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PHOTO CREDIT: HAZER LIVE Bitter cold. Bitter, not-so-sweet cold. Stay warm out there while we hit record lows across the state...and get caught up with this week's skim of Montana business news below. 2019 best tech startups in Montana The Tech Tribune staff has compiled a list of the very best tech startups in Montana. During the research process, they considered several factors including but not limited to: revenue potential, leadership team, brand/product traction and competitive landscape. Additionally, all companies must be independent (un-acquired), privately owned, at most 10 years old, and have received at least one round of funding to qualify. Startups recognized include Schedulicity ( hiring ), Blackmore ( hiring ), onX ( hiring ), Submittable ( hiring ), Pulsara ( hiring ), Quiq ( hiring ), Ascent Vision , AdvicePay , CrossTx ( hiring ) and The Audience Awards . [ Tech Tribune ] Montana’s Small Business Development Center network supports 500 Montana jobs, launches 58 businesses in 2018 Montana’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) network , headquartered at the Department of Commerce in Helena, recently released its 2018 Annual Report showing it supported the creation or retention of nearly 500 Montana jobs in 2018 through its work to assist small businesses with growth and development. Additionally, the report also found the SBDC network supported Montana entrepreneurs in successfully launching 58 new businesses. “Montana inspires innovation, and entrepreneurs across the state launch or grow businesses every day,” said Daniel Iverson, Department of Commerce communications manager. “For our Small Business Development Centers to support 60 new and hundreds of existing businesses in a single year is a great success to reflect on and further strengthens Montana’s economy.” [ Independent Record ] Simms Fishing Products named the 2018 Montana Manufacturer of the Year Last week, Bozeman-based Simms Fishing Products ( hiring ) was named the 2018 Montana Manufacturer of the Year by the Montana Manufacturing Association (MMA), a subsidiary of the Montana Chamber of Commerce . “We are honored to receive this award and represent our manufacturing community – in Montana and nationally,” said Casey Sheahan, CEO of Simms Fishing Products. “While premium materials and closely guarded construction methods play a large role in the creation of our waders, it’s the people behind them that make them the best waders in the world. Because of our wader makers and our Montana manufacturing facility, we are able to champion careers in manufacturing and be a strong partner in our community.” Additionally, for the first time, the MMA is recognizing two additional companies with Honorable Mention awards: Marks Lumber in Clancy and Ascent Vision Technologies in Belgrade. Marks Lumber has specialty forest products including timbers, rough-sawn boards, circle-sawn flooring and natural wood siding products. Ascent specializes in gyro-stabilized imaging systems and fully integrated solutions for Counter Drone Operations, ISR Missions and defense applications. Marks Lumber rated the highest in environmental excellence and safety, while Ascent scored the highest in market share/growth of the company. [ Montana Chamber of Commerce ] St. Vincent Healthcare named one of Healthgrades 2019 America’s 250 Best Hospitals St. Vincent Healthcare ( hiring ) has received the Healthgrades 2019 America’s 250 Best Hospitals Award . The distinction places St. Vincent Healthcare in the top 5 percent of more than 4,500 hospitals assessed nationwide for its superior clinical performance as measured by Healthgrades, the leading online resource for comprehensive information about physicians and hospitals. According to a press release from St. Vincent Healthcare, in addition to the recognition as one of America’s 250 Best Hospitals, St. Vincent Healthcare was recognized by Healthgrades in 18 other categories, including: America’s 100 Best Hospitals for Spine Surgery, America’s 100 Best Hospitals for Critical Care, Outstanding Patient Experience Award and Nine Five-Star Treatment Awards. [ Billings Gazette ] Gabe Lapito of Strategic Retirement Plans honored in Forbes’ Best-in-State Wealth Advisors List Strategic Retirement Plans , a wealth management firm in Billings, Montana, recently announced that its Owner/Financial Advisor, Gabe E. Lapito, MBA, CPA/PFS, CFP®, AIF® , has been named to Forbes’ Best-in-State Wealth Advisors list for 2019 . According to Lapito, “Every day at Strategic Retirement Plans our team strives to be stewards of our clients’ complete retirement, and to be recognized by the likes of Forbes is a great honor we do not take lightly. We are thrilled to accept this award and use it as motivation to continue our pursuit to provide holistic financial services in a compassionate and professional way every day!” The 2019 ranking of the Forbes’ Best-in-State Wealth Advisors list was developed by SHOOK Research and is based on in-person and telephone due-diligence meetings to