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Latest From the Blog

Montana leads the country in entrepreneurship, UM study says According to a new study by the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research , Montana leads the country in entrepreneurship. The results of the study were shared by Bryce Ward at the Montana Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Economic Update Series, which kicked off this past Thursday, August 2, in Kalispell. Ward found that in 2015, more than 10 percent of Montanans owned a business as their primary job, compared to six percent of Americans. He also found that about 3,400 Montanans start a new business each month, and that more than half of the startups formed in 2011 were still open for business five years later. Ward says this implies a healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem. But unlike elsewhere in the country, startups in Montana tend to stay small. In fact, the average size of a new firm is the lowest nationwide, with an average of three employees, compared to the national average of six. The Montana Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Update Series moved across the state all week hitting Glasgow, Sydney, Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Helena, Great Falls and wrapping up in Missoula. [ Montana PBR ] Innovate Montana Symposium taking place in Billings The Third Annual Innovate Montana Symposium is taking place today (August 9) in downtown Billings. The event, which was created to help Montana’s entrepreneurs grow wages and create top Montana jobs, looks to foster entrepreneurship and build business relationships across our state. An impressive list of speakers and panelists are expected at the event, including angel and venture investors, the former lead of Google Maps, the founder of multiple highly successful outdoor recreation manufacturing businesses, the founder of one of Montana’s top breweries, many other CEOs and c-level executives, and Governor Bullock. [ Innovate Montana Symposium ] DermaXon: Missoula startup receives $99K grant to research med for chronic pain Missoula upstart biotech company DermaXon was recently awarded a grant from the Montana Department of Commerce to help fund more studies and generate data needed to attract investors for a new compound to treat chronic neuropathic pain. The $99,326 grant from the Montana Board of Research and Commercialization Technology (MBRCT) will help finance further research and development of the topical treatment. Data generated by the research will help attract investors and grants from the government. DermaXon founders Fanny Astruc-Diaz and Philippe Diaz can then begin clinical trials for the medication to gain approval by the FDA, allowing sales nationwide. According to the Missoula Economic Partnership , biotech is a developing and thriving industry in Missoula. However, biotech has faced challenges finding a local workforce for the industry. DermaXon recently hired CEO Michelle Huie, who founded VIM & VIGR ( hiring ) in Missoula, as well as a recent University of Montana graduate. The company has said it is happy to be a future employer for those who study biology and chemistry at the University of Montana. [ Missoula Current ] Alchemy Systems (which acquired Wisetail in Bozeman) to sell to Intertek Group for $480 million Alchemy Systems , which acquired Wisetail in Bozeman, has agreed to be acquired by London-based Intertek Group in a $480 million all-cash deal. The Austin company employs about 270 people in four U.S. offices and makes software to monitor and train workforces in the food sector. The deal is expected to close in the third quarter. Intertek's announcement of the buyout, which includes details such as transaction and financial highlights, can be found here . [ Austin Business Journal ] Missoula tech company aimed at tourism industry marks 18-month growth When an upstart Missoula tech company won the Montana Shark Tank pitch competition last year, its founder was happy to take home the $5,000 prize. Now, Evan Tipton, founder and CEO of TOMIS ( hiring ), has set his sights on loftier financial goals. The company plans to launch a bridge to Series A investment round to raise $3 million in capital this year which Tipton says would be to “beef up our product development and implement our data science and customer support team.” In simple terms, TOMIS provides digital marketing assistance for tour operations. The product integrates and analyzes marketing and sales data which is then placed against an algorithm that tells clients in the tourism industry when to act, how to act and how much they’ll make if they follow suit. TOMIS opened its office in downtown Missoula just 18 months ago and has seen tremendous growth in that time with a team of nearly 30 today. A year from now, Tipton said, the company looks to have a new Missoula office, grow to 50 employees and serve as the leading marketing platform in the tours and activities space. [ Missoula Current ] Polson-based Black Mountain Software celebrates 30 years Black Mountain Software , a Polson-based company that creates accounting software for municipalities, counties and school districts in small- to mid-sized towns, is celebrating 30 years in business (and they are also hiring ). President Heather Neff has been with the company for 20 years. She said a lot has changed in the software industry and in their business during that time. And while Polson isn’t necessarily thought of as a hotbed for tech companies, Neff said being located in a town of similar size to those they service makes sense and has been a natural fit. Since its beginning in the early 90s, the company has