Our Blog > MT Business Roundup

The story of Butte's Headframe Spirits, MyVillage childcare startup takes off to help those in Montana start a daycare or preschool, Hemp boom brings jobs to Missoula, Kalispell neuroscience company growing and hiring...


The snow-capped mountains in Montana are calling...but we don't want to go...quite yet. While hoping for the return of fall for just a bit, get caught up with this week's skim of Montana business news below.

Talent and technology: Kalispell-based insurtech firm WaterStreet supports customers and employees through continuous improvement

Kalispell-based WaterStreet Company (hiring) takes a serious approach to making its employees and its clients happy. The company provides a software platform and managed business services to property & casualty insurance companies. Founded in 2000, as the technology of the day shifted into the cloud, the new company grew with it, evolving from a two-employee niche services operation to the 82-employee firm it is today. In 2019, WaterStreet was named a Top 10 Policy Administration Provider by Insurance CIO Outlook. As WaterStreet nears its 20-year anniversary, Bernadette Johnson, Software Engineering Manager, said there are exciting developments in the works, including a new software architecture that will help easily integrate WaterStreet’s platform into older and more complex systems, as well as open doors for new projects. [Montana High Tech Business Alliance]

Montana county officials approve $406M wind farm project

Oregon-based PacifiCorp recently received approval to build a 114-turbine wind farm south of Billings that would generate enough electricity to power more than 76,000 homes a year. The Carbon County commissioners approved the $406 million project last week, and construction is expected to begin this fall. [US News]

SBA awards Montana a nearly $500k trade grant

The U.S. Small Business Administration announced that the Montana Department of Commerce will receive a $499,488 grant to support export growth among small businesses through SBA’s competitive State Trade Expansion Program (STEP). This year’s grant amount is a $174,488 increase over the dollars awarded in 2018. The 2019 STEP awards will help Montana assist their small businesses with the information and tools they need to succeed in export-related activities. Exporting activities include: participating in foreign trade missions and foreign market sales trips, obtaining services provided by the U.S. Department of Commerce, accessing expertise in designing international marketing campaigns and export trade show exhibits, and participating in training workshops, as well as other important means of engagement. [Helena Independent Record]

Northern Seed’s business acquired by Nutrien Ag Solutions

Nutrien Ag Solutions (hiring) has acquired Northern Seed LLC’s Montana-based seed business, including all seed plants and its Bozeman research center. “This is a great opportunity for our business to provide its Montana customers with a broader portfolio of products and services. Nutrien® also brings a great deal of resources that will allow us to elevate to the next level in research, marketing and operational capabilities,” said Ryan Holt, Snake River Division Seed Manager and formerly Vice President of Northern Seed. Nutrient Ag Solutions will continue with the Montana-focused research and development programs for all crops with the goal of supplying the highest quality and best yielding genetics for Montana farmers. [Belgrade News]

'Can Do:' Headframe Spirits unearths new opportunities in Butte

In the latest Montana Public Radio episode of “Can Do: Lessons from Savvy Montana Entrepreneurs,” Headframe Spirits (hiring) founders John and Courtney McKee share their business journey and how their products have thrived in a competitive industry that has grown from 350 distilleries in 2011 to now more than 2000 nationwide and over 20 in Montana. In addition to running a successful distillery and tasting room, the McKees also manufacture stills and distilling equipment. Headframe Spirits Manufacturing is currently the only company in the world to produce continuous flow distillation equipment for the micro-distilling industry. [Montana Public Radio]

MyVillage childcare startup takes off, increases presence in Missoula

Venture-backed, high-growth company MyVillage (hiring) is making great inroads in Missoula, where at least four in-home child care and preschool businesses have sprung up to help alleviate the high price of daycare. Founded in Bozeman in 2017, MyVillage helps those who have a passion for kids ages 0-5 open and operate high-quality, home-based early childhood education programs. Co-founders Erica Mackey and Beth Szymanski – both moms and entrepreneurs — saw a great need for lessening the stresses and cost of working parents. As of September, their are 80 new childcare and preschool programs open or in the process of opening across Montana and Colorado. Looking for a career change where you can care for our own kids, be your own boss, earn great income and be a superhero for your local community? Learn more about starting your own successful home-based childcare or preschool program with MyVillage here.  [Missoula Current]

