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Missoula companies awarded grants to create high-wage Montana jobs, Bozeman ranks #1 for strongest economy, new Yellowstone Area Chamber of Commerce, Butte businesses harness strong outdoor economy to attract new employers and skilled talent...and more


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While braving these freezing cold temps (brrrrrr!), warm up and continue below to get caught up with this week's skim of Montana business news...

Missoula companies awarded state grants to create 46 new high-wage Montana jobs

Three Missoula companies are on track to be awarded a combined $345,000 in state grants to create 46 new, relatively high-paying jobs. The three companies — Submittable (hiring), ALPS (hiring) and Reflex Protect — are all headquartered in Missoula and are receiving Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund (BSTF) Montana job-creation grants from the Montana Department of Commerce. Businesses must pay at least $19.65 per hour to be eligible for the maximum BSTF Job Creation grant award, which is up to $7,500 per full-time job created. The money isn't granted to the companies until the jobs are created. Submittable will get $259,000 to create 35 new Montana jobs over the next year. Michael FitzGerald, a company co-founder and the CEO, said the money would assist with salaries and other employment-related expenses. ALPS has been awarded $45,000 to support the creation of six new Montana jobs. Reflex Protect has been awarded up to $37,500 to support the creation of five new Montana jobs over the next year. According to Montana Department of Commerce spokesperson Daniel Iverson, roughly 340 businesses have used the BTSF grant program to create over 2,500 jobs since 2013. Missoula accounted for roughly 40 percent of the proposed new jobs to be created by the economic development grant awards this round, as a total of $827,300 was given out across the state to create 114 new jobs. [Missoulian]

Brewing Academy at Flathead Valley Community College aims to create jobs for Montanans

Flathead Valley Community College (FVCC) has the only two-year brewing program in the state, and there is no question that the popularity of breweries in the state created this FVCC program. The program covers a variety of chemistry and business classes for aid students in starting a successful career in brewing operations. Graduates from this program are also able to show the fundamental techniques of brewing and beer. FVCC has partnered with local businesses around the state in Whitefish, Missoula, Bozeman and Great Falls to provide mentors and internships to students. Program Director Joe Byers tells us what’s most important is giving back to the community and providing jobs for Montanans. “Finding good, educated help and retention with those employees [are a] big reason for starting this program,” Byers said. “Getting local Montanans who want to stay in Montana and work with the local breweries.” [KPAX.com]

'Recreation is the new mining': Butte area businesses seek to harness power of Montana's strong outdoor economy

It’s no secret that outdoor recreation makes a significant contribution to the Montana economy. In fact, the Treasure State’s outdoor economy is credited with generating $7.1 billion in consumer spending, more than 71,000 Montana jobs, $286 million in state and local taxes and $2.2 billion in wages and salaries for workers each year, according to September report from the Montana Office of Outdoor Recreation. And while economic development officials in Butte, Anaconda and Dillon don’t have localized data showing the precise impact of recreation on area businesses and workers, they agree that it’s already an important driver of growth — and that it will serve a key role in charting future opportunities for investment. According to Joe Willauer, executive director of the Butte Local Development Corp. (BLDC), “Butte is ideally situated among some of Montana’s best outdoor recreation opportunities, including hiking, fishing, skiing, skating and boating.” And that, he says, “Gives us a really cool opportunity to tell the story of what Butte has to offer.” That story, he says, allows him and other economic development officials to tell a new story about Butte to businesses that are looking to relocate or expand. “We want to recruit and retain businesses, and we also want to change the narrative,” Willauer says. “Instead of dwelling on some of the challenges, we want to talk about the good things.” To do so, the BLDC has helped push Butte Elevated, a marketing campaign that touts the Mining City’s “access to thousands of acres of pristine wilderness, spectacular mountain views, affordable living, quality schools, extraordinarily clean water, and an unparalleled quality of life.” The BLDC also recently launched Basecamp Butte, a website with interactive trail maps, an outdoor recreation map and other resources designed to demonstrate the accessibility of local recreation opportunities. Willauer says efforts like these are designed to attract not only businesses but also skilled workers who can help solve “one of the biggest challenges we face in economic development: the area’s limited workforce.” By touting Butte’s benefits during a time when Montana as a whole is “so popular,” Willauer believes officials can attract more of the highly skilled potential employees who can help draw in new Montana employers. [Montana Standard]

