Our Blog > MT Business Roundup

Billings Clinic to build in Bozeman, Missoula's LumenAd and Consumer Direct share grant to add Montana jobs, Whitefish co-working space opens, Accelerated Startups helps Helena entrepreneurs..

Thanksgiving came. Thanksgiving went. You ate all the food. Maybe shopped some sales. And hopefully took in a few of the recent Montana sunsets (#nofilter). Now, go ahead and take a minute to get caught up with this week's skim of Montana business news below...

Billings Clinic to build 97,000-square-foot ambulatory center in Bozeman

Billings Clinic (hiring) officials recently announced plans to build a 97,000-square-foot ambulatory center in Bozeman that will include a multi-specialty physician group practice, urgent care and an outpatient surgical center. The center is estimated to cost from $35 million to $40 million and will be built on 54 acres adjacent to I-90 near the 19th Street exit. Billings Clinic expects to break ground in 2019 and open the center within three years, Billings Clinic CEO Randy Gibb said last week. A two-year feasibility study was conducted to determine the projected needs and growth of the Gallatin County community. "Bozeman is the fastest growing community in the state, at about 10 percent a year," Gibb said. "When we looked at the feasibility study, eventually there won't be enough providers in Bozeman to keep up with the growth." He estimated that the ambulatory center will add 125 to 150 Montana jobs in the Bozeman area, just within the first phase. [Billings Gazette]

Missoula’s LumenAd and Consumer Direct share $450K state grant for 63 new Montana jobs

The Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund at the Department of Commerce awarded a state grant of $450,000 this week to support two MIssoula companies, LumenAd (hiring) and Consumer Direct (hiring). The grant funds will be used for expansion and to add dozens of new Montana jobs in the local market. Bitterroot Tool and Machine, based in Hamilton, also received a $50,000 grant to create 10 new Montana jobs. “Montana’s economy continues to grow when public and private sectors come together to create jobs and provide training for workers,” Gov. Steve Bullock said in a statement provided with the announcement. The two latest grants boost an already aggressive push to grow local jobs, and the Big Sky grants have been central to that effort. Consumer Direct, a human services agency that provides management solutions for long-term care, received $255,300 in the latest round of grants to support 37 new jobs over the next two years. CEO Ben Bledsoe said the program is integral to his company’s growth. LumenAd founder and CEO Ryan Hansen echoed that sentiment. His company received $195,000 in the latest round of grants to support the creation of 26 new Montana jobs over the next year. [Missoula Current]

Co-working space, Basecamp Coworking, opens in Whitefish

Co-working spaces have popped up all across the United States - places with rentable desk space, conference rooms, and a community feel. And, the flathead valley is no exception. Recently, Drew Fortner, owner of Alaska Shore Tours opened a co-working space in Whitefish for freelancers, remote employees and others who work from home called Basecamp Coworking. There are several tiers of membership - first, a “hot desk” open seating for daily users, visitors, and people who just want to drop in with a laptop. The next tier is the dedicated desks, where for $325 a month people can leave equipment and monitors behind and use a lockable filing cabinet. The top tier is the private office choice. With 24/7 building access, furnishings and a locking office, they also receive discounted memberships for additional hot desk members and discounted guest passes. Building a community is one of the main goals at Basecamp, Fortner said. They plan on hosting events and mixers so their clients can get to know one another if they so desire. [Flathead Beacon]

Accelerated Startups program helps Helena-area entrepreneurs hit the ground running

The Montana Business Assistance Connection in Helena recently honored the first three graduates of its Accelerated Startups pilot project. The Accelerated Startups program is a collaborative effort between the business assistance connection and Edge Marketing and Design to provide resources, accountability and mentorship to new startups in the Helena area. The participants started the six-month program in the spring and completed the program last week. Graduates of the program's initial run are Montana Bones clothing company, Caffeic Coffee Roasters and Spy High Mounts, which sells a patented trail camera mounting system. When forming the curriculum, program founders wanted to focus on things startups typically have to figure out on their own. Pricing, value proposition, identifying customer base and marketing are areas of focus. According to Dustin Stewart, owner and digital product manager for Edge Marketing and Design, “We wanted to connect these startups with community resources and expertise to help fight through these hurdles.” Stewart said they will continue to experiment and adapt the program to the applicants in the future. The next session of Accelerated Startups is scheduled to take place in April of 2019. Applications for the program will be accepted December 1, 2018 through January 15, 2019. [Independent Record]

