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School's...out...for...summer! And, we couldn't be more excited about a sunny forecast this week (note the picture of hail that piled up last Saturday). Get caught up with this week's skim of Montana business news below.   Tech company Figure in Bozeman’s Cannery District grows About a year after opening a Bozeman office, tech company Figure [ hiring ] plans to double its staff in the next year. With offices in San Francisco, Montana and Reno, Nevada, the company focuses on home equity, streamlining and shortening the process of gaining access to equity in homes, said Figure spokesman Otto Pohl. According to Pohl, most of Figure’s software engineers are based in Bozeman and Helena. The company seeks to hire a diverse range of workers, said Nate Lampert, human resources business partner at Figure in Bozeman. Women make up about half of Figure’s executive team and 20% of its Bozeman staff. Ten percent of its workers are also veterans, including Lampert, he said. He anticipates adding about 14 more positions to its Bozeman office in the next year. [ Bozeman Chronicle ] Proposed dairy processing facility east of Great Falls secures $2.3 million bridge loan A proposed cheese manufacturing plant planned for east of Great Falls recently closed on a loan with Great Falls Development Authority (GFDA). Big Sky Cheese , which will primarily process fresh milk supplied by local and regional dairy producers into a variety of cheese products. The loan is the first step in the project that is part of Madison Food Park , the corporation that proposed building an agri-business commercial food park east/southeast of Great Falls in 2017. Brett Doney, GFDA president, said they are excited about the project moving forward. “We are trying to grow and diversify both our food and agricultural processing, which is essentially manufacturing, as well as increase agricultural production in the whole Golden Triangle region, which is our Great Falls trade area,” he said. “This will be a Montana branded product, Big Sky Cheese, so it will help promote Montana.” Doney added Big Sky Cheese hopes to break ground next spring. [ KRTV ] Few state job creation grants go to rural Montana. Here’s why. There aren’t too many businesses adding jobs amid the rural fields of north-central Montana these days, but Big Sandy Organics is doing just that. Headquartered in the 600-person town between Great Falls and Havre, the four-year-old business manufactures the Kracklin’ Kamut-brand wheat snack, transforming locally grown large-kernel kamut wheat into a Montana-made product that’s beginning to find its way into stores nationwide. As the company attempts the leap from one-off arrangements with mom-and-pop stores to contracts with national distributors, it’s getting help from a key state jobs program, the Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund , designed to nurture businesses that can provide Montana workers with stable, well-paid jobs. A $22,500 grant award through the program will help Big Sandy Organics hire an expected three new employees this year. “For a company like us, that’s a major factor,” said General Manager Thomas Dilworth. The small-town company, however, is an anomaly for the job grants program, which is administered by the Montana Department of Commerce . While the 2005 law that created the Big Sky trust calls for the department to “balance” the needs of urban and rural areas, a Montana Free Press analysis of commerce department data finds that rural counties, home to a third of Montana residents, have received only 16 percent of the $26 million in Montana job creation grants awarded over the program’s history. And five of Montana’s urban areas — Bozeman, Billings, Missoula, Kalispell, and Helena — accounted for 70 percent of the state’s net job creation between 2001 and 2016 . The fundamental challenge, economic developers say, is that it’s easier for government programs to fan job-creation flames where the economy is already running full blast than it is to coax embers to life in places that have, in many cases, struggled with employment declines in timber, mining and agriculture for decades. “What we can do here is focus on outreach and focus on supporting capacity,” said Rice, whom Bullock appointed to lead the commerce department in February. “Going into this summer, it is a big priority for us to do a push in rural areas. [ Missoula Current ] Montana women's cowboy boot business, Canty Boots, gets international attention As many Montanans know, cowboy boots can tell a unique story about your life, your family and where you come from. Nikki Edmundson, of Harrison, Montana, has created a successful business giving old boots new lives with her business, Canty Boots . From this small town, she ships her high-fashion designs to an international audience, most recently Australia. Ranging from classic to extravagant, every pair of refashioned leather boots speaks for themselves. “We’ll take a Tony Lama boot and give it a Lucchese bottom,” she said. “And we play with patterns and colors. We’re using so many elements, different