Loan program busy as local economy ramps up

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Buoyed by a local economy that is thriving, Montana West Economic Development originated seven loans to local businesses totaling $1.2 million last year.

The result of those loans was the creation of 11 new jobs and retention of 69.5 jobs, according to the organization’s recently published annual report.

“The entrepreneurship of the area really came out,” Montana West Loan Officer Brad Walterskirchen said. “More than any other year, we’re seeing lots of demand and very good projects.”

Companies receiving loans included Big Sky Pediatric Dentistry, Bio-Energy Systems, Jobs Now, LPG Enterprises, Mountain View Growers, Mountain View Pet Crematory and Old Town Creative Communications.

Walterskirchen said the pace of the Flathead economy started heating up around Nov. 1 last year. “Projects kept presenting themselves,” he said. “It was by far our busiest year.”

The economic development organization had close to $4.3 million in loan receivables at the end of its fiscal year Dec. 31, the report said.

Walterskirchen said loans being processed are not all business expansions, but new business start-ups as well.

“We work closely with area lenders. They’re all saying they’re very busy, and that it compares to before the recession,” he said.

Montana West makes business loans when a gap in financing exists, which means that if bank lending or owner equity can’t meet a business’ financial needs, Walterskirchen works with clients to determine the best way to move forward. Montana West offers stand-alone loans, bank partnerships and participations.

Montana West’s Procurement Technical Assistance Center had a solid year, too. A total of 337 government contracts were awarded to 123 clients, with a dollar value of $13.9 million. The center also counseled 294 clients.

Doug Bolender, adviser of the Procurement Technical Assistance Center, said anywhere from $10 million to $20 million a year in contracts is average. The center’s service area includes Flathead, Lincoln, Sanders and Glacier counties, but Bolender also has clients throughout the state, some of which are reflected in the annual report statistics.

Government agencies buy billions of dollars’ worth of goods and services from small businesses every year. While contracting with the government is profitable, it’s not a simple process. Bolender has 18 years of experience in helping businesses navigate the very specific application requirements to become independent government contractors.

Last year also brought momentum to the Glacier Rail Park development, Montana West Business Development Manager Kim Morisaki noted in the annual report. Agreements with businesses moving to the rail park were successfully negotiated and it’s full speed ahead for development of the 43-acre industrial yard off Whitefish Stage Road.

LHC Inc. recently won a $11 million contract to build the rail park. Construction gets underway this month.

Montana West Economic Development is working in partnership with the city of Kalispell and Flathead County Economic Development Authority on the Glacier Rail Park and Kalispell Core Area redevelopment projects.

Montana West President Jerry Meerkatz, who took the reins of the busy economic development agency last August, said in his annual report letter that joining the MWED staff felt a little like “an action movie character jumping from a bridge and landing on a moving train.

“To ensure we stay on track in our vision of growth moving forward … staff members devised a strategic plan detailing goals and ambitions that promise to make for an exhilarating year of expansion and success,” Meerkatz said.

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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