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PHOTO CREDIT: HAZER LIVE While braving these freezing cold temps (brrrrrr!), warm up and continue below to get caught up with this week's skim of Montana business news... Missoula companies awarded state grants to create 46 new high-wage Montana jobs Three Missoula companies are on track to be awarded a combined $345,000 in state grants to create 46 new, relatively high-paying jobs. The three companies — Submittable ( hiring ), ALPS ( hiring ) and Reflex Protect — are all headquartered in Missoula and are receiving Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund (BSTF) Montana job-creation grants from the Montana Department of Commerce . Businesses must pay at least $19.65 per hour to be eligible for the maximum BSTF Job Creation grant award, which is up to $7,500 per full-time job created. The money isn't granted to the companies until the jobs are created. Submittable will get $259,000 to create 35 new Montana jobs over the next year. Michael FitzGerald, a company co-founder and the CEO, said the money would assist with salaries and other employment-related expenses. ALPS has been awarded $45,000 to support the creation of six new Montana jobs. Reflex Protect has been awarded up to $37,500 to support the creation of five new Montana jobs over the next year. According to Montana Department of Commerce spokesperson Daniel Iverson, roughly 340 businesses have used the BTSF grant program to create over 2,500 jobs since 2013. Missoula accounted for roughly 40 percent of the proposed new jobs to be created by the economic development grant awards this round, as a total of $827,300 was given out across the state to create 114 new jobs. [ Missoulian ] Brewing Academy at Flathead Valley Community College aims to create jobs for Montanans Flathead Valley Community College (FVCC) has the only two-year brewing program in the state, and there is no question that the popularity of breweries in the state created this FVCC program. The program covers a variety of chemistry and business classes for aid students in starting a successful career in brewing operations. Graduates from this program are also able to show the fundamental techniques of brewing and beer. FVCC has partnered with local businesses around the state in Whitefish, Missoula, Bozeman and Great Falls to provide mentors and internships to students. Program Director Joe Byers tells us what’s most important is giving back to the community and providing jobs for Montanans. “Finding good, educated help and retention with those employees [are a] big reason for starting this program,” Byers said. “Getting local Montanans who want to stay in Montana and work with the local breweries.” [ ] 'Recreation is the new mining': Butte area businesses seek to harness power of Montana's strong outdoor economy It’s no secret that outdoor recreation makes a significant contribution to the Montana economy. In fact, the Treasure State’s outdoor economy is credited with generating $7.1 billion in consumer spending, more than 71,000 Montana jobs, $286 million in state and local taxes and $2.2 billion in wages and salaries for workers each year, according to September report from the Montana Office of Outdoor Recreation . And while economic development officials in Butte, Anaconda and Dillon don’t have localized data showing the precise impact of recreation on area businesses and workers, they agree that it’s already an important driver of growth — and that it will serve a key role in charting future opportunities for investment. According to Joe Willauer, executive director of the Butte Local Development Corp. (BLDC), “Butte is ideally situated among some of Montana’s best outdoor recreation opportunities, including hiking, fishing, skiing, skating and boating.” And that, he says, “Gives us a really cool opportunity to tell the story of what Butte has to offer.” That story, he says, allows him and other economic development officials to tell a new story about Butte to businesses that are looking to relocate or expand. “We want to recruit and retain businesses, and we also want to change the narrative,” Willauer says. “Instead of dwelling on some of the challenges, we want to talk about the good things.” To do so, the BLDC has helped push Butte Elevated , a marketing campaign that touts the Mining City’s “access to thousands of acres of pristine wilderness, spectacular mountain views, affordable living, quality schools, extraordinarily clean water, and an unparalleled quality of life.” The BLDC also recently launched Basecamp Butte , a website with interactive trail maps, an outdoor recreation map and other resources designed to demonstrate the accessibility of local recreation opportunities. Willauer says efforts like these are designed to attract not only businesses but also skilled workers who can help solve “one of the biggest challenges we face in economic development: the area’s limited workforce.” By touting Butte’s benefits during a time when Montana as a whole is “so popular,” Willauer believes officials can attract more of the highly skilled potential employees who can help draw in new Montana employers. [ Montana Standard ] Montana company Blackmore stands out in the lidar crowd Bozeman-based Blackmore ( hiring ) has spent the past two years refining its technology for use in autonomous vehicles. A technology first developed to assist the U.S. military in spotting enemies sneaking past battlefield perimeters could now soon help self-driving vehicles create detailed portraits of their surroundings. And while Blackmore is hardly alone in that pursuit — industry experts are tracking at least 60 lidar