The former Stimson Lumber Co. sawmill in Bonner continues to attract new businesses, with three companies considering the 143-acre manufacturing site as a new location.
In a meeting Tuesday with Missoula County commissioners, representatives from the Missoula Economic Partnership said two manufacturers and one data center are looking at the former mill site as they consider locating to Missoula.
“We’ve had three companies out there in the last three weeks that we’re feeling pretty good about,” said MEP director James Grunke. “We’ll see how they progress.”
Jenn Ewan, assistant director of MEP, identified one manufacturing firm as Biofilm Crop Production. Based in Australia, the company is looking to expand its operation and was reportedly pleased with Missoula’s offerings.
“They make green pesticide and fertilizer products for crops,” said Ewan. “They use a microbial fermentation process – similar equipment to a brewery. They flew in from Australia and looked inside the same building Montainer is in.”
Montainer, which constructs high-end modular homes from shipping containers, began production at the Bonner site in 2014. Biofilm was also pleased with the location, Ewan said, along with its proximity to KettleHouse Brewing Co.
The brewery is constructing a 30,000-square-foot production plant on the site. Ewan said Biofilm is interested in using carbon dioxide gas from KettleHouse to power its production, along with tapping the welding talent already employed on the property.
“They fell in love with the space out there and its proximity to KettleHouse” said Ewan. “They want to use some of the CO2 off-gas to power their plant, and some of the plumbing and metalwork talent to build their tanks.”
Grunke said a military manufacturing firm is also interested in the Bonner location, along with a data center. The data center could include a server farm, along with production of aluminum cases used to house the servers.
The presence of Alcom – a trailer manufacturing firm – makes the Bonner location enticing to the data center, Grunke said.
“They’re interested in Alcom out there because the cases their servers go in are aluminum, and the biggest expense of shipping components from China to the U.S. is the weight of aluminum,” Grunke said. “If they can find a partner across the parking lot that can make the cases for them, it becomes more feasible. That’s the way economic development works.”
Mike Boehme and Steve Nelson purchased the former lumber yard in 2011 under Bonner Property Development LLC, looking to redevelop the location and replace jobs lost when the mill ceased operations.
To date, roughly a dozen businesses have opened on the property, employing an estimated 300 people. County commissioners and MEP are looking to reproduce the success at the Missoula Development Park near Missoula International Airport.
“That’s a conversation to have with the Missoula Development Authority and the airport,” said Commissioner Stacy Rye, adding that a targeted economic development district could be a solution worth exploring.