boot tops and bottoms, plus belts and braids and leather. Edmundson is also proud to represent the Last Best Place in a world of fashion that often focuses somewhere else. “I think a lot of people think you have to be in LA, or you have to be in those hot spots,” she said. “It just goes to show you can stay where you are and still make your dream come true. We’ve planted our roots here, and we’re gonna stay and just continue the dream.” [ KXLH ] Helena-based SoFi brings high tech to high altitude Five years ago, a fast-growing personal finance company, SoFi [ hiring ], expanded from the ocean breeze of California to the mountain air of Montana, bringing a wealth of high-tech jobs to a workforce of talented software engineers ready for a new opportunity. Today, 140 staff in Helena form a large core of the company’s engineering department, which continues to grow. According to VP of Engineering, David Thompson, some of the company’s best recruits come from Montana’s university system, which Thompson said produces “fantastic” engineers, while others come from outside of the state, easily attracted by Montana’s outdoor recreation opportunities and work-life balance. Thompson said the distance from the other offices is a lot shorter with modern technology and ever-growing air infrastructure. According to Thompson, everyone at SoFi marches to the beat of the same drum but with enough freedom to create their own subcultures too. [ Choose Montana ] Film industry insiders say new tax credit will boost jobs, bring big productions to Montana A group of film industry professionals in Montana and a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers have succeeded in an effort to create a competitive tax incentive to lure film and television productions to Montana. The bill provides a 20% production expenditure transferable tax credit, with additional add-on incentives that can increase the credit to a maximum of 35% of the total production investment. Proponents say the new law will create employment opportunities for people like drivers, horse-wranglers, hairdressers and carpenters while opening up opportunities for artists, filmmakers and producers in the state. Missoula-based filmmaker Lynn-Wood Fields  said, “The reason this had such bipartisan support is it’s really important for our economy. Film and productions ripple the money out to the hotel industry, rental cars, food and taverns, etc. It also creates many good-paying blue-collar jobs from builders to drivers to caterers." Fields and other industry insiders like Steve Grover of Montana Studios and line producer/production manager Chris Cronyn all believe lots of significant productions will now begin shooting in Montana. [ Missoulian ] Women’s coworking space to open in Bozeman’s Cannery District When Christina Calabrese heard about a women’s coworking space opening in New York City, she said she felt homesick for the city for the first time since moving to Montana. “It seemed like such a valuable way of getting people together,” she said. Calabrese, who works in real estate in Big Sky, said she has missed the networking and relationship-building opportunities more prevalent in bigger cities. After talking to more women, she found others felt the same way and decided to found a women’s coworking space in the Cannery District with her partner, Amanda Diehl. After doing research, the two women saw a need. There are more than 1,900 women-owned businesses in Bozeman, according to the 2012 Survey of Business Owners, and more than 10,000 working women, according to the 2011-2015 American Community Survey Population Estimate. Called Sky Oro , the coworking space will be for remote workers, entrepreneurs, and small business owners. Working professionals and stay-at-home moms alike can sign up to be members and attend the multiple monthly events it will put on. We personally know these two awesome boss ladies and are so excited to see them launch and grow Sky Oro in our local community! [ Bozeman Chronicle ] Billings hydroponic farms, one using fish 'waste' as fertilizer, allow fresh greens to be harvested year-round Veronaka Evenson of Billings-based Swanky Roots and other upstart farmers wanted to change how local greens are grown and sold in Montana and are making strides in providing organically grown produce that is healthier than imported produce and is also capable of being harvested fresh year-round. Using the growing technique hydroponics, produce is cultivated completely through water rather than soil. Nutrients are added to the water using decomposed food waste like discarded egg shells and vegetable peelings. Both businesses believe this is only the beginning for sustainable crops in Montana. Through groups like Northern Plains Sustainable Ag Society and Yellowstone Valley Food Hub business can pull resources from local farms and businesses for widespread distribution. Additionally, business service provider 406 Market works with several farms to create connections between distributors, manufacturers and consumers. Billings-based Swift Microgreens co-founder Jessica Hart pointed out how these