Missoula women launch retreat business to connect, empower female entrepreneurs

Two University of Montana Blackstone Launchpad employees launched a retreat business this week that focuses on building women’s entrepreneurial skills while providing a unique Montana experience at local lodges and destinations. According to co-founder Morgan Slemberger, Peak Retreats is similar to a conference, but participants will have more one-on-one discussions with consultants and be able to relax and recharge through skiing, snowshoeing and spa treatments. The retreat takes a personal approach, Strong said, with only 10 spots available for the first event. The founders hope through self-funding that the business can host three to four retreats each year for women from anywhere in the country. The inaugural retreat is set for January 23-25 at The Lodge at Whitefish Lake in Whitefish and will feature keynote speakers discussing the challenges participants face in their businesses. [Missoula Current]

Bozeman photonics company Bridger Photonics to receive $100K EPA grant

It was recently announced that Bozeman-based Bridger Photonics (hiring) will receive a $100,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The grant will be used to fund the development of technology that will facilitate the discovery of leaks in oil and gas wells. The $100,000 to Bridger Photonics is part of $1.7 million that the EPA is awarding to 16 small businesses. The award comes from the EPA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, which encourages the development of technologies that support EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment. According to Senator Steve Daines, “The technology being developed at Bridger Photonics will help oil and gas wells be more efficient while also better protecting the environment. I’m glad that the EPA recognized the good work being done at this Montana business and awarded them this funding.” [KBZK]

Up to 350 Montana jobs headed to Butte with FCR’s new call center facility coming

Butte could see as many as 350 new jobs by spring. That's because FCR, an Oregon-based provider of outsourced call center and other business services, announced earlier this month that it will open a new office in the Mining City (Butte) in early 2019. The company plans to offer customer service and technical support jobs answering telephone calls, emails, text messages, and social media communications for a variety of companies and industries. FCR will also hire for supervisory and management positions. Stephanie Sorini, executive director of the Butte Chamber of Commerce, said the new jobs could have broad economic effects. In addition to operating six contact centers in Oregon, FCR opened a center in Great Falls in 2017. In Great Falls, the company currently employs 250 people (and is hiring) and plans to expand the Great Falls facility next year. FCR did not announce where specifically its Butte office will be located, but Sorini said the company has narrowed its choice down to two locations. [Montana Standard]

$3.5 million FedEx facility expansion underway west of Butte

Construction is underway on a $3.5 million project to expand Butte’s FedEx Freight facility in the Montana Connections Business Development Park west of Butte. In September, board members for Butte’s Tax Increment Financing Industrial District awarded the project a $200,000 grant. The business development park resides within the district overseen by the board, which uses tax increment financing to fund infrastructure-related projects. FedEx’s landlord VEREIT, a real estate company based in Phoenix, is financing the project, but FedEx will be the beneficiary of the grant through reduced lease rates. The FedEx facility employs around 95 people. But according to FedEx’s grant application, the expansion could make room for 31 more Montana jobs over the next 15 years. The expansion is expected to be completed in 2019. [Montana Standard]

Wyoming-based coal company Cloud Peak considers selling amid economic challenges

Cloud Peak Energy, one of the biggest miners of Montana coal, will consider selling the company among other options as it deals with continuing economic challenges. According to Colin Marshall, president and CEO of Cloud Peak, “While our board is undertaking this strategic review, Cloud Peak Energy remains focused on executing against our operational and financial priorities. We will continue to adjust our business to the structural changes in the U.S. coal industry and to position our company for future growth opportunities.” Cloud Peak mines were expected to produce up to 51 million tons of coal this year, but had contracts for 35 million tons in 2019 and 30 million the year after. [Billings Gazette]

Bozeman company Barnard Construction awarded border wall contract

Bozeman-headquartered Barnard Construction (hiring) has been awarded a contract to build part of the wall on the U.S-Mexico border. The $172 million contract was awarded by U.S Customs and Border Protection and the U.S Army Corps of Engineers. Barnard Construction is tasked with constructing 32 miles of primary pedestrian replacement wall. The wall will run along the U.S Border Patrol’s Yuma and Tucson sectors. Construction is scheduled to begin April 2019. [KBZK]

Montana Craft Malt moves toward completion of its $15-million facility west of Butte

Montana Craft Malt (MCM) plans to open its $15-million facility next year with around 15 employees and produce 10,000 tons of malt per year from Montana-grown barley. The facility, which is one of many buildings in the Montana Connections Business Development Park west of Butte, will be Montana’s first mid-size barley-malting facilities. MCM broke ground last spring, and construction on the 30,000-square-foot facility is expected to wrap up in March of 2019. The company is already consulting with potential customers — craft brewers and distillers — according to the company’s new president Jennifer O’Brien, who took over the helm when her father passed away in May. [Montana Standard]