Montana company Blackmore stands out in the lidar crowd

Bozeman-based Blackmore (hiring) has spent the past two years refining its technology for use in autonomous vehicles. A technology first developed to assist the U.S. military in spotting enemies sneaking past battlefield perimeters could now soon help self-driving vehicles create detailed portraits of their surroundings. And while Blackmore is hardly alone in that pursuit — industry experts are tracking at least 60 lidar companies — Blackmore stands out for an unconventional approach its founders say results in a key advantage. In addition to providing detailed information on the distance to objects, the company's technology can also measure the velocity of those objects, information that conventional lidar companies usually cannot provide. For autonomous vehicles attempting to make sense of their road environment and plot a course ahead, that insight on the speed of other actors in the space can be critical. [Auto News]

Tech company Cognizant debuts consultant trainee program in Missoula

Missoula’s Advanced Technology Group (ATG) (hiring) recently announced a trainee program opportunity with their new parent company, Cognizant. Consultant trainees will complete a 12-week specialized training program with areas of focus in Business Essentials, Consulting, Systems Analysis and Design, Data Analytics, Project Management, Information Infrastructures and more. The training program will also focus on cloud and IT basics with an emphasis on the Salesforce Platform. Upon successful completion of the training program, trainees will be guaranteed a job interview where they could be placed within various roles on projects at Cognizant in Missoula. According to Kym Corwin, Director of Production Success & Expert Services, “This is a huge opportunity for folks in the Missoula area. If you're under-employed, or have a desire to work in a technology field, or are just not challenged by your current job, you should consider this program. You'd be getting in on the ground floor, but coming out the other side of training with an opportunity for a salaried position and great benefits.” Learn more about the program and apply here. [ATG]

Kalispell Core and Rail Redevelopment Project brings investment to Kalispell

The Montana West Economic Development, in combination with the Flathead County Economic Development Authority and City of Kalispell, was awarded the MEDA Innovation Award for the Kalispell Core & Rail Redevelopment project – an innovative plan to develop the Kalispell Core Area which historically was filled with railroad tracks. Once the project is complete the Kalispell Core Area’s train tracks will be replaced with a walking trail, more green space, entertainment, dining and retail options – all factors that will enhance residents’ quality of life while also increasing tourism in the city. “Once the track is removed and the trail put in, we expect to see more development in the downtown core because the infrastructure is already there. This will have a ripple effect on the types of businesses coming here, while also increasing property values and property taxes collected by the city and county,” said Kim Morisaki, Director of Marketing & Business Development for Montana West Economic Development. Learn more about Kalispell’s Core & Rail Redevelopment Project here. [Montana Economic Developers Association]

Bozeman’s Yellowstone International Airport eyeing new gates, destinations, and airlines in the future

Bozeman’s Yellowstone International Airport handles about 31 percent of the passengers in the state. And while tourism is a big part of the airport’s success, businessmen and women account for nearly 80% of the passengers. With the airport being one of the fastest growing in the country, airport officials have already put out to bid for their concourse expansion project that would bring four new gates to the terminal to help accommodate the continued growth in passengers. In addition to more gates being added, the Bozeman Area Chamber of Commerce is working closely with airport officials to not only add more direct flights but also add another airline. [KBZK]

