Three growing IT firms in Missoula get economic boost

By Martin Kidston

Three technology companies based in Missoula plan to create an additional 40 or more good-paying jobs over the next year, a result of rapid growth within their industries.

Missoula County commissioners on Tuesday signed off on several Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund grants from the Montana Department of Commerce to help the firms cover the cost of bringing the new employees onto their payrolls.

“If you’re adding 15 to 20 new employees to your workforce, they all have to have desks and new computers with software licenses, and that’s mainly what this grant supports,” said Nicole Rush with the Missoula Economic Partnership.

Consumer Direct is nearing completion of its new $23 Missoula headquarters building off North Reserve Street.

The firms include Advanced Technology Group, a technology consulting company based in Missoula that has experienced rapid growth over the past year. ATG created 15 jobs this year and plans to add 15 more next year, bringing its payroll to roughly 80 employees, Rush said.

The latest round of grants also includes Consumer Direct, a leader in home health care that currently employs roughly 154 people. The company plans to open its new $23 million headquarters on Howard Razer Drive in the spring.

“Both companies are within our target industries for growth in Missoula,” said Rush. “We’re seeing huge growth in Internet technology. I’m currently working with two other software companies that may be seeking job creation grants here in Missoula very soon.”

The third company to apply for the latest round of economic development grants includes Orbital Shift, an upstart software company founded by University of Montana graduate Kevin O’Rielly.

Orbital Shift plans to hire 32 employees over the next two years, with half of them based in Missoula and half in Bozeman. The company develops time-management software and lists Rosauers and the University of Montana among its clients, Rush said.

“If you employ shift workers, or anyone who has to clock in and clock out, they provide software so employees can clock in on their cell phones,” said Rush. “If you manage your time sheet with an Excel spreadsheet, now they have software to do it.”

Rush said the activity among Missoula’s upstart and growing IT firms is high. When she took her position with MEP earlier this year, she inherited five active job creation grants. She expects to submit four grants with the latest round.

That number could grow to 10 by this time next year, she said.

“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.”

To qualify for the grants, Rush said, the applicant must meet certain wage requirements. Of the three grants signed on Tuesday, all pay above the county median wage of $17.78 an hour.

“They have to pay at least $13.69 an hour, but to get the full award, they have to pay above $17.78 an hour,” Rush said. “The applications I’m working on right now are above the county median. Orbital Shift is planning to hire software engineers that will be making $20 to $30 an hour.”

MEP unveiled its new job-building strategy in March, and while it retained business recruitment as a goal, it expanded its focus to include retaining and growing companies already based in Missoula.

As part of its strategy, it’s also working to help develop the skilled workforce needed to fill those jobs, including those on the technology front. Several local businesses have partnered with UM to help in the endeavor as well.

“They’re partnering with the whole university system,” Rush said. “There’s a recruitment effort going on to get students into those partnerships and graduate them here in Missoula.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com