evaluate each advisor qualitatively and on a ranking algorithm that includes client retention, industry experience, review of compliance records, firm nominations, and quantitative criteria (including assets under management and revenue generated for their firms). Overall, 30,000 advisors were considered, and 3,500 (11.6 percent of candidates) were recognized. [ Strategic Retirement Plans ] Figure Technologies, Inc. raises $65 million in series B funding to fuel continued lending and blockchain growth Figure Technologies, Inc. ( hiring  in Montana), a leading fintech company in both the home equity and blockchain space, recently announced a $65 million in series B equity funding. This brings Figure's total equity funding to more than $120 million as it starts its second year of operations. Led by RPM Ventures and partners at DST Global , with participation from investors Ribbit Capital, DCM, DCG, Nimble Ventures, Morgan Creek and others, this round of financing will help Figure bolster its product offering and continue to support growth. "We are encouraged by what we've accomplished in our first year, and this investment validates Figure's market potential," said Mike Cagney, co-founder and CEO at Figure. Figure is headquartered in San Francisco but has Montana offices in Helena and Bozeman (where the company is actively hiring top tech talent), as well as Reno, Nevada. [ PR Newswire ] Bozeman airport moving ahead on expansion project The Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport ( hiring ) is moving ahead with plans to add four gates, a third restaurant inside security, more retail stores and space for future expanded outbound baggage handling. The Gallatin County Airport Authority Board approved the expansion last month, saying it would add about 70,000 square feet to the concourse and cost about $27 million, which includes additional passenger boarding bridges and the expanded terminal apron to serve more airplanes. The Bozeman airport is expected to hit a 1.5 million passenger threshold this year, according to the release. The expansion aims to keep up with the traffic. Martel Construction ( hiring ), the company handling the improvements, estimates more than 500 Montana jobs would be created during the project. Construction is expected to begin in late March. The airport estimates that the project will be completed in time for peak summer traffic in 2020. [ Bozeman Daily Chronicle ] New kind of primary care clinic set to open in Billings Cole Whitmoyer, a nurse practitioner in Billings, plans to open the doors of Flex Family Health Direct Primary Care next month. The membership-based clinic, where patients pay a monthly fee, gives them access to unlimited visits, phone access and telemedicine, and reduced prices on labs and imaging. What makes it unique is that Whitmoyer’s clinic will accept no insurance of any kind. Rather, the clinic will charge $59 a month for adults ages 18-64 and $79 for people 65 and older. Parents who are signed up can add a dependent child age two or older for $25. Patients get an unlimited number of visits that can last from 20 to 60 minutes. They also have cell phone and telemedicine access to Whitmoyer, reduced-priced and mail-order prescriptions and reduced or no-cost lab tests. He’s the first direct primary care clinic in Billings. Others have opened in Missoula, Polson and Kalispell and another one is opening up in April in Bozeman. [ Billings Gazette ] Manufacturer (in Victor and Hamilton) wants to keep global footprint in Montana Recently, John Huffman, the general manager of Vesta , a successful manufacturing and shipping operation of medical devices with facilities in the Victor area and in Hamilton, made a presentation to the Hamilton City Council about the difficulties involved in operating a growing business in the valley and how those problems are compounded when the company operates on a global scale. Vesta is a medical device manufacturing business specializing in silicone processing technologies. It offers design and process assistance to some major companies including Johnson & Johnson, Avid and Aeolian Electric. Its facilities in the Victor area and in Hamilton are FDA registered facilities and meet the certification requirements for producing medical devices. Describing the history of the company, Huffman shared that the company had modest beginnings in a 15,000-square-foot facility off Highway 93 near Woodside, then expanded to an additional 8,000-square-foot facility in Hamilton in 2006. In 2011, the company was purchased by Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based Vesta, which was subsequently acquired by Lubrizol (a business owned by Berkshire-Hathaway and headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio).  