partnerships, along with new business ventures, are opening the door for future avenues of sustainable production. These emerging businesses are still relatively young and are met with unique challenges such as a greater need for electrical power and a slower process for maintenance. Both greenhouses alluded to other approaches such as biodigestion, anaerobic digestion and regenerative agriculture as solutions in the future. But, these small-scale operations are thinking big ideas in the future. [ Billings Gazette ] Next Frontier Capital announces successful final close of fund II with $38m in LP commitments and 11 of its 12 investments are top Montana employers With 12 investments to date, Next Frontier Capital (NFC) recently announced the successful final close of its Venture Fund II with $38m in LP Subscriptions. Will Price, Founder and Managing Partner, noted, "The final close enables us to continue to execute on our mission to invest in companies of impact, utility, and value. With the final close complete, we turn our attention to a healthy pipeline of Fund II prospective investments, while maintaining focus on building value across our ten Fund I companies and our two Fund II investments to date, Ataata and onXMaps ( hiring ). We are humbled by the LP’s vote of confidence, which we attribute to the value our founders and management teams are creating." Les Craig, General Partner, noted that “the influx of capital, totaling $92m into our companies to date, is making it possible for Montana founders to build, fund, and scale industry leading companies that are competing on a national stage." In addition to Fund II’s investments to date, Fund I’s portfolio includes SiteOne Therapeutics , Submittable ( hiring ), Clearas , Quiq ( hiring on The Work Spot ), Orbital Shift ( hiring ), IronCore Labs ( hiring ), Phoenix Labs ( hiring ), Blackmore Sensors ( hiring ), OppSource , and Remix Labs . Eleven of the twelve NFC investments are top employers in Montana. “The job creation and economic catalyst that Next Frontier Capital has provided for Montana continues to demonstrate how much needed risk capital can drive innovation and growth in our tech sectors,” said Stan Abel, President and Chief Executive Officer of SiteOne Therapeutics and Chairman of the Montana Bioscience Alliance . The diverse portfolio of the firm demonstrates the excellent investment opportunities in Montana. [ Next Frontier Capital ] Montana organization HRDC awarded $500K for tiny home village Bozeman-based Human Resource Development Council ( hiring ) has been awarded a $500,000 contract to develop a village of 200-square-foot homes for people who are homeless. Fannie Mae announced recently that Bozeman’s HRDC was among the five winners in a competition looking for innovative proposals addressing affordable housing and health. The council has announced, more than two years ago, the goal of building a tiny home village in Bozeman that would offer stable housing as well as job and health services. Community Development Director Tracy Menuez says the council aims to have something on the ground by the last quarter of the contract's two-year deadline. [ The Virginian Pilot ] U.S. Small Business Administration opens its first satellite office in Billings By teaming up, officials from two federal departments hope their small business support programs can reach the farthest flung corners of Eastern Montana. The U.S. Small Business Administration has partnered with the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture to open a satellite office in Billings to serve entrepreneurs and small business owners in Billings and across Eastern Montana. [ Billings Gazette ] Fresh off a $530M round, Aurora acquires Bozeman-based lidar startup Blackmore Late last month, Aurora , the self-driving car startup backed by Sequoia Capital and Amazon , acquired the Bozeman-based lidar company Blackmore ( hiring ). The Blackmore purchase follows another smaller, and previously unknown, acquisition of 7D Labs that occurred earlier this year. Aurora’s larger Blackmore acquisition comes on the heels of its $530 million Series B funding round led by Sequoia Capital and “significant investment” from Amazon and T. Rowe Price Associates. Aurora did not disclose the terms of the deal. Blackmore, which has 70 employees was a seeming oddball choice amongst the Silicon Valley scene, but in the world of autonomous vehicles (and in military circles), Blackmore is well-known and has been considered an acquisition target for some time. Two funding rounds in 2016 and 2018 that brought in backers like BMW i Ventures and Toyota AI Ventures raised Blackmore’s profile. (The company has raised $21.5 million). Cruise, GM’s self-driving unit, was looking at the company last year, according to two sources familiar with the discussions. But it’s the company’s tech, which has been under development for nearly a decade, that got Aurora CEO Chris Urmson’s attention. Blackmore is one of the few companies developing Frequency Modulated Continuous Wave (FMCW) lidar. That kind of consolidation will likely continue, Blackmore CEO Reibel predicted, in