companies — Blackmore stands out for an unconventional approach its founders say results in a key advantage. In addition to providing detailed information on the distance to objects, the company's technology can also measure the velocity of those objects, information that conventional lidar companies usually cannot provide. For autonomous vehicles attempting to make sense of their road environment and plot a course ahead, that insight on the speed of other actors in the space can be critical. [ Auto News ] Tech company Cognizant debuts consultant trainee program in Missoula Missoula’s Advanced Technology Group (ATG) ( hiring ) recently announced a trainee program opportunity with their new parent company, Cognizant . Consultant trainees will complete a 12-week specialized training program with areas of focus in Business Essentials, Consulting, Systems Analysis and Design, Data Analytics, Project Management, Information Infrastructures and more. The training program will also focus on cloud and IT basics with an emphasis on the Salesforce Platform. Upon successful completion of the training program, trainees will be guaranteed a job interview where they could be placed within various roles on projects at Cognizant in Missoula. According to Kym Corwin, Director of Production Success & Expert Services, “This is a huge opportunity for folks in the Missoula area. If you're under-employed, or have a desire to work in a technology field, or are just not challenged by your current job, you should consider this program. You'd be getting in on the ground floor, but coming out the other side of training with an opportunity for a salaried position and great benefits.” Learn more about the program and apply here . [ ATG ] Kalispell Core and Rail Redevelopment Project brings investment to Kalispell The Montana West Economic Development , in combination with the Flathead County Economic Development Authority and City of Kalispell , was awarded the MEDA Innovation Award for the Kalispell Core & Rail Redevelopment project – an innovative plan to develop the Kalispell Core Area which historically was filled with railroad tracks. Once the project is complete the Kalispell Core Area’s train tracks will be replaced with a walking trail, more green space, entertainment, dining and retail options – all factors that will enhance residents’ quality of life while also increasing tourism in the city. “Once the track is removed and the trail put in, we expect to see more development in the downtown core because the infrastructure is already there. This will have a ripple effect on the types of businesses coming here, while also increasing property values and property taxes collected by the city and county,” said Kim Morisaki, Director of Marketing & Business Development for Montana West Economic Development. Learn more about Kalispell’s Core & Rail Redevelopment Project here . [ Montana Economic Developers Association ] Bozeman’s Yellowstone International Airport eyeing new gates, destinations, and airlines in the future Bozeman’s Yellowstone International Airport handles about 31 percent of the passengers in the state. And while tourism is a big part of the airport’s success, businessmen and women account for nearly 80% of the passengers. With the airport being one of the fastest growing in the country, airport officials have already put out to bid for their concourse expansion project that would bring four new gates to the terminal to help accommodate the continued growth in passengers. In addition to more gates being added, the Bozeman Area Chamber of Commerce is working closely with airport officials to not only add more direct flights but also add another airline. [ KBZK ] Business group forms new Chamber of Commerce A group of local business owners have announced the formation of the Yellowstone Area Chamber of Commerce (YACC). According to Sam Loveridge, who has been named as the new organization’s Executive Director, the group will educate and advocate for proven and business-centric policy prescriptions that create a positive environment for businesses and economic growth. As indicated by its name, the Yellowstone Area Chamber of Commerce is being formed more as a regional organization to represent business throughout eastern Montana and west to Bozeman. Over the coming months, YACC will be recruiting businesses in the Yellowstone area that also seek to create a stronger climate for business in the area. Since its announcement, the organization has responded to an influx of membership requests. Loveridge said they recently sent out 40 invoices and will have about 100 members. By year’s end, they hope to have 1000 members. “The Yellowstone Area Chamber was formed because businesses deserve a voice—they deserve someone fighting for them every day,” Loveridge emphasized. He continued, “Our goal is to create a strong, innovative, and competitive marketplace where businesses prosper, grow, and employ more people.” [ Big Sky Business Journal ] Ruffatto Challenge launches new Missoula businesses; apply now for 2019 competition The John Ruffatto Business Startup Challenge is a competition for University of Montana students with entrepreneurial ideas to pursue those ideas and determine if there is a viable market for them in Montana. The Challenge, which is sponsored by UM’s College of Business and Blackstone Launchpad , is a competition where students create a business plan and pitch deck and present the package to 50 judges, who provide feedback. The grand prize of $15,000 can then be used to launch the business. Paul Gladen of the Blackstone Launchpad said the challenge provides a way for students to have the