Today, the company employees 80 people in Montana. Now owned by a global company with manufacturing locations across the U.S. and in Asia and South America, Huffman shared that operations in Montana are facing some difficult obstacles if they want to continue to be a growing asset - the biggest being simply the cost of expanding their facility base here. Huffman shared specific examples of the global company making expansions elsewhere to cut costs. He did so not as a “sob story,” but rather to ask the council “for your continuing support and, in that, to offer ideas and potential solutions regarding infrastructure in Ravalli County.” Huffman further said, “We want to stay here and continue to grow and offer more Montana jobs, but we can see the direction the company is going.” [ Bitterroot Star ] Missoula Marriott receives loan to train new employees for Montana jobs with benefits The new Marriott Hotel in downtown Missoula will receive a $780,000 loan to train workers for jobs plush with benefits and to complete the hotel’s construction. MoFi ( hiring ), a non-bank lender based in Missoula, received funding from the federal Office of Community Services and will award it as a below-market loan to Mercantile Investors LLC. “It leverages federal funds to provide long-lasting, high-quality jobs with benefits and retirement plans,” said Dave Glaser, president of MoFi. “With that comes the opportunity for these individuals to increase wealth, gain self-sufficiency and improve the livelihood of their families and our community.” The hotel’s Bozeman-based developer broke ground in Missoula on the Residence Inn by Marriott in 2017 and is now completing the $41 million project. A soft opening is set for Thursday, March 7, followed by a public opening on the weekend. Project developer Andy Holloran said the new Marriott will employ around 40 people. “The tourist economy is growing in Montana, and we’re very excited to link arms with local employment and job training organizations, and invest in a project that promotes quality, sustainable jobs for Montana workers,” Holloran said. Under the loan, the hotel is expected to fill the majority of its new jobs with those who need them most. The positions will offer comprehensive benefits including health, paid time off and retirement. [ KPAX ] UM gets $730K federal grant to boost rural, tribal economic development Montana's rural and tribal areas struggle to grow their economies at the same pace as urban areas, with federal data showing just five counties accounting for three-quarters of the state's job growth for the first 16 years of this century. In an effort to combat that problem, the University of Montana has recently been awarded a $730,000 federal grant to fund efforts to boost economic development in the state's less-populated areas. The five-year grant comes from the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s 2018 University Center Economic Development Program . The money will be used to fund efforts to help distressed rural and tribal communities by developing sustainable, high-growth entrepreneurial activity. Paul Gladen, the director of Accelerate Montana and the Blackstone LaunchPad at UM , has been chosen to lead a new center created by the grant. The new facility will be called the UM Center for Rural Economic Development. It will be used to “broaden the reach” of Accelerate Montana, which is designed to help state businesses succeed from the idea stage onward. The new center will work with economic development organizations and partners in Montana to perform a needs and asset assessment of service regions, according to Gladen. [ Billings Gazette ] Innovation from local Billings startup Tellerus Corporation promises oil field savings It’s been 12 years in the making, but now a local Billings start-up company stands on the verge of national recognition for their achievement. Tellerus Corporation has been named as a finalist for the 2019 National Association of Corrosion Engineers (NACE) Corrosion Innovation Award - an international competition for an innovation that holds the promise of saving millions of dollars for oilfield production operations. Tellerus, headed by sole proprietor Paul Tarmann, has patented a unique, continuous feed, in-line chemical mixing tool that he has spent years perfecting and testing. The mixer not only reduces chemical usage by 40 to 80 percent but has proven to extend the life of downhole pumps. Much of the past 12 years was necessary to demonstrate that the tool would indeed extend the life of a pump. Pumps with which it is being used for companies in Central Montana have been operating now for more than ten years, proving Tarmann’s forecasts. Tarmann is excited about being nominated for the NACE award and enthusiastically vows to remain a Billings-based company. [ Big Sky Business Journal ] Hardin coal-fired power plant sells to possible cryptocurrency company Hardin’s troubled coal-fired power plant has found a buyer. The Federal Energy and Regulatory Commission approved plans by Rocky Mountain Power to sell the 107 megawatt power plant to Big Horn Datapower Holdings LLC. Little is known about Big Horn Datapower Holdings, which isn’t registered as a corporation in Montana. However, its name suggests it's among the cryptocurrency businesses that were interested in buying the power plant. According to City Council minutes, 50 to 