Smart Foodservice Warehouse Store coming to Kalispell 

Smart Foodservice Warehouse Stores, a warehouse-format store that has catered to the foodservice industry for more than 60 years, will open a new store in Kalispell (and is hiring). The Kalispell store will be the second store in Montana and its 68th location in the Western United States. "Our stores provide foodservice operators access to high-quality ingredients, without having to worry about inflated delivery prices and fees," says John Mathews, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Smart Foodservice. "We offer an assortment that includes major national brands, as well as excellent private label products through our First Street-branded items. We are excited to serve new and existing customers in the Kalispell area." [PR Newswire]

Researchers at Kalispell-based neuroscience company Expesicor awarded $1.4M grant

Kalispell-based neuroscience company Expesicor (hiring) recently announced it has received a $1.4 million Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Institute of Health, a reward for its cutting-edge research on treating and preventing neurological disorders and traumatic brain injuries. Company co-founder and CEO Braxton Norwood said the grant will be vital in helping the fast-growing company develop therapeutic and imaging agents for neurological disorders. “Basically treatments for things that don’t have treatments, like Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy,” Norwood said. Expesicor will receive $343,042 over the first year of the grant, and upon approval will receive the entire grant over the course of three years. Two Bear Capital, a venture capital firm based in Whitefish, also just made a “substantial investment” in the company, Norwood said. The receipt of the grant and recent investment are timely as Expesicor, which was founded in 2016, has quickly outgrown its current space and is now looking at a second and third lab location as well as hiring a half-dozen more people. [Daily Interlake]

Report: Bozeman, Montana ranks #1 among the Most Popular US Micropolitan Areas for New Startups, according to census data

Bozeman, Montana ranks number one among 536 U.S. Micropolitan Areas in new business startups, according to the most recent census data in a report published by ShivarWeb. The U.S. Census defines a Micropolitan Area as one or more adjacent counties or county-equivalents that have at least one urban core area of at least 10,000 population but less than 50,000, plus adjacent territory that has a high degree of social and economic integration with the core as measured by commuting ties. Explore the full report for startup highlights of the Top 20 Micropolitan Areas, along with links to the full census data set here. [PR Newswire]

Missoula-based MoFi awarded $187K grant

The Montana Community Development Corporation, MoFi, (hiring) has received a $187,000 grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration to help emerging micro-entrepreneurs gain access to capital. The PRIME grant will help low-income entrepreneurs gain access to capital to establish and expand their small businesses through the Program for Investment in Micro-Entrepreneurs. The 2019 PRIME Grant will help MoFi offer training and technical assistance to strengthen economically disadvantaged businesses. “Montana has achieved a great amount of national attention for its innovative outreach efforts to rural communities and high-tech businesses,” said SBA Montana District Director Wayne Gardella in a statement. “This PRIME grant to MoFi will allow the organization to focus its lending outreach energies on mostly rural areas across Big Sky Country.” [Missoulian]

Hemp processor moves to Ronan, Montana

Green Ridge Biosolutions US Inc. is relocating its headquarters to Ronan to facilitate the expansion of its hemp processing and manufacturing. The company aims to create a more collaborative workspace and grow its manufacturing operations office as demand for products increases. "Green Ridge Biosolutions is one of only a few hemp CBD product manufacturers capable of producing high-quality hemp extract from its own farms in volumes that can meet significantly increasing market demand," said Sam Belanger, chief operating officer of Green Ridge, in a statement. The high-quality 100% Montana-grown hemp will be processed through proprietary extraction methods to create full-spectrum hemp extract that will be used in Green Ridge Biosolutions products for sale in 2019 and 2020, the company said. [Missoulian]

