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FinTech company launches fastest home equity loan online, new tech out of Billings detects gunshots and sends alarm, Glacier Rail Park opens in Kalispell...and more


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Industry's fastest home equity loan now available online from FinTech company Figure™

San Francisco-based Figure Technologies, Inc. (FigureTM), a FinTech company with offices now in Bozeman, recently announced the release of its first product, the Figure Home Equity LoanPLUS. Figure's flagship product allows consumers to borrow against the equity in their homes without the paperwork-intensive, 45-day process most lenders require. Figure offers approval in five minutes and funding in five days — all online. Figure will also soon launch its second product, a sell and leaseback alternative to reverse mortgages for retirees and empty nesters. This is a unique solution addressing a massive demographic challenge — underfunded retirement. We should also mention that the company is hiring. [PR Newswire]

New tech developed in Billings detects gunshot, instantly sends alarm, promising new market

What if a shooting in a school or any other public area were reported and its location identified within five seconds of the first shot? How valuable would that technology be? The technology has been developed by a Billings-area inventor, Alan Overcast, the founder of Tracer Technology Systems, Inc. Overcast plans to produce the product in Billings and is already searching for a site for its manufacturing plant, having finally acquired a patent and the necessary certifications. The technology can accurately detect the sound of gunfire, recognizing it from all other sounds. The system then immediately notifies law enforcement, or any others designated to be notified, utilizing existing means of communication. Overcast likens his system to smoke detectors. “When was the last time there was a death reported in a school because of a fire?” he asks. The answer: 1958. 1958 is also the year that smoke detectors were mandated by law in all schools. But schools are not the only potential market for Tracer Technology Systems. In fact, public schools in the US represent only about five percent of the potential market, said Overcast. [Big Sky Business Journal]

Glacier Rail Park opens in Kalispell

Glacier Rail Park is now open for business in Kalispell. State and local officials celebrated the grand opening of the business park Monday morning. The more than 40-acre site off Whitefish Stage Road is home to Kalispell’s rail-based businesses, including Northwest Drywall, a CHS fertilizer distribution plant, and a Mission Mountain Rail transload facility (hiring). Montana West business development and marketing manager Kim Morisaki said the Glacier Rail Park project has been in the works for eight years and has cost more than $20 million in local, state and federal funding. Nevertheless, city officials say it will change Kalispell for the better. Train traffic will be rerouted from downtown Kalispell to Glacier Rail Park, a crucial step in the city’s plan to revitalize and build a trail system downtown. “There are 44 acres of undeveloped or blighted property along the train tracks in Kalispell,” Morisaki said. “As soon as those train tracks come out, that property is available for redevelopment.” Removing the tracks will be an immediate benefit for drivers in Kalispell, but officials say Glacier Rail Park will benefit the city long-term too. [NBC Montana]

Can Do: KOA, the future of camping

On a recent episode of Can Do: Lessons from Savvy Montana Entrepreneurs, host Arnie Sherman talks with Kampgrounds of America President Toby O’Rourke, the first woman president in the company’s 56-year history. KOA got its start in 1962 in Billings, Montana, when the sight of travelers heading west on Highway 10 towards the Seattle World's Fair sparked the imaginations of a group of business people. Noticing the numbers of people overnighting by the side of the road, they created a campground along the Yellowstone River where, for $1.75 a night, travelers could pitch their tents near a picnic table, fire ring and a hot shower. Since then, KOA, which is still based in Billings, adopted a franchise structure, and the number of campgrounds across North America exploded. Listen and learn on this episode of Can Do: how the recreation industry is evolving, how to create a feeling of community among your many franchisees, and what role technology will play in the future of outdoor-focused businesses. [Montana Public Radio]

Non-resident tourists spend $3.2B in Montana; Glacier Country reaps 17,500 Montana jobs

Nonresident travelers spent $3.24 billion across Montana in the most recent data period, according to an annual report published by the University of Montana’s Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research. This is an increase of 2.6 percent from the previous year’s spending estimate. Glacier Country in northwest Montana received more than $1.07 billion in spending by nonresident travelers – 33 percent of all spending in the state. This spending supported a total of $1.32 billion of economic activity and more than 17,500 Montana jobs, along with more than $461 million in associated labor income. In south-central Montana’s Yellowstone Country, travel spending by nonresidents totaled over $917 million, which was 29 percent of the state total. This spending supports about $1.16 billion of economic activity. Likewise, over 15,200 Montana jobs and nearly $410 million in labor income can be attributed to this spending. The full report, including estimates of the economic contribution of nonresident travelers in the other four Montana travel regions, along with county-level estimates, is available on the ITRR website here. [Missoula Current]

Montana Made: Lewis and Clark Brewing Company

One Treasure State company is managing to stand out in the crowded craft brewing industry. The Lewis and Clark Brewing Company, which started in the Capital City (Helena, Montana) more than a decade ago, has come to gain national recognition. What started at home has grown into a sprawling factory with state-of-the-art equipment pumping out some of Lewis and Clark’s most popular brews, including Miner’s Gold and Prickly Pear Pale Ale. The brewery added a $9 million expansion just last year, increasing production six times over. Owner Max Pigman said the one thing that makes the beer so special is Montana’s amber waves of grain. “Being able to utilize some of the best-malted barley in the world — which is grown just north of us in the Golden Triangle and malted just north of us up just above Great Falls — is a huge advantage for us.” The brewery, which currently distributes into Montana, Idaho, eastern Washington and soon Wyoming, is now looking at expansion overseas with Pigman saying that he’s already traveled to Japan to talk with some interested clients. [KPAX]

University of Montana disease treatment research center pulls in $22 million in grants

A research center at the University of Montana earned $22.4 million this summer and fall from the National Institutes of Health. "It has validated that what we set up in Missoula through this Center for Translational Medicine is working to advance discoveries at the University of Montana," said Jay Evans, center director and research professor in the Division of Biological Sciences. The center launched at UM after GlaxoSmithKline Vaccines, a giant pharmaceutical company with an office in Hamilton, Montana, announced it would move its staff out of state. The team did not want to leave Montana and instead negotiated employment contracts with UM, where staff have been since 2016. The grant pays mostly for personnel, with staff jobs paying top salaries in Missoula from $50,000 to $75,000. Once the center has hired all the staff it needs, it will have roughly 30 employees, of which 16 will have split appointments between UM and corporate partner and Missoula-based startup Inimmune, with Evans as CEO. [Missoulian]

MSU tech park vies for federal research facilities, would mean 600 jobs to Bozeman

A Bozeman tech park is vying to become the next headquarters for two major federal food and agriculture research offices. The move would make the city home to more than 600 new Bozeman jobs. In August, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced plans to move the research hubs out of Washington, D.C., and the Montana State University Innovation Campus hopes to sell the Trump administration on Bozeman as a base for the nation’s Economic Research Service and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture. The National Institute for Food and Agriculture needs a roughly 90,000-square-foot facility to house 360 employees while the second office needs roughly 70,000 square feet for 260 employees. Justin Cook, the MSU innovation Campus executive director, said Bozeman’s connection to good schools, outdoor adventure and a growing airport makes the city a contender. MSU Alumni Foundation, a separate nonprofit fundraising arm of the university, owns the tech park and has until Oct. 15 to deliver a letter of interest to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. [Bozeman Daily Chronicle]