part because it’s challenging for lidar companies to “go it alone.” The acquisition of Blackmore is just one example in the past two years of lidar startups either announcing large equity and debt rounds or being snapped up by companies developing autonomous vehicle technology. [ TechCrunch ] National Geographic names the Reserve a Last Wild Place National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration since 1888, investing in bold people and transformative ideas to increase understanding of our world and generate solutions for a healthy, more sustainable future for generations to come. National Geographic’s ultimate vision is a planet in balance. To help move toward that goal, National Geographic has launched a decade-long initiative to help protect the last wild places on our planet. To ensure that the natural resources that sustain life on Earth are protected in perpetuity, National Geographic is partnering with leading conservation organizations that have proven track records in securing large landscapes and have made lifelong commitments to protecting specific regions of the world. As a partner in National Geographic’s Last Wild Places initiative, American Prairie Reserve ( hiring on The Work Spot) and National Geographic are working to capture best practices; amplify the scale of conservation efforts like these; and jointly develop and share tools, technology, and training that will greatly increase impact in the broader conservation sector. [ American Prairie Reserve ] St. Pat's Hospital announces plans for new 'multi-million' dollar medical office building in Missoula St. Patrick Hospital, operated by Providence Health and Services Montana ( hiring ), announced this week that it will break ground this fall on a new medical office building near downtown Missoula. According to Providence Montana chief executive Joyce Dombrouski, “With patient demand outpacing our capacity, expanding our footprint at Providence St. Pat’s downtown Missoula campus will enable us to continue to provide quality care to enhance access and meet the needs of Western Montana residents.” Dombrouski also sits on the board of the Missoula Economic Partnership and said the new building might spur more investment in the area. She said the new building sends a signal to potential employers in Missoula that the healthcare industry is strong here, which helps attract talented employees. And while she doesn't expect Providence to add any full-time employees as a result of the new building, she said it will provide temporary Montana construction jobs and increase the hospital's capacity for seeing patients. [ Missoulian ]
Rain or shine (and it's looking more like rain than shine in Montana...sigh), the Memorial Day weekend is almost here! Get informed on what's happening across the state before heading into the weekend with this week's skim of Montana business news below. Figure Technologies in Helena luring engineers to Montana Figure Technologies ( hiring ), a San Francisco-based startup with offices in Helena and Bozeman, has been turning heads and is drawing the tech eye to Montana, much the same way the co-founder’s first company, SoFi (also hiring ), did. While SoFi is focused on student loans, Figure is focused on home equity. The company sells products that allow customers quick, low-cost access to the equity in their homes, including a home equity line of credit and a home purchase/leaseback offering. The company was founded last year by former SoFi co-founder and CEO Mike Cagney. It launched its Helena office in February 2018 and its Bozeman office in May 2018. There are 36 engineers working in Montana and about 43 total staff, 25 in Helena and 18 in Bozeman. Not to mention, hiring still is underway. Nate Lampert, who leads people operations for Figure in Helena and Bozeman, said luring people to Montana can be a challenge, but that the company is dedicated to remaining here because of the “tech ecosystem” that has grown in Montana over the last 10 to 15 years. “Our focus is to hire people who live and work in Montana,” he said. [ Independent Record ] Kalispell-based ClassOne Technology recognized for export success Montana Department of Commerce Director Tara Rice visited ClassOne Technology’s plant in Evergreen, Montana, last week for a ceremony recognizing the company as the state’s 2018 Exporter of the Year. ClassOne ( hiring ) designs, builds, tests and ships production equipment used to manufacture microchips. The company shipped $6 million in semiconductor equipment outside the United States in 2018, and has already surpassed that figure in exports before the year is half through. “It’s a testament to this team,” CEO, Bryon Exarcos said. “This is one of the best engineering teams in the U.S. This couldn’t have happened to a better group of people.” Exports are an increasing source of revenue for ClassOne Technology. In 2016, the company took in $2.2 million from foreign sales, with $3.5 million in 2017 and $6 million in 2018. During those two years, ClassOne also grew from 45 to 75 employees in Kalispell. Exarcos said he expects ClassOne Technology, a sister