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CEO of Submittable talks benefits of business in Montana, national series #StartupsEverywhere features Missoula startup leader and startups to watch, funding secured for Butte veterans home, Great Falls Cargill plant to craft GMO canola oil and more

Can Do: The benefits of running a Montana-based business

Michael FitzGerald, the co-founder and CEO of Submittable.com, is featured on a recent episode of Can Do: Lessons From Savvy Montana Entrepreneurs on Montana Public Radio. Fitzgerald shares more about the success behind the Missoula-based software management company since its launch in 2010 - now with more than 35 employees (and currently hiring) and more than 10,000 customers. According to Fitzgerald when referencing its start, “We just showed up every day for two to three hours when no one was asking us, and we pushed the ball forward a little bit and I think that’s the difference. It’s not about getting rich. It’s about enjoying doing hard, weird things - potentially for years and years." Past episodes of the radio show include features on other impressive Missoula-based companies like VIM & VIGR (hiring) and LumenAd (hiring), as well as Bozeman-based Vision Aerial and Cowboy Cricket Farms. [Montana Public Radio]

#StartupsEverywhere: Missoula, MT

#StartupsEverywhere, an ongoing series highlighting startup leaders in ecosystems across the country, recently featured Paul Gladen. Paul runs the entrepreneurial program Blackstone LaunchPad at the University of Montana, which is funded through the Blackstone Charitable Foundation. He is also co-founder of the Missoula-based Hellgate Venture Network and helped found the Montana Code School. The interview discusses the program in further detail along with assessing the Missoula-area startup ecosystem, including the recent announcement of ClassPass’ (currently hiring) bringing a its third North American office to Missoula as well as the impact organizations like the Missoula Economic Partnership and the Montana High Tech Business Alliance have on the area. Finally the interview ends with Paul’s list of Montana startups to watch including GeoFli (currently hiring), Elebase, Sellout and Inimmune. [Engine]


PHOTO VIA HAZER NOVICH

Federal funding secured for Butte veterans home, Tester announces

More than $8 million in federal funding has been secured for Butte’s veterans home. This funding, which amounts to about two thirds of the project's cost, is a “huge victory” according to Senator Jon Tester. Democratic state Senator Jon Sesso of Butte, who has been working toward a veterans home in Butte for nearly a decade as a legislator and as Butte-Silver Bow's planning director, credited Tester for getting the project "over the goal line." Sesso said a 10-acre tract near Three Bears Alaska and Continental Drive donated by Don Harrington is still intact, and that's where the 60-bed "cottage-style" home will go. Montana has two other state homes for veterans - located in Columbia Falls and Glendive. Currently, Montana has more than 100,000 veterans. Of that total, about 33,000 live in southwest Montana. The state will oversee the project and already has 35 percent of the architecture and design work completed. It's possible ground could be broken later this year and it is expected to take two years to complete. Per Sesso, the number of Montana jobs that will be created by the home is unknown at this time estimates it will be dozens. [Montana Standard]


PHOTO VIA KRISTEN INBODY / GREAT FALLS TRIBUNE

Cargill plant, north of Great Falls, to craft GMO canola oil

The new Cargill plant north of Great Falls has plans to create canola oil that is genetically modified to be high in omega-3 for use in feed on fish farms and offer Montana farmers another way to diversify production. The privately held agribusiness giant based in Minneapolis has operated locally from a temporary office in Fort Benton, Montana, since 2015 and moved into its new plant last October. According to Keith Horton, Cargill’s senior trial agronomist, the omega-3 canola, which is currently under USDA review and being grown on 5-acre test fields in Central Montana, will add to the sustainability of fish as a human food source while taking the stress off the fish populations in oceans. The Montana plant, which currently employs six, has the potential to add 20 to 25 new Montana jobs once they bring a sales team and full laboratory online, including interns and contract employees. [Great Falls Tribune]


PHOTO VIA THE EUREKA AREA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

Grant brings high-speed internet to Eureka, Montana

Interbel Telephone Cooperative Inc. in Eureka won a $486,000 grant from the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Association to install fiber-optic cable to deliver high-speed internet service to the town’s main business corridor. Noting the high cost for businesses to bring fiber to their own places of business, Randy Wilson, the general manager at Interbel, noted this technology will allow business to expand, grow and continue creating Montana jobs in Eureka. The total cost of the project is $810,000, and Wilson said Interbel would be footing the portion of the bill not covered by the grant. Additionally, Wilson said Interbel plans to put the project out for bid in the fall of 2018 and start construction the following spring. He hopes the work will be completed by summer of 2019. [Daily Inter Lake]

