Miranda-Freer Column: Funding programs can speed your company’s growth

Few business executives have the time or inclination to familiarize themselves with the economic development programs offered by local, state and federal agencies. They’re simply too busy running their companies and doing their jobs.

As the Partnership’s business development director, I have spent the past two years navigating the funding programs available to Missoula County businesses. It is a thick alphabet soup of programs and agencies: SBIR and BSTF grants, TIFs and NMTCs — the list goes on. Application requirements and fine print can seem even more overwhelming.

But here is a simple message: If your company provides jobs paying average or above-average wages, and if you expect growth in the relative near term, chances are good that funding is available for your company. Sometimes that funding can be hundreds of thousands of dollars — and can make the difference between growing now and merely hoping to grow later.

To be sure, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all program that I would recommend to every business in Missoula. Some programs are tied to job creation, others to capital improvements. Some fund research, others assist in training. Some are limited to businesses of a certain size or in a certain industry.

But in my time with the Partnership, three programs have repeatedly made a significant difference for companies in a variety of industries. They might make sense for your company, too.

First on that list is the Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund. Administered by the Montana Department of Commerce, the BSTF program exists to foster the creation of good-paying jobs and to promote long-term, sustainable business growth. It does so by providing grants in two categories.

Category II grants provide up to $25,000 in matching funds for feasibility studies, business and marketing plans, and preliminary architecture or engineering reports. Expanding companies may be eligible for Category I grants, which provide up to $7,500 per qualifying new job created here in Missoula. These monies are particularly useful if the purchase of equipment, facility or land is imminent; if you have training needs; or if you want to reduce overall expenditures on a long-term lease.

In the past year alone, in conjunction with strategic partner BREDD we helped five local companies access nearly $1.6 million in BSTF grants. These projects bring millions of dollars of capital investment into our community and create jobs. BSTF is one of the most powerful economic development tools available in Montana.

Another impactful program for Missoula businesses is Tax Increment Financing, which provides funding for infrastructure and, within the city, even façade and landscaping enhancements.

This can be significant for expanding businesses. For example, it was this program that ultimately brought to fruition the project at the former Kmart on South Brooks and helped OnXMaps construct its new building within budget.

Finally, I would mention incumbent worker training funds available through Missoula Job Service. This program funds specialized training for existing employees, to help them — and you — gain a competitive edge in the marketplace. After a brief interview, a business with 20 or fewer employees can apply for up to $2,000 per employee to be used either for off-site training or to bring expert trainers to the business’ location. So far in 2013, 30 Missoula County businesses have utilized this program, receiving more than $51,000 for employee training.

Ultimately, we don’t think it’s necessary for you to know the details of how these and other programs work. What’s important is that you know that we know. If you plan to grow your company in the next two years, contact the Partnership now. We can help you do it faster.

Brigitta Miranda-Freer was the former business development director of Missoula Economic Partnership. This column originally appeared in the November 24, 2013 edition of the Missoulian’s InBusiness Weekly.

Missoula Economic Partnership | 500 N. Higgins Ave. | Suite 300 | Missoula, Montana 59802 | P: 406.541.6461 | F: 406.541.6464