company to Atlanta-based ClassOne Equipment , to cross $20 million in revenue this year, with 40 to 50 percent of that coming from exports. [ Daily Interlake ] Governor Bullock announces economic development grants to help businesses create nearly 200 Montana jobs Governor Steve Bullock announced this week more than $1.3 million in economic development grant awards that will support the creation of up to 195 Montana jobs at growing businesses in Montana. “When our businesses thrive, our communities and the hard-working Montanans who live and work there have new opportunities to grow as well,” said Governor Bullock. “These grants will invest in Montana’s economy by growing businesses and the jobs that support those businesses.” Funds will be awarded through two programs at the Montana Department of Commerce : the Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund (BSTF) and the Primary Sector Workforce Training Grant (WTG) . The competitive reimbursement grant programs work in concert to create and train for good-paying jobs. Since 2013, BSTF has assisted more than 340 businesses and supported the creation of more than 2,500 Montana jobs. The WTG program has assisted nearly 40 businesses to train more than 1,000 employees over that same time. Grant recipients include SoClean, Montana Precision Products ( hiring ), LumenAd ( hiring ), Swarming Technology , Advanced Technology Group ( hiring ) and PatientOne . [ Montana Department of Commerce ] XY Planning Network and Advanced Electronic Design named on the Inc. Magazine’s Best Workplaces of 2019 Bozeman-based financial services company XY Planning Network (XYPN) ( hiring ) and Advanced Electronic Design have been named on Inc. magazine’s Best Workplaces for 2019 . This list is the result of a wide-ranging and comprehensive measurement of private US companies that have created exceptional workplaces through vibrant cultures, deep employee engagement, and stellar benefits. Collecting data on nearly 2,000 submissions, Inc. singled out 346 finalists, including just two Montana-based companies. Other accolades for the companies include XY Planning Network’s ranking of the 168th fastest-growing private company in the US by Inc. and #1 in the state of Montana in 2018. According to XYPN co-founder and CEO Alan Moore, rapid expansion continues."Our goal has always been to create a place where people want to come to work. Our vision was a place where team members have a meaningful impact on the lives of others while having the flexibility to live their own great lives.” [ Inc .] Mesa Moving and Storage expands to Montana, acquires Mergenthaler's moving and hauling business Mesa Moving and Storage , a privately-held, US-based provider of moving, transportation, and logistics services, announced recently that it has acquired the moving business operations of fellow UniGroup agent, Mergenthaler Transfer and Storage . Under the terms of the agreement, Mesa will acquire the Mergenthaler household goods hauling business and their moving business, including location-based assets in Bozeman, Helena, and Whitefish, as well as Salt Lake City, Utah. The Mergenthaler offices in Montana will continue providing premier quality moving services, staffed by the same local management and teams who live in Bozeman, Helena, Kalispell and Whitefish areas in Montana. The Montana branches join Mesa's current offices located in Salt Lake City, UT, Boise, ID, Denver, CO, and Grand Junction, CO. Mergenthaler's Salt Lake City business operations will be merged into Mesa's Salt Lake City branch location. [ YahooFinance ] Missoula's Goodworks Ventures launches Evergreen to retain small businesses With a generational shift taking place across Montana’s community of small businesses, some will transition to new ownership but most will not. Those that don’t could simply vanish from the landscape. Goodworks Ventures of Missoula has quietly launched a new effort to purchase stable, profitable companies and help them grow under new leadership. In coming years, Goodworks Evergreen, as the program is known, could lead to a perpetual holding company open to investors who find value in transitioning small businesses to community ownership. “Our goal is to be a perpetual holding company we can make publicly accessible through a stock or a bond,” said Kiah Hochstetler with Goodworks Evergreen. “We’re probably five years down the road from that. But really, what we’re looking to do is build this community capital of community-owned businesses.” Goodworks Evergreen is currently working to purchase a Missoula business, and it hopes to have one more deal secured by the end of the year. That would bring its business holdings to three, though it looks to grow that number over time. [ Missoula Current ] Missoula and Great Falls named 9th and 11th on 2019 Best Small City for Small Business List A new report says two Montana cities are among the best small cities in the country to start a small business. studied 300 cities, focusing on small cities that weren't towns. The population of a city must fall between 50,000 and 75,000 people to be considered a “small