Manufacturing up in Montana

Montana manufacturers are holding firm after a decade of growth that exceeded the national average. Since 2010, employment in Montana manufacturing has grown 20.4 percent while it grew 12.1 percent nationally. According to the Bureau of Business and Economic Research, Montana’s manufacturing employment grew despite permanent closures in the paper and wood products industries because of growth in other categories. These other categories include: production of alcoholic beverages, which added nearly 589 Montana jobs (75 percent growth), fabricated metal products, which added 1200 Montana jobs (65 percent growth) and small arms manufacturing, which added 233 Montana jobs (61 percent growth). [Big Sky Business Journal]

Bozeman area again ranked fastest-growing of its size in the nation

Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau released its most recent population estimates, which rank the Bozeman area the fastest-growing of its size for the second year in a row. The Bozeman micropolitan statistical area, which includes all of Gallatin County, added 3,738 new residents between 2016 and 2017 - bringing its total to 107,810. Kalispell also made the list, ranking third with 2,300 newcomers last year. Broken down by county, Yellowstone County remained the state’s most populous with 158,980 residents, followed by Missoula County with 117,441 residents, Gallatin County now with 107,810 residents and Flathead County at 100,000 residents. Overall, Montana ranked 38th in the nation by population growth and 17th nationally, by percent. [US Census Bureau]

ViZn Energy lays off employees and ceases operations in Columbia Falls

In what company officials are hoping is a temporary furlough (i.e. leave of absence), Flathead Valley-based ViZn Energy laid off all 70 of its employees and ceased operations at its Highway 2 facility just south of Columbia Falls. 60 of the 70 employees reside in the Flathead Valley, with some others in Texas, New York, New Jersey and Europe. In an interview, CEO Steve Bonner said the intention is to temporarily give employees a “leave of absence” as officials negotiate with investors and dedicate their attention to company finances. Bonner noted that in order to qualify employees for unemployment benefits, they had to be officially laid off. ViZn Energy, which was developing cutting-edge, state-of-the-art battery technology, employed a wide skilled-professional spectrum, including scientists and engineers, as well as positions in marketing, finance, software and operations. Since opening under the name Zinc Air in 2009, the firm has positioned itself as a global player in large-scale energy storage technology, with its primary research and development facility, as well as the bulk of its employees, in the Flathead Valley. Company officials have said they have no intention to sell, but rather they’re working to secure key, substantial investors - and plan to bring back employees soon after securing investors. [Flathead Beacon]

Economists reveal reason for low state revenues, and biggest industry recovery

Patrick Barkey, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research (BBER) of the University of Montana, was one of many presenters in the annual Economic Outlook Seminar given at the end of January across several Montana communities. With three leading stories of the year, including budget woes of State government, the devastating fires of 2017, and the quiet recovery of the Montana oil industry, the economists said Montana had experienced moderate growth over the past couple of years with strong Montana job growth and continued low unemployment. And while a few years ago, rural, eastern Montana counties were growing at unprecedented rates, outpacing the more populated counties in more western areas of the state, growth has reversed back to more historical trends in which the growth is occurring most rapidly in the population centers. Finally, economists mentioned that contributing the most to growth in Montana has been healthcare, fueled by Medicaid expansion, as well as financial activities, real estate and professional services, led by strong tech-related expansion. [Big Sky Business Journal]

Bitcoin under the Big Sky

The Treasure State (Montana) has a rich history of extracting traditional resources such as gold, silver, copper, zinc and coal. However, as these industries decline, Montana may be uniquely situated on the frontier of a lucrative new form of mining: bitcoin. Bitcoin crypto mining centers are already up and running in Bonner (just east of Missoula) and Butte, and Montana is being flooded with pitches for more. The state has even garnered the attention of Inc. magazine, which published a piece in January on the Bitcoin Gold Rush in Montana. According to NorthWestern Energy spokesman Butch Larcombe, the company has had at least 20 different proposals since the first of the year. Electric utilities in the Northwest boast some of the cheapest electricity rates in the nation, due in large part to the low cost of hydropower and its dense network of dams, making the region an attractive location for bitcoin-mining facilities. The sites use computer processors to solve complex math equations and track digital currency exchanges, uploading them to a digital ledger that validates the transactions - all which draw substantial amounts of energy out of the grid as they run the vast computer networks 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, needing extensive ventilation systems to cool the machines. Project Spokane, who’s parent company is Hyperblock Technologies, was the state’s first crypto mining site near Bonner, and CryptoWatt Mining LLC just started operations south of Butte this month. However, despite the buzz, the Flathead Electric Cooperative’s Board of Trustees imposed a six-month moratorium (i.e. prohibition) on cryptocurrency mining in late February, citing the influx of power demands. During the moratorium, FEC staff will evaluate the best way to handle the loads to mitigate the impacts to other members and rethink its rate structures. Statewide, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development has also received numerous requests for information from cryptocurrency mining operations, according to Chief Business Development Officer Ken Fichtler, “Our official position on the issue is that we support developing the high-technology industry in Montana as a whole. The dramatic increase in interest from these businesses that we’ve seen over the last several months is a testament to the attractive business climate in Montana.” [Flathead Beacon] [Missoulian]


