Our Blog > Weekly Skim: MT Business

Figure Technologies luring engineers to Montana, Kalispell-based ClassOne recognized for export success, Early Stage MT names 7 regional tech company winners, Bozeman-based Prospera Women's Business Center wins national award...

Rain or shine (and it's looking more like rain than shine in Montana...sigh), the Memorial Day weekend is almost here! Get informed on what's happening across the state before heading into the weekend with this week's skim of Montana business news below.

Figure Technologies in Helena luring engineers to Montana

Figure Technologies (hiring), a San Francisco-based startup with offices in Helena and Bozeman, has been turning heads and is drawing the tech eye to Montana, much the same way the co-founder’s first company, SoFi (also hiring), did. While SoFi is focused on student loans, Figure is focused on home equity. The company sells products that allow customers quick, low-cost access to the equity in their homes, including a home equity line of credit and a home purchase/leaseback offering. The company was founded last year by former SoFi co-founder and CEO Mike Cagney. It launched its Helena office in February 2018 and its Bozeman office in May 2018. There are 36 engineers working in Montana and about 43 total staff, 25 in Helena and 18 in Bozeman. Not to mention, hiring still is underway. Nate Lampert, who leads people operations for Figure in Helena and Bozeman, said luring people to Montana can be a challenge, but that the company is dedicated to remaining here because of the “tech ecosystem” that has grown in Montana over the last 10 to 15 years. “Our focus is to hire people who live and work in Montana,” he said. [Independent Record]

Kalispell-based ClassOne Technology recognized for export success

Montana Department of Commerce Director Tara Rice visited ClassOne Technology’s plant in Evergreen, Montana, last week for a ceremony recognizing the company as the state’s 2018 Exporter of the Year. ClassOne (hiring) designs, builds, tests and ships production equipment used to manufacture microchips. The company shipped $6 million in semiconductor equipment outside the United States in 2018, and has already surpassed that figure in exports before the year is half through. “It’s a testament to this team,” CEO, Bryon Exarcos said. “This is one of the best engineering teams in the U.S. This couldn’t have happened to a better group of people.” Exports are an increasing source of revenue for ClassOne Technology. In 2016, the company took in $2.2 million from foreign sales, with $3.5 million in 2017 and $6 million in 2018. During those two years, ClassOne also grew from 45 to 75 employees in Kalispell. Exarcos said he expects ClassOne Technology, a sister company to Atlanta-based ClassOne Equipment, to cross $20 million in revenue this year, with 40 to 50 percent of that coming from exports. [Daily Interlake]

Governor Bullock announces economic development grants to help businesses create nearly 200 Montana jobs

Governor Steve Bullock announced this week more than $1.3 million in economic development grant awards that will support the creation of up to 195 Montana jobs at growing businesses in Montana. “When our businesses thrive, our communities and the hard-working Montanans who live and work there have new opportunities to grow as well,” said Governor Bullock. “These grants will invest in Montana’s economy by growing businesses and the jobs that support those businesses.” Funds will be awarded through two programs at the Montana Department of Commerce: the Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund (BSTF) and the Primary Sector Workforce Training Grant (WTG). The competitive reimbursement grant programs work in concert to create and train for good-paying jobs. Since 2013, BSTF has assisted more than 340 businesses and supported the creation of more than 2,500 Montana jobs. The WTG program has assisted nearly 40 businesses to train more than 1,000 employees over that same time. Grant recipients include SoClean, Montana Precision Products (hiring), LumenAd (hiring), Swarming Technology, Advanced Technology Group (hiring) and PatientOne. [Montana Department of Commerce]

XY Planning Network and Advanced Electronic Design named on the Inc. Magazine’s Best Workplaces of 2019

Bozeman-based financial services company XY Planning Network (XYPN) (hiring) and Advanced Electronic Design have been named on Inc. magazine’s Best Workplaces for 2019. This list is the result of a wide-ranging and comprehensive measurement of private US companies that have created exceptional workplaces through vibrant cultures, deep employee engagement, and stellar benefits. Collecting data on nearly 2,000 submissions, Inc. singled out 346 finalists, including just two Montana-based companies. Other accolades for the companies include XY Planning Network’s ranking of the 168th fastest-growing private company in the US by Inc. and #1 in the state of Montana in 2018. According to XYPN co-founder and CEO Alan Moore, rapid expansion continues."Our goal has always been to create a place where people want to come to work. Our vision was a place where team members have a meaningful impact on the lives of others while having the flexibility to live their own great lives.” [Inc.]

