County signs off on three job-creation grants for Missoula firms

Paige Williams, center, founder of The Audience Awards, chats with Tom Stergious, senior vice president of corporate development with Advanced Technology Group, and Greg Gianforte, founder of RightNow Technologies, during a recent tech discussion hosted by the Small Business Development Council in Missoula. Both ATG and The Audience Awards have received Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund grants to grow their business. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

In the time that Nichole Rush has handled job creation grants for the Missoula Economic Partnership, most have come from the city’s surging tech industry, an indication of the sector’s growth.

On Wednesday, in a continuation of that trend, Missoula County commissioners signed off on three additional job creation grants, including those for The Audience Awards, Montana Entrepreneur and Orbital Shift.

The grant amounts include $60,000, $75,000 and $120,000 respectively and will help the three local businesses add as many as 34 new jobs. The grant awards are distributed as the companies create each job defined in the application.

“We’re seeing a lot of growth in tech industry applications,” Rush said. “Almost all the new applications I’ve submitted have something to do with software development or high tech in some way. It meshes up with what we know is happening statewide, that our tech sector is booming, and a lot of these companies are taking advantage of that.”

It was just last month that Gov. Steve Bullock announced $860,000 in grants to help businesses in seven Montana communities grow, including five in Missoula.

The Missoula companies included the three named on Wednesday, along with HB Enterprises and VIM & VIGR. The grants come from the Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund through the Montana Department of Commerce.

“They have to be an export-based business, or earning their revenue outside the state,” explained Rush. “They can’t be just serving our local economy. They have to be bringing money in in some way, whether that’s exporting goods or exporting services. It’s designed to grow our basic sector, primary job creators.”

In the past, Advanced Technology Group and Consumer Direct have benefited from the grants. Along with several other applications on the horizon, including TOMIS and Project Spokane – both based in Missoula – the jobs created could exceed 70 new positions if the companies meet their growth projections.

Last year, companies who received funding from the program had to pay a minimum wage of $17.78 an hour. That has increased this year to $18.50 an hour.

“Missoula has been very successful in leveraging these kind of grants, and that will continue,” said Rush. “It’s my job to make sure that happens.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com