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Clean tech has future in Missoula: County’s business climate, work force fuels growth industry

Clean tech has future in Missoula: County’s business climate, work force fuels growth industry

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Are you doing the laundry, driving icy roads, putting on perfume, or chewing gum? Are you pouring concrete, eating blueberry muffins from a mix, or flying somewhere on vacation?

Would you like to add these new words to your vocabulary: isobutanol, terpenes, lignocellulosic recalcitrance, mercaptans, lignin and glucarate?

If so, Missoula’s “clean tech” industry is part of your future.

Clean technology, the newest of our emerging industry sectors, reflects the demand for more energy-efficient, non-polluting products and services. It represents a broad spectrum of economic opportunities, including clean energy, sustainable agriculture, information technology, environmental restoration and the development of renewable and biodegradable products.

I am proud to say that clean technology companies and consortiums are already at work here in Missoula County. They challenge our old way of thinking. Their research and sustainable economic development model proves that materials like corn, wood waste, brewery waste and even coffee grounds can be used to make bio-jet fuel, laundry detergent, flavorings, de-icer and many other eco-friendly products.

Rivertop Renewables, for example, is applying proven science to create an economical supply of green chemicals and bio-products built from renewable plant sugars. These chemicals are environmentally benign by design and compete on price and performance with non-renewable products. Learn more at

The MonTEC received a $1.7 million Economic Development Administration grant to renovate their business incubator facility, which houses Rivertop Renewables. As a result, Rivertop Renewables will be able to increase production capacity resulting in 100 percent job growth.

Missoula County’s qualified work force and favorable business climate have influenced other clean tech companies to open their doors in Missoula.

Just a year ago, Blue Marble Biomaterials relocated from Seattle to Missoula, hiring 19 local Missoulians for full-time and part-time workers in their biorefinery. Blue Marble sustainably manufactures natural chemicals used in flavors, fragrances and cosmetic/personal care ingredients. They plan to expand significantly within the next two years. Learn more about them at

The Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance is a broad consortium of private industry, government laboratories and scientists from educational institutions in Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon. In 2011, NARA was awarded a $40 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to develop alternatives to petroleum-based fuels and chemicals using residual woody biomass as the feedstock. The goal is to build a framework for a competitively priced, American-made bio-fuels industry based in the Pacific Northwest. Read more at Montana’s established oil refining and distribution assets and its timber management infrastructure will play a significant role in finding a sustainable supply chain.

NARA is locating its first study community in the western Montana corridor, which includes Missoula County. When the NARA team visited Missoula they met with both Rivertop Renewables and Blue Marble Biomaterials. Even though these three groups use different chemical processes and have different end products, the clustering of clean-tech jobs is a bonus. Being a pilot community will mean a team of researchers will locate in the area and evaluate the environmental, social and economic viability of the overall supply chain to take woody biomass from the forest to make bio-jet fuel.

As you can see, clean technology is one of the most promising industries of the future, and an especially good fit for Missoula County. It brings sustainable new products to the marketplace, and lasting blue, green and white collar jobs to our community.

And we are ready. We have abundant renewable resources. We have a well-educated work force with the Montana work ethic. We have an unparalleled quality of life. We have positive partnerships and collaborations with the business community, city and county governments, the BitterRoot Economic Development District, the Missoula Economic Partnership, the Montana Community Development Corporation, the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center, University of Montana, the Montana World Trade Center, and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and Montana Department of Commerce, too.

While some are naysayers and claim we have a negative business climate, I say they are wrong. We have every reason to believe in our future – one we can create together. The clean tech industry is just one inspiring example.

Jean Curtiss is a Missoula County Commissioner, president of the BitterRoot Economic Development District, and secretary of the Missoula Economic Partnership.

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