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HAMILTON - The Ravalli County Economic Development Authority was awarded a $1.6 million grant Monday to help fund a new entrepreneurship center that could create more than 250 new jobs in the county.

"We're very excited," said Julie Foster, executive director of RCEDA. "We've been working on this project for 10 years. It's taken a lot of dedication and teamwork to make it happen."

The grant was awarded by the Economic Development Administration. It was presented to Foster at the 2008 New Frontiers research conference, hosted by Sen. Max Baucus in Bozeman.

"This is exactly the kind of investment that is right for Montana," Baucus said. "This is about creating good-paying jobs, encouraging entrepreneurship and keeping Montana the Last Best Place."

Baucus, along with Sandy Baruagh, assistant U.S. secretary of commerce, presented Foster with the giant check.

"It was so big that it wouldn't fit in my Subaru," Foster said.

The money will be used to fund creation of the Ravalli Entrepreneurship Center, a biotech and biomed small business incubator.

A seven-member RCEDA board has had the REC project in the works for more than 10 years, Foster said. "The time for us is now."

Hamilton was co-applicant for the grant because the money will also help fund construction of a lift station, which will ultimately be owned by the city. The lift station is a key piece of infrastructure that helps with community development, Foster said.

The lift station is a pivotal aspect for the RCEDA's project because it will provide sewer service to the REC. It will also provide sewer for a senior housing cooperative proposed by the Ravalli County Council on Aging, as well as for new housing in the area.

The REC will provide technical assistance to help provide high-end information to local businesses. The 10,000-square-foot facility will be built on Old Corvallis Road on four acres of RCCOA's property. The total project will cost $3.2 million, with $350,000 of that going to the lift station construction.

The center will provide business coaching, mentoring, advisory boards, networking opportunities, access to capital programs, market information, quality space to conduct business and state-of-the-art technology infrastructure.

It is projected to create 253 jobs and encourage more than $11 million in private investment over the next 10 years, Foster said.

About 60 percent of the 10,000 square feet of REC facility will be leasable space, or a maximum of 18 office spaces. When businesses start with the REC program, they lease those spaces until they are out of the incubator and are able to completely sustain themselves. The jobs projection is derived from this initial startup.

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