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Next Frontier Capital raises $38M second fund for Montana startups, Missoula's ATG boosts overall Montana job growth, medical training center coming to Butte, Job Service recognizes 3 Missoula companies, "Economic Pulse" of Billings (study) and more

Next Frontier Capital raises $38M second fund for Montana startups, Missoula's ATG boosts overall Montana job growth, medical training center coming to Butte, Job Service recognizes 3 Missoula companies, "Economic Pulse" of Billings (study) and more


Next Frontier Capital raises $38 million fund to deploy more capital to Montana startups

Next Frontier Capital (based in Bozeman, Montana) announced this week that it has raised a $38 million fund to deploy more capital to Montana startups - closing the firm’s second fund. When Next Frontier Capital raised its first fund in 2015, Montana startups were only garnering about $6 million in venture capital money each year. In 2017, Montana startups raised $83 million. Next Frontier Capital invested in 10 growing startups and companies in its first $21 million fund, nine of which have a Montana presence. Submittable, Clearas, and Orbital Shift are headquartered in Missoula, while SiteOne Therapeutics, Blackmore Sensors and Analytics, and Quiq are headquartered in Bozeman. Two other companies, IronCore Labs and OppSource, are headquartered in other states but have teams in Bozeman, Montana. Next Frontier Capital claims that these companies have created 100 new Montana jobs to date. The firm hopes to invest in 10 companies with its latest fund. Its first two investments from fund II are security startup Ataata and Missoula-based mapping platform onXMaps[Venture Beat]



Major medical training center coming to Uptown Butte and expected to bring 70 Montana jobs to the area

The nation’s first independently-owned, nonprofit medical simulation facility, dedicated to rural health care, was announced for Uptown Butte this week. The $35 million medical training center, Praxis Center for Innovation Learning, is expected to bring 3,000 to 4,000 doctors, nurses, technicians, first-responders and others to the area each year to teach hands-on health care in rural areas of the U.S. and beyond. The Praxis Center for Innovative Learning founders, Pat Dudley and Ray Rogers, are longtime friends and “Butte boys.” They have done years of legwork, including detailed business plans, financial analysis and state and national feasibility studies that garnered endorsements from hospitals and national rural health care organizations. The Center is expected to bring 70 new Montana jobs to the area, 50 of which are expected to be full time. The 82,000-square-foot center is being designed by Montana-based CTA Architects with construction to be lead by Butte’s Marcovich Construction.

One third of the center will be set up like a rural hospital, with an emergency room entrance and ER, an intensive care unit, delivery room, operating room and nursing unit. A helicopter landing pad will allow life-flight scenarios to be played out. One 10,000-square-foot section will have a 40-foot ceiling to accommodate large-scale, mockup scenarios for military personnel, EMTs and first-responders. For example, a roadside car crash could be set up with “virtual” people. It will also include a surgical center, imaging suite, conference space (for 200-300 people), a “home-scenario room” for mockup emergencies such as home births and more. Additionally, they have already received funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration and support from the Butte Local Development Corp. to put a “business accelerator” in the building. As many as 25 offices will be available for startup companies, which will get mentorship and support for accounting, human resources and IT services. The project is estimated to cost $35 million — $28 million for construction and the rest for equipment and startup (of which most of that will be financed by Mountain Plains Equity Group Inc. in Billings). Construction is expected to start early next year and doors to open in 2020. [Montana Standard]

ATG’s economic impact on Missoula surpasses $21M, boosts overall Montana job and wage growth

Advanced Technology Group (ATG), a tech company that launched in 2011 and is currently hiring for several open positions in Missoula, is growing quickly and bringing tremendous economic impact to the Missoula market. In addition to its growing Missoula offices, ATG has corporate headquarters in Kansas City, Kansas, and also has offices in St. Louis, Missouri, and Cincinnati, Ohio. In 2017, the company which today has 126 employees in Missoula, paid more than $8 million in wages locally. The Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana conducted a economic impact study on ATG late last year finding that the company fueled creation of 200 additional Montana jobs in 2017 and created an economic output of $21.8 million in the Missoula economy. The average ATG employee now earns more than $77,000 a year, though the company’s mere presence in the community has buoyed the wages of other local workers as well. At the time of the report, Tom Stergios, senior vice president of strategy and corporate development, said the company expected to add as many as 80 new employees in 2018 and bring the total payroll to 250 by the end of the year. Based on hiring efforts since the report, the company appears to be well on its way to meeting that goal. ATG isn’t alone in growing Missoula’s tech scene. Across town, onXmaps has moved into a new headquarters on its growing tech campus, closed its Series A and has added dozens of Missoula jobs, with plans to fill even more this year. Additionally, ClassPass, an international tech-based fitness company, opened its third North American office in Missoula in January and is looking to continue hiring in Missoula as its sales grow. Despite the continued tech sector growth in MIssoula, ATG’s Stergios said they have not struggled to find qualified employees for most positions. “We’re working closely with the University of Montana in teaching applicable skills,” Stergios said. “We’ve got a great training program and, so far, we haven’t had a shortage of talent.” [Missoula Current]

