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Economic development advocates hope to recruit businesses to Butte, 10 best Montana tech startups, Missoula College launches IT apprenticeship program, 2018 Montana manufacturing report released, Forbes interviews Bozeman-based Quiq and more

Economic development advocates hope to recruit businesses to Butte, 10 best Montana tech startups, Missoula College launches IT apprenticeship program, 2018 Montana manufacturing report released, Forbes interviews Bozeman-based Quiq and more

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]