Our Blog > MT Business Roundup

First Interstate Bank, Ultra Graphics bid to rename MetraPark Arena in Billings, Netflix show MeatEater opens Bozeman headquarters, Gallatin County grows as Montana sees more outbound movers, Montana high-tech industry on pace for record year...

Here's how much 2 businesses (First Interstate Bank, Ultra Graphics) are willing to pay to rename the arena at MetraPark

First Interstate Bank (hiring) and Ultra Graphics (hiring) are willing to spend serious money to put their names and logos on MetraPark's arena. First Interstate made a bid for a 5-year contract, paying $175,000 per year for naming rights to the arena. Ultra Graphics proposed a 5-year contract with an option to renew for another 5 years, starting at $100,000 for the first year and climbing to $165,000 the 10th year. Both companies said they would assume the costs of replacing the signage inside and outside the arena, which was required by the county. The call for bids came about after Rimrock Auto Group notified Yellowstone County commissioners last summer it would not seek to renew its contract. The dealership instead will put that money into digital marketing and sales. Steve Zabawa, co-owner of Rimrock Auto, has been heading up the development of the WebBuy app, which allows people to buy cars on their phones. Both proposals have been turned over to MetraPark staff at the county where a committee will evaluate them. From there, staff will make a recommendation, and the county will sit down with either First Interstate or Ultra Graphics and negotiate a final contract. The committee hopes to have a recommendation ready for county commissioners by mid-January. [Billings Gazette]

Gallatin County grows as Montana sees more outbound movers statewide

According to a study conducted by United Van Lines, 55% percent of moves in the state of Montana in 2018 were outbound. In the same study, Montana ranked #9 on the most outbound states in the nation. Yet, even though more people are moving away from Montana than moving to the Treasure State, Gallatin County continues to grow. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Gallatin County is the fastest growing small county in the country and is expected to grow by more than 50,000 by 2045. But, with the expansion does come growing pains. According to Bozeman Chamber of Commerce President Daryl Schliem, with almost a zero percent unemployment rate the city has to deal with issues such as affordable housing, keeping the minimum wage jobs filled and employee retention. [KBZK]

Missoula business, Sustainable Lumber Co., turns old fence posts, pallets and beetle-killed pine into sustainable wood products

Reusing wood that might otherwise go to waste, like an old oak fence post from a horse pasture, beetle-killed pine trees or unused shipping pallets is the goal of Sustainable Lumber Co. of Missoula. Founder Ryan Palma spent years importing and exporting sustainable wood products from Asia until eight years ago when he decided to strike out on his own. He’s now shipping products all over the U.S. and planning on moving into a large new warehouse space near Arlee. Main products, flooring and wall paneling, come from pine trees killed by the mountain pine beetle and other bugs. The fir products come from Sustainable Forest Initiative-certified trees from Pyramid Lumber Co. (hiring) in Seeley Lake. According to Palma, “Our main facility is located in a Mennonite community. There are 11 families. And, collectively, we all kind of work together. We create all the products, we own all the wood, do all the sales and marketing. And each family has their own trait. So, one family does all the milling, another family does all the pre-finishing, another family does all the cabinets, and another family makes our wall paneling and doors. We employ probably 23 of them.” It is important to Palma that his team gets paid well and works in safe conditions. “Traveling in China really gave me a sour taste because we saw a lot of Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood, but the working conditions were horrible”. [Missoulian]

Four Anaconda high-school students embark on web-design, social-media marketing company

Between homework and all the trappings of teenage life, Anaconda high school student Kai Bauer has somehow found the time to start his own marketing company, with a focus on web design and social media. Bauer, 17, launched Foxabella Web Designs in September 2017. Now, after hiring on fellow students Ryan Hessler, Blake Johnson and Seamus Hoolahan, the high school junior can add job creator to his curriculum vitae. Bauer said he got inspired to start his own business while attending a Rotary Youth Leadership Awakening summer camp. Bauer started his company by first helping business owners navigate the ins and outs of social media. Soon, business owners began asking Bauer to create websites. He intends to grow Foxabella over the next couple of years and eventually sell it or pass it down to another high school student. [Montana Standard]

