latest grants boost an already aggressive push to grow local jobs, and the Big Sky grants have been central to that effort. Consumer Direct, a human services agency that provides management solutions for long-term care, received $255,300 in the latest round of grants to support 37 new jobs over the next two years. CEO Ben Bledsoe said the program is integral to his company’s growth. LumenAd founder and CEO Ryan Hansen echoed that sentiment. His company received $195,000 in the latest round of grants to support the creation of 26 new Montana jobs over the next year. [ Missoula Current ] Co-working space, Basecamp Coworking, opens in Whitefish Co-working spaces have popped up all across the United States - places with rentable desk space, conference rooms, and a community feel. And, the flathead valley is no exception. Recently, Drew Fortner, owner of Alaska Shore Tours opened a co-working space in Whitefish for freelancers, remote employees and others who work from home called Basecamp Coworking . There are several tiers of membership - first, a “hot desk” open seating for daily users, visitors, and people who just want to drop in with a laptop. The next tier is the dedicated desks, where for $325 a month people can leave equipment and monitors behind and use a lockable filing cabinet. The top tier is the private office choice. With 24/7 building access, furnishings and a locking office, they also receive discounted memberships for additional hot desk members and discounted guest passes. Building a community is one of the main goals at Basecamp, Fortner said. They plan on hosting events and mixers so their clients can get to know one another if they so desire. [ Flathead Beacon ] Accelerated Startups program helps Helena-area entrepreneurs hit the ground running The Montana Business Assistance Connection in Helena recently honored the first three graduates of its Accelerated Startups pilot project. The Accelerated Startups program is a collaborative effort between the business assistance connection and Edge Marketing and Design to provide resources, accountability and mentorship to new startups in the Helena area. The participants started the six-month program in the spring and completed the program last week. Graduates of the program's initial run are Montana Bones clothing company, Caffeic Coffee Roasters and Spy High Mounts , which sells a patented trail camera mounting system. When forming the curriculum, program founders wanted to focus on things startups typically have to figure out on their own. Pricing, value proposition, identifying customer base and marketing are areas of focus. According to Dustin Stewart, owner and digital product manager for Edge Marketing and Design, “We wanted to connect these startups with community resources and expertise to help fight through these hurdles.” Stewart said they will continue to experiment and adapt the program to the applicants in the future. The next session of Accelerated Startups is scheduled to take place in April of 2019. Applications for the program will be accepted December 1, 2018 through January 15, 2019. [ Independent Record ] Missoula women launch retreat business to connect, empower female entrepreneurs Two University of Montana Blackstone Launchpad employees launched a retreat business this week that focuses on building women’s entrepreneurial skills while providing a unique Montana experience at local lodges and destinations. According to co-founder Morgan Slemberger, Peak Retreats is similar to a conference, but participants will have more one-on-one discussions with consultants and be able to relax and recharge through skiing, snowshoeing and spa treatments. The retreat takes a personal approach, Strong said, with only 10 spots available for the first event. The founders hope through self-funding that the business can host three to four retreats each year for women from anywhere in the country. The inaugural retreat is set for January 23-25 at The Lodge at Whitefish Lake in Whitefish and will feature keynote speakers discussing the challenges participants face in their businesses. [ Missoula Current ] Bozeman photonics company Bridger Photonics to receive $100K EPA grant It was recently announced that Bozeman-based Bridger Photonics ( hiring ) will receive a $100,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The grant will be used to fund the development of technology that will facilitate the discovery of leaks in oil and gas wells. The $100,000 to Bridger Photonics is part of $1.7 million that the EPA is awarding to 16 small businesses. The award comes from the EPA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program , which encourages the development of technologies that support EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment. According to Senator Steve Daines, “The technology being developed at Bridger Photonics will help oil and gas wells be more efficient while also better protecting the environment. I’m glad that the EPA recognized the good work being done at this Montana business and awarded them this funding.” [ KBZK ] Up to 350 Montana jobs headed to Butte with FCR’s new call center facility coming Butte could see as many as 350 new jobs by spring. That's because FCR , an Oregon-based