American Airlines has been very pleased with the success of the Dallas Fort Worth/ Billings flight, reported Steve Arveschoug, following a trip to Texas to confer with airline officials. Arveschoug reported the success of the community’s efforts to expand air service for Billings during the joint board meeting of the Big Sky Economic Development Authority (EDA) and the Big Sky Economic Corporation (EDC) in early December.

The Dallas Fort Worth/ Billings service, which was launched in June of 2017, has been heralded as a success even though there may be some need to dip into the subsidy funds at the end of the year.

Establishing the flight was the result of several years’ work by the Billings Chamber, Billings Logan International Airport, Big Sky Economic Development and Visit Billings courting American  Airlines to consider Billings as a destination.

American Airlines required a revenue guarantee to mitigate some of the risk. Local organizations and private entities committed contributions to help backfill any loss should it be needed.

A full update about local air service will be a highlight of the January EDA/EDC Board Meeting, January 11.

Funds Become Permanent

In giving the financial report for EDC, Comptroller Jim Tevlin noted that the agency now retains as unrestricted cash $971,643 from Page Content

The State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI). EDC became a lender under the program in June 2012 , which was created through the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010. SSBCI was funded with $1.5 billion to strengthen state programs that support financing of small businesses.

Under the program, EDC received and subsequently loaned out $2,298,513 from the Small Business Administration via the Montana Department of Commerce. Principal payments received by EDC on the loans was required to be used to fund additional loans until April 2017, at which time all restrictions were removed. As principal is now repaid, EDC is able to use the funds as it sees fit. In September, the board approved the establishment of a $100,000 long-term or “rainy day” reserve. The Board also approved increasing its short-term operating fund by $50,000.

Science Building Campaign

Arveschoug reported that work continues on EDA’s Matching Challenge for raising funds to build the MSU-Billings Science Building, with the hope of having it wrapped up by the end of the year. EDA is matching any contributions made by the end of the year. First Interstate Bank is also offering to match contributions from other financial institutions up to $100,000. Zoot Enterprises and the Northern Hotel have contributed a total of $10,000.

BSED offered to loan up to $1 million of any balance remaining to fund the construction of the science building. In anticipation of having to extend a loan of $500,000, details for a loan with the MSUB Foundation are being worked out for approval by the board, if it is needed. Potential resources for repayment include lease revenue from the College of Business and pledges made to the project.

Renewing Programs

BSED is going through the process of renewing agreements with the US Small Business Administration to remain the host of two of its economic development programs – the Veterans Business Outreach Center and (VBOC) and the Small Business Development Center (SBDC).

Arveschoug said that they are recommending some tweaking of the VBOC program, a program that helps veterans start or expand a business. It is a 100 percent federally funded program, which was first awarded to BSED three years ago.

The process of retaining the program is a proposal process, explained Arveschoug, in which BSED’s proposal will be in competition with proposals from other entities within the six state area, which the program serves.  Arveschoug said that he is suggesting that the territory be reduced to make the program more effective and to make sure “we have sustainable staffing.”  As it is, it requires considerable traveling time by administrators. The deadline for submitting their proposal is January 8. Sara Hudson is director of the VBOC program.

SBDC has been a long-standing SBA program assisting small businesses in Montana to start up or expand. Dena Johnson is Regional Director of SBDC. A seven-year contract which began January 1, 2014, was amended to increase the amount of federal funding $6,289 to a total of $100,000 in 2018. There is no change in the amount of state funding at $12,500, which is matched by EDA.

Support City Park Plan

The boards of the two economic development agencies sent a letter to the City of Billings Council in support of the Parks Department plan for development of city parks, as outlined in its 2017 Parks and Recreation Master Plan.

The plan requires $3 million in funding.  The plan includes the writing of a master plan to develop Coulson Park and to fund development of the Skyline Trail Project along the Rims. Other parks set as a priority for development include Centennial, Poly Vista, Optimist’s and Castle Rock.

While funds are projected to come from reserves and grants, the Parks Board is also asking the city to increase taxes under the city-wide park district, to generate $3 million a year over the current $2 million.

The letter states that community amenities such as parks, trails and outdoor recreation are important to economic development.

BSED makes the commitment to “partner on the Coulson Park Master Plan” with the Tourism business Improvement District (TBID), the Lodging Association and the Yellowstone Valley Citizens Council.

New Officers

New officers were elected for EDA and EDC for year 2018. For EDA Jennifer Smith was elected Chair, Cory Moore, Vice Chair; Robin Rude, Secretary/Treasurer; Sheri Nicolson, Immediate Past Chair; and Paul Neutgens, member at large.

For EDC the new officers are: Eric Simonsen, Chair; Mike Nelson, Vice Chair; Mike Seppala, Secretary/Treasurer; David Trost, Immediate Past Chair; Steve Loveless, Member at Large.

Search for New Space

A committee continues to explore the options for a new home for BSED and for a business incubator. BSED will need about 15,000 square feet of office space, plus additional space to house the proposed business incubator. The two – BSED offices and the incubator – may or may not be jointly housed.