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Montana companies make Outside Magazine's list of 50 best places to work, Zoot wins award, entrepreneurship makes its mark in Montana, state forestry industry rebounding...and more


Skim while telling everyone, "I voted." 

Montana companies named among Outside Magazine's 50 best places to work

Two Montana companies were recently named among the top 50 best places to work by Outside Magazine and a third received honorable mention. Coming in on the list at number 22, the Helena-based conservation organization, Montana Wilderness Association (MWA), noted its high average salary (more than $50,000), ample PTO and holiday time, pet friendly office and regular outdoor meetings. According to the organization, “You start your career at MWA with a total of 35 paid days off every year. Throw in the three-day staff backpacking trip, which counts as ‘work,’ and a paid three-month sabbatical after five years, and you’d be fair to wonder how we get so much done.” We should also mention that MWA is hiring, too. Right behind them on the list at number 23 is Bozeman-based software company Foundant Technologies (also hiring). Perks at Foundant include unlimited PTO, mountain bike Mondays and healthy office lunches. According to the Foundant team, “Everyone latches on to our unlimited vacation, but that’s pretty common. We went ahead and implemented a ‘paid’ paid vacation. Not only do our team members get PTO, if they take two consecutive days off, they’re eligible for a $1,000 bonus to use toward that vacation. After five years, that bumps up to $1,500 annually. We encourage truly unplugging and getting away.” The list didn’t stop at 50 companies. It also included several honorable mentions like Bozeman-based environmental nonprofit Greater Yellowstone Coalition (hiring). [Outside Magazine]

Bozeman-based Zoot Enterprises wins award for early childhood excellence in program administration

Zoot Enterprises (hiring), a Bozeman-based fintech company providing advanced origination, acquisition, and decision management solutions to a global client base, is pleased to announce that it has received the Early Childhood Excellence in Program Administration award from the Montana Association for the Education of Young Children. The award recognizes the efforts of the Zoot Adventure Learning Academy (ZALA), which was opened in April to provide childcare for Zoot employees with children aged 0-5. “We created ZALA because we care about our employees and wanted to create an environment where our employees’ families can thrive,” said Rebekah Nelson, President of ZALA. “The positive reception that we have received from the community, our employees and the Montana Association for the Education of Young Children are indicators that we are on the right track.” The Montana Association for the Education of Young Children is an organization of childcare and early childhood education professionals working on local, state and national issues that affect children and families. They fight for the betterment of future generations through advocacy and by supporting, educating, and representing early childhood professionals. “We are proud of Zoot’s amazing work in the community and their attention to the early childhood needs of their community and business,” said Rhiannon Shook, Executive Director of the program. “We feel that they exemplify the need for businesses to provide childcare to their employees.” She continued, “We also feel that they really have been intentional about thinking of the needs of our youngest citizens.” [Zoot]

The New Pioneers: Entrepreneurship is making a mark in Montana

Big Sky Country is breeding entrepreneurs, and confirmation comes from three respected national rankings. ValuePenguin, the finance research website, released a report in July that identified Montana as the nation's top state for small business. Montana was No. 1 for employees working in small businesses, No. 4 for small business survival rate and No. 24 for small business "birth rate." Likewise, a September study by WalletHub, the personal finance website, named Montana the fourth-best state for launching a small business. And finally, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, from 2013 through 2016, ranked Montana as the No. 1 small state for entrepreneurship. State officials say that Montana's fertile entrepreneurial landscape has been nurtured by a low tax environment and a long-term strategy to energize the state's economy from the ground up. "For a long time. we have focused on the ecosystem that we have in the state rather than providing a high level of incentives to move companies here," says Ken Fichtler, chief business development officer at the Montana Governor's Office of Economic Development. "That's really starting to pay dividends for us. We've been good at creating an organic business community." [Site Selection]

Montana Business Assistance Connection to host a celebration of entrepreneurship and startups

