Our Blog > MT Business Roundup

Women pool resources to give away $10K, MSU business college to honor six Montana family businesses, inaugural Early Stage MT winners announced, Montana's wage growth, construction underway on new dialysis center in Billings...and more


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MSU business college to honor six Montana family businesses on Oct. 26

Six businesses will receive Family Business Day awards at the 2018 Montana State University Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship State Farm Insurance Family Business Day, set for Friday, Oct. 26 in Bozeman. The 2018 winners are: Eaton Turner Jewelry of Helena in the very small business category (fewer than 10 employees); Collection Bureau Services, Inc. of Missoula in the small business category (10-30 employees); Montana Ale Works of Bozeman in the medium business category (30-50 employees); A.M. Welles, Inc. of Norris in the large business category (more than 50 employees); Hayden Truck Repair of Belgrade in the old business category (operating at least 50 years); and Tongue River Winery of Miles City in the new business category (operating 10 or fewer years). Additionally, this year’s speakers will include U.S. Sen. Steve Daines and Dean Folkvord, founder of Wheat Montana and Sacajawea Hotel. Panel topics will include resources available to family businesses, regional and federal policies affecting businesses and advice for turning business challenges into successes. The Montana Family Business program is in its 25th year and the public is welcome to the event. [Montana State University]

$10K to give away: Missoula women pool resources, accepting grant applications

A Missoula group comprising dozens of women from all different backgrounds has pooled their money and is looking to donate $10,000 to a local organization that helps women and children. The newly formed Missoula Women’s Giving Circle has announced its first-ever grant cycle. Anyone who wants to apply has until Monday, October 8 at 11:59 p.m. to submit a request. The Women’s Giving Circle is a project of the Missoula Community Foundation (MCF) in partnership with the Women’s Foundation of Montana. Its aim is to engage women of diverse backgrounds with varying wealth levels to build community and grow philanthropy, according to Meredith Printz of the MCF. A steering committee will choose three worthy organizations from the applications received, and the finalists will each make five-minute pitches in front of the full membership in mid-November. [Missoulian]

Household wage growth in Missoula ranks 5th nationally; Montana tops Census charts

According to information released by the U.S. Census Bureau, Montana as a whole had the nation’s fastest growth in household median income last year. And according to the data, Montana’s growth is outpacing California, ranked third, and Washington, ranked fifth. According to Barb Wagner, the state’s chief economist, “We’ve had very strong wage growth in the state over the past 10 years. We’re the fourth fastest growing state in the nation for wage growth. And Montana’s wages are probably the number one reason why our household median income has increased so much.” Last year, the average Montana wage ticked up 3.2 percent, helping drive gains in the state’s household median income, which now stands at $53,386, according to Census data. While wages are the primary driver for gains in household income, Wagner said, other factors are at play, including income earned from retirement, investments and business ownership. And despite the high marks, Montana’s average wage in 2017 was just $42,050, placing it near the bottom nationally – a trend that began more than half a century ago. Wagner said Montana’s wages were fairly competitive with the national average until around 1950, when it began a steady decline. Not until the turn of the 21st century did it show signs of reversing course, she said. “It was a 50-year time frame that saw us go from average to below average,” Wagner said. “Now we’ve had 17 years where the trend has reversed itself, and since the recession, Montana has had stronger wage growth than the rest of the nation. We’ve reversed the trend, and getting back to more equality with national wages. Though, we’re not quite there yet.” [Missoula Current]

Winners announced for the inaugural Early Stage Montana Showcase

The inaugural Early Stage Montana Statewide Showcase took place last weekend in Bozeman where seven high tech businesses from around Montana competed for $50,000 in seed funding. Early Stage MT is a non-profit collaboration of Big Sky Economic Development Authority, Blackstone LaunchPads at MSU and UM, Frontier Angels, Montana High Tech Business Alliance, Montana State University, Montana Manufacturing Extension Center, MonTEC, Missoula Economic Partnership, Next Frontier Capital, and Prospera Business Network. The final showcase, which featured emerging tech companies from across the state, alongside venture capital firms, representatives from accelerators and other tech influencers, resulted in a tie for first place between Bozeman-based Sellout and Missoula-based Superior Traffic Services. Both companies walked away with $25,000 investments with the chance to pitch to Frontier Angels next month. Bozeman-based Alosant was the runner-up and will also be at October's meeting to pitch for a chance at angel funding. [Early Stage Montana]

