It’s a “wild idea,” admits Billings’ economic development leader Steve Arveschoug, but to consider locating Big Sky Economic Development (BSED) on the ground floor of the former federal Battin Building is something he has encouraged board members to consider. And, to include in those plans space to establish a business incubator.

The idea was taken up at a planning session in April of Yellowstone County’s sister economic development agencies – the Big Sky Economic Development Authority (EDA) and Big Sky Economic Development Corporation (EDC). As result of the discussion, Arveschoug said, the board members decided to create “a board and staff task force to look at the organizations’ future needs. Part of that will be a discussion about a business incubator. There are no definitive plans. It’s a long term consideration.”

BSED staff has toured the former Battin Building, now known as the Stillwater Building, which is undergoing major renovations by its new owner, EEC Construction, which purchased the building at a foreclosure sale in 2016. It was recently announced that they hope to have the building available for lease as soon as June.

A business incubator is an organization or program that helps new and startup companies to develop by providing economical office space and support services and an environment to network and share ideas.

To lease or own a building will be part of the task force’s consideration. BSED currently leases space at Granite Towers in downtown Billings. As the agency grows they already struggle for adequate office, board room space and storage space, explained Arveschoug.

Also, the Task Force will explore what resources may be used to finance expansion.

In other discussions, Brandon Berger who oversees BSED’s loan services, reported that they are still waiting for approval from the US Small Business Administration, on the proposed merger of BSED’s Certified Development Corporation (CDC) with that of the CDC in Helena, the Montana Community Finance Corporation (MCFC).

Once they have that approval, the two agencies will have ten days in which to make the transition to one statewide CDC, which will be headquartered in Billings under the auspices of the EDC and with another office in Helena. The Helena staff has been reduced from three to two people, he said.

EDC members are looking at bylaw changes to accommodate the new consolidated lending agency.

One of the primary changes will be to add a new level of EDC board membership, one that will allow them to draw representation from other communities in the state in order to have local input regarding economic conditions in other communities in which they may be making loans. Those new board members will not be able to vote and will not have to pay membership dues.