city," according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The report, called 2019 Best Small Cities to Start a Small Business, then ranked the business-friendly bona fides of cities based on population, education, travel time to work, income per capita, broadband access, loans per capita, taxes and non-farm business. Missoula was 9th and Great Falls was the 11th best place to start a small business, according to the report. [ Great Falls Tribune ] Early Stage Montana names 7 regional tech company winners for summer 2019 Early Stage Montana , a nonprofit organization dedicated to accelerating the growth of the tech ecosystem in Montana, is pleased to announce the winners of three Regional Showcase Competitions held early this month in Missoula, Bozeman, and Billings. Dozens of entrepreneurs from around the state submitted applications for the competition, and each business was assigned a score by a group of experienced judges. Seventeen of the highest scoring companies were chosen to present their business plans in front of an audience and to a panel of judges who scored them on dimensions such as the size of the opportunity, the quality of the solution, leadership potential, and the likelihood of creating Montana jobs. The results are in, and seven finalist companies are moving on to attend the 2019 Early Stage Montana HyperAccelerator program. The regional winners are: DRIMS , Charmed , Vision Aerial , Tadpull , DugalHealth , and RavenCSI . There was also one company, MyShippingPost ,  selected as a “wild card” entrant. As a next step, Early Stage Montana is providing these companies with a free, week-long intensive training program called “HyperAcclerator” from June 3-7, 2019. Finally, on November 7, 2019 in Missoula, ten finalist companies will gather at the 2nd annual Early Stage MT Statewide Showcase to compete for a $50,000 investment provided by Frontier Angels. The Statewide Showcase is a celebration of Montana’s tech ecosystem. Entrepreneurs, mentors, investors, and community leaders join together with distinguished guests from all over the Western US in helping these companies accelerate their pathways to growth and job creation within our communities. More information on ticketing and location for The Statewide Showcase coming soon. According to Pat LaPointe, managing director of Frontier Angels and Board Chairman of Early Stage Montana, “Because of the training and visibility they got from participating in Early Stage MT, last year’s top 7 companies went on to raise over $6M in growth capital so far and have already created over 20 jobs in our ecosystem. We have equally high expectations for this group and more, given that we’re expanding to accommodate more companies this year.” [ Early Stage Montana ] Hemp economy brings jobs, investment to Missoula Since passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp is legal to grow again. Its various byproducts are big business, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars annually. And now Missoula’s Blue Marble Biomaterials is part of the hemp economy. It has changed its name to Socati Montana after Socati , an Oregon-based company specializing in hemp genetics, acquired Blue Marble earlier this spring. According to Socati Montana’s general manager James Stephens, who until recently was Blue Marble’s CEO, "I think it’s a really good thing for Missoula and Montana because Socati’s going to do hefty investments not only in staff, but in improvements to this facility to make it best in class, a globally recognized facility.” Stephens says the Missoula plant plans to hire up to 40 additional staff over the next 3 to 5 months. That’s up from 11 employees most recently. When upgrades and expansions are complete by fall, the company says it will be capable of processing about 10 tons of hemp feedstock per working day. [ Montana Public Radio ] Prospera Women’s Business Center in Bozeman wins national award Starting a small business is hard, but the Prospera Women’s Business Center in Bozeman just won an award for making it a little easier. That work was recognized with a national award from the Small Business Association. Suzi Berget White, Director of the Women’s Business Center, says problems with starting a new business is often times little things like not knowing how to read a financial spreadsheet or proper funding. So with the help of the education they provide, the goal is that your business is around longer than a year. White says she loves walking down Main Street and knowing she had a small hand in helping people with the shops she sees and that this award is extremely validating. [ ABCFox Montana ] New study shows 9,916 Montana jobs linked to strong beer industry A new economic impact study shows America's beer industry contributes $1.3 billion annually to Montana's economy and supports 9,916 jobs in the state. Jointly commissioned by the National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA) and the Beer Institute , the study shows that the 9,916 jobs impacted by the beer industry in Montana account for $352 million each year in wages and benefits. The industry also