Blackstone LaunchPad partners with Techstars to benefit Montana entrepreneurs

Student entrepreneurs working with the Blackstone LaunchPad at the University Montana will benefit from a new partnership between the Blackstone Charitable Foundation and Techstars, a global startup accelerator and entrepreneurial network. The new effort was announced this week at SXSW EDU in Austin, Texas. As one of just 20 Blackstone LaunchPads across the globe, the Blackstone LaunchPad at the University of Montana boasts more than 1,000 student and community entrepreneurs and their mentors in its membership. The organization helps students, faculty, staff and alumni explore entrepreneurship as a viable career path. UM President Seth Bodnar said UM’s ability to leverage Techstars’ proven frameworks will create a competitive advantage for Montana’s entrepreneurs on a global level. [University of Montana]



“Economic Pulse” of Billings, recent study compares Billings to similar-sized communities

Big Sky Economic Development (EDA) recently conducted a study comparing Billings to the economic performance of other cities in the region. The “Economic Pulse” study compares Billings to similar-sized communities within a 500 mile radius to gain a perspective about Billings’ competitiveness and identify opportunities and challenges for the Magic City. The cities identified for comparison are Bismarck, Boise, Bozeman, Casper, Cheyenne, Fort Collins, Great Falls, Missoula and Rapid City, South Dakota. With a population of 169,736, Billings is the largest of all the communities except for Boise (690,214) and Fort Collins (339,993). All of the cities have colleges or universities. The population of Billings has grown 13 percent over the past ten years, a rate that outpaces the state average and the national average. But a number of peer communities are growing even faster. Billings ranked #2 in population, behind Boise, and third in GDP (Gross Domestic Product) with $10.2 billion. The unemployment rate, at 3.5 percent, remains lower than the nation by half a percentage and correlates well with its peer communities. Through 2017, Billings was consistently the second lowest unemployment rate of the Montana communities studied, with only Bozeman experiencing a lower rate. Other rates were Bozeman 2.9; Missoula 3.7; and Great Falls 3.9. Cost of living in Billings is 3 percent more than the US average but falls within the middle of the peer communities. It is very comparable with Boise. Bozeman has the highest cost of living figure in Montana, followed by Missoula; Great Falls is the lowest. However, Billings also has one of the oldest working communities, compared to the other cities in the region. Billings has the second largest group that is 55 years or older, comprising 25 percent of its workforce. Only Rapid City has a larger older group. [Big Sky Business Journal]



Bozeman-based Simms Fishing Products completes Seattle warehouse relocation, but emphasizes local commitment and remains a top Montana employer

Simms Fishing Products shipped its first load of jackets, packs and boots out of Seattle on Monday, several months after it announced it would be relocating the majority of its warehouse operations from its Bozeman headquarters to the port city. All told, the company eliminated 14 positions with the move. Of the 20-person Bozeman warehouse team, six employees took new positions within the company, said Diane Bristol, senior director of employee and community engagement. Six employees were kept on to work with local shipping and receiving, while eight others did not reapply for other roles at the company. According to Bristol, Simms’ first choice was to keep the operations in Bozeman. However, scattered warehouse locations combined with high land and construction prices and shipping costs eventually forced the company’s hand. In 2016, the company added a three-story, 14,000-square-foot expansion. Simms currently employs 180 people, has no plans to move its production facility away from Bozeman and remains a top employer in Montana (we hear first hand from our friends in Bozeman employed by the company). The company is also currently hiring for a few open positions in Bozeman that can be found here. [Bozeman Chronicle]

Local businessman gives $4M to Flathead Valley Community College for construction of College Center Project

Montana businessman Paul Wachholz, who helped found one of Montana’s largest real estate companies Coldwell Banker Wachholz Company and also Fun Beverage, recently announced he would be giving a $4 million donation to the Flathead Valley Community College for the construction of the College Center, a 50,000-square-foot facility that will become the heart of the school. The building, which is slated to open in 2020, will include a large performance and lecture hall that will serve as home of the Glacier Symphony and be available for public events, two full basketball courts, outdoor amphitheater and a reception hall. Wachholz said he appreciates that the community college responds to the needs of the valley and hopes that many more students take advantage of its offerings in the future, adding that doing so would benefit themselves and their hometown. [Flathead Beacon]

Nine Montana manufacturing companies of hunting and tactical gear aim for European markets

The Montana Department of Commerce is bringing nine Montana manufacturers of hunting and tactical equipment to Germany to attend IWA Outdoor Classics in Nuremberg this month, a leading trade fair for hunting, shooting sports and equipment for outdoor activities, as well as security applications such as law enforcement. The trip is expected to test the waters of these companies exporting their products to Europe. Montana manufacturers participating at the trade fair include: Black Gold Archery of Belgrade, Schnee’s of Bozeman, HSM Ammunition of Stevensville, Cleanwaste of Belgrade, Counter Assault Pepper Sprays of Kalispell, Defiance Machine of Columbia Falls, Lilia Precision Rifle Barrels of Plains, Stone Glacier of Bozeman and U.S. Optics of Kalispell. [Montana Department of Commerce]

