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2019 best tech startups in Bozeman and Missoula, Bozeman's Schnee's to represent Montana at White House, Billings Clinic clears first step to build Bozeman campus...and more


With the July 4 holiday and lots of outdoor play (bikes, hikes and rope swings at Wade Lake - #nofilter), it's been a few weeks since we've landed in your inbox! Get caught up with this week's skim of Montana business news below.

2019 best tech startups in Missoula and Bozeman

The Tech Tribune staff has compiled the very best tech startups in Missoula, Montana. The staff considered several factors including but not limited to: revenue potential, leadership team, brand/product traction and competitive landscape. Additionally, all companies must be independent (un-acquired), privately owned, at most 10 years old, and have received at least one round of funding to qualify. Tech startups making the list included OnX (hiring), Submittable (hiring), TOMIS (hiring), and The Audience Awards. The Tech Tribune staff also compiled a list of the very best tech startups in Bozeman, too. You can find the full list of top Bozeman startups here. [Tech Tribune

Billings Clinic clears first step to build medical campus in Bozeman

Billings Clinic (hiring) is one step closer to building in Bozeman. The health care provider asked for an amendment to the city’s growth policy for the 54 acres it owns west of Costco, and the Bozeman City Commission voted 5-0 to change the requirements to build a medical campus and new businesses on the land. Sarah Rosenberg, an associate planner with the city, told commissioners it was the first of several steps Billings Clinic needs to clear before carrying out its plans. She said city planning staff recommended approving the request because it would encourage a “broad and robust activity level” in the area. Next, Billings Clinic will need city officials to annex the land into city limits and rezone the property. Billings Clinic bought the property in 2016 with plans to open an ambulatory center and provide outpatient services. The campus will be 97,000 square feet and cost about $40 million. Jim Duncan, president of the Billings Clinic Foundation, said further development is possible. “That is just the beginning of what we hope will be a long-term presence here,” Duncan said. [Bozeman Daily Chronicle]

Cognizant, UM partner to graduate 28 students for jobs in Missoula’s high-paying tech industry

For the second time this year, a class of students shook hands with the president of the University of Montana and their future boss at Cognizant-ATG (hiring) to celebrate their graduation from a novel program that positions them for high-paying jobs within the company. The class of 28 students graduated on Thursday night after completing a 12-week program designed to train them in the technology and business practices employed by the Fortune 200 company. Most indicated a desire to stay in Missoula at the company’s new Solutions Center in the Old Sawmill District. All will begin work in early July, regardless of where they land. The program, known as All-In-Missoula, or AIM, traces its roots back to when ATG was a small but growing tech firm with a significant local presence. Facing rapid growth, the company sought new ways to train the workforce needed to fill its Missoula jobs. It did so by partnering with UM, turning out two or three students at a time. When Cognizant acquired ATG last year, it also saw value in the young program and ramped it up to the current form, one that has now graduated more than 55 students. [Missoula Current]

Lincoln’s Hi-Country Snack Foods in midst of multi-million dollar sale

The longtime owner of Lincoln-based Hi-Country Snack Foods is ready to leave the business. James Johnson is handing the reins over to Travis Byerly in a multi-million dollar deal. Byerly, who already has ownership in the business, is increasing his stake and will be in control of operations. For more than 40 years, the company has manufactured, packaged and shipped its products – including the well-known jerky – at a site just west of Lincoln, Montana. According to Hi-Country’s website, the company grew from a small operation with just a couple employees to a sprawling factory of 18,000 square feet. As details of the transaction continue to develop, Byerly is working to keep the company local. That’s done in part through the help of a $400,000 loan approved earlier this year and acquired through Montana Businesses Assistance Connection. No timeline was provided on when the sale will be complete. [KRTV]

ClassPass, Consumer Direct apply for grants to expand Missoula workforce

Missoula County commissioners this week approved applications from two growing Missoula companies to expand their workforce through a statewide grant program. ClassPass Inc. (hiring) and Consumer Direct Care Network (hiring) sought a one-year extension for additional funding through the Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund job creation grant. Administered through the Montana Department of Commerce, the grant offers businesses an incentive for providing high-paying jobs. “It’s a state incentive program through the Montana Department of Commerce,” said Nicole Rush, business initiatives director with the Missoula Economic Partnership. “It awards $7,500 per full-time job created by a company in Missoula that is paying at least $19.65 an hour, so it rewards companies for creating permanent, full-time, high-paying jobs.” ClassPass used the grant to hire 30 employees when its operations began in 2018. Now, the company is looking at creating over 100 new Missoula jobs, and funding for 40 of them may come from the state for the next year. Consumer Direct Care Network has created about 40 new jobs as well over the past year, and aims to add another 13. The companies must hire new employees before funds are dispersed. About 24 companies in Missoula have used the Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund grant program to create 532 jobs since 2013. Collectively, they’ve received $3.7 million in funding and now pay $20.6 million annually in new wages, Rush told the Missoula Current in May. [Missoula Current]