60 Montana jobs could be created in the process. [ Billings Gazette ] Bozeman community-based organization HRDC receives funding through the Citi Foundation and LISC to help train workers for growing job sectors The Citi Foundation and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) today announced new funding through the Bridges to Career Opportunities initiative (Bridges) to help connect unemployed and underemployed people in Bozeman and Livingston to quality Montana jobs in growth industries. Human Resources Development Council of District IX has been awarded $190,000 and technical support to provide services that help Montana job seekers increase their incomes, improve their credit and raise their standards of living. Services include skills training and career development, as well as personal finance coaching, continuing education courses (to strengthen math and reading skills) and resources to help job seekers secure transportation, childcare and housing arrangements, which can be impediments to career mobility. "Getting our local workforce properly trained and supported in their efforts to advance their own lives and careers is one of the most important things we can do for our communities," said Brit Fontenot, the director of economic development for the City of Bozeman , who said education and workforce development are among the pillars of the city's economic development strategy. [ PR Newswire ]
PHOTO CREDIT: DAVID HEBERT PHOTOGRAPHY & DESIGN While welcoming the periodic blue skies and wishing for warmer temps, get caught up with this week's skim of Montana business news below. AdvicePay closes $2M crowdfunded seed extension funding round, launches enterprise version Bozeman-based AdvicePay ( hiring ), a fee-payment-processing platform designed exclusively for financial advisors, announced earlier this year a seed extension funding round of $2 million that bypassed the traditional venture capital investing route to instead be “crowdfunded” from within the advisor community. Proceeds from this innovative funding approach will be used to power AdvicePay’s growth plans, including the launch of a new enterprise version to meet strong demand from the hybrid independent broker-dealer and large RIA marketplaces. AdvicePay Enterprise, built over the past four months from AdvicePay’s seed extension funding, includes expanded features, functionality, and dedicated tools built specifically for organizations that support large numbers of advisors and must manage key oversight and compliance protocols. According to co-founder and company CEO, Alan Moore, “The interest for an Enterprise version of AdvicePay to meet the specialized needs of larger organizations serving advisors has been tremendous. Firms have been looking for a solution to support a fee-for-service model that is compliant and relieves them of the operational nightmares of manual processes for handing a high volume of fee payments. As a result, we are working with some of the largest organizations in the industry, with several in the onboarding process and a very robust pipeline.” [ AdvicePay ] International awards highlight MSU's role in Bozeman photonics growth Recently, the who's who of laser makers and others in the photonics industry gathered for an international awards ceremony that has been called the "Photonics Oscars." It was a reunion of sorts for alumni of a Montana State University lab that helped launch their careers. The four engineering and physics graduates who once worked in MSU's Spectrum Lab gathered in San Francisco earlier this month as finalists at the 2019 Prism Awards for Photonics Innovation . They ended up taking home two of the 10 awards. Bozeman-based Blackmore Sensors and Analytics ( hiring ) won the Prism award in the transportation category. And, a second company with an MSU connection, Colorado-based Double Helix Optics , won in the diagnostics and therapeutics category. MSU Spectrum Lab director Randy Babbitt, said he agrees and is proud of MSU’s role in the remarkable growth of Bozeman’s photonics industry. There are now more than 30 optics companies in Bozeman, employing a total of at least 800 high-tech workers. [ Montana State University ] Bozeman-based West Paw named "Top Impact Company" Bozeman-headquartered West Paw ( hiring ), top manufacturer of eco-friendly pet products, has been named one of the inaugural winners of “100 Top Impact Companies,” which was ranked by Real Leaders magazine , Big Path Capital and B Lab . The ranking is based on the formula for force, that is mass times acceleration: Three-year growth rate (acceleration) plus Revenue (mass) plus B Impact assessment score equals “A Company’s Force for Good score.” In response to the recognition, West Paw owner and president Spencer Williams said “the company cares and gives 100 percent, which makes me give 110 percent back to the company. The people are the best.” [ Pet Product News ] Big Sandy Organics looks to go worldwide A Big Sandy owned and operated business that started five years ago is nearly doubling its workforce and looking to start