Eagle Bancorp Montana completes purchase of The State Bank of Townsend in Townsend, Montana

Eagle Bancorp Montana, Inc. (NASDAQ: EBMT), which is the holding company of Opportunity Bank of Montana (hiring), recently announced that it has completed the acquisition of Big Muddy Bancorp, Inc. and its wholly owned subsidiary, The State Bank of Townsend. The transaction, valued at $16.4 million, includes four State Bank of Townsend retail bank branches and approximately $108 million in assets, $92 million in deposits and $92 million in gross loans. The combined company now has 21 branches across Montana. [Globe News Wire]

Outlook 2019: Healthy job market to continue

Montana’s economy is expected to continue to grow in 2019, but little is expected to budge in terms of employment as the state continues to wrestle with a worker shortage. The November 2018 seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dipped to 3.7 percent in Montana, below the normal range and matching the nationwide mark. In 2013, Montana’s unemployment rate was 5.4 percent. Projections have the unemployment rate holding steady, if not dipping even lower in the coming years. Meanwhile, the Montana Department of Labor and Industry expects 0.7 percent job growth in 2019, slightly lower than recent years, something partly attributable to the tight labor market. While a low unemployment rate may sound like a good thing, the reality of the current economy is a bit more nuanced. “There’s both good things and bad things,” Barbara Wagner, the labor department’s chief economist, said of the low unemployment rate. “It’s hard for businesses to find workers to fill open positions and that can restrict growth, but there’s some positive things on the worker’s side like faster wage growth - a benefit both for our workers and the economy. Those wages are spent within the Montana economy.” To combat the worker shortage, the state’s Registered Apprenticeship program, which offers learning opportunities in a number of fields through both classroom and on-the-job training, has been steadily growing. In 2017, 554 Montana businesses sponsored 2,082 active apprenticeships across all industries. And, there were 687 new apprenticeships in 2017, more than double the number (324) in 2012. [Flathead Beacon]

Can Do: Opening a worldwide audience for Montana businesses

Many Montana entrepreneurs looking to enter into the global market turn to the Montana World Trade Center (MWTC). The MWTC is located on the University of Montana campus in Missoula and offers an array of services to assist businesses in taking their products into the world. On a recent episode of "Can Do: Lessons From Savvy Montana Entrepreneurs," MWTC Executive Director Brigitta Miranda-Freer shares how Montana businesses can successfully operate on an international scale through lessons learned during her 20-year career in economic development and international trade and commerce. [Montana Public Radio]

Analysis: Montana high-tech industry on pace for record year

The outlook for the high-tech industry in Montana has never been stronger, according to the executive director of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance, Christina Henderson. And three high-profile moves at Missoula companies are major reasons why Henderson said her assessment of how the tech industry will grow in 2019 is “more positive than it’s ever been.” First, the acquisition of Advanced Technology Group (hiring) in Missoula by the global company Cognizant was “huge” for the community. According to Henderson, “Cognizant plans to add more jobs in Montana, upwards of potentially hiring 30 new people a month for the foreseeable future. That’s hundreds of high-paying Montana jobs, and it’s hard to overestimate the impact of even that one company on this community.” Additionally, last February, a Missoula-based outdoor tech company onX (hiring) closed on a $20.3 million venture capital funding round. OnX has opened a second office in Bozeman and is now closing in on 100 employees. Finally, the decision by a fitness tech company called ClassPass (hiring) to hire more than 100 workers in downtown Missoula was a big boost to the local economy. According to Henderson, “All the signs point to the train isn’t stopping, and the momentum is accelerating,” Henderson said. “We continue to get contacted by other companies that are looking at coming into Missoula and Montana.” [Missoulian]