provider of outsourced call center and other business services, announced earlier this month that it will open a new office in the Mining City (Butte) in early 2019. The company plans to offer customer service and technical support jobs answering telephone calls, emails, text messages, and social media communications for a variety of companies and industries. FCR will also hire for supervisory and management positions. Stephanie Sorini, executive director of the Butte Chamber of Commerce , said the new jobs could have broad economic effects. In addition to operating six contact centers in Oregon, FCR opened a center in Great Falls in 2017. In Great Falls, the company currently employs 250 people (and is hiring ) and plans to expand the Great Falls facility next year. FCR did not announce where specifically its Butte office will be located, but Sorini said the company has narrowed its choice down to two locations. [ Montana Standard ] $3.5 million FedEx facility expansion underway west of Butte Construction is underway on a $3.5 million project to expand Butte’s FedEx Freight facility in the Montana Connections Business Development Park west of Butte. In September, board members for Butte’s Tax Increment Financing Industrial District awarded the project a $200,000 grant. The business development park resides within the district overseen by the board, which uses tax increment financing to fund infrastructure-related projects. FedEx’s landlord VEREIT , a real estate company based in Phoenix, is financing the project, but FedEx will be the beneficiary of the grant through reduced lease rates. The FedEx facility employs around 95 people. But according to FedEx’s grant application, the expansion could make room for 31 more Montana jobs over the next 15 years. The expansion is expected to be completed in 2019. [ Montana Standard ] Wyoming-based coal company Cloud Peak considers selling amid economic challenges Cloud Peak Energy , one of the biggest miners of Montana coal, will consider selling the company among other options as it deals with continuing economic challenges. According to Colin Marshall, president and CEO of Cloud Peak, “While our board is undertaking this strategic review, Cloud Peak Energy remains focused on executing against our operational and financial priorities. We will continue to adjust our business to the structural changes in the U.S. coal industry and to position our company for future growth opportunities.” Cloud Peak mines were expected to produce up to 51 million tons of coal this year, but had contracts for 35 million tons in 2019 and 30 million the year after. [ Billings Gazette ] Bozeman company Barnard Construction awarded border wall contract Bozeman-headquartered Barnard Construction ( hiring ) has been awarded a contract to build part of the wall on the U.S-Mexico border. The $172 million contract was awarded by U.S Customs and Border Protection and the U.S Army Corps of Engineers. Barnard Construction is tasked with constructing 32 miles of primary pedestrian replacement wall. The wall will run along the U.S Border Patrol’s Yuma and Tucson sectors. Construction is scheduled to begin April 2019. [ KBZK ] Montana Craft Malt moves toward completion of its $15-million facility west of Butte Montana Craft Malt (MCM) plans to open its $15-million facility next year with around 15 employees and produce 10,000 tons of malt per year from Montana-grown barley. The facility, which is one of many buildings in the Montana Connections Business Development Park west of Butte, will be Montana’s first mid-size barley-malting facilities. MCM broke ground last spring, and construction on the 30,000-square-foot facility is expected to wrap up in March of 2019. The company is already consulting with potential customers — craft brewers and distillers — according to the company’s new president Jennifer O’Brien, who took over the helm when her father passed away in May. [ Montana Standard ] Pattern’s Stillwater Wind comes to life in Montana Pattern Energy Group 2 LP (Pattern Development) has completed construction and is now operating its 79.75 MW Stillwater Wind facility in Stillwater County, approximately 11 miles north of Reed Point, Montana (a town located between Big Timber and Billings). According to Mike Garland, CEO of Pattern Development, “Our first wind power facility in Montana is now generating numerous benefits for the state, including strong Montana jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenue, while producing enough clean energy to power 23,000 homes each year without any emissions. We’re working on our second wind project in Montana, and we look forward to creating more jobs and economic benefits from the state’s vast natural wind resources.” Over the first 25 years of the facility’s operational life, it is expected to produce more than $18 million in tax revenue. The local county will also receive impact fees over the first three years, in addition to royalty payments for participating landowners. [ North America Wind Power ] More than $3 million in tax credits approved for Havre’s Oakwood Village acquisition and rehabilitation Havre’s Oakwood Village will be one of five projects in Montana receiving Federal Tax Credits to develop