opportunity to start a business in Montana, which encourages young entrepreneurs to stay in the state and benefit the local economy. “There’s sort of a diverse, collaborative community spirit in Montana that I think stimulates a lot of new and different ideas,” he said. Past winners include Story Squares and Five on Black . Entering its 30th year, the John Ruffatto Startup Business Challenge will accept up to 12 teams to participate in the competition on March 8, 2019. Details about submissions can be found on the Blackstone Launchpad website . [ Missoula Current ] Bozeman ranks #1 for strongest micropolitan economy According to economic research firm Policom , Bozeman is ranked number one for economic strength in a micropolitan area. This is the second year in a row Bozeman has earned the top ranking out of 551 current micropolitan statistical areas in the United States. With a repeat of the top ranking, a question arises: what is Bozeman doing that other places aren’t? “Focusing on the fundamentals and, for the City of Bozeman ( hiring ), that means infrastructure and driving development with our infrastructure. The second would be workforce development and education and, thirdly, supporting our local businesses. Those are the three primary areas the City of Bozeman works on,” said Economic Development Director Brit Fontenot. And while the thriving economy is something the city is proud of, with growth come challenges. “We’re not without our challenges — including affordable housing, wages and access to talent — so it doesn’t really talk about any of those challenges that we face, but we know them very well and we work on them every day,” Fontenot said. “We’re proud to be recognized for our strengths, and we continue to work hard to try to overcome some of our challenges.” Find the complete list of rankings here. [ KBZK ] Next steps proposed for One Big Sky District in Billings The boards of Big Sky Economic Development (BSED) approved committing up to $300,000 for the next step of funding needed for the One Big Sky District (OBSD) in Billings last week. It will be part of the $578,000 requested from the community by Bob Dunn of Landmark, the private company that is spearheading the OBSD, a project that includes the development of a downtown convention center in Billings. BSED Director Steve Arveschoug explained that the funds are what are expected to be needed for the next six months, primarily for the purposes of lobbying the state legislature to pass a bill (that will create a funding mechanism for the grand $2.5 billion project) and to pursue site analysis. Dunn’s request is being directed to BSED and other community organizations. Landmark would contribute an additional $780,000 to $1.1 million for the same purposes, during the same period. Other community partners would pay the balance of the $578,000. These partners include the Billings Chamber of Commerce , Downtown Billings Partnership , Billings Tourism Business Improvement District and the City of Billings as well as other private contributors. Referred to as Phase 2, the massive plan that covers most of downtown Billings is aimed at directing future development and economic growth over the next thirty years. The structure “would take up two city blocks” and projects a number of possible developments, including a convention center that would serve as a venue for regional events such as sports or concerts or other entertainment, as well as conferences and conventions. It would also include retail and residential development in the downtown “entertainment / lifestyle” area, retail and health and wellness services along North 27th  that would augment the medical corridor and a melding of the medical corridor with the education potential of MSU-Billings. [ Big Sky Business Journal ]
So. Much. Snow. And, in full disclosure, all this fresh powder has us sneaking out for a few turns today. Of course, not until after this week's skim of Montana business news is wrapped up and ready for you! Continue below for this week's skim. New FCR call center expected to open at Butte Plaza Mall and bring in 350 new Montana jobs News of the call center FCR ( hiring ) opening in the Butte Plaza Mall was warmly welcomed by mall employees after several large retailers closed over the past couple of years. FCR is a premier provider of U.S.-based call center outsourcing solutions and business process outsourcing. The company is based in Oregon but has another Montana location Great Falls. The site in Butte will be a call outsourcing center that will provide callers with information via telephone, text message or social media. The center is expected to bring about 350 new Montana jobs to Butte and is slated to open this spring. Butte Plaza Mall on-site manager Alana Ferko said she is excited for what this business will bring to the mall. "When you have a couple additional 300 people on site, you're definitely going to see an increase in traffic," she said. "People are going to come out at break time. Since the plan was announced on Monday, Ferko said she's had two new business inquires. [ ABCFox Montana ] Bozeman Public Library partners up with Blackstone Launchpad and Small Business Development Center at MSU to offer business mentoring Entrepreneurs and small business owners in Gallatin County can now get business mentoring at the Bozeman Public Library at no cost. The city is partnering with the Blackstone Launchpad and Small Business Development Center at Montana State University to open a new business center at the library. People can expect 20-minute, one-on-one sessions where they can seek advice or be directed to resources in the community. Weekly