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Montana High-Tech Business Alliance names Montana startups to watch and releases study results, PFL opens "HQ East," Bozeman-based Jelt brings manufacturing home, U.S. government awards $73M contract to Bozeman-based Barnard Construction and more

Montana High-Tech Business Alliance names Montana startups to watch and releases study results,  PFL opens "HQ East," Bozeman-based Jelt brings manufacturing home, U.S. government awards $73M contract to Bozeman-based Barnard Construction and more

Montana High-Tech Business Alliance names Montana startups to watch in 2018

The Montana High Tech Business Alliance, based in Missoula but a statewide membership organization comprised of more than 320 high tech and manufacturing firms and affiliates, recently released its annual list of Montana startups to watch. The Alliance consulted with experts from Next Frontier Capital, Frontier Angels, Montana Manufacturing Extension Center, MSU Blackstone LaunchPad, and UM Blackstone LaunchPad to create the list. Criteria for selection included having ten or fewer employees and then also meeting at least two additional criteria (e.g. steep revenue growth and/or are working in a high-growth sector, poised to launch high-potential products or services, planning to expand operations or add a significant number of Montana jobs in 2018, to name a few). The eight Montana companies named startups to watch in 2018 include Cowboy Cricket Farms (Belgrade), DermaXon (Missoula), Elebase.io (Whitefish), GeoFli (Missoula, currently hiring!), Inimmune (Missoula), PinnaCal (Corvallis), Sellout (Bozeman) and Triple Tree (Bozeman). Learn more about each of these Montana startups, what they do and why they were chosen. [Montana High Tech Business Alliance] [Missoulian]



Tech company PFL (PrintingForLess.com) opens "HQ East" doors in Indianapolis, expecting revenue to double and is hiring

Livingston-founded PFL, originally known as PrintingForLess.com, officially open the doors of its HQ-East yesterday in Indianapolis, Indiana. The company, the nation’s first online printing company, was founded in the late 90s and has become known as the Tactile Marketing Automation (TMA)® pioneer. TMA® helps marketing and sales professionals create a true multi-channel experience by leveraging the data they have in their marketing automation platforms and CRM systems. The rapid growth and proximity to its customer base and key partners like Salesforce Marketing Cloud is why PFL recently established a second headquarters in Indianapolis, IN. PFL’s HQ East employs 17 people in Indianapolis to date. It just celebrated its grand opening on Feb. 28, with a ribbon cutting and happy hour. The company’s Livingston location (“HQ West”) currently employs 300 Montana professionals. According to the company’s CEO, Andrew Field, PFL should see its revenue double again this year and again in 2019 as the company continues to grow through new hires and works to capture the lion’s share of the emerging multi-billion dollar Tactile Marketing Automation category. PFL is also hiring for several Livingston-based positions. [TechPoint]

Montana’s high-tech companies pay almost double the state average but report hiring challenges (results released from Montana High Tech Business Alliance study)

VentureBeat, a major go-to source for tech news across the nation and one of our favorite media outlets, covered the 2018 High Tech Industries Survey Report conducted and recently shared by the Montana High Tech Business Alliance (MHTBA) - and we’re excited to also share a few highlights (and the full report) from this year’s study conducted by MHTBA with all of you, too.

According to the study, high-tech companies continue to be an important component of Montana’s economy, generating nearly $1.7 billion in revenues in 2017 and growing at rates up to nine times faster than the statewide economy. These figures demonstrate that Montana’s high-tech companies play a meaningful role in growing the state’s overall economy. The MHTBA, with assistance from the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research (BBER), has surveyed high-tech businesses in Montana for the past four years to measure the community’s progress and inform the rest of the state about the status of these companies. According to MHTBA’s Executive Director, Christina Henderson, “The growth trajectory of Montana’s high-tech industry has far exceeded our expectations when we began collecting this data in 2015.” According to the survey data, MHTBA’s members expected to add 1,100 new Montana jobs in 2018, including most commonly software engineers and sales executives. However, despite the fact that Montana’s high-tech businesses are adding a significant number of Montana jobs and are paying good wages, the survey results indicated that the process for finding and hiring talent is still challenging. Twenty-eight percent of responding member firms and 48 percent of responding non-member firms reported that hiring qualified employees was more difficult in 2017 than in previous years.