Pattern’s Stillwater Wind comes to life in Montana

Pattern Energy Group 2 LP (Pattern Development) has completed construction and is now operating its 79.75 MW Stillwater Wind facility in Stillwater County, approximately 11 miles north of Reed Point, Montana (a town located between Big Timber and Billings). According to Mike Garland, CEO of Pattern Development, “Our first wind power facility in Montana is now generating numerous benefits for the state, including strong Montana jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenue, while producing enough clean energy to power 23,000 homes each year without any emissions. We’re working on our second wind project in Montana, and we look forward to creating more jobs and economic benefits from the state’s vast natural wind resources.” Over the first 25 years of the facility’s operational life, it is expected to produce more than $18 million in tax revenue. The local county will also receive impact fees over the first three years, in addition to royalty payments for participating landowners. [North America Wind Power]

More than $3 million in tax credits approved for Havre’s Oakwood Village acquisition and rehabilitation

Havre’s Oakwood Village will be one of five projects in Montana receiving Federal Tax Credits to develop affordable housing. According to a recent press release, Affiliated Developers Inc. will receive $3,881,250 in tax credits for the acquisition and rehabilitation of Oakwood Village. It added that the total project investment of $7,716,755 in Oakwood Village will result in 100 new Montana jobs, creating $4.5 million in wages and salaries. "This is a win-win for Montana," Bullock said in a press release. "Montana families thrive when they have a safe and affordable place to call home, and our economy continues to grow when we are able to house a productive workforce, while creating hundreds of construction jobs in local communities throughout the state." [Havre Daily News]

Where the Montana jobs are: Mapping Montana’s economic landscape

In the first installment of the Long Streets reporting project, comprehensive county-level job data available from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis was analyzed to generate a broad overview of the jobs landscape in Montana. The big picture: Montana has 676,000 jobs. The largest share of Montanans work jobs in the service sector, a broad category of employment that includes minimum-wage earners as well as software engineers and other trained professionals. Though the state economy is still anchored to its natural resources, farming, mining, and logging make up less than 10 percent of all jobs. Additionally, Montana’s workforce breakdown by sector mirrors the national economy, with some notable exceptions: Montana has more farmers (4.6 percent of the state workforce versus 1.3 percent nationally) — and fewer manufacturing jobs (3.7 percent of the Montana workforce versus 6.8 percent nationwide). And as no surprise, Montana’s jobs are clustered around several urban centers across the state (i.e. Billings, Missoula, Bozeman, Kalispell, Great Falls, Helena and Butte). Those clusters include 72 percent of Montana’s jobs and 68 percent of its people. Job growth is even more concentrated. Five counties — around Bozeman, Billings, Missoula, Kalispell and Helena — have accounted for 70 percent of net job creation between 2001 and 2016. Lastly, this installment also touches on the earnings of these Montana jobs noting service-sector jobs, while plentiful, often pay low. On the other hand, transportation, government and manufacturing may pay well, but aren’t producing many new jobs. The sweet spot lies in industries that are growing and pay well - which both the mining and health care sectors have stood out in recent years. [Bozeman Daily Chronicle]

Bozeman commissioners approve WinCo Foods

Earlier this week Bozeman commissioners said the site plans for a 75,000-square-foot grocery store fit into city rules and future projects in their unanimous vote to approve WinCo Foods’ plans for north Bozeman. “We want to be a retail trade center,” Commissioner Jeff Krauss said. WinCo is a largely employee-owned supermarket based in Boise, Idaho, and plans to build in Gallatin Center development off North 19th. The next step for WinCo is to apply for a city building permit. [KBZK]

Amid worker shortage, Helena employers get creative to attract and retain good employees

A lack of workers in Helena and across the state is forcing business owners to make some important staffing decisions. From deciding how to better compensate employees to weighing which jobs are no longer necessary in the current economic climate, employers are facing major changes. They are also getting more creative with their recruitment and retention efforts to introduce employees to the workforce and keep them there. Businesses are searching for more versatile workers, who can cross-train or obtain training certifications that expand their job duties. Additionally, the department of labor works with businesses across the state to offer on-the-job training. As part of the apprenticeship program, workers who aren’t necessarily qualified for a job can be hired and trained for the position. About 90 percent of people who go through the apprenticeship program stay in Montana. The Helena Building Industry Association,  Casteel Construction, and St. Peter’s Health (hiring) are all examples of Helena area employers exercising alternative ways to attract and retain employees. [Independent Record]

Montana Made: Great Falls GrizzBiz students mean business

In Great Falls, seventh and eighth grade students are learning what it takes to succeed in business through a Great Falls program, GrizzBiz. Kids with an interest in the program fill out an application, go through an interview process and, if selected, they’re involved with everything from ordering supplies and marketing to bookkeeping and production, which includes laser engraving. Depending on how much they produce and sell, they even draw a paycheck. GrizzBiz is a year-round venture and is in its ninth year. About 30 kids participate in the summer program which includes a booth at the Farmer’s Market and is highlighted by the Montana State Fair where the students engrave the winning plaques. During the school year, about 15 kids are employed. GrizzBiz has also recently expanded, starting a similar program at East Middle School in Great Falls called Ram Enterprises. [KPAX]