seen steady growth, adding two to three employees each year to accommodate a client base that expands by 20 to 30. Additionally, Neff said maintaining the qualities that made them attractive as a small-town company despite their growth has been critical to its success - hiring applicants with promising character traits over existing knowledge bases or skill sets because even as technology advances, those traits remain relevant. [ Daily Inter Lake ] With $50K on the line, Missoula tech company Superior Traffic Services hones business plan at accelerator A Missoula tech firm, Superior Traffic Services , participated alongside six other startups from across the state in the inaugural HpyerAccelerator program hosted by Early Stage MT , in which the business received an intense 50-hour program to help enhance their business plans and explore ways to finance their growth. According to Superior Traffic Services CEO, Jeff Hollenback, “We got a lot out of it, and it was really insightful. We went in with a business plan that was pretty conservative. It exceeded my expectations, really.” The company will advance next month as one of the seven companies to compete for a $50,000 equity investment offered by the Frontier Angels fund. [ Missoula Current ] Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital receives national recognition Bozeman Health ( hiring ) recently announced some impressive milestones. Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital was named as a Top 20 Rural & Community Hospitals for 2018 by iVantage and included in Becker’s Hospital Review Top 100 Community Hospital’s List. Further, Bozeman Health president and CEO John Hill has been recognized as a “Rural Hospital CEO to Know” by Becker’s Hospital Review. All are prestigious recognitions. The iVantage Health Analytics’ Hospital Strength INDEX® is the industry’s most comprehensive and objective assessment of rural provider performance. Its results are the basis for many of rural healthcare’s most prominent awards, advocacy efforts, and legislative initiatives. The Top 100 Rural & Community Hospitals play a key role in providing a safety net to communities across America. The INDEX measures these facilities across eight pillars of hospital strength: Inpatient Share Ranking, Outpatient Share Ranking, Cost, Charge, Quality, Outcomes, Patient Perspective, and Financial Stability.  Additionally, CEO John Hill was recognized in Becker’s Hospital Review 50 Rural Hospital CEOs to Know for 2018 , the second consecutive year John has received this recognition. According to Becker’s, the CEOs featured on this list have overcome significant challenges operating rural community and critical access hospitals to lead sustainable and thriving organizations. [ Bozeman Health ] Libby is Montana’s ‘Most Charming Small Town,’ says Reader’s Digest Libby is the most charming small town in Montana, according to Reader’s Digest . The publication from July posted a list outlining “The Most Charming Small Town in Every State.” The paragraph accompanying the Libby entry highlights its view of the Cabinet Mountains and its proximity to outdoor recreation. It also calls out two local businesses “for a local’s experience” — Cabinet Mountain Brewing Company and The Black Board Bistro . Local economic developers see the accolade as both a reaffirmation of and a potential boost to existing efforts to attract people and commerce to the town. The full article can be found online here . [ The Western News ] ClassPass to expand to First Interstate Center, looks to add 40 more high-paying Montana jobs The fast-growing tech company, ClassPass ( hiring in Missoula) recently announced it will be expanding to the fifth floor of the First Interstate Bank building in downtown Missoula and has signed an agreement with Missoula County to create another 40 high-paying Montana jobs in addition to the 70 new jobs it’s already created in Missoula. Almost all of ClassPass’s customers are located outside of Montana, so the employees at the Missoula office bring in new revenue to the local economy. When the company first opened its Missoula office, it originally applied for $345,000 in Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund grant funds to create 45 new Montana jobs. Nicole Rush, the grants administrator for the Missoula Economic Partnership , said the company’s growth has been beyond original expectations. “They have actually already hired more than 70 employees at their Missoula office, so well above the grant target for job creation,” she said. [ Missoulian ] Montana Made: The Oil Barn (in Big Sandy, MT) A business near Big Sandy, Montana, called The Oil Barn has found a number of ways to utilize its product. The Oil Barn has been producing safflower oil since 2011. And according to manager Trevor Wilkerson, what started out as a biodiesel operation soon turned into an opportunity to produce safflower oil for consumption. “That’s when they found a deli that also wanted to use it in their fryers…decided they could turn more of a profit in the fryers but could also reclaim that and reuse it in tractors after they’d clean it," Wilkerson said. It’s now a developed process that benefits both the farming and food industries. While their oil is shipped worldwide, The Oil Barn also gets plenty of business in the Treasure State. They work with Montana State University and the University of Montana and also have their product in a number of grocery stores and delis. Wilkerson says the production of safflower oil has even given the local economy a boost and has the potential to bring more jobs and more industry to Big Sandy. [ KRTV ] MetraPark visitors pumped $151M into Billings economy last