Geotechnical firm in Hayden, Idaho, expands footprint into Montana

On the heels of a record year and on the cusp of a major anniversary, Allwest is expanding to Missoula, Montana. The North Idaho-based geotechnical engineering, environmental and construction materials testing firm was founded in 1999. “We are excited to extend our services into the state of Montana,” Allwest President Chris Beck said. “As we celebrate 20 years, we are looking back at all the success we have had and thank everyone who helped get us where we are. Going forward, we are looking for teaming opportunities and strategic growth.” In addition to its corporate headquarters in Hayden, Idaho, the employee-owned company has offices in Lewiston and Meridian, as well as Spokane. Allwest Hayden Area Manager James Thomasson is overseeing the company’s Missoula office. Allwest has grown to employ more than 100 people during peak construction season and is recruiting for multiple positions. [Coeur d’Alene Press]

National Guard planning new aviation base in Billings

The Montana Department of Military Affairs went public recently with plans to develop a National Guard Aviation Base near Billings Logan International Airport. The new facility in Billings would provide support to eastern Montana. Currently, the only other facility in the state is in Helena. Agency officials aim to build a permanent facility adjacent to the airport, but in the meantime, they plan to lease a facility from the Billings Flying Service. Six aircraft would be stationed in Billings and could provide resources for Medivac Aircraft and Search and Rescue. The facility would also allow for the aviation team and crew members to do their training in the Billings area along with a satellite classroom for remote training, reducing travel time to the current National Guard center in Helena. According to Col. James Wilkins, the center would be an asset to the community of Billings by increasing Billings jobs, and expanding the area’s tax base and capability of resources. The facility will employ eight to 10 full-time employees, and on drill weekends, around 60 people will be on site. The project is still in the planning stages and will undergo an environmental assessment. If the project gains approval, a temporary facility would be operating within about a year. The permanent facility would go online in about four to five years. [KRTV]

Montana State University's new research lab aims to keep students in-state post graduation

Montana State University held an open house this past week for its Applied Research Laboratory that is set to open at the end of the year. According to campus officials, the new facility is being paid for by the Departments of Defense and Energy and is designed for developing military equipment. The Applied Research Lab director Justin Cook said the building will keep science and technology students in-state during and after their collegiate career. "Why Bozeman, Montana? Just look at our technical prowess in photonics, in cyber security and physics," Cook said. "If they want to stay here and work in a technical industry, high growth, high-wage jobs--they can stay to do that." According to the Department of Labor, the most recent numbers show there are more than 55,000 STEM workers in the Treasure State. The average salary of a STEM worker is almost $70,000, compared to the average salary of a non-stem worker, which is around $37,000. Montana State University graduate and Glacigen Materials Inc. co-founder David Driscoll will create more opportunities for students majoring in STEM. The lab is being built by MSU Innovation Campus Partners, a private, Bozeman firm consisting of Charter Realty and Development, Martel Construction and A&E Architects. Construction of the building is anticipated to be complete in January. [NBC Montana.com]

Bozeman business Schnee’s to represent Montana at White House ‘Made in America’ event

For the third time, a Bozeman business is representing the entire state of Montana at a White House event celebrating American manufacturers. “It’s very much an honor,” said Curt Smith, president of Schnee’s in downtown Bozeman. “We got invited by the White House to represent the state of Montana.” When you get invited to go to the White House, it might be tough to say no. For Smith, he’s proud to make the trip, representing both Schnee’s and the Treasure State. “We have been building our boots in Bozeman and even on Main Street since 1987,” he said. “We’re really proud about that.” It’s all a part of the White House’s “Made in America” showcase, bringing all 50 states together in Washington, D.C. A business from each state is picked for exactly what the title suggests: its products and where they were made. It isn’t the first or second time a Bozeman business has been invited to the event. Last year, Montana Instruments made the trip to the White House, demonstrating its cryostation. In the event’s first year, in 2017, it was Bozeman’s Simms Fishing Products. Now Schnee’s has won the honor, making it three years in a row for Bozeman businesses. [KXLH]

Montana energy storage project lines up financial partner

Construction on a $1 billion energy storage system in central Montana could start as soon as next year after its sponsors said last week that they reached a financing agreement with a Danish firm that invests in renewable energy. Carl Borgquist, president of Bozeman-based Absaroka Energy, said the involvement of Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners of Denmark marks a significant step forward for the 400-megawatt project near Martinsdale. Next up, he said, is to make arrangements with utilities or others interested in using the Montana facility to complement their own electricity generation. [The News and Observer]