sessions begin in January on Tuesdays from 1-3pm. Sign up for an appointment online at the library's business center page . [ NBC Montana ] Red Ants Pants Music Festival funds $100K in Montana business grants Since 2012, 89 innovative recipients have been awarded business grants totaling $100,000 by the Red Ants Pants Foundation of White Sulphur Springs. According to Red Ants Pants Foundation executive director and visionary, Sara Calhoun, “The grant program is not an incubator for business, but it’s for leadership on the ground.” Specifically, the foundation supports women’s leadership, working family farms, ranches and rural communities. Empowering small-business owners and vital, ground-breaking initiatives is in the foundation’s wheelhouse. Prime examples are Dropstone Outfitting , a hiking-based business, which won a $4,190 grant in 2017. Another is the Garfield County Fire Foundation , a $5,000 grant recipient in 2018, making possible the creation of an internet fire safety program for teens and the community at large. Ticket sales from the wildly popular Red Ants Pants Music Festival comprise the entire $100,000 grant program. Donations also figure into the mix. A list of all grant recipients from 2012 to 2018 can be found here . [ Missoula Current ] Workiva named one of the 2019 Best Workplaces in Technology by Great Place to Work® and Fortune Magazine Iowa-based Workiva (NYSE:WK), which has offices in Bozeman (and is hiring ), was recently named one of the 2019 Best Workplaces in Technology by Great Place to Work® and Fortune Magazine. To determine the Best Workplaces in Technology, Great Place to Work® analyzed responses from more than 220,000 employees in the technology industry at Great Place to Work-CertifiedTM organizations. Employees anonymously rated their employers on more than 60 surveyed criteria. Workiva ranked 19 on the list of 25 large technology companies. This is the third time Workiva has been named to the Best Workplaces in Technology list. “Workiva is proud to be in this prestigious group, which includes some of the most successful technology companies in the world,” said Marty Vanderploeg, Chief Executive Officer of Workiva. “We give our employees the freedom and resources they need, and together we are transforming an industry and improving the lives of our global customers, employees and investors.” [ Business Wire ] Bozeman airport sets passenger record in 2018 Growing rapidly, Bozeman Yellowstone International set a passenger record in 2018 for the ninth consecutive year. The airport handled 1,340,857 passengers last year, an 11.8 percent increase from the year before. Annual passengers have almost doubled in the past 10 years and account for about 30 percent of all airline passengers coming in and out of Montana. During 2018, the airport expanded its year-round offerings to include daily, nonstop flights to Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Flights to Denver and Phoenix/Mesa also became year-round flights, and the airport started offering a number of seasonal daily flights. Additionally, the airport also reconstructed its runway, began construction on a new parking garage slated to open in June, and began work on a four-gate terminal concourse expansion. [ Bozeman Daily Chronicle ] Phone co-op Nemont Telephone Cooperative acquires Billings data business Montana’s farthest-reaching phone cooperative is getting into the cloud storage business with its recent purchase of a Billings data firm, Parsec Data Management . Parsec Data Management is full service Tier 3 qualified commercial data center located in the Transtech Center campus in Billings. Nemont Telephone Cooperative ( hiring engineering and customer success positions) in December acquired Parsec Data Management , a move that sets up the Scobey-based cooperative to offer off-site data storage for large customers like banks and eventually cloud storage for small internet customers. Nemont is the farthest-reaching Internet service provider that most people haven’t heard of. The cooperative made news several years ago when tiny Scobey, in the northern corner of the state, was identified as having the fastest Internet speeds in Montana. Over the years, the co-op has expanded into areas unserved or underserved by larger phone and Internet providers. Nemont’s reach stretches to Huntley and Absarokee, as well as northern Wyoming. The cooperative has 22,000 phone line customers and 14,000 Internet customers. [ Billings Gazette ] Frontier Airlines returning to Billings, will resume flights to Denver Frontier Airlines is returning to Billings Logan International Airport and will begin flying nonstop to Denver "starting as low as $39 each way," the airline announced this week. Frontier is expected to begin service in Billings May 30, said Frontier's Jonathon Nield, a senior manager of route planning for the airline. Flights will be on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. [ Montana Standard ] Helena Small Business Summit to offer big ideas for small businesses The Governor's Office of Indian Affairs and the Montana Department of Transportation – Small Business Program are collaborating on a three-day conference to help small businesses interested in “Takin’ Care of Business” at the Tribal Relations Training and Small Business Summit on Feb. 12-14 in Helena. This is an opportunity for all Montana small businesses to learn about everything from business branding to marketing and from cyber security to human resources. On the first day, attendees will receive tribal relations training during which they can experience and learn about Montana's Tribal Nations and become a Partner in Building