affordable housing. According to a recent press release, Affiliated Developers Inc. will receive $3,881,250 in tax credits for the acquisition and rehabilitation of Oakwood Village. It added that the total project investment of $7,716,755 in Oakwood Village will result in 100 new Montana jobs, creating $4.5 million in wages and salaries. "This is a win-win for Montana," Bullock said in a press release. "Montana families thrive when they have a safe and affordable place to call home, and our economy continues to grow when we are able to house a productive workforce, while creating hundreds of construction jobs in local communities throughout the state." [ Havre Daily News ] Where the Montana jobs are: Mapping Montana’s economic landscape In the first installment of the Long Streets reporting project, comprehensive county-level job data available from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis was analyzed to generate a broad overview of the jobs landscape in Montana. The big picture: Montana has 676,000 jobs. The largest share of Montanans work jobs in the service sector, a broad category of employment that includes minimum-wage earners as well as software engineers and other trained professionals. Though the state economy is still anchored to its natural resources, farming, mining, and logging make up less than 10 percent of all jobs. Additionally, Montana’s workforce breakdown by sector mirrors the national economy, with some notable exceptions: Montana has more farmers (4.6 percent of the state workforce versus 1.3 percent nationally) — and fewer manufacturing jobs (3.7 percent of the Montana workforce versus 6.8 percent nationwide). And as no surprise, Montana’s jobs are clustered around several urban centers across the state (i.e. Billings, Missoula, Bozeman, Kalispell, Great Falls, Helena and Butte). Those clusters include 72 percent of Montana’s jobs and 68 percent of its people. Job growth is even more concentrated. Five counties — around Bozeman, Billings, Missoula, Kalispell and Helena — have accounted for 70 percent of net job creation between 2001 and 2016. Lastly, this installment also touches on the earnings of these Montana jobs noting service-sector jobs, while plentiful, often pay low. On the other hand, transportation, government and manufacturing may pay well, but aren’t producing many new jobs. The sweet spot lies in industries that are growing and pay well - which both the mining and health care sectors have stood out in recent years. [ Bozeman Daily Chronicle ] Bozeman commissioners approve WinCo Foods Earlier this week Bozeman commissioners said the site plans for a 75,000-square-foot grocery store fit into city rules and future projects in their unanimous vote to approve WinCo Foods’ plans for north Bozeman. “We want to be a retail trade center,” Commissioner Jeff Krauss said. WinCo is a largely employee-owned supermarket based in Boise, Idaho, and plans to build in Gallatin Center development off North 19th. The next step for WinCo is to apply for a city building permit. [ KBZK ] Amid worker shortage, Helena employers get creative to attract and retain good employees A lack of workers in Helena and across the state is forcing business owners to make some important staffing decisions. From deciding how to better compensate employees to weighing which jobs are no longer necessary in the current economic climate, employers are facing major changes. They are also getting more creative with their recruitment and retention efforts to introduce employees to the workforce and keep them there. Businesses are searching for more versatile workers, who can cross-train or obtain training certifications that expand their job duties. Additionally, the department of labor works with businesses across the state to offer on-the-job training. As part of the apprenticeship program, workers who aren’t necessarily qualified for a job can be hired and trained for the position. About 90 percent of people who go through the apprenticeship program stay in Montana. The Helena Building Industry Association ,   Casteel Construction , and St. Peter’s Health ( hiring ) are all examples of Helena area employers exercising alternative ways to attract and retain employees. [ Independent Record ] Montana Made: Great Falls GrizzBiz students mean business In Great Falls, seventh and eighth grade students are learning what it takes to succeed in business through a Great Falls program, GrizzBiz . Kids with an interest in the program fill out an application, go through an interview process and, if selected, they’re involved with everything from ordering supplies and marketing to bookkeeping and production, which includes laser engraving. Depending on how much they produce and sell, they even draw a paycheck. GrizzBiz is a year-round venture and is in its ninth year. About 30 kids participate in the summer program which includes a booth at the Farmer’s Market and is highlighted by the Montana State Fair where the students engrave the winning plaques. During the school year, about 15 kids are employed. GrizzBiz has also recently expanded, starting a similar program at East Middle School in Great Falls called Ram Enterprises. [ KPAX ]
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