However, for the fourth consecutive year, the survey found that Montana’s quality of life – its lifestyle, work/life balance, recreational opportunities and the beauty of the landscape – provided significant advantages to doing business in the state. Those surveyed also mentioned Montana’s high-quality workforce as a major advantage. According to Lance Tinseth, board chair of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance and CIO of Murdoch’s Ranch & Home Supply in Bozeman (and hiring), “This report confirms that Montana’s tech companies are continuing to grow at a record pace, ensuring that Montana natives and expatriates will be able to find rewarding, high-paying jobs right here in their home state. It also indicates that the Montana tech community is vibrant and invested in growing Montana’s economy as a whole.” Find the full report for the 2018 High Tech Industries Survey here. [Montana High Tech Business Alliance] [VentureBeat]



6 reasons to move to Montana

Livability recently shared six reasons to move to Montana, stating that Montana is so much more than beautiful scenery - from jobs to endless outdoor recreation to higher education options to sports to literature. We couldn’t agree more. Read through author and journalist Jim Hoehn’s 6 reasons to relocate to Big Sky Country here. [Livability]


How a Montana belt company brought manufacturing back home

Bozeman-based belt manufacturer, Jelt, continues to grow. Since its launch in 2014, it has evolved to include stylish, low-profile belts in a variety of colors and designs perfect for outdoor activities, travel and everyday use. And, they are now being manufactured right here in Montana. The small company, which was recently named Montana’s 7th B Corporation, is committed to protecting the environment and giving back to its community. It was in this spirit that founder, Jennifer Perry, who had previously worked with a supplier in China, decided to bring the manufacturing of her belts back to the U.S. and Montana. This also means she’s bringing more Montana manufacturing jobs back, too. Woot woot! To navigate the daunting task, Perry reached out to the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center (MMEC), part of the MEP National Network, for assistance. MMEC understood Perry’s commitment to growing the number of manufacturing jobs in Montana, and worked to support her goal of creating a vibrant and growing company rooted in making a positive difference. "The services provided by MMEC have built a strong Montana manufacturing community. MMEC has created a great foundation for future business growth in the industry,” said Perry. "I look forward to working with MMEC in the future on business improvements in our supply chain, product development, and cost analysis." [NIST]

Bear Paw Development sees 'year of incredible accomplishment' in 2017

For Bear Paw Development Corp., 2017 was "a year of incredible accomplishment,” said Bear Paw Development Executive Director, Paul Tuss, at its recent annual meeting. Bear Paw Development, a federally recognized and funded Economic Development District by the US Economic Development Administration, was formed in 1969 and is the oldest economic development district in Montana. It assists communities, businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs with economic development projects in Blaine, Chouteau, Hill, Liberty and Philips counties, as well as the Fort Belknap and Rocky Boy's Indian reservations (and works with the Little Shell Band of Chippewa Indians). In 2017, the organization coordinated more than $8.9 million for Montana business startups, expansions and community infrastructure through grant writing, revolving loan fund investments, bank financing and other sources. Additionally, the organization was able to leverage $85.33 from outside sources for every $1 invested in it by local governments, helping the private sector create or retain 195 Montana jobs. At the recent annual meeting, Director Paul Tuss said, "This good work occurred because Bear Paw has talented, committed and hardworking staff. I am blessed to be able to work every day with people who truly make a difference.” [Havre Daily News]