Mesa Moving and Storage expands to Montana, acquires Mergenthaler's moving and hauling business

Mesa Moving and Storage, a privately-held, US-based provider of moving, transportation, and logistics services, announced recently that it has acquired the moving business operations of fellow UniGroup agent, Mergenthaler Transfer and Storage. Under the terms of the agreement, Mesa will acquire the Mergenthaler household goods hauling business and their moving business, including location-based assets in Bozeman, Helena, and Whitefish, as well as Salt Lake City, Utah. The Mergenthaler offices in Montana will continue providing premier quality moving services, staffed by the same local management and teams who live in Bozeman, Helena, Kalispell and Whitefish areas in Montana. The Montana branches join Mesa's current offices located in Salt Lake City, UT, Boise, ID, Denver, CO, and Grand Junction, CO. Mergenthaler's Salt Lake City business operations will be merged into Mesa's Salt Lake City branch location. [YahooFinance]

Missoula's Goodworks Ventures launches Evergreen to retain small businesses

With a generational shift taking place across Montana’s community of small businesses, some will transition to new ownership but most will not. Those that don’t could simply vanish from the landscape. Goodworks Ventures of Missoula has quietly launched a new effort to purchase stable, profitable companies and help them grow under new leadership. In coming years, Goodworks Evergreen, as the program is known, could lead to a perpetual holding company open to investors who find value in transitioning small businesses to community ownership. “Our goal is to be a perpetual holding company we can make publicly accessible through a stock or a bond,” said Kiah Hochstetler with Goodworks Evergreen. “We’re probably five years down the road from that. But really, what we’re looking to do is build this community capital of community-owned businesses.” Goodworks Evergreen is currently working to purchase a Missoula business, and it hopes to have one more deal secured by the end of the year. That would bring its business holdings to three, though it looks to grow that number over time. [Missoula Current]

Missoula and Great Falls named 9th and 11th on 2019 Best Small City for Small Business List

A new report says two Montana cities are among the best small cities in the country to start a small business. Go.Verizon.com studied 300 cities, focusing on small cities that weren't towns. The population of a city must fall between 50,000 and 75,000 people to be considered a “small city," according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The report, called 2019 Best Small Cities to Start a Small Business, then ranked the business-friendly bona fides of cities based on population, education, travel time to work, income per capita, broadband access, loans per capita, taxes and non-farm business. Missoula was 9th and Great Falls was the 11th best place to start a small business, according to the report. [Great Falls Tribune]

Early Stage Montana names 7 regional tech company winners for summer 2019

Early Stage Montana, a nonprofit organization dedicated to accelerating the growth of the tech ecosystem in Montana, is pleased to announce the winners of three Regional Showcase Competitions held early this month in Missoula, Bozeman, and Billings. Dozens of entrepreneurs from around the state submitted applications for the competition, and each business was assigned a score by a group of experienced judges. Seventeen of the highest scoring companies were chosen to present their business plans in front of an audience and to a panel of judges who scored them on dimensions such as the size of the opportunity, the quality of the solution, leadership potential, and the likelihood of creating Montana jobs. The results are in, and seven finalist companies are moving on to attend the 2019 Early Stage Montana HyperAccelerator program. The regional winners are: DRIMS, Charmed, Vision Aerial, Tadpull, DugalHealth, and RavenCSI. There was also one company, MyShippingPost,  selected as a “wild card” entrant. As a next step, Early Stage Montana is providing these companies with a free, week-long intensive training program called “HyperAcclerator” from June 3-7, 2019. Finally, on November 7, 2019 in Missoula, ten finalist companies will gather at the 2nd annual Early Stage MT Statewide Showcase to compete for a $50,000 investment provided by Frontier Angels. The Statewide Showcase is a celebration of Montana’s tech ecosystem. Entrepreneurs, mentors, investors, and community leaders join together with distinguished guests from all over the Western US in helping these companies accelerate their pathways to growth and job creation within our communities. More information on ticketing and location for The Statewide Showcase coming soon. According to Pat LaPointe, managing director of Frontier Angels and Board Chairman of Early Stage Montana, “Because of the training and visibility they got from participating in Early Stage MT, last year’s top 7 companies went on to raise over $6M in growth capital so far and have already created over 20 jobs in our ecosystem. We have equally high expectations for this group and more, given that we’re expanding to accommodate more companies this year.” [Early Stage Montana]