PHOTO VIA DESTINATION MONTANA

Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport ranked 5th best

Time Magazine recently released its list of best U.S. airports and ranked Bozeman Yellowstone International number five noting its 85.75% ontime arrivals and two restaurants. Bozeman Yellowstone International, which just had its eighth consecutive year of record breaking travelers, continues to be the busiest airport in the state of Montana. [Time]

Missoula business leaders: State must preserve economic development program

The Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund grants in Missoula, which is administered by the Montana Department of Commerce, may become the latest in a growing list of services to face the chopping block as the state tightens the reins on fiscal spending. The program provides state grants to qualified businesses to promote stable economic growth, including Montana job creation and planning. Missoula area local recipients have included Tru-Home Montana, Synema Studio, Audience Awards, Modern Entrepreneur, Orbital Shift, VIM & VIGR and Advanced Technology Group (currently hiring) among others. Despite the program’s ability to incentivize economic development, it faces an uncertain future. According to Nicole Rush, the grants administrator with Missoula Economic Partnership, “We actually anticipate having to defend this program during the 2019 session.” [Missoula Current]

Belgrade business wins 2018 Retailer of the Year at the Made in Montana Tradeshow

Longtime Belgrade business Chalet Market of Montana and its owners Mark and Gwen Croghan have been honored by their Made in Montana peers as the 2018 Retailer of the Year. The Chalet Market first opened in 1976 by a group of local ranchers who were looking for a way to locally sell their meats. In 2012, the Croghans purchased the Chalet and continue to produce and sell their own Montana-made smoked meats from their store just south of the I-90 interchange on the way to Big Sky and West Yellowstone. According to Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney, “It’s small business owners like Mark and Gwen Croghan who highlight the very best of Montana-made food and gifts that keep visitors and locals returning for more.” [Montana Department of Commerce]

MSU TechLink lands Army contract for software analysis

Montana State University’s TechLink Center has landed a $500,000 contract to continue quality assurance testing on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers software. The one-year award will fund eight computer science student internships at MSU’s TechLink Software Engineering and Analysis Laboratory or TSEAL. Elias Athey is one of eight undergraduates currently employed part-time by TSEAL, who says “working at TSEAL has been extremely beneficial for my professional development.” He added that the techniques he has learned give him a leg up in the job market. [Montana State University]

Rural areas left out of Montana's rapid job growth as non-labor income rises

There's a stark difference in the job growth around the Montana cities of Billings, Missoula, Bozeman, Kalispell and Helena compared to the rest of the rural areas in the state. Huge portions of rural Montana are being left behind as the state’s economic growth is restricted almost exclusively to counties with larger urban areas. Among the 56 counties in Montana, just five of those counties (Gallatin, Yellowstone, Missoula, Flathead, and Lewis and Clark) captured 75 percent of new Montana jobs from 2000-2016. And while Montana’s economy is doing better than the U.S. overall - personal income growing by 49 percent compared to 30 percent nationally - there is a widening gap between the state’s cities and rural areas, according to Mark Haggerty of Headwaters Economics in Bozeman. Haggerty, who recently compiled a report for the Montana Legislature’s Joint Subcommittee on the changing statewide economy and impacts to the long-term viability of Montana’s tax structure, noted that “most of the high-wage services jobs are located in cities that have access to national and global markets, clusters of like-minded businesses and a larger educated workforce. Rural areas are not competing for these new Montana jobs as well, and are more acutely impacted by job losses in manufacturing and traditional resource sectors.” [Missoulian]

With new expansion, Cashman Nursery grows along with Bozeman

A family-run nursery and landscaping business that has grown with Bozeman for more than 40 years is growing even more. Cashman Nursery & Landscaping is putting the finishing touches on an expansion that adds 2,500 square feet of retail and showroom space and 1,000 square feet of office space at the Springhill Road location that it has called home since 1976. The business, which now extends into the fourth generation, said the expansion will allow them to keep delivering top-notch customer care while carrying on its legacy for future generations. [KBZK]