Big Sky Trust Fund grants
The Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund is a program administered by the Montana Department of Commerce created by the 2005 Montana Legislature. BSTF is designed to aid development of good-paying jobs for Montana residents and to promote long-term stable economic growth in Montana. The BSTF program provides financial assistance in the following two categories:
Category I: Economic Development Job Creation Projects
Seventy-five percent of BSTF earnings are awarded to municipal and tribal governments in the form of grants to help businesses create net new eligible jobs that pay the average county wage, excluding benefits. (In Missoula County, this equates to $33,915/year or $16.31/hour but changes annually.) For us locally this funding flows through the city or county of Missoula, depending on where the business is geographically located. Awards may be made for up to $7,500 per qualifying job; the award dollar figure considers if the company is in a high-poverty county. With a poverty rate of 17 percent, Missoula is a high-poverty county (http://www.bstf.mt.gov/content/docs/MapandWageRates/14PercPoverty.pdf).
Among other requirements, a business applying for BSTF monies must submit a current business plan and eligible projects must demonstrate a significant positive economic impact to the community, region and/or state beyond the job creation involved. Once approved, monies flow through the Bitterroot Economic Development District (BREDD) to the business after actual hiring occurs and is verified.
Although tied to job creation, there is a great deal of flexibility in how the funds are spent. Businesses often use trust funds to reimburse expenses incurred in the purchase, leasing or relocation of real assets directly used by the business or for its employee training costs.
Check the BSTF website for examples of funded projects from years past: http://bstf.mt.gov/default.mcpx. Applications are accepted on an open-cycle basis until all available funds are committed to approved projects.
Category II: Planning Grants
Twenty-five percent of BSTF earnings are awarded to help pay for business plan development and/or feasibility studies. These funds flow through a certified regional development corporation, tribal government or other qualified economic development organization. The Missoula Economic Partnership collaborates with the BitterRoot Economic Development District to develop and package grant applications on behalf of companies seeking help in this category. BREDD is a local economic development organization serving Missoula, Mineral and Ravalli counties. Category II grants typically have deliverables such as business plans, feasibility studies, preliminary architectural reports (PARs) and preliminary engineering reports (PERs). Applications are accepted throughout the year on a quarterly basis.
BSTF category II applications are fairly user friendly, especially compared to other grant programs. There is a matching funds requirement that must come from the assisted company. Although the ratio is not firm at a one-to-one match in high-poverty counties, grant applications are reviewed in a competitive environment — so the more match money a business contributes to leverage the public sector resources, the better.
Most of the companies we are working with regarding BSTF grants fall into the Category II planning grants arena. So far in 2011, the Partnership has worked with BREDD on Category II grants for Green Investment Group / M2 Green Redevelopment (new owners of the Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. site), Missoula Vaccine Partnership and TerraEchos Inc. A Category I grant was recetnly awarded for TerraEchos, a growing Missoula company that will use those funds for training and equipment purchases for new employees.
For more information on Big Sky Trust Fund, please contact Brigitta Miranda-Freer, director of Business Development, at 406.541.6461 or visit http://bstf.mt.gov/default.mcpx.