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Commodity Exports Lead Montana's Economic Strength

New incentives and proactive government programs are keeping the state's development steady.

Oct/Nov 08
Development activity in the Big Sky State is keeping Montana's economy steady in a shaky national economy. "We have not experienced any serious deterioration in job creation or unemployment rates, and the state has been proactive in providing Montana's potential investors with the tools that will allow their projects," says Anthony Preite, director of the Montana Department of Commerce.

One incentive since 2005, the Big Sky Trust Fund (BSTF), offers a reimbursement of up to $7,500 per eligible job created. In addition, at Governor Brian Schweitzer's request, the 60th Legislature increased funding for the Workforce Training Grant program (WTG) to $4 million annually for the next two years, allowing for up to $5,000 for each job created. Preite says, "We also have partnered with 12 certified regional development corporations so that we can tap into the resources from their revolving loan funds (RLF). When you add that to investments from state, federal and private lenders, chances are good that we can put a project together."

The recently created energy division in the Department of Commerce expects to receive additional funding in future legislative sessions. Energy niches include wind, biofuels, geothermal, biomass ,and clean coal gasification. Montana is involved in some early-stage biodiesel/biolubricant-related projects. "The cost for biolubricant or biodiesel projects is a fraction of the cost of an ethanol plant," says Preite. The wind sector hopes to attract wind towers and manufacturers of turbines and generators. "In addition to having more coal than any other state, we also are in the top 90th percentile in wind," he says.

The state's established aeronautics sector is poised for additional growth. Summit Aeronautics Group in Helena, manufacturer of machined parts and tools for high-end use, received BSTF training funds as well as other incentives for a 30,000-square-foot expansion to its 75,000-square-foot facility. Another aerodynamics company, MSE Mike Mansfield Advanced Technology Center in Butte, is home to the nation's only research facility designed to develop materials for the world's first hypersonic wind tunnel.

Preite notes that Montana leads nationally in exports. Statistics released in April 2008 cite that Montana's commodity exports increased by nearly 35 percent, for a new record high of $1.74 billion in 2007, marking the state's fourth consecutive year of export growth and its third consecutive year of record sales. Record-setting export sectors include inorganic chemicals; ores, slag, and ash; vehicles, parts and accessory items; mineral fuels; minerals, earth and cement; optics, medical, and dental instruments; pharmaceutical products; and aircraft exports.