a Stronger Montana. The training includes topics on How to Conduct Business in Indian Country and keynote speakers on entrepreneurship and government relations. The following two days will be full of inspiration and information. The fee for the tribal relations seminar on Feb. 12 is $75. The fee for the two days of small business seminars is $75. [ Helena Independent Record ] Entrepreneurship in Montana (by the numbers) Montana has a strong entrepreneurial spirit. The state has more entrepreneurs per capita than any other state and a business survival rate (businesses that survive beyond their first five years) that ranks in the top 10. Some 3,400 Montanans start a new business each month, and more than half of those startups are still open five years later. To put it simply, Montana is among the nation’s leaders in entrepreneurship. A recent study on entrepreneurship by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana found some positive signs of success, as well as some weaknesses in what would seem to be a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem. Indicators of success pointed to the fact that Montana creates a high rate of entrepreneurs and many are successful. However, the study also indicated that Montana businesses tend to be small and scale more slowly. Overall, the state of entrepreneurship in Montana is a mixed bag. Recent growth in access to venture capital and business support services suggests that Montana may be on the verge of developing more high growth startups. But getting Montana’s entrepreneurs to succeed in creating high-growth firms with high wage jobs will not be easy. [ Montana Business Quarterly ] Montana tribal firm S&K Technologies Inc. acquires Arizona-based communications tower company S&K Technologies Inc. is a family of five subsidiary companies that support federal and commercial customers. Thursday, the company announced that it had acquired Arizona-based International Towers . S&K Technologies CEO Chad Cottet said in a news release that the acquisition of International Towers opens up new opportunities for the company in the cellular and broadband communications space, tower and broadcast infrastructure, and security markets. International Towers will keep its name and operate as a subsidiary of S&K, with plans to enter the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) development program - a program that assists small businesses whose owners are disadvantaged, S&K said. S&K operates four businesses under its name, offering aerospace maintenance, engineering services, logistics and aircraft sustainment. It also owns Adelos Inc. , a Montana company specializing in fiber-optic sensor systems. The company, owned by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes , is hiring a payroll specialist in St. Ignatius, Montana and a bid and pricing analyst who can work from remote from anywhere. [ Arizona Daily Star ] 28 Native American-owned businesses across Montana to receive grants The Montana Department of Commerce announced on January 17 that $320,000 in grant funds will be awarded through the Indian Equity Fund Small Business Grant to support the growth of 28 Native American-owned businesses across Montana. “The entrepreneurial spirit is strong in Indian Country,” said Jenny Pelej, division administrator for the Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development at Commerce. “As Native American small business owners look toward growth, Commerce is here to help them take the next step.” A full list of recipients can be found here . [ Montana Department of Commerce ] WinCo Foods looking to fill 160 positions in Helena WinCo is nearing completion of its 84,000-square-foot grocery store in Helena, and Montana job openings have been posted for about 160 employees to fill roles ranging from cashier to deli clerk to cart clerk. Different than most grocery stores, WinCo is owned by its employees, meaning every single employee has a stake in the company.  According to WinCo spokesperson Noah Fleisher, “From the people pushing the carts, to the CEO, and everyone in-between, it makes a huge difference when you walk into a store and it makes a huge difference in how you treat customers and view world-class customer service, which we are absolutely known for. This pride of service comes straight from employee-ownership.” As an owner, each employee gets an annual stock gift based on what they make. After six years, an employee is fully vested. The grocery store is holding a hiring event Jan. 28-30 at Job Service Helena. [ Helena Independent Record ] After public input, planning firm unveils Missoula’s growing downtown vision Last week, members of Dover, Kohl & Partners summarized the results of their public outreach campaign, one that saw residents attend workshops and offer input on the future of downtown Missoula. A more diversified transportation grid in the downtown district is most certainly in the future as are taller buildings, “big” public art, more Missoula jobs and more housing. The interest in the district’s future is admittedly high and it comes as the old Downtown Master Plan prepares to sunset. More than 80 percent of the items envisioned in the 2009 plan have come to fruition, including public parking, more downtown lodging and $850 million worth of investment. With Missoula poised for growth, a new plan is needed to continue guiding the district’s evolution. As presented, it includes a focus on housing and retail, better connectivity, parking, urban infill, jobs and public transit. [ Missoula Current ]
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 ]
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