Bozeman business boom: Ressler Automotive starts its own training program

Ressler Automotive started in-house technical trainings designed to help new and existing employees to grow from entry-level technicians to "full-line" technicians. Gabe Geer, a new dad, says the training offered by Ressler Automotive has been a great chance to learn new skills. “Getting this opportunity, to make enough money to live in the most expensive city in Montana, I mean, is amazing,” Geer said. With the City of Bozeman booming and businesses expanding, unemployment rates are very low (2.8% as of March). But companies across the valley are feeling a pinch as they look for skilled employees to fill the ranks, according to Troy Mossing, service manager for Chevrolet and Cadillac. “There is an industry shortage for technicians right now,” Mossing said. “We’re trying to train people in house and afford them the opportunity to work and get an education after hours.” [ABCFox Montana]

Caring Transitions Western Montana expands to better serve Kalispell and the Flathead Valley with second full team

Caring Transitions Western Montana (hiring) is pleased to announce they are expanding the business by hiring a full team in Kalispell to serve Kalispell, Whitefish and the Flathead Valley, including the communities of Big Fork, Lakeside and Polson areas. Caring Transitions’ specially-trained team can handle organizing, packing, de-cluttering, moving, resettling, in-person and online estate sales, liquidations, and preparing homes for market. Caring Transitions specializes in managing senior relocations, but the services are also perfect for busy families and individuals in need of assistance. Caring Transitions of Western Montana originally focused on serving only Missoula, Hamilton and the surrounding areas. [Franchising.com]

Cowboy Cricket Farms to open new edible insect farm in Montana in 2020

While media and investor interest in ‘alternative proteins’ is focused on plant-based meat, cell-cultured meat, and proteins produced via microbes, demand for cricket protein is still growing, claims Cowboy Cricket Farms, which will open a new edible insect farm in Montana in 2020. [Food Navigator-USA.com]

Montana's minimum hourly wage to increase to $8.65 in January

Gov. Steve Bullock announced earlier this week that Montanans earning minimum wage will see their pay increase to $8.65 per hour beginning January 2020. The 2019 minimum wage in Montana is $8.50 per hour. Currently, 29 states and D.C. have minimum wages above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. A press release from the governor's office says that an estimated 10,200 Montana workers, or 2.2% of the workforce, are paid less than $8.65 per hour and are likely to receive higher wages due to the 2020 minimum wage increase. In 2018, the industry with the largest number of workers earning minimum wage was the accommodations and food services industry followed by the retail trade industry. [KTVQ]

Hemp boom brings Montana jobs, investment to Missoula

Less than a year ago, industrial hemp was essentially an outlaw crop. Today, it’s transformed into the wellspring of an emerging billion-dollar industry. The cannabis extract cannabidiol is a hemp byproduct, better known as CBD. Demand for CBD-infused products such as bath salts, balms and body bars is through the roof. It was this shift in demand that took a small Missoula biotech firm, Blue Marble Biomaterials, which produced natural compounds for the food, fragrance and cosmetic industries, to catching the attention of CBD-manufacturer Socati (hiring), which produces what are called "broad spectrum" hemp extracts. The Austin, Texas-based company acquired Blue Marble this spring. James Stephens, general manager of the Missoula plant and former CEO of Blue Marble, says Socati’s more than $40 million in capital is bankrolling the company's plant near the Missoula airport. "We grew from 11 to 42 employees in the last three months. What we're doing now is we're in the process of permitting and working with the local community on about a 10x scale-up of our capacity at this location. We're probably looking at doubling or tripling staff by early next year, if not the end of this year. We could be looking at between 100 to 150 people needing to operate this facility at this location." Stephens says over 80% of his employees are Montanans who are now earning above-average wages and benefits. [Montana Public Radio]