Montana Code School seeks to bridge the state’s tech sector talent gap

Thanks to a 12-week coding “boot camp” offered by the Montana Code School, a University of Montana-affiliated program, Montanans can obtain the skills needed to land Montana jobs in the state’s growing tech sector. Montana’s tech sector is a bright spot in the state’s economic landscape. But, as noted in several recent reports, a big factor holding Montana’s tech industry back is talent: the skills gap between the jobs that companies will pay top-dollar salaries to fill and the experience Montana workers can bring to the table. Coding boot camps seek to bridge this divide with fast-paced, hands-on courses. The Missoula-based Montana Code School has operated since 2015, running full- and part-time courses in Missoula and Bozeman. The program averages 40 students a year. [Bozeman Daily Chronicle]

Netflix hunting show MeatEater opens headquarters in Bozeman

Inspired by Montana’s culture of outdoor recreation, a popular hunting show is moving its headquarters to Bozeman. “MeatEater,” currently in its seventh season, follows its host Steven Rinella as he hunts, fishes and cooks game around the world. It’s also part of an outdoor media company that regularly posts recipes and articles about conservation to its website. The show has filmed several times in Montana and plans on shooting more episodes in the state after receiving a $40,000 film grant from the Montana Department of Commerce to feature Montana locations in the video series. It will be the first Netflix series shot in Montana with support from the Big Sky Film Grant. Montana-based investment firm Next Frontier Capital has also invested in the show. The show originally started in 2012 with four staff members and has now grown to 18 employees. Rinella said it plans to hire more from within and outside Bozeman. According to Rinella, there was a consensus among employees that Bozeman was the right place to base operations - with a university to draw from and plenty of amenities to make people want to make the town their home. [Bozeman Daily Chronicle]

Montana raises minimum wage in 2019

Montana’s roughly 8,000 minimum wage workers saw a 20-cent-per-hour pay bump to $8.50 an hour. Barbara Wagner, Chief Economist for the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, says it’s not a wage increase as much as it is an adjustment for inflation. “It does not increase their standard of living. It’s just keeping somebody at the same level they were at the prior year,” she said. Besides Montana, up to 21 states and the District of Columbia will see minimum wage increases next year. [Montana Public Radio]

Billings 14-year-old finds quiet business success in 3D printing and wood carving

Billings teenager, Riley Scherer, got his first 3D printer as a gift in the sixth grade and quickly started a lucrative side business, Riley's Manufacturing and Design, by creating fidget spinners to sell to his friends. Eventually, Scherer earned enough money to buy a second 3D printer. By early 2018, Riley had saved money to put toward the purchase of a CNC machine (a tool used in prototyping and full production for cutting, carving and machining wood), bought with the help of his grandfather and his parents. Starting with simple designs created on special software, Scherer is now making multi-layered illuminated signs from wood, plexiglass and ribbons of LED lights. And, his creations are selling as fast as he can make them. As a freshman at Skyview High School, Riley juggles his work in the shop with his school, drivers ed and music lessons. And as Riley works in his shop, he's crafted some plans for the future. He hopes to become a mechanical engineer or a machinist. But sooner than that, he knows his next big purchase: a laser or plasma cutter. [Billings Gazette]

CEO says company intends to move forward with proposed $251-million crypto mining facility west of Butte

The CEO of the company that hopes to build a data center equipped for mining cryptocurrency west of Butte says he’s not worried about the price of bitcoin, which has fallen from its all-time high of $19,783 in December 2017 to around just $3,200 as of last month. In fact, Aaron Tilton, co-founder of Power Block Coin LLC, the entity behind the proposed facility, says the fallen price may actually be a boon for some miners as the cost of mining equipment also tends to decrease during the downturns, making it a good time to invest in equipment for those who are willing to stay in the crypto sphere for the long haul. Power Block Coin first announced its intentions for its Butte facility back in February of 2018, estimating that the project would break ground last summer and that the site would initially support around 15 employees. Now, 10 months later, Tilton says the company is still in the midst of securing electricity for the facility and won’t be able to move forward until the electrical component of the project is complete. Butch Larcombe, spokesperson for NorthWestern Energy, said the power company has had “continued contact” with Blue Castle Holdings, but said he couldn’t give any additional details. [Montana Standard]