MSU breaks ground on tech park research lab, first of its kind in Montana

Montana State University broke ground last week on its Applied Research Lab in Bozeman, the first of a handful of buildings that will eventually form the 42-acre MSU Innovation Campus. The project is being kicked off with a 20,000-square-foot building planned to contain roughly eight lab-type spaces that will be contracted for use by both the university and private companies to perform government research. The building kicking off the project is expected to be completed by next summer. The campus, which is owned and operated by the university’s nonprofit fundraising arm, the MSU Alumni Foundation, is being constructed by private firm Innovation Campus Partners, which also includes Charter Realty and Development, Martel Construction and A&E Architects. Once completed, the Applied Research Lab will be accredited for security by the U.S. Department of Defense, making it the first facility of its kind in Montana. Per Innovation Campus Executive Director, Justin Cook, that accreditation is what will give student researchers a leg up, as well as attract more private companies to Bozeman. “This is a huge economic development opportunity for the state,” Cook said. And students who gain security clearance and experience working in a high-level lab setting will “walk in the door ready to work” after graduating, he added. [Bozeman Chronicle]



Missoula-based onXmaps, with $20M in new capital, aims for dominance in backcountry navigation

Missoula-headquartered onXmaps was featured this week by the Missoulian discussing what specifically attracted investors to the quickly growing startup and why onXmaps chose and continues to #chooseMONTANA. OnXmaps was formed in 2009 with a chip product that could be inserted into a GPS device to show hunters statewide property boundaries, but it was the expansion into mobile apps that work on smartphones (which exploded in popularity right as the company was developing the technology) that really took onXmaps to the next level. According to founder and CEO, Eric Siegfried, he and his team have been working on raising capital for the last year to hire more staff in their Missoula and Bozeman offices. Siegfried said they plan to hire for more than 30 Montana job positions by the end of this year. The new investment will also allow the company to hire more University of Montana graduates, such as digital marketing strategist Ryan Watson. Watson said many of his classmates had to move out of Montana, but now companies like onXmaps are attracting people like him - keeping them and their salaries in state. [Missoulian]

Apprenticeship program seeks to train more healthcare workers in Montana

The Montana Department of Labor is pushing an apprenticeship program in effort to increase the number of interns training in the healthcare industry across the state. According to Madeline Boehm, a healthcare program specialist with the Labor Department, “Montana needs to add about 2,000 healthcare employees a year just to keep up, so we had to find new ways to hire and train and retain healthcare employees.” Interns in the program were getting started this past week at Liberty Place, a service that works with people who have suffered traumatic brain injuries, in Whitehall, Montana. Since this apprenticeship program launched four years ago, the state has about 190 apprentices in the healthcare field. [KXLF]

Old Black Eagle smelter site, north of Great Falls, could see amphitheater, trails and stack replica

In 2011, the EPA placed the former copper smelter and refinery property in Black Eagle, north of Great Falls, on the federal Superfund list. The 427-acre site contains heavy metals contamination from historic smelting and refining activities, which began in 1893 and ceased nearly 100 years later in 1980. According to the EPA, threats of remaining pollution to public health and the environment were cited. However, last week final draft plans for the former ACM Smelter site were presented by Elizabeth Erickson of Water & Environmental Technologies (WET). The chosen plans for the site include an amphitheater, interpretive center and a disc golf course, as well as a 60-foot smelter stack replica and memorial, an archery range and over 15 miles of trails. WET, hired by the Cascade County Commissioners in 2017, worked with Land Design, Inc., LPW Architecture and local residents to design the land use projects. “This is quite a ways out,” said Cascade County Commission chair, Jane Weber. “The third task is to bring together a collaborative group to define how you could implement the plan.” As cleanup moves forward, this collaboration with local businesses, organizations, donors and benefactors will determine how to implement everything financially and how much of the plans presented Tuesday can be built and sustained in the future. An EPA grant of almost $79,000 allowed the county to bring WET in to do these assessments, but the proposed improvements would have to be funded by outside groups. [Great Falls Tribune]

2017 paves the way for a prosperous 2018 in Great Falls, at least 16 new businesses opened downtown