generates $161 million annually in business, personal and consumption taxes. The beer industry is made up of three distinct partners that work together to get beer to customers: brewers and importers, independent beer distributors and licensed retailers. [ YahooFinance ] Windrift Hill (Conrad), Agile Focus Designs (Bozeman), Wild Blume (Bozeman) winners of $15,000 in grants from Prospera's Montana Women’s Business Center The Montana Women’s Business Center at Prospera recently awarded three women-owned businesses grants totaling up to $15,000. The Montana Women’s Business Center said it received more than 70 applications for their inaugural grant cycle. Along with standard business details, the grant application required each applicant to share their story of how they plan to give back to the community. The first place winner was Windrift Hill , which is based in Conrad, Montana, and sells handmade goat milk soap, lotion, and body butter (along with other body care products), using farm fresh goat milk from their herd of Nubian goats. The second place winner was Bozeman-based Agile Focus Designs which provides accurate, agile, and user-friendly tools for microscopists in manufacturing, science, and healthcare. And third place was Bozeman-basd Wild Blume, a floral design studio that specializes in weddings, events and workshops inspired by the details of the wild places. [ ABCFox Montana ] Big Sky Economic Development aiming to buy downtown Montana National Bank building in Billings Big Sky Economic Development (BSED) is hoping to purchase the downtown Montana National Bank building in BIllings as its new home — but the deal isn't done yet. The group still needs to secure a federal grant for half of the roughly $4 million purchase price and remodel costs. But it already got a big boost from the building's current owners, Zoot Enterprises ( hiring ), who knocked $750,000 of the purchase price of the building, effectively donating the amount to BSED. The group was looking for a new home in part to find more space for its new entrepreneur center, Rock 31. The center will have some specialized equipment, like 3D printers, but will be more of a collaborative space, rather than a manufacturing space. “This is an exciting first step in moving our organization to a location designed for entrepreneurs, current business owners and community stakeholders to engage with our talented and experienced economic development team," said Big Sky Economic Development executive director Steve Arveschoug in a press release. [ Billings Gazette ]
Apparently warmer days are just around the corner! Jump into the upcoming Mother's Day weekend with a huge appreciation for all the amazing, influential moms out there...and while also taking a quick minute to scan this week's skim of Montana business news below.  All 26 students graduate from new UM program with jobs at Missoula’s ATG Cognizant’s Advanced Technology Group hired 26 students who graduated from the company’s first class in a new specialized training program at the University of Montana last week (and still is hiring !). The program, called All-In Missoula, trains students in business essentials, consulting, systems analysis and design, data analytics and more. The goal is to prepare students, with the help of UM, to work for companies like ATG and Cognizant. University of Montana president Seth Bodnar and ATG senior vice president of strategy and corporate development Tom Stergios planned the program in a matter of months, and are happy to have new employees joining the ATG team. The 12-week program at Missoula College pays students a living wage while they train and provides instruction by UM faculty. At the end, participants can interview for possible employment with ATG and Cognizant. The Cognizant ATG Missoula Solution Center employs about 90 employees in Missoula, with plans to expand the workforce to 125. About 175 employees work for ATG across Montana. Using the program to recruit employees is a viable way to provide Missoula with good-paying jobs while growing ATG’s workforce, said Amita Greer, manager of All-In Missoula. The company plans to have four to six cohorts graduate from the program. [ Missoula Current] NorthWestern Energy, Billings reach agreement on largest solar project in Montana NorthWestern Energy ( hiring ) has reached an agreement with a 150-acre Billings solar farm large enough to power 4,900 homes. Meadowlark Solar is expected to come online in 2021. The 20-megawatt project is one of several in the works for the Billings area, but the first to receive an agreement with Montana’s largest monopoly utility. Developer Mark Klein said the project would be built as a Community Renewable Energy Project, or CREP, and as part of a bigger state plan for utilities to get a small percentage of their electricity from renewable energy projects. The cost of the electricity from Meadowlark Solar won’t be revealed for several weeks, but developer Klein said the privately funded $18 million project’s margins are tight, and the rate should be favorable for NorthWestern Energy customers. [ Billings Gazette ] Missoula