The Montana Business Assistance Connection (MBAC) invites the public to an evening celebrating the growing entrepreneurship in Helena, culminating with demos from three new Helena startups on Thursday, November 15 from 5-8pm at The Holter Museum of Art. Though Helena may have a reputation as a government center, it has a strong, growing business community. It is around this idea that the MBAC created a new program to support startup businesses in the Helena area named “Accelerated Startups.” The program is designed to provide resources, accountability, and mentorship to new startups. The Accelerated Startups program accepted its first class of entrepreneurs in Spring 2018. The six-month program will culminate with a demo night for these entrepreneurs the week of November 12. This night will be a celebration of Helena’s previous business success stories as well as an opportunity for the Accelerated Startups graduates to introduce their businesses to the community. Learn more about the upcoming event here. [MBAC]

Entrepreneurial programs rev up a local economy

With a population density of only 6.5 people per square mile, Montana is not a place most people think of when they want to start businesses. But at the Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship (JJCBE) at Montana State University (MSU) in Bozeman, they have been working to change that. With a goal of making the school an engine that creates such a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem so students do not have to leave the state to find work once they graduate. With a dedicated minor and certificate in entrepreneurship, as well as officially becoming the home to Blackstone LaunchPad, the university’s business incubator; 406 Labs, its business accelerator; and a regional Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for the county, the school has also adopted a new approach in its curriculum that has created more opportunities for students to collaborate with business leaders, build relationships with the community, and connect with local entrepreneurs. This model of entrepreneurship in the classroom, on campus, in the community and through competition is shaping the experiences for the students and accelerating the frequency of engagement among faculty, students, and local business leaders. Additionally, it also has helped the community address one of its greatest economic challenges: its remote location. [Biz Ed]

Forestry experts: Industry rebounding; natural resources draw visitors and spending to Montana

According to a panel of experts convened by the Missoula Area Chamber of Commerce last week, the forest products industry in Montana is on the rebound due to tariffs and increased timber harvest limits put in place after a disastrous wildfire season. Recently, researchers at the Bureau of Business and Economic Research (BBER) at the University of Montana compiled a report on the state of Montana’s forestry industry. For many years, Montana’s largest manufacturing sector employer was the wood products industry, but recently that was surpassed by the fabricated metals industry. In 2000, wood and paper jobs were 28 percent of the state’s manufacturing employment and 31 percent of labor income, according to study authors Dorian Smith, Steven Hayes and Kate Marcille. In 2016, only 13 percent of jobs and 11 percent of income was generated by wood products manufacturing. In late 2009, for example, the Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. in Frenchtown, which processed logs for various products, put 417 people out of work. However, the study's authors said Montana’s wood products industry is on the rise again due to a commitment from the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies to address forest health and increase timber harvest levels. Companies like Idaho Forest Group (hiring), which owns and operates a sawmill in St. Regis (west of Missoula), are planning on doubling capacity. And, SmartLam, a company that manufactures cross-laminated timber products in Columbia Falls, plans to add 75 Montana jobs in 2019. [Missoulian]

Bozeman entrepreneur helps launch app to train workers displaced by technology

A Bozeman entrepreneur has launched NextStep Interactive, a company that will use a mobile phone app to help train workers displaced by artificial intelligence and automation for careers in the growing health care industry. Removing the barrier of having to take classes in person, users can complete coursework on the app to become certified in various entry-level jobs, like a home health aid or medical assistant, NextStep CEO Chris Hedrick said. Available for a one-time $20 fee, the app will ask users questions to filter them into their best role. The company will also help set up internships and hands-on training opportunities for users. The company is in its early stages of operation right now, having just secured $3 million in seed funding. The round was led by JAZZ Venture Partners, with participation from Pioneer Square Labs, Learn Capital’s LearnStart fund and Springrock Ventures. Montana-based Frontier Angel Fund also provided a small amount of funding. NextStep is being piloted right now in Washington, but in two years, Hedrick said he hopes to see the app available across the country. As the country’s population ages, demand for entry-level jobs in health care will continue to increase. [Bozeman Chronicle]

Perficient buys Bozeman-based digital marketing firm Elixiter

Missouri-based information technology consulting firm Perficient Inc. announced last week it had acquired Bozeman-based marketing consultancy Elixiter, Inc. The acquisition of Elixiter will add 40 people to Perficient's workforce, including Elixiter President and Founder Andrew Hull, who will join Perficient in a "key leadership role." [Saint Louis Post-Dispatch]