Business group forms new Chamber of Commerce

A group of local business owners have announced the formation of the Yellowstone Area Chamber of Commerce (YACC). According to Sam Loveridge, who has been named as the new organization’s Executive Director, the group will educate and advocate for proven and business-centric policy prescriptions that create a positive environment for businesses and economic growth. As indicated by its name, the Yellowstone Area Chamber of Commerce is being formed more as a regional organization to represent business throughout eastern Montana and west to Bozeman. Over the coming months, YACC will be recruiting businesses in the Yellowstone area that also seek to create a stronger climate for business in the area. Since its announcement, the organization has responded to an influx of membership requests. Loveridge said they recently sent out 40 invoices and will have about 100 members. By year’s end, they hope to have 1000 members. “The Yellowstone Area Chamber was formed because businesses deserve a voice—they deserve someone fighting for them every day,” Loveridge emphasized. He continued, “Our goal is to create a strong, innovative, and competitive marketplace where businesses prosper, grow, and employ more people.” [Big Sky Business Journal]

Ruffatto Challenge launches new Missoula businesses; apply now for 2019 competition

The John Ruffatto Business Startup Challenge is a competition for University of Montana students with entrepreneurial ideas to pursue those ideas and determine if there is a viable market for them in Montana. The Challenge, which is sponsored by UM’s College of Business and Blackstone Launchpad, is a competition where students create a business plan and pitch deck and present the package to 50 judges, who provide feedback. The grand prize of $15,000 can then be used to launch the business. Paul Gladen of the Blackstone Launchpad said the challenge provides a way for students to have the opportunity to start a business in Montana, which encourages young entrepreneurs to stay in the state and benefit the local economy. “There’s sort of a diverse, collaborative community spirit in Montana that I think stimulates a lot of new and different ideas,” he said. Past winners include Story Squares and Five on Black. Entering its 30th year, the John Ruffatto Startup Business Challenge will accept up to 12 teams to participate in the competition on March 8, 2019. Details about submissions can be found on the Blackstone Launchpad website. [Missoula Current]

Bozeman ranks #1 for strongest micropolitan economy

According to economic research firm Policom, Bozeman is ranked number one for economic strength in a micropolitan area. This is the second year in a row Bozeman has earned the top ranking out of 551 current micropolitan statistical areas in the United States. With a repeat of the top ranking, a question arises: what is Bozeman doing that other places aren’t? “Focusing on the fundamentals and, for the City of Bozeman (hiring), that means infrastructure and driving development with our infrastructure. The second would be workforce development and education and, thirdly, supporting our local businesses. Those are the three primary areas the City of Bozeman works on,” said Economic Development Director Brit Fontenot. And while the thriving economy is something the city is proud of, with growth come challenges. “We’re not without our challenges — including affordable housing, wages and access to talent — so it doesn’t really talk about any of those challenges that we face, but we know them very well and we work on them every day,” Fontenot said. “We’re proud to be recognized for our strengths, and we continue to work hard to try to overcome some of our challenges.” Find the complete list of rankings here. [KBZK]

Next steps proposed for One Big Sky District in Billings

The boards of Big Sky Economic Development (BSED) approved committing up to $300,000 for the next step of funding needed for the One Big Sky District (OBSD) in Billings last week. It will be part of the $578,000 requested from the community by Bob Dunn of Landmark, the private company that is spearheading the OBSD, a project that includes the development of a downtown convention center in Billings. BSED Director Steve Arveschoug explained that the funds are what are expected to be needed for the next six months, primarily for the purposes of lobbying the state legislature to pass a bill (that will create a funding mechanism for the grand $2.5 billion project) and to pursue site analysis. Dunn’s request is being directed to BSED and other community organizations. Landmark would contribute an additional $780,000 to $1.1 million for the same purposes, during the same period. Other community partners would pay the balance of the $578,000. These partners include the Billings Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Billings Partnership, Billings Tourism Business Improvement District and the City of Billings as well as other private contributors. Referred to as Phase 2, the massive plan that covers most of downtown Billings is aimed at directing future development and economic growth over the next thirty years. The structure “would take up two city blocks” and projects a number of possible developments, including a convention center that would serve as a venue for regional events such as sports or concerts or other entertainment, as well as conferences and conventions. It would also include retail and residential development in the downtown “entertainment / lifestyle” area, retail and health and wellness services along North 27th  that would augment the medical corridor and a melding of the medical corridor with the education potential of MSU-Billings. [Big Sky Business Journal]