Economic Partnership expanding focus beyond business attraction Economic development (as expanding businesses and attracting new ones) is still a central mission behind the Missoula Economic Partnership. But, as of late, it goes beyond those two flagship goals. According to Greant Kier, president and CEO of the Missoula Economic Partnership , “We have traditionally talked a lot about jobs and the economy, but fundamentally, I think we’re all in the same work together, and that’s how we give human beings in our community an opportunity to put their efforts and passions into opportunities and challenges that give them meaning in their lives.” And it’s with that focus that the organization is expanding its focus beyond business attraction to tap what Kier sees as the deeper elements of economic development. Among them, the organization looks to serve more as a facilitator between the community and outside opportunities. That includes finding ways to fund community needs and assets by attracting private capital into projects that carry a public benefit. While MEP adjusts its focus to touch on housing and other local challenges, it will continue to work on behalf of businesses, including those looking for state grants to grow their local workforce. [ Missoula Current ] Missoula beekeepers develop app that ‘listens’ to a hive’s health Honeybees can communicate the health of their colony by the frequency of their buzzing, and an app can help translate that to beekeepers thanks to a group of Missoula scientists. The Bee Health Guru smartphone app listens to bee colonies and can report in seconds to a beekeeper whether the hive is well or ailing. The app can even tell if the queen has died, if the hive is infested with Varroa mites, or if the colony is failing. In all, it listens for eight different conditions, using a smartphone’s microphone. Since 2006, 20-40 percent of bee colonies in the United States have suffered “colony collapse.” Therefore, scientists are always looking for a better means of assessing the health of a hive. The new app will also help beekeepers determine what certain issues look like and explain what they are. An online beekeeping community is also built into the system. The group has started a $13,000 30-day Kickstarter campaign to help fund further development, including improving the app’s functionality for different phone types and getting other beekeepers to use the app and report feedback. Using artificial intelligence, the app will learn to listen and adjust with time. [ Missoula Current ] Governor Bullock signs bill to support business growth and entrepreneurship Governor Steve Bullock recently signed into law House Bill 52, one of his priority pieces of legislation which reauthorizes a set of tools that support business growth and entrepreneurship. “The success of Montana’s economy over recent years is not by accident, it’s because of forward-looking policies that support the growth and development of our small businesses and entrepreneurs in every corner of the state,” Governor Bullock said. “The bipartisan reauthorization of these tools will strengthen this legacy for our small businesses and for our economy in the long-term.” Since Governor Bullock’s time in office, the economic development tools reauthorized in HB 52 have leveraged assets of $667.5 million, have helped more than 15,000 small businesses expand their footprint, and have supported more than 12,000 Montana jobs. The economic development tools were originally signed into law by Governor Marc Racicot in 2000 and renewed in 2009. The signing of HB 52 prevents the programs from sunsetting on July 1, 2019. “It’s only appropriate that a bill to continue successful investments in small business growth and good-paying jobs across the state will be signed into law during Economic Development Week,” said Rep. Jim Keane (D-Butte), sponsor of HB 52. “This will allow us to utilize coal revenue for the next 8 years to ensure that Montana's economic development continues long into the future.” [ Montana Department of Commerce] Missoula Economic Partnership: 400 new high-paying Montana jobs could come to Missoula Missoula Economic Partnership grants manager Nicole Rush told City Council members this past week that companies she’s working with in Missoula could create 400 new high-wage Montana jobs over the next year. Rush works with local companies, along with Missoula County and the Montana Department of Commerce, to apply for Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund grants, which partially reimburse businesses for creating good-paying jobs that bring money in from out of state. “Since 2013, we’ve helped 24 companies create 532 jobs in Missoula,” Rush said. “Collectively we’ve received $3.7 million in (grant) support.” “Missoula has secured more of these grants than any other city in Montana,” she said. “We have $2 million in pending applications. The next round of applications have six companies interested in just that round. We think over the next year those companies might create 400 new Missoula jobs." [ Missoulian ]
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