year, report shows A new independent study, funded by NorthWestern Energy , shows that MetraPark has a $150.9 million annual impact on the local economy. Rob Gilmore, the CEO of Circle Analytics, which conducted the study, presented his findings to the Yellowstone County Board of Commissioners this week. Gilmore said the $150.9 million figure measures the financial impact provided by only the approximate 296,000 MetraPark visitors that came from outside the area during 2017. Of the $150.9 million, $87.8 million is what Gilmore labeled the gross county product — the sum of labor compensation, capital-type income and indirect business taxes and fees, which amounted to about $10.8 million. Total labor income (i.e. compensation to employees and self-employed proprietors, including retirement benefits and health insurance) was $52.2 million. The number of Montana jobs generated as a result of MetraPark’s operation was 2,023. “We knew that MetraPark is an economic driver in this community and is a huge benefit,” said Patrick Klugman, senior project manager with Big Sky Economic Development , who helped coordinate the reporting involved with the study. [ Billings Gazette ] Montana product, from Missoula-based Reflex Protect, could protect kids from active shooters at schools With the school year around the corner, a Missoula-based start-up, Reflex Protect , is working to get their invention in classrooms across Montana. The company has created a non-lethal product that has said to be more effective than pepper spray when it comes to stopping an active shooter. Reflex Protect CEO Joe Anderson says not only can Reflex Protect help in active shooter situations in schools, they also have a version for hospitals. Providence St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula already keeps some of the spray on hand. Anderson says the hospital version is easier to clean up after being used, so hospitals can quickly clean up and continue caring for patients. He believes the spray is "a good alternative to a loaded handgun in a nightstand drawer." Reflex Protect is in contact with Hellgate Elementary in Missoula and the Polson school district. They say the schools will be test implementing Reflex Protect in August. [ ABC Fox Montana ]  
Taste of Missoula: International tech leaders to converge for diversified summit Hundreds of the world’s top tech leaders will converge in Missoula next week for the second annual “ Quote to Cast: Teaming for Success ,” hosted by Advanced Technology Group (ATG). According to ATG CEO, Tom Stergios, “We work in this space called Quote to Cash, so that’s our little play, getting folks from industry coming to Montana to talk about what’s going on in Quote to Cash. We’re a consulting company, and our clients look to us to help them with technology strategy and implementations.” Stergios expects 160 people to fly in from 31 states and nine countries, including Africa, Australia, Canada, France and Germany. Stergios continued to comment, “It’s a marketing industry event, and the idea is to generate new ideas. These conferences happen all over the world, typically in Las Vegas, San Francisco or Chicago. There’s a few boutique events, but we’re trying to break the mold and do something different.” ATG is also hiring for several positions as it continues to grow. [ Missoula Current ] Access, security and PR set to begin as Missoula’s $67M terminal project nears Missoula airport officials said this week that construction of the city’s new $67 million passenger terminal can’t happen soon enough. According to Brian Ellestad, the airport’s deputy director, “Summer is pushing us over the limit here for this building, so I’m glad we’re going to get started on construction. We need a building fast.” Two federal grants will help fund the cost of the construction, which includes relocating the TSA security checkpoint, extending the terminal access road and laying the utilities needed to feed the new facility. Airport officials are also looking to secure funding from the $1 billion in supplemental appropriations set aside by Congress to help pay for terminal reconstruction plans.  Small and non-hub airports like Missoula are first in line for the funding, so long as they have “shovel-ready projects.” So far this year, more than 173,000 passengers have flown out of Missoula and 178,000 passengers have arrived, both well ahead of last year’s figures. With larger aircrafts and more destinations, it has set new passenger records in each of the past few years, including last year’s record of 772,000 passengers. [ Missoula Current ] UM, Inimmune land $5.4M NIH grant to pursue bacterial fighting vaccine The University of Montana and Inimmune (a Missoula startup) have landed a $5.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop a novel vaccine to fight bacterial infections in patients. The grant, announced Monday, comes four months after Inimmune landed a $176,000 grant from the National Institutes for Allergy and Infectious Diseases to research new drugs aimed at treating and preventing respiratory tract infections. Inimmune conducts research at both the Montana Technology Enterprise Center and the University of Montana’s Center for Translational Medicine. The company was founded by a team of senior researchers in 2016 who formerly operated in Hamilton with GSK Vaccines ( hiring ). [ Missoula Current ] Montana’s manufacturing sector adding Montana jobs faster than rest of the nation, MSU/UM report says As shared with you in our weekly skim of Montana business news last week, according to a new report commissioned by the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center at Montana State University , employment in Montana’s