selling products all across the world. A press release last month said that Chouteau County will receive a grant from the Department of Commerce Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund on behalf of Big Sandy Organics LLC . This grant will reimburse Big Sandy Organics up to $22,500 for creating three new Montana jobs. "Grant funds will be used to purchase equipment, machinery, construction materials and for wage reimbursement," the release said. Big Sandy Organics manufactures and sells Kracklin' Kamut Brand Wheat Snacks, an organic snack food made with Kamut grain, a strain of an ancient grain trademarked by Big Sandy Organics founder Bob Quinn. The grant will reimburse them for creating three full-time jobs, which will pay a minimum of $15 an hour. This will double Big Sandy Organics' workforce, which currently has two full-time and three part-time employees. [ Havre Daily News ] Kalispell-based ExcelliMatrix brings big-city software services to Montana Kalispell-based software development company ExcelliMatrix wants Montana businesses to have access to the same technology advantages and tools enjoyed by those in the biggest metropolitan areas. “ExcelliMatrix is in the business of providing our clients with the best possible technology consulting we can, for their specific situation,” said founder Leland Johnson. “And every client has a different situation.” ExcelliMatrix, with three additional offices in Bozeman, India and the Czech Republic, provides e-commerce solutions and enterprise software for businesses that need more than off-the-shelf software but aren’t big enough to have an in-house development team. “It can be their database systems, writing a web app, developing a mobile app — it could be anything that they require when their systems aren’t meeting their growth needs,” Donna Johnson, wife of Leland Johnson, said. [ Daily Inter Lake ] Bozeman economy strongest of cities its size The Bozeman area has the strongest economy for a city with fewer than 50,000 people in the U.S., according to a new national report. Each year, independent research firm POLICOM ranks areas for “economic strength” — the long-term tendency for a place to grow in size and quality. For a second year in a row, Bozeman topped the micropolitan list. “The rankings do not reflect the latest ‘hotspot’ or boom town, but the areas which have the best economic foundation,” William H. Fruth, president of POLICOM, said in a statement. Bozeman’s Director of Economic Development Brit Fontenot said a swelling of Top 10 lists can drown each other out and are typically soon forgotten. But, he said the POLICOM list used information from sources like the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis and reflects something longer lasting. Bozeman still has some big economic hurdles. Fontenot said there are three goals constantly on his mind: creating a foundation for well-paying Bozeman area jobs, attracting qualified people to fill those positions and ensuring workers can afford to live in Bozeman. Bozeman wasn’t the only micropolitan town in Montana to make the list. Kalispell ranked 14th and Helena followed at 49th place. The state’s larger cities came later among metropolitan places evaluated. Among 383 areas, Missoula ranked 75th and Billings landed at 87th. [ Bozeman Daily Chronicle ] Butte business district commits more than $84,000 to local projects, events Butte’s Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID) committed over $84,000 recently to projects that its board members hope will promote tourism and more overnight stays in Butte. The TBID board consists of local hoteliers and collects a $1 assessment for every overnight stay in Butte. The board uses the money to fund events hosted by performing-arts venues, athletic facilities and other types of venues, alongside festivals and other projects anticipated to contribute to visitation. The TBID also funds ad campaigns promoting Butte as a tourist destination, among other types of allocations. You can find a complete listing of the grants here . [ Montana Standard ] Keeping it in Montana: Bozeman bike company designs, engineers and manufactures world-class cycles Despite the weather we’ve had the past few weeks, it’s hard to think of Montana as a bicycle mecca. But, for more than two decades, bicycles have been shipped all over the world from Pursuit Cycles/Strong Frames , a little shop on Bozeman’s downtown Willson Avenue. Owner, Carl Strong, began building bikes while attending Montana State University and now, more than 20 years later, ships frames (both steel and carbon fiber) all over the world. While Strong admits he might be able to do this somewhere else, he won’t for no other reason than he doesn’t want to. According to Strong, “We try to do everything that we possibly can locally. It’s very important to us to be a Bozeman, Montana business.” [ KXLF ] Upstart Missoula digital healthcare company, PatientOne, announces seed funding round An upstart digital health company based in Missoula said Friday it had completed its seed round funding and