Two fast-growing technology companies in downtown Missoula have applied for state grants to create more than 100 high-paying jobs over the next two years.
Advanced Technology Group, a technology consulting business with a large Missoula Solutions Center, has 110 employees statewide and recently applied for a Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund grant to create 50 new jobs over the next two years.
LumenAd, a fast-growing digital marketing agency headquartered in the Florence Building in downtown Missoula, has a pending application with the Montana Department of Commerce to create 62 new jobs over the next two years.
Nicole Rush, the grants manager for the Missoula Economic Partnership, spoke to the Missoula City Council last week and detailed a long list of companies in town that have applied for the grants. The money comes from the state’s coal severance tax, and the businesses can get reimbursed for up to $7,500 for each job created, as long as they pay at least 170 percent of the state minimum wage. To get the top award, each job has to pay the Missoula County median wage, which is $18.50 per hour.
“Since the program was created in 2005, Missoula has leveraged more job creation funds (than other Montana city),” Rush said.
Rush listed many other companies that have submitted applications, including:
- Consumer Direct Care Network, a company that provides in-home health care services, has an active award to create 46 new jobs.
- OnXmaps, a hunting map technology company, has an active award for 16 new jobs in Missoula and 16 in Bozeman.
- Orbital Shift, which creates time management software for businesses, has an active award for 16 jobs in Missoula and 16 in Bozeman.
- Audience Awards, a company that created a crowd-sourced video platform content solution, has an active award for eight jobs.
- Synema Studios, a company that produces video content like science YouTube shows or commercials, recently was awarded a grant to create nine jobs.
- Tomis, a company that makes digital marketing software focused on small recreation-tourism businesses, was awarded a grant to create 19 jobs.
- Tru-Home Montana, a manufacturing company that is proposing to build sustainably-built, manufactured homes indoors, was awarded a grant to create six jobs.
Two other companies — Montana Distillery, which creates craft vodkas in Missoula, and Adelos Inc., a company that builds fiber optic systems — have been awarded business planning grants to help them come up with things like a sales distribution strategy.
Rush said she’s confident that the two larger applications from LumenAd and ATG will be accepted.
“I’ve never had an application turned down,” she said.
Companies only get reimbursed after they create the jobs, and Rush said companies rarely fail to come through with the jobs unless something unexpected happens with the company.
James Grunke said the Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund is only a “minuscule” part state’s overall budget. He said several economic development programs are set to expire in 2019.
“The Department of Commerce is looking at a strategy to get those reauthorized,” he said. “It may be they all go away. They’re in real jeopardy to be going away in the next legislative session, which would severely limit our ability to reward companies.
According to Emilie Saunders, a spokesperson for the Montana Department of Commerce, the state awarded nearly $3.3 million to Montana businesses through the BSTF in fiscal year 2017. That program is not expiring in 2019 she said. Some programs such as the Montana Technology Innovation Partnerships, Montana Manufacturing Extension Center, Export Trade, Certified Regional Development Corporations and Small Business Development Centers do sunset in 2019, but the BSTF is not one of them.
"Montana has very few incentives to begin with,'' Grunke said. "One of the areas that is always under attack would be (Tax Increment Financing) or (Urban Renewal Districts). But they are under real threat.”
Grunke said that two manufacturing companies currently are evaluating whether to locate to Missoula and invest $420 million in new plant facilities, which would create hundreds of new jobs.
That would represent "a fairly significant capital investment,” he said. “That number has been revised up based on recent discussions.”
He also said a technology company visited last week to evaluate whether to locate a customer service center here. He showed the council a graph that listed the potential economic impacts of all the companies that are thinking about starting new operations here.
“We have more companies in the queue now than normal,” he said. “It’s usually around four or five and this represents eight.”