Montana buys farm northwest of Miles City for $11.3M, the state’s most expensive land buy to date

On February 20, the Montana Land Board approved acquisition of almost 17,000 dryland acres 25 miles northwest of Miles City in Rosebud County for $11.3 million, its most expensive purchase to date. The deal is set to close on March 9th. Money for the property comes from the state’s Land Banking Fund, cash acquired from the sale of other state parcels. As of December 2017, the state had sold more than 79,500 acres of land for $56.2 million since the fund was created in 2003. The idea of the Land Banking system is to divest the state of lands that are less profitable and may be inaccessible and replace those with parcels that can earn more money while also providing access to the public for recreational activities and protecting wildlife habitat. This purchased land will be divided into nine management units — eight for dryland crops and one grazing parcel. The land will be leased in a competitive bid process, which is expected to generate a minimum of $342,000 annually for the state school trust. [Montana Untamed]

University of Montana’s Master of Accountancy Program ranks top 20 nationally

Public Accounting Report’s 36th Annual Professors Survey ranked the University of Montana’s Master of Accountancy (MAcct) program 16th in the country for master’s programs with less than 17 full-time accounting faculty members. University of Montana (UM) placed 19th when compared to programs of all sizes in the West, one of four regions the survey ranked. Both listings put the UM master’s program in good company: Surrounding it are schools like Cornell University, Rice University, University of Colorado, and University of Oregon. Although Montana State University has a highly regarded Master of Professional Accountancy (MPAc) program, UM’s program is the only master of accountancy in Montana separately accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. Not surprisingly, recruiting for MAcct graduates is competitive. About 50 firms actively recruit potential accounting hires from UM’s College of Business each year. The program’s 10-year average for UM alumni who have jobs within three months of graduation is 94.7 percent, with about half of all grads working out of state. [University of Montana]

Missoula Job Service recognizes three Missoula companies as 2018 Employers of Choice

Missoula Job Service Employers' Council named its 2018 Employers of Choice last week including Blackfoot Technologies, Paradise Dental Technologies and Alter Enterprises. Awards are given to a small, mid-size, and large employer based on benefits offered to employees, leadership, workplace culture, employee development, community involvement and other criteria that make them great places to work. At Blackfoot Technologies (currently hiring for a couple positions), employees receive 14 holidays per year on top of their paid vacation and sick leave plus are eligible for a pension upon retirement. Other benefits include an employee assistance program, tuition reimbursement, telecommuting options, flexible work schedules, health screenings, gym discounts and an emphasis on work/life balance. According to the CEO Jason Williams, “It’s a long-term commitment that we have to our employees. We’re looking out for the best interests of not only our owners but also our employees, so we want to make sure we pay them a good wage and offer them great benefits so they can have great lives.” The mid-size employer of choice, Paradise Dental Technologies, is a dental instrument manufacturing company that offers generous paid time off, profit sharing, a 401(k) plan, outdoor tournaments with cash prizes and catered holiday parties. Small employer, Alter Enterprise, a computer network solution provider, offers bonuses for meeting goals and making referrals, and encourages employee involvement in community activities. [Missoulian]


Bitterroot Valley man features Montana-made products in subscription-based gift boxes

Scott Sacry, of Stevensville, Montana, has found a way to boost Montana small businesses by introducing their products to both local and out-of-state customers through the Last Best Box, a subscription-based gift box delivery service. Each box includes a mix of four to six Montana-made consumable items like spices, popcorn, jerky, relishes, jellies, drinks and food mixes. Each box also includes a non-consumable product like a shirt, hat, pottery, metalwork, houseware, book or photograph. Sacry estimates that more than half of his customers live outside Montana. He was surprised to find that a big portion of his customers are businesses that buy the boxes for their employees. Sacry noted, "Our purpose is to help Montanans support Montana businesses, experience new Montana-made products and to expose people not living in Montana to some of the amazing things that are made here.” [Missoulian]

Venture-capital backed bike-share tech firm LimeBike eyes Missoula market

A bicycle- and electric scooter-sharing tech company called LimeBike is looking at entering the Missoula market and has sent representatives to meet with city and University of Montana officials. LimeBike, headquartered in San Mateo, CA, but with locations all across the U.S., allows customers to rent its bikes for $1 per hour and leave them anywhere. Unlike other bike-sharing companies, the bike locks its back tires when you’re done, so there’s no need for docking stations or your own bike lock. Last year the company raised $62 million in venture capital to enter new markets, according to TechCrunch. [Missoulian]

WinCo Foods files paperwork to build on old Kmart lot in Billings

WinCo Foods, the grocery store chain moving into the old Kmart property on 24th Street West and Central Avenue in Billings, recently filed plans with Billing’s Building Division for permits to build its store. The paperwork includes plans for a traditional, large grocery store just more than 88,100 square feet and estimated to cost $6.8 million, as well as vast improvements to the parking lot. The store would be WinCo's first in Montana. WinCo Foods is an employee-owned company with 113 stores across the Northwest, Utah, Arizona, Texas and Oklahoma. The closest store to its newest Billings location is the store located in Idaho Falls, Idaho. [Montana Standard]