By Martin Kidston

The Montana Community Development Corporation will receive nearly $800,000 in federal funding to help launch Neptune Aviation's new job creation and training program, Sen. Jon Tester announced on Friday.

Neptune will receive the $769,639 in the form of a low-interest loan to train and hire low-income workers as entry-level mechanics. The funding will be repaid into MCDC’s revolving loan fund to help other small Missoula businesses grow and create new jobs

The funding comes from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Community Services.

“This money will help train and employ Missoula residents so they can work in good paying careers,” Tester said. “This is the kind of investment that pays dividends for families, communities and all of Montana. The fact that Neptune Aviation will ultimately pay back the money to help other local businesses is just the icing on the cake.”

Neptune Aviation is a Missoula-owned and operated business that employs more than 100 workers. In 2014, Tester helped Neptune win a major firefighting contract with the U.S. Forest Service.

The company, based at the Missoula International Airport, operates a fleet of air tankers designed to help fight wildfires.

“We have long reaped the benefits of our community’s support, and Tester’s support in particular,” said Ron Hooper, CEO of Neptune Aviation. “We are very excited to enact a program that invests training and resources back into the community, an investment that will ultimately benefit our city our state and our country.”

Tester, a member of Senate Appropriations Committee, visited Neptune aviation earlier this summer to introduce his Western Wildfire Initiative.

That effort includes three separate bills aimed at changing the way funding is managed to fight wildfires. The measure also looks to help seasonal firefighters secure permanent employment and help communities recover from damaging wildfires.

Earlier this week, Tester also announced an $850,000 grant for the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center to help small and medium-sized manufacturing businesses throughout the state keep and create new jobs.

In 2014, MMEC helped create 67 new jobs and retain an additional 386 jobs across the state, Tester said. More than half of the companies MMEC worked with in 2014 reported retaining otherwise lost jobs as a result of MMEC’s services, while 42 percent said they added new jobs.

Nearly 45 percent said they also retained otherwise lost sales, and 38 percent reported generating new sales.

“It connects manufacturers with the critical resources necessary to compete globally. It offers support systems that lead to greater supply chain integration,” Tester said. “And it helps firms invest in their processes, technologies, and workforces in order to improve efficiency and grow.”