New lime mine anticipated in Drummond could bring Montana jobs

In an area with few Montana job opportunities, Dennis Washington’s company has a lime mine in the works outside of Drummond, though it may be some years before it comes to fruition, say company officials. The new mine will be about 55 miles west of Butte, very close to the tiny town of Drummond. The new mine is expected to create approximately 30 to 40 Montana jobs, said Mark Thompson, Montana Resources (hiring) vice president for environmental affairs. The lime mine will be its own independent company called Montana Limestone Resources. It will operate under the umbrella of the Washington Corporation, based in Missoula. Thompson said that the mine has been in the works for five or six years. Montana Resources (MR) currently gets its lime from a mine near Townsend, Montana. However, Montana Limestone Resources won’t be opening any time soon, because the mine has a contract with its current supplier. Thompson did not have a projected start date. Kristi Ponozzo, spokesperson for the Department of Environmental Quality, said the agency still has to do an environmental assessment, and that could take up to a year. But if all goes well, Montana Limestone Resources could be fully permitted by 2020. [Montana Standard]

Missoula startup looks to enter national debate with tool for non-lethal defense

Joe Anderson, CEO of Missoula-based startup Reflex Protect, describes his product as “a 21st century fire extinguisher for violence.” The startup, dubbed a potential high-growth company to watch, has developed a non-lethal spray for self defense. The pistol-grip nozzle deploys a stream of jellied CS gas suited for close quarters, such as hospitals, schools and offices. Unlike bear or pepper spray, Anderson said, the product doesn’t cross-contaminate, and it sticks only to what it hits. That’s beneficial in close settings where the residual effects from aerosols or mists are a concern. Along with the defense canister, Reflex Protect teamed up with chemists from Rivertop Renewables in Missoula to develop an accompanying product that “neutralizes, cleans and soothes” the effects of the Iocane gel. Since introducing its product, Reflex Protect has landed several contracts, including contracts with Providence hospital in both Missoula and Alaska and Polson’s schools, hospital and court system. [Missoula Current]

Construction underway on new dialysis center in downtown Billings

Construction began this week on a new $3.9 million, 114,309-square-foot dialysis center in Billings. By the time construction is complete next summer, twice as many patients will be served at the clinic that's a joint venture between Billings Clinic (hiring) and Dialysis Clinic Inc. (hiring). The new clinic will provide ground-level access to patients. It is also in close proximity to the main campus of the Billings Clinic. Dr. Randall Gibb, Billings Clinic CEO, pointed out that the new dialysis clinic is good both for patients and the Billings community. First, it meets the growing need for dialysis care, which is increasing by about 5 percent a year. CTA Architects (hiring), Sanderson Stewart (hiring) and Fisher Construction Inc. (hiring) of Billings are all involved in the clinic’s design and construction. [Billings Gazette]

Digital done right: How small Montana businesses are creating a big online presence

Wolf Creek Angler is a little fly-fishing shop with a worldwide presence. Nestled in a small town of 477 people, the business in Wolf Creek, Montana, has 4,700 followers on Facebook and people come from all over the world to visit Wolf Creek and make what they’ve seen online their reality. Owner Jason Nitscheke says daily posts on social media help drive the continuing organic online presence as well as utilization of the Montana brand. Another area expert doing online marketing right is Tizer Botanical Gardens and Arboretum in Jefferson City. Not only has the business received an Outstanding Media Award from the Montana Urban and Community Forestry Association, its Facebook page caught the interest of Facebook itself and was used as a success story when the social media company came to Helena in July for its Facebook Community Boost, which shared information with small businesses on how to best utilize the social media platform. The Facebook site has 6,000 followers from all over the world. [Independent Record]

