Montana Awards $1M in Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund Grants

The State of Montana has awarded a total of $