Whitefish will host session on Montana’s $7.1 billion outdoor industry

Montana’s outdoor recreation economy generates more than $7.1 billion in annual consumer spending and employs more than 71,000 people each year, making it the second largest sector of the state’s economy, according to the Montana Department of Labor & Industry. In response to those statistics, the Montana Office of Outdoor Recreation will host the Business of Outdoor Recreation Summit December 4-5 at Grouse Mountain Lodge in Whitefish. Summit organizers want to bring together leaders, community members, recreation and conservation groups from Montana and the Greater Crown of the Continent, including Alberta and British Columbia, to provide a platform to discuss promoting and strengthening outdoor recreation and the economic activity it supports. Also, the Business of Outdoor Recreation Summit is incorporating a competitive funding award program supporting Montana organizations with on-the-ground conservation and recreation projects. Six finalists will be selected and spotlighted at the summit, where attendees will vote on two winning projects. Each winning organization will walk away with $5,000 to support its important work. Find more information here. [Daily Inter Lake]

Students attend 25th “Jobs for Montana’s Graduates” conference in Helena

Students across the Big Sky state were in Helena last week for the Jobs for Montana’s Graduates (JMG) 25th annual LEAD Conference. 250 students from 34 Montana schools took part in the conference, which helps students meet with business leaders, and attended workshops to expand their leadership skills. JMG works to provide students the opportunity to gain important skills needed for career readiness such as critical thinking and decision making skills. Erica Swanson, State Director of Jobs for Montana’s Graduates, said she’s thrilled to see so many schools, including four middle schools, attend this year’s conference. Governor Steve Bullock recognized the students at the event for their commitment to academic excellence and leadership development. “Jobs for Montana’s Graduates helps ensure every Montana student, no matter their background, strengths, or learning styles, know that their success matters and that high school graduation is within their reach,” Governor Bullock said. “I am humbled to spend time with the students who have made this commitment in their education and in their futures.” JMG is funded by the Montana Department of Labor and Industry to support students in connecting with their communities by providing them with leadership development, social and civic responsibility and career awareness. [KTVH]

Bozeman named in Matador’s list of 25 coolest towns in America

Bozeman was recently named by Matador as one of the 25 coolest towns in America. In a collection of towns with less than 100,000 in population, Matador shared its collection of towns where people can have the weekend of their lives — and maybe even stay for good. Citing the stunning mountain ranges, beautiful landscapes, quick and easy access to Yellowstone National Park, Big Sky Resort and Bridger Bowl along with the world class fly fishing and plethora of other outdoor activities, it was easy to see how Bozeman made the list. Coupled with Montana State University the Museum of the Rockies and vast dining options, the report notes that Bozeman’s charms have made it one of the fastest growing towns in the region. [Matador Network]

Hutterite colony sees a future of agriculture and manufacturing, aided by the Internet

Hutterites have farmed and raised livestock on the Northern Plains of North and South Dakota, Eastern Montana and southwestern Canada for more than 100 years. But agriculture hasn't sustained them like it used to. Therefore, leaders at the Golden Valley Colony near Ryegate, Montana, decided to branch out of agriculture by launching a steel fabrication operation. The Colony brought a state-of-the-art steel fabrication and production facility to their agricultural operation, which runs on technology and practices that were pioneered, in some cases, generations ago. This can present a myriad of issues. As operations at Valley Steel are underway, workers have been churning out steel trim and siding for barns, homes and warehouses for nearly a year now. It hasn't been easy and managers have had to troubleshoot at nearly every turn, including bringing the Internet to the Colony for the first time ever in order to electronically correspond with contractors and customers. Golden Valley is the only Hutterite colony in Montana to branch outside agriculture with its steel fabrication plant, but a handful of colonies in North and South Dakota have tried it and found success. [Billings Gazette]

Butte bio-pesticide manufacturer LAM International expands production capacity

LAM International, a company that manufactures bio-pesticides at its Parkmont facility near MSE south of Butte, will expand its production capacity thanks to the rollout of a new product. Maryland-based Certis USA, which purchased the local manufacturer in June 2017, recently announced the release of a new bio-pesticide called BoteGHA. According to a news release from Certis, LAM International “has embarked on a major investment to expand its solid fermentation production capacity.” Felicia Gillham, a spokesperson for Certis, said in an email message that “once completed, the production process will be highly automated.” However, there could still be potential new Montana job openings for a few operator positions. [Montana Standard]