Billings ranked no. 1 city in Montana by Money Magazine

Nicknamed “Montana’s Trailhead” because of its city conveniences in the midst of a vast natural landscape, Billings was recently named the No. 1 city in Montana to live by Money Magazine. While the ranking evaluated cities in each state with populations of more than 50,000, the perks of Billings make it clear it deserved the ranking for more than just its size. With a population of just over 110,000 and relatively low property taxes, Billings offers a reasonably affordable cost of living with a median home price of $255,000. Coupled with unique attractions like ZooMontana, Yellowstone Art Museum, an unofficial “brewery district” (offering a walkable, self-guided tour of nine breweries) and the nearby Little Bighorn Battlefield monument are benefits that set Billings apart. And, the quick access to the scenic Beartooth Highway draws appeal to a wide range of people. [Money]

Figure’s first year: $50 million California FinTech startup brings blockchain technology and dozens of jobs to Helena and Bozeman

2018 was a big year for Figure (hiring). Not only did the company raise about $50 million in a Series A round, but it introduced two new products and grew to 103 employees nationwide — 19 of whom are in Helena and 11 of whom are in Bozeman — with plans to further expand their Montana teams. It doesn’t look like things are slowing down anytime soon for the new FinTech company, which also has locations in Reno and San Francisco. Despite already employing more than 100 people, Figure’s Nate Lampert with People Operations said the company’s hiring practices have been more about the quality of growth than the speed of growth. “We really are trying to spend a lot of time and effort on pulling in the right people,” Lampert said. “Very skilled, high-quality folks...we’re looking for quality over quantity.” [Montana High Tech Business Alliance]

Montana ranked 2nd in nation for number of craft breweries

Using data collected by the Montana Brewers Association, the Big Sky state is ranked second nationwide when it comes to the number of breweries, with about 9.6 per capita. Matt Leow, executive director of the Montana Brewers Association, said the state’s breweries have doubled from 2012 to 2017, to about 80 now. Montana is the nation’s second leading producer of malt. With an abundance of key ingredients in the state, it’s clear why Montana has so many breweries. Montana’s great quality of life is another reason for the uptick in breweries, Leow said. Leow said the number of breweries in the state is bound to increase in 2019. Statewide, the annual economic impact from breweries is about $417 million, with about 800 direct Montana jobs. Montana is known for its tourism and hospitality industries, and with more breweries opening, manufacturing is also becoming a bigger part of the state’s economy. Breweries in general have provided a substantial economic impact in terms of the state’s size. [Missoula Current]

MSU helps local manufacturing collaboration

Montana manufacturing businesses can easily find themselves competing for the same skilled workers locally and for customers and orders on local, national and global scales, according to Alistair Stewart, business adviser at Montana State University's Montana Manufacturing Extension Center. Additionally, he said, businesses can struggle to understand the challenges and realize the opportunities afforded by new technologies. That's why a group called the Greater Gallatin Valley Manufacturing Partnership is so important, said Stewart, who has provided guidance to the group since it began roughly three years ago. The group's goal is "to improve the collaborative advantage of our region’s manufacturers," Stewart said. This means coming together to find common ground and crossing boundaries to tackle problems or seize opportunities. The all-volunteer group includes roughly two dozen local manufacturing businesses as well as partners such as MMEC, MSU's Gallatin College and the Montana Department of Labor. The group is structured around a system called Strategic Doing, which MMEC's Stewart introduced to them in 2016. “By coming together in these partnerships, Montana manufacturers will not only become stronger as individual businesses but will also strengthen and grow the state's manufacturing sector,” Stewart said. [Montana State University]