The succession crisis of baby boomer businesses

A crisis is brewing in Montana and across the country for business owners in their 60s and 70s. More and more baby boomers are facing a stark reality – no one wants to take over their enterprises. And, the anticipated economic loss could reach well into the trillions of dollars. The numbers are truly mind-boggling. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, baby boomers own about two-thirds of all companies (12 million businesses), with more than half deemed to be family enterprises. And this demographic group is exiting the workforce in record numbers at 10,000 individuals daily. Their challenge has been how to successfully hand off their hard-earned legacies. Montana has a significantly higher preponderance of family-owned businesses than the rest of the nation, believed to exceed 90 percent in Montana. From Main Street bakeries, liquor stores, cattle ranches and winter wheat farms to Billings-based First Interstate Bank (hiring) and shipping powerhouse Washington Corporation (hiring), family businesses are almost entirely driving our economy. In many cases, Montana’s family-owned businesses are left to fend for themselves. Some have been successful passing on the reigns, such as Butte-based Markovich Construction, which is now in the hands of the third generation. Others have secured business continuity by selling to Montana-based buyers. Just a few years ago, Missoula-based Quality Supply, owned by Dave and Suzanne Peterson, merged their business of 30 years with Murdoch’s Ranch & Home Supply (hiring). Through the process of merging, they secured the jobs of more than 160 employees. Recognizing the growing issue, new organizations like Family Business Partners are starting up to provide family-owned businesses with education, knowledge and resources specific to their needs to protect not only their hard-earned legacies, but to preserve and expand the Montana jobs they have brought to our state’s economy. [Montana Business Quarterly]

From Five on Black and Mirch Masala to Dee-O-Gee, Montana businesses come to Billings

Two Montana-famous businesses have announced their plans to open up their first storefronts in Billings this fall, generating excitement among residents and business leaders in town. Dee-O-Gee's expansion into Billings in November will be its first move outside Bozeman, where the company now has two locations. A Kalispell store will open next spring. Bozeman-based Dee-O-Gee launched in 2008 as a boutique pet supply and grooming store. It quickly grew into a way of life. "It's this hub of pet lovers and social activity," owner Josh Allen said. As the Allens developed the franchise model for their store, they wanted to ensure that Dee-O-Gee's specific vibe would follow the brand and that the quality of its products would not diminish. The location in Billings will be owned by a group of partners and run by a general manager hired by the store. Back in Bozeman, the Allens brought in a husband-and-wife team to take over the two stores, leaving the Allens free to oversee the company and guide the brand. Likewise, Brazilian fast casual restaurant Five on Black, which started in Missoula in 2013, has grown from its single location in Missoula to four restaurants across the state and two in Colorado in the past five years. The company announced last week it would be coming to Billings, opening its sixth store in early January. Rather than franchise the brand, owner Tom Snyder has kept it under one roof as a corporate entity. Looking ahead, the company will evaluate other locations across the state. Synder said they're currently looking at locations in Great Falls for this coming spring. The priority, however, will be focusing on the locations it has and making sure they're running well. Lastly, a third company, the Bozeman-based Mirch Masala Indian Restaurant, moved to Billings this month, closing their popular eatery in Gallatin County to do so. "We decided Billings was the right place," said Delisha Patel, who's mother-in-law does all the cooking for the restaurant. [Billings Gazette]

Montana Ag Network: Sugar beet harvest underway

In Montana and northern Wyoming, the sugarbeet industry continues to be a very important driver for local economies. And the early sugarbeet harvest is underway for both Western Sugar Cooperative (hiring) and Sidney Sugars (hiring). “Economics of the sugarbeet business have been very good for all my life,” said Ervin Schlemmer, a sugarbeet farmer from Joliet, Montana. “In Montana alone it’s a $50 million business that’s put into our local economies, our small towns and our downtown businesses,” said Schlemmer. “It doesn’t matter if you’re the co-op or the grocery store, the sugarbeet business is what helps feed this valley.” According to the Montana Ag Statistics Service, sugarbeet acreage in Montana is 42,700 (the same as it was in 2017) compared to Wyoming’s 30,900 acres (down 700 acres from 2017). [KRTV]

MSU sets fall enrollment record, sees increases in retention and graduation rates

Montana State University has set a new enrollment record, with 16,902 students on campus this fall, the highest enrollment in the university’s history and marking 11 straight years of enrollment growth for the Bozeman campus. The university also saw an increase in the number of students returning to MSU for a second year at 77.2 percent, the highest in the university’s history. Other notable progress toward a strategic goal came in MSU’s graduation rates, which increased to record numbers, jumping more than 2 points to 29.3 percent this fall. Along with increased graduation rates, MSU’s average student debt for 2017-18 declined by more than $1,200 compared to the prior academic year. And, it was also noted that incoming students are bringing with them some of the best academic scores in university history. All in all, positive news all around for the university. [Montana State University]