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Montana companies receive funding for job creation and training

Montana companies receive funding for job creation and training

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Wyo-Ben Pet

The future site of Wyo-Ben Pet is under construction in Billings on Friday.

Two Billings businesses, along with others across Montana, will receive funding from the state for business development, including job creation and training.

Just over $1 million in grants through the Montana Department of Commerce will go to eight Montana companies to support the creation of 136 new jobs.

“It’s a testament to our state’s strong economic climate heading into the COVID-19 pandemic and the grit and resourcefulness of Montanans that some Montana businesses are growing and creating new jobs even in these challenging economic times,” Gov. Steve Bullock said in a press release.

Funds will be dispersed through the Department of Commerce’s Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund and the Primary Sector Workforce Training Grant.

Belle Chemical, LLC in Billings will receive over $66,000 to create 18 jobs. The money will be used to purchase construction materials and equipment, and for wage reimbursement. A $90,000 Primary Sector Workforce Training Grant will be used to train the new workers, according to owner David Terry.

The company is a chemical manufacturer and packager of base materials sold through online distributors like Amazon and Walmart.

The chemicals are usually used as raw materials to make other products, like soap, hand sanitizer, weed killer, and more. The company also sells vitamins and supplements.

Terry said with other larger distributors, consumers may have to purchase a large amount of a chemical in order to get a good price. The company tries to purchase these chemicals from manufacturers in the U.S.

“We’re able to pass on those savings to the consumers where they only need a quart or a gallon,” Terry said.

Earlier this year as shelves were cleared of hand sanitizer amid the COVID-19 pandemic, some businesses bought the raw materials and made their own.

The company’s isopropyl alcohol is listed as a bestseller on Amazon’s website.

“We are expanding our business and this (funding) may give us a push to hire more people immediately and get ahead in our business as well,” Terry said. “We’ve been growing every year for the last five years.”

Because of its online model, Belle Chemical has been able to continuously offer these raw materials that are in high demand. The company gets the chemicals directly from the source. For example, Belle Chemical gets its isopropyl alcohol from ExxonMobil.

Terry employs 14 workers, and plans to hire and train 18 more over the next two years. They’ll work in production and management positions as the company adds two more production lines, Terry said.

“Ninety-nine percent of our revenue comes from outside of Montana," Terry said. "...We're bringing that money outside of Montana into Montana and creating those jobs."

Billings-based Wyo-Ben, Inc. will receive $49,000 to hire 10 more employees. The money will also be used for construction and wage reimbursement.

The 70-year-old Billings company mines Wyoming sodium bentonite, which is used in many products including sealers in ponds, liners for hazardous waste, animal feed, and cat litter, said president and CEO David Brown.

The company’s new division, Wyo-Ben Pet, will manufacture and sell cat litter to other brands. The new Wyo-Ben Pet manufacturing plant is under construction on South 32nd Street West and should be finished by December, Brown said. A few brands have already showed interest in working with the new division, said John Lamerton, director of market development for Wyo-Ben Inc.

"We've been providing the cat litter industry with base material for decades," Lamerton said. "(Cat owners) have probably bought Billings and Wyo-Ben product without ever knowing it."

Other Montana Department of Commerce grants:

  • The City of Bozeman will receive up to $170,000 to assist XY Planning Network LLC in Bozeman to create 34 jobs.
  • Fergus County will receive up to $70,500 on behalf of Big Sky Processing, LLC in Lewistown to create 15 jobs. A $75,000 Primary Sector Workforce Training Grant will be used to train new workers.
  • Lake County will receive up to $150,000 on behalf of Rocky Mountain Twist Corporation in Ronan to create 20 jobs. A $95,480 Primary Sector Workforce Training Grant will be used for training the new workers.
  • Missoula County will receive up to $95,000 on behalf of UNAVCO, Inc. in Missoula to hire 19 new employees.
  • Sanders County will receive up to $88,800 on behalf of Agriculture Resource Management, Inc. dba Aqua Prawnics, Inc. in Noxon to hire 12 more workers. A $53,030 Primary Sector Workforce Training Grant will help fund training.
  • Wausau Supply Company will receive up to $46,850 through the Primary Sector Workforce Training Grant Program to train eight new workers as the company looks to establish a distribution center in Butte.

The next application deadline for the Big Sky Trust Fund Grant Program is Dec. 16. The Montana Department of Commerce has also launched the Workforce Recovery grant program as part of the Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund to help companies refill jobs lost due to the economic impacts of COVID-19. Those interested in applying can learn more on the state's website at https://marketmt.com/BSTF.

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