plans to hire five employees in the next 60 days. PatientOne, Inc. ( hiring ) has developed a platform to improve the surgical episode of care and provide remote patient monitoring services to independent surgeons, surgery centers and hospitals. In a financial statement issued on February 1, the company said the funding round follows its completion of the competitive Boomtown HealthTech Accelerator program last May in Boulder, Colorado, along with Blackfoot Technology’s new C2M innovation lab in Missoula in January. “The company has developed proprietary methods for providing comprehensive patient education, automated notifications, and reminders to keep patients on track, and tools to allow patients and their doctors to stay connected, increasing patient safety and reducing unnecessary hospital readmissions, while improving the doctor’s bottom line,” the firm said in its funding statement. The seed round investment is led by Dundee Venture Capital of Omaha and Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund. Other investors in the round include Next Frontier Capital of Bozeman, Goodworks Venture fund of Missoula and Service Provider Capital of Golden, Colorado. [ Missoula Current ] BIRD Foundation awards Adelos and Israeli-team member grant for Pipeline Disaster Prevention System Polson-based Adelos, Inc. was awarded a grant from the Binational Industrial Research and Development (BIRD) Foundation to promote collaboration between a U.S. company and an Israeli company in various technology fields. Adelos was teamed with Israeli company 4Cast Systems (Petach Tikva, Israel) to develop technology to help detect and prevent pipeline disasters. In addition to providing conditional grants of up to $1 million for approved projects, the Foundation assists by working with companies to identify potential strategic partners and facilitate introductions. [ Adelos, Inc. ] Billings Skyview High School incorporates program to encourage workforce development The Yellowstone Strengths Academy is a new program being brought to Skyview High School to encourage workforce development. The goal of the Yellowstone Strengths Academy is to help prepare students to enter the job market following high school. The Academy has nine classes, including job shadowing and mentoring, that aim to foster networking relationships. The courses, which kicked off on February 19, are free and last about an hour. The instructors will be local industry partners, ranging anywhere from customer service positions to realty. The Yellowstone Strength Academy’s Partners include: Kynexions, The Billings Public Library, The Chamber of Commerce, Century 21 Hometown Brokers, Stockman Bank, First Interstate Bank, Townsquare Media, The Northern Hotel, The Best Western Clock Tower Inn, Altana Federal Credit Union, Explorer’s Academy, Wood’s Powr-Grip, Advanced Care Hospital, and Billings Works/Big Sky Economic Development. [ KTVQ ] Can Do: Helping take start-ups to the next level (featuring Next Frontier Capital's Will Price) Will Price’s motivation for founding Bozeman-based Next Frontier Capital in 2015 is deep-seated: he’s a member of an extended Montana family, and like many, work early in his career sent him far away from the state. By giving tech start-ups the capital they need to stay and create Montana jobs for the next generation of Montanans, Price’s goal is nothing short of a reversal of the Treasure State’s historic brain-drain. Price is upbeat about investing in Montana’s future. “I know people in Montana feel bittersweet about this, but I think Montana is on the map, as a destination for people and talent and capital,” Price says. On this recent podcast episode of " Can Do: Lessons From Savvy Montana Entrepreneurs ," Price and host Arnie Sherman discuss the thinking behind Next Frontier Capital’s 17 investments to date, the challenges regional venture funds face and how start-ups can attract venture capital in today’s marketplace. [ Montana Public Radio ] Hemp oil will be processed in Conrad at new Montana facility Cannabidiol oil, a non-intoxicating hemp plant extract also known as CBD, will be processed from Montana-grown hemp at a new processing facility that will open soon in Conrad by Brendon Hodgson, owner of Kansas City-based Evolution CBD . Evolution CBD’s products include drink mixes, topical serums, gummies, face and muscle creams and lip balm. Hodgson plans to purchase home-grown hemp from Big Sky Hemp LLC, which grows hemp outside of Conrad. Additionally, a second hemp processing facility is in the works in Cascade County. CBD has been touted for its health, pain-relief, anti-seizure and anti-stress related benefits and has since taken off. The Conrad processing facility will be fully operational in a few weeks and could likely end up employing 20 to 30 people according to Hodgson. Evolution CBD has more than 250 of its own franchises and is now considered an industry leader in CBD from industrial hemp.   Great Falls Tribune ]
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 ]
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