In fiscal year 2019, $1.4 million worth of state-funded job creation grants created 192 new jobs at eight different companies in Missoula, a new record.
That’s according to Grant Kier, the executive director of the Missoula Economic Partnership, who was speaking at the organization’s annual update on Thursday.
On top of that, Kier added, Missoula County created more jobs than any other county in the state last year with 1,720 new positions, news that was first broken by the Missoulian earlier this fall.
“Missoula County is crushing it,” Kier told a crowd at the Wilma Theater.
The Big Sky funds go to Missoula County through the Montana Department of Commerce Office of Tourism and Business Development. The program is funded by the state’s coal severance tax. Grant funds assist basic sector businesses that bring in revenue to Montana from out-of-state customers.
Businesses must pay at least $19.65 per hour to be eligible for the maximum BSTF Job Creation grant award, which is up to $7,500 per full-time job created. The money isn't given to the companies until the jobs are created, and companies often over-estimate how many jobs they'll actually be able to create in order to be eligible for compensation in case they do meet the goal.
Local tech companies were the biggest beneficiaries last year. ClassPass, a fitness tech company with offices in Missoula that’s growing in popularity worldwide, scored $300,000 in grant funds to create 40 jobs. Submittable got $262,500 for 35 jobs, ATG-Cognizant got $255,000 for 34 jobs and LumenAd got $195,000 for 26 jobs.
Consumer Direct Care Network, a home-health company, got $255,300 for 37 jobs, and smaller companies PatientOne, ALPS and Reflex Protect split other awards.
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Kier also said that due to a $400,000 investment from the MEP and many other local partners that leveraged $600,000 in federal funding for a revenue guarantee to attract American Airlines to Missoula, airline passengers out of Missoula had the lowest average airfare in the state last year.
“If you look at the entire year, the savings for the Missoula community was $14 million last year (in lower airline ticket prices),” Kier said. “That’s a huge savings on a $1 million investment.”
Kier noted that Missoula still has many areas upon which it can improve, including creating more affordable housing and raising the median wage.
“We want to raise the dial on the median wage,” he said. “I would love to see Missoula County lead the state in highest median wage.”
Julie Walsh Smith, the chief operating officer at a local video and content-creation production company called Complexly, gave the keynote address. She talked about creating a company culture that attracts and retains skilled workers. She said she has learned to trust and empower her employees. Along with being transparent and communicating clearly, that results in a strong company culture.
“Trust-based management keeps us lean,” she said. “We have less meetings and middle management. Our employee production has boosted, and we are now much more prolific than our industry peers. We have 38 staff, and we lost one employee in the last 12 months. In five years, six employees have quit.”
Walsh Smith said the leaders at any company set the tone. For example, a manager who sends emails on nights and weekends sends a message the employees need to do the same. She’s realized that company leaders have to manage with “intention.”
“Ping pong tables and value statements on the wall don’t create a culture,” she said. “The actions and inactions of leadership create a culture. Without intention, you deviate from the ideal culture.”