Hemp economy brings jobs, investment to Missoula

Since passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp is legal to grow again. Its various byproducts are big business, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars annually. And now Missoula’s Blue Marble Biomaterials is part of the hemp economy. It has changed its name to Socati Montana after Socati, an Oregon-based company specializing in hemp genetics, acquired Blue Marble earlier this spring. According to Socati Montana’s general manager James Stephens, who until recently was Blue Marble’s CEO, "I think it’s a really good thing for Missoula and Montana because Socati’s going to do hefty investments not only in staff, but in improvements to this facility to make it best in class, a globally recognized facility.” Stephens says the Missoula plant plans to hire up to 40 additional staff over the next 3 to 5 months. That’s up from 11 employees most recently. When upgrades and expansions are complete by fall, the company says it will be capable of processing about 10 tons of hemp feedstock per working day. [Montana Public Radio]

Prospera Women’s Business Center in Bozeman wins national award

Starting a small business is hard, but the Prospera Women’s Business Center in Bozeman just won an award for making it a little easier. That work was recognized with a national award from the Small Business Association. Suzi Berget White, Director of the Women’s Business Center, says problems with starting a new business is often times little things like not knowing how to read a financial spreadsheet or proper funding. So with the help of the education they provide, the goal is that your business is around longer than a year. White says she loves walking down Main Street and knowing she had a small hand in helping people with the shops she sees and that this award is extremely validating. [ABCFox Montana]

New study shows 9,916 Montana jobs linked to strong beer industry

A new economic impact study shows America's beer industry contributes $1.3 billion annually to Montana's economy and supports 9,916 jobs in the state. Jointly commissioned by the National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA) and the Beer Institute, the study shows that the 9,916 jobs impacted by the beer industry in Montana account for $352 million each year in wages and benefits. The industry also generates $161 million annually in business, personal and consumption taxes. The beer industry is made up of three distinct partners that work together to get beer to customers: brewers and importers, independent beer distributors and licensed retailers. [YahooFinance]

Windrift Hill (Conrad), Agile Focus Designs (Bozeman), Wild Blume (Bozeman) winners of $15,000 in grants from Prospera's Montana Women’s Business Center

The Montana Women’s Business Center at Prospera recently awarded three women-owned businesses grants totaling up to $15,000. The Montana Women’s Business Center said it received more than 70 applications for their inaugural grant cycle. Along with standard business details, the grant application required each applicant to share their story of how they plan to give back to the community. The first place winner was Windrift Hill, which is based in Conrad, Montana, and sells handmade goat milk soap, lotion, and body butter (along with other body care products), using farm fresh goat milk from their herd of Nubian goats. The second place winner was Bozeman-based Agile Focus Designs which provides accurate, agile, and user-friendly tools for microscopists in manufacturing, science, and healthcare. And third place was Bozeman-basd Wild Blume, a floral design studio that specializes in weddings, events and workshops inspired by the details of the wild places. [ABCFox Montana]

Big Sky Economic Development aiming to buy downtown Montana National Bank building in Billings

Big Sky Economic Development (BSED) is hoping to purchase the downtown Montana National Bank building in BIllings as its new home — but the deal isn't done yet. The group still needs to secure a federal grant for half of the roughly $4 million purchase price and remodel costs. But it already got a big boost from the building's current owners, Zoot Enterprises (hiring), who knocked $750,000 of the purchase price of the building, effectively donating the amount to BSED. The group was looking for a new home in part to find more space for its new entrepreneur center, Rock 31. The center will have some specialized equipment, like 3D printers, but will be more of a collaborative space, rather than a manufacturing space. “This is an exciting first step in moving our organization to a location designed for entrepreneurs, current business owners and community stakeholders to engage with our talented and experienced economic development team," said Big Sky Economic Development executive director Steve Arveschoug in a press release. [Billings Gazette]