Referencing the past year, president and CEO of the Great Falls Development Authority (GFDA), Brett Doney, said, “It was one of, if not our best, year since the ‘70s, (in terms of private investment and income growth), and we believe that will continue through 2018.” Highlights from the past year include the opening of the downtown FCR call center, providing an influx of Montana jobs to the area, and Mighty Mo Brewing Company’s usage of the downtown Business Improvement District (BID) pedlet program, which uses a sidewalk extension to divert pedestrian traffic and allow for outdoor dining. According to an annual report provided by the BID, more than $5.8 million was invested in renovation and rehabilitation of downtown buildings in 2017; nearly double of 2016. And at least 16 new businesses chose to open downtown in 2017, creating more than 35 new local Montana jobs. Those numbers are up from nine new businesses with just more than 20 jobs created in 2016. Looking ahead to 2018, Doney said, “We have some entrepreneurial energy going that once you get that ball rolling, it feeds on itself.” The GFDA hopes that 2018 brings continued manufacturing growth, continued wage growth and progress on major real estate projects to begin attracting more population to the county. Learn more about all the new, growing and expanding Great Falls businesses that contributed to such a prosperous 2017. [Great Falls Tribune]

Stockman Bank ready to begin work on new southside bank location in Missoula

Stockman Bank is at it again in Missoula. The Montana-owned bank, which cut the ribbon on its new $35 million downtown facility in December, is now set to break ground this spring on its new $15 million southside location, slated for the corner of Dore Lane and Brooks Street. The first two floors of the new building, which is expected to be completed by summer of 2019, will be occupied by Stockman Bank. The third floor will be leased to a tenant. The Bank also plans to sell an adjoining piece of property to the right buyer. [Missoula Current]

MSU students, grads offering a “different option” with escape room business in Bozeman

A group of Montana State University students and recent graduates recently launched Bozeman Breakout, a series of recently popularized “escape rooms” that opened in Bozeman in mid-February. Bozeman Breakout’s founding group of five friends, all of whom have a background in art or design, decided on an escape room as a way to give locals a more engaging and unique form of evening entertainment. CEO, Dylan McDowell, was part of MSU’s Blackstone LaunchPad incubator, as well as entrepreneurial group LaunchCats, which he described as “tremendously helpful” in starting his own business. [Bozeman Chronicle]


Gallatin Airport Authority Board to fund additional tower controller and expand tower hours

The Gallatin Airport Authority Board has approved funding for an additional tower controller in addition to the tower controllers funded by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Bozeman Yellowstone Int’l Airport (BZN) continues to grow and, with increased airline and general aviation operations, the Gallatin Airport Authority has determined additional tower staffing is needed over and above the FAA approved staffing levels. Over the past twenty years, the Gallatin Airport Authority has invested more than $7 million in air traffic control equipment and services typically paid for by the FAA. The additional controller and expanded tower hours are expected to be in place before the busy 2018 summer. [Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport]

The U.S. government awards $73M contract to Bozeman-based company for border wall work in New Mexico

Bozeman-based Barnard Construction Co. (hiring several positions) was recently awarded a contract worth more than $73 million to design and build replacement fencing along 20 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border in southern New Mexico. Regional Customs and Border Protection officials said there was no timeline for when work might start but the contract calls for the project to be complete by February 16, 2019. Barnard Construction Co. was among three bidders. [Bozeman Chronicle]

Montana Precision Products granted $210,800 from Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund Program, adding 31 Montana jobs in the next year

Butte-based Montana Precision Products, LLC (MPP) has been awarded $210,800 from the Montana Department of Commerce's Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund Program with assistance from the Butte Local Development Corporation. This funding was granted to assist Montana Precision Products in the purchasing of equipment and wage reimbursement, enabling the creation of 31 new Montana jobs within the next year. And, MPP is hiring! Find current open positions here. [Butte Local Development Corporation]

Companies form cleanup plan for Montana toxic pit in Butte 

Montana Resources (currently hiring) and the Atlantic Richfield Company are planning to begin pumping and treating the toxic waters of a former open pit copper mine in Butte, Montana, as soon as the end of this year. The plan, announced earlier this week, will send the treated water from the Berkeley Pit in Butte, Montana, to the Yankee Doodle Tailings Pond. About 7 million gallons of water each day will travel from the pond to a polishing plant and then through a discharge facility. The two facilities are expected to be built later this year. [The News Tribune]