manufacturing economy has grown much faster than in the rest of the United States. The report,  prepared by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana ,  indicates that Montana added 3,500 manufacturing jobs during 2010-2017, an increase of 21 percent vs 8 percent nationwide. The increase, which can be explained partly by an increase in the number of businesses making alcoholic beverages, structural metals and electronic instruments, occurred despite continuing declines in wood and paper products manufacturing across the state. Other significant sectors of Montana’s manufacturing economy include food and furniture products. The 2018 State of Montana Manufacturing report can be found here . [ Montana State University ] Looking for a tech job? Here’s your starter list of Montana’s top employers Recently, the Montana High Tech Business Alliance published a list of Montana’s Top Tech Employers. The list includes 25 companies that focus on services like engineering, software, consulting, information technology and retail. Christina Henderson, executive director of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance (MHTBA), said these companies meet specific criteria to make the list. “These (on the list) tend to be our larger anchor companies – ones that are doing a lot of hiring, tend to have 20 or more employees, and have plans to grow,” she said. The list  profiles each of the 25 employers, which includes  Edulog ( hiring ), Advanced Technology Group ( hiring ), Blackfoot ( hiring ), WGM Group ( hiring ) and others. According to Henderson, the tech industry is growing at a rate nine times the overall Montana economy and is expected to add nearly 1,200 new Montana jobs this year that pay twice the median wage. [ Missoula Current ] Montanans spend nearly $2.9 billion seeing their own state, study shows In a report published last month by the University of Montana’s Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research , it was found that Montanans are a key contributor the state’s travel and tourism industry, spending nearly $2.9 billion on day and overnight trips within the state during 2017. Based on a sample size of more than 10,000 travelers from each Montana county, it was estimated that Montana residents traveled for day trips over 13.5 million times and made slightly more than 4 million overnight trips within the state. Nearly $1.7 billion was spent on day trips, with another $1.2 billion spent on overnight trips. Alex Tyson, executive director of Visit Billings , called in-state travel "critical to Montana's economy. Tourism in Montana and Billings is a catalyst to connect communities and plays a significant role in trade and industry." [ The Missoulian ] Commerce announces nearly $795,000 in grants to fund technology innovation The Montana Department of Commerce announced $794,510 in grants this week. The funds, which are being awarded through the Montana Board of Research and Commercialization Technology (MBRCT), will be awarded to nine research projects in four communities across Montana to encourage innovation, research and high-wage Montana job creation. Companies receiving grant funds to pursue projects include Revibro Optics , Bridger Photonics , Glacigen Materials , Agile Focus Designs , NWB Sensors , all of Bozeman; DermaXon LLC of Missoula; Yellowstone Scientific Instruments of Big Sky; Prime Labs , of Greenough (just east of Missoula), and Renee Reijo Pera of Montana State University . Since 2001, the board has funded $43.6 million into 243 research projects, which in turn have attracted another $398 million in investment. Learn more here . [ Montana Department of Commerce ]. UM Bureau of Business and Economic Research hits the road The  Montana Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring officials from the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research this week as they travel to several cities across the state for a mid-year economic update. According to Director Patrick Barkley, “Bryce Ward will be making the trip to talk about entrepreneurship. He’ll talk about how we’re stacking up against other states and what we are and are not doing well. There will also be some local business people in each location to talk about their own local economies.” The Economic Update Series will start today in Kalispell and make its way across the state ending in Missoula on August 9. [ KGVO.com ] Coal ash cleanup could create more jobs for Colstrip, advocacy group says In a report issued this week titled, "Doing It Right: Colstrip's Bright Future With Cleanup," the Northern Plains Resource Council argues that if Talen Energy , the company responsible for cleaning up the coal ash ponds after the closure of the Colstrip plant, were to drain the ponds, excavate them from the ground and reclaim the land it would create a number of Montana jobs after the power plants close down and make the land more attractive to businesses and industries looking to come to Colstrip in the future. Under Talen’s current plans - which still need state approval - the company plans to simply cap the ponds rather than remove them. Partnering with the Northern Resource Council on the report was the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (Local 1638), which is based in Colstrip. Both groups hope Talen will use local workers and Talen employees in the cleanup efforts rather than contracting with an outside company. [ Billings Gazette ] New positions added to Bozeman Police Department The Bozeman Police Department is adding to its staff , including a second full-time animal control officer, an information specialist and, for the first time, part-time sworn officers. Bozeman Police Deputy Chief Jim Veltkamp said the new positions are an effort to increase staffing for specific duties and to help free up time for things that “should and need to be handled by a patrol officer.” A recent staffing analysis recommended adding positions, both sworn and civilian, to help the department manage Bozeman’s growth. Veltkamp said that the study helped guide the department’s decisions when creating these new positions. [ Bozeman Chronicle ] Is 80 hours enough? Amid opposition, Montana's education board creates new path for teaching coding Amid the ongoing discussion of how to help solve the teacher shortage in the area of computer science, the Montana Board of Public Education approved a new subject-area license for coding earlier this month. The new license, which will be different than the subject-area computer science license that the state already offers, will require teachers who already hold a regular license to complete an additional 80 hours of training to become certified. It’s no question that computer science is a hot field in K-12 education as it is being offered in more and more schools. However, the struggle to find qualified teachers is a significant problem - and one that is often exasperated in Montana’s many small rural schools. According to a 2017 report from Code.org , only two Montana schools offered the Advanced Placement Computer Science course in 2017 and only 13 students took an associated test that gives them a chance to earn college credit. Read more about this topic, the goals behind the new 80-hour licensing endorsement, what some teachers have to say about it and some of the remaining uncertainty and opposition to the new license here . [ Billings Gazette ]  
10 best tech startups in Montana The Tech Tribune staff recently compiled a list of what they considered the best tech startups in Montana based on several factors including but not limited to: revenue potential, leadership team, brand/product traction and competitive landscape. Additionally, all of the companies considered needed to be independent (un-acquired), privately owned, at most 10 years old and have received at least one round of funding. The results include Bozeman-based companies Blackmore Sensors & Analytics ( hiring ); Schedulicity , Quiq ( hiring ), Pulsara ( hiring ), and CrossTx , as well as Missoula-headquartered OnX (which also has offices in Bozeman and is hiring ), Submittable ( hiring ), Orbital Shift and Audience Awards and finally Montana- headquartered Montainer . Find a complete summary of the companies listed here . [ Tech Tribune ] New MSU program prepares students for careers in community banking A new partnership between the Montana banking community and the Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship at Montana State University is working to help meet a demand for well-trained graduates interested in banking careers. The program, which launched in February 2017, has more than a dozen banking organizations participating. Eight students completed internships last summer at banks in Bozeman, Great Falls and Miles City and another eight are currently interning this summer at banks across the state from Kalispell to Florence to Bozeman to Glasgow and beyond. According to Tim Harvey, an instructor in the college of business and an adviser for the program, “Banks throughout Montana have expressed a need for young professionals in many capacities, including financial analysis, commercial and consumer lending, compliance, auditing, accounting, marketing and agricultural lending. The Montana banking industry is healthy, and banks are hiring.” From the students’ perspective, the program is exposing them to a variety of banking career opportunities here in Montana. And from the banks’ perspective, they are gaining access to a pool of trained and experienced candidates who have already experienced community banking and chosen it as their desired career. Future plans for the Community Banking Program include providing ongoing educational and professional development opportunities for Montana bankers to facilitate the long-term sustainability of the banking community and Montana’s economy. There are also plans for enhanced curriculum development focused on community banking, as well as additional guest speakers and industry events. [ Montana State University ] Billings catches on to shared working spaces trend Just this month, two new co-working businesses have launched in Billings. BHive WorkSpace and CoWork Billings join Big Sky Cospace (which opened earlier this summer) in the sudden burst of co-working spaces in the magic city. The three coworking spots in Billings offer high-speed internet, coffee and snacks, group meeting space, designer office furniture and a hip atmosphere. According to Steve Arveschoug, executive director of Big Sky Economic Development (BSED), he is pleased to see the growth and the city catching up with some national trends. For the past year, BSED has been working on creating an entrepreneurial resource center that would offer some of the same services as these smaller co-working spaces in addition to support and mentoring for the startups and small businesses. [ Billings Gazette ] How messaging transforms customer service and support: A visit with Bozeman startup Quiq Bozeman-based startup, Quiq ( hiring ), was recently interviewed by Forbes. While highlighting the company in the interview, Forbes showcased real world examples of how a few of the company’s marquee clients, Office Depot , Jackson Hole and Overstock.com are transforming their customer service through Quiq. According to CEO and Founder, Mike Meyer, what makes Quiq special is that it is focuses on making people’s lives easier. By bringing text to business communication, Quiq makes it as easy to talk with companies as it is with friends. To see an example of the company’s technology in action, visit Office Depot's website by clicking here on your mobile phone and you’ll see a “Text Us” link right next to the phone number at the bottom of the page - which is powered by Quiq and is all you need to contact Office Depot about a product or order. The interview continues on to discuss the competitive landscape, AI and how the company works with investors and partners. Find the full interview here . [ Forbes ] Study: Billings employers looking to hire but struggling to find employees A recent report released by the Billings Workforce Council shows Billings area employers need 2,000 new workers just to keep pace and that 64 percent of area businesses will be adding new employees in the next year. Many of those new hires fall in the medical field. Medical and health services managers, physician assistants, and dental hygienists make the list. There is also high demand for construction jobs like plumbers and pipe fitters. According to Karen Baumgart, director of BillingsWorks, “Attracting talent is now much more than offering a decent salary. Today's workforce is looking for community and amenities that enhance their lives.” [ KTVQ ] Billings' hospitals, public health center, insurance company team up to share patient information to improve care A health information exchange (HIE) pilot project involving St. Vincent Healthcare ( hiring ), Billings Clinic ( hiring ), RiverStone Health ( hiring ) and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana ( hiring ) recently went live and shows promising results. The pilot project has the goal of enabling the organizations to share patient information with each other in efforts to boost the quality of patient care, reduce costs and identify treatment gaps. The pilot project is a result of a statewide HIE feasibility study, which was conducted in 2017 by Montana Medical Association . The newly formed HIE is operating as a nonprofit, Big Sky Care Connect. It currently has 12 board members and is in the process of collecting applications for the 25-member governance board. According to the CEO of the Montana Medical Association, the Billings pilot project could have a ripple effect across the state as the group is working closely with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services to obtain funding to do a strategic business plan for a statewide HIE. This would include, among others, hospitals, clinics, mental health providers, dentists, pharmacies and long-term care facilities. [ Billings Gazette ] Economic development advocates hope to recruit businesses to Butte with site selector tour Earlier this month, an economic development team — consisting of Chief Executive Dave Palmer and officials from Butte-Silver Bow county , the Butte Local Development Corp ., Port of Montana , Butte Chamber of Commerce , Butte’s Tourism Business Improvement District and NorthWestern Energy — gave a days-long tour of the Mining City to four professionals from the Site Selectors Guild , an association of consultants who help companies find locations for an expansion or to set up a new business. The purpose behind the tour, said Kristen Rosa, administrator for Butte’s Montana Connections Business Development Park , is to showcase the community and everything it has to offer to prospective businesses. During the site selectors’ time in the Mining City, they visited with large employers such as NorthWestern Energy ( hiring ), Montana Precision Products ( hiring ), REC Silicon ( hiring ) and more as well as visited the business development park, nearby Port of Montana, and Headframe Spirits ’ ( hiring ) manufacturing facility. They also drove around Uptown Butte to look at different revitalization projects, spoke with small business owners and took a tour of the CryptoWatt LLC mining facility south of Butte. All in all the tour was well received and it was noted Butte has a strong entrepreneurial network, product base and industrial park, but where there is room for improvement is a larger workforce which can be accomplished through recruitment of new individuals to the area as well as training of current residents of the community. [ Montana Standard ] $12M expansion of Helena airport to provide more options for travelers and airlines A $12 million expansion project at Helena Regional Airport is moving forward following a groundbreaking ceremony earlier this month. Slated to finish in 2020, the expansion has been in the works for the past few years to help accommodate the ever-growing number of passengers that come through the Helena airport. In 2018 so far, passenger numbers are up 11 percent over the prior year. The project's costs include a projected $10.7 million for construction and $1.3 million for engineering and architectural fees. Some $6.7 million will come from the FAA Airport Improvement Program, which is funded by small taxes on airline tickets nationwide. The rest of the funds are being provided by the airport itself. [ Independent Record ] Montana’s unemployment rate falls to 3.8% Montana’s unemployment rate dropped again for the second straight month, down to 3.8% for the month of June. The U.S. unemployment rate rose to 4.0% in June. In a press release Governor Bullock said, “Montana’s economy remains strong as we continue to ensure the future well-being of Montana families. The key to this continued economic growth and prosperity is a trained and talented workforce, which we are bolstering through education and workforce initiatives, apprenticeships, and other pathways to good-paying Montana jobs.” KULR8 ] Goertzen: Missoula has a lot to offer for this maker of leather bags Missoula-based Goertzen Adventure Equipment is celebrating 10 years in operation this year. Founder Joe Goertzen attributes the growth partly to keeping classic designs on the shelf, albeit with a little tweaking, and ditching the ideas that didn't take off despite his enthusiasm for them. The company, which primarily offers a line of finely crafted leather bags as well as a line of fly fishing equipment, now ships its products all over the world, while still maintaining popularity at home. Joe said he's pleased to be based in Missoula and hire Missoulians, and he plans to remain a permanent part of the community that's supported the hobby-turned-business. [ Missoulian ] Dan Burrell: A new kind of mining king for Butte Multimillionaire entrepreneur Dan Burrell isn't a copper king, but he is the king of a new kind of Butte mining. Burrell’s interest in copper extends only to the wires that bring him the high-voltage juice he needs to do his kind of mining — the hunt for cryptocurrency. With plans for 124 megawatts of power to pulse into the former MSE campus 5 miles south of Butte, Burrell's CryptoWatt LLC is poised to become the biggest power consumer in the state by the end of the year. It takes 30 to 35 megawatts to power the entire town of Butte. With nearby REC Silicon and Montana Resources (already the two biggest energy users in the state), the addition of CryptoWatt’s 124 megawatts of electricity coursing its way to the Richest Hill on a daily basis will clearly make Butte the most electrified spot in the state. Burrell says the project is good for Butte’s local economy in more ways than one. Hundreds of Montana construction workers are being employed, particularly union electricians. Additionally, the company currently employs 20 full-time employees in security, technical workers, and an executive team and has said it expects to hire around 50 more full-time, permanent workers by the end of the year. [ Montana Standard ] Missoula College launches IT apprenticeship program with local firms Three Missoula College students were signed up to work for IT companies in Missoula this past week as part of the college’s new information technologies apprenticeship program that “will turn heads across the country.” According to Missoula College apprenticeship liaison Dylan Rogness, “This is groundbreaking. There have been very few states that have been able to create a scalable apprenticeship model for the IT sector.” The apprenticeship signing included four local companies, including Allegiance Benefit Plan Management ( hiring ), First Call Computer Solutions ( hiring ), Univision Computers ( hiring ) and Blackfoot ( hiring ). The information technology program at the college provides students with branches into network and cyber security and programming and app development, with emphasis in data modeling, networking, operating systems, PC hardware, customer service and others. Each student completes 144 credit hours over two years and about 2,000 hours in on-the-job training through apprenticeships, where students have an opportunity to come on board as an employee later on. [ Missoula Current ] 2018 State of Montana Manufacturing Report released The 2018 State of Montana Manufacturing report was released this week. The report, written by Paul Polzin, Emeritus Director of the Bureau of Business and Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana , highlights not only how Montana stacks up against the rest of the nation but also provides specific details on how Montana manufacturers are doing - growth rates, employment rates, earnings, etc. With more than 3,000 manufacturers across Montana, it is clear the industry has significant impact on the economic state of Montana. The report backed up this notion as it noted that Montana manufacturers saw a 21.3 percent increase in wage and salary employment since 2010. The national average was only at 8 percent. Additionally, Montana moved from 41st to 32nd for manufacturing as percent of economic base at 27.56 percent in 2015. Additionally, when taking a look at Montana’s worker earnings in basic industries post recession it was clear that manufacturing was a major contributor to Montana’s post-recession economic growth. The report also evaluates the size of manufacturers across the state, concluding that Montana manufacturers are mostly small businesses. There were 643 establishments with one to four workers, representing nearly 50 percent of the 1,291 establishments with employees. Additionally, there were 898 establishments with fewer than 10 workers or about 70% percent of the total. There were no Montana manufacturers with 500 employees or more. But while the U.S. manufacturing employment decreased from 14.7 million workers in 2006 to 13.1 million in 2016, a drop of 10.9 percent, Montana manufacturing employment increased slightly from about 23.400 workers in 2006 to approximately 23,900 workers in 2016, an increase of roughly 2 percent. The report concludes with the outlook on the future of Montana manufacturing and indicates that Montana manufacturers are optimistic about 2018. About 65 percent said they expected 2018 to be better, up from the 55 percent who answered the same question the year prior. Find the complete report here . [ Montana Manufacturing Extension Center ] Milltown cleanup created Montana jobs, boosted economy, Montana official says at conference In an event this past week at the KettleHouse Amphitheater near Missoula, Harley Harris, the supervising attorney for the Montana Department of Justice’s Natural Resource Damage Program , spoke about the benefits of the restoration economy in Montana to a crowd gathered for the National Association of Government Labor Officials conference. During the event, it was shared that the $113 million spent on cleaning up the Milltown area near Missoula is estimated to have resulted in more than 3,500 jobs, according to a 2009 study by the Montana Department of Labor and Industry . That breaks down into 1,240 full-time equivalent restoration jobs through the duration of the project, plus an additional 2,323 full-time equivalent jobs in other industries. The report also noted the indirect benefits such as cleaner land and water, higher property values, more recreation opportunities and the attraction of new businesses like the KettleHouse Amphitheater on the Blackfoot River in the former mill site. [ Missoulian ] Survey: Montana #34 in top states for business survey A recent survey from the financial network CNBC puts Montana at #34 for top states for business with Texas leading the county. With unemployment rates dipping below 4% in June, continued concerns exist over a shallow talent pool that will make it difficult to fill Montana jobs. And this struggle in talent attraction is what landed Montana in the bottom third of the recent survey. Despite the low rank, one financial expert says the state can build on our strengths. “I think Montana is an absolutely great place for business, but Montana needs to pay attention to what’s going on in the rest of the country and the rest of the world,” said Big Sky Economic Development Executive Director Steve Arvschoug. “Communities are investing in themselves. They want to be attractive to talent. We have to be involved in that game, and it’s going to require that we’re strategic in investing in those things that can build our economy and build our talent,” he added. [ KPAX ] Bozeman-based Next Frontier Capital's first exit: Ataata Next Frontier Capital (NFC) recently announced its first exit - Ataata , which was acquired by Mimecast . Ataata is a security awareness training and cyber risk management platform that helps enterprises combat information security breaches caused by employee mistakes. Mimecast, its acquirer, is a $2.5 billion NASDAQ company that provides email and data security solutions. The acquisition will allow customers to measure cyber risk training effectiveness by converting behavior observations into actionable risk metrics for security professionals. As said in a press release by NFC, “A firm's first exit is a big milestone, and we are very grateful to Michael Madon and the entire Ataata team for their vision and execution.” [ Next Frontier Capital ] Company launches pilot program to help prevent invasive species A Montana-based company, AIS Solutions , launched a pilot program this summer that's aimed at stopping the spread of invasive species and also helps the watercraft inspection process. “The pilot program hopes to get boats out on the water in the Flathead Valley quicker while still keeping the inspection process thorough,” said Matt Redding, the AIS Solution vice president. Flathead Valley waters are free of mussels for now, but it is big trouble for fish, recreation and water quality if that changes. AIS Solutions plans to keep invasive species from entering the Columbia River Basin by using GPS tracking. [ NBC Montana ] Bozeman-based Quiq partners with Apple’s Business Chat Apple Business Chat , Apple’s new platform for allowing companies and brands to communicate with customers over iMessage, is expanding and has added new brands as well as new technology platforms including Bozeman-based Quiq ( hiring ). According to Quiq’s CEO, “The things that make text messaging the most popular communication channel with family and friends also make it the preferred medium for customers to engage with companies. Adding support for Apple Business Chat allows connected customers to engage with businesses in a way that is personal, frictionless, and easy using the Messages app on iOS. Companies using Quiq will simply have access to a new messaging channel within the Quiq messaging platform.” [ TechCrunch ] This isn’t a fiber-optical illusion, Harlowton: High-speed Internet updated in central Montana just in time for TicketPrinting.com Harlowton-based TicketPrinting.com knows what rural Montanans have always known — that our communities are filled with qualified, hard-working Americans who can offer a lot to any business and that with access to high-speed Internet, individuals can have access to a variety of job opportunities while still maintaining a rural lifestyle. Maintaining this premise, with 20 employees in Harlowton and 15 more working remotely from their homes in Lewistown, Livingston, Billings, and Twodot, Ticket Printing has expanded to become one of the area’s largest commercial employers. And Ticket Printing depends on the Internet to do business. Customers from around the United States and Canada design and order tickets online for events and venues, and the tickets are then printed, packaged, and shipped from Harlowton. The company has also expanded around the world and now offers other online services, too. And while Ticket Printing and its employees have succeeded with the Internet service offerings that’s been available to them so far, there is a need for faster and more reliable Internet. CEO and founder Lance Trebesch notes that customers’ expectations are increasing, as is the need for the company to handle more files and data. Thus, the company and its employees welcomed the upgrades by Triangle Communications ( hiring ) to provide 257 miles of high-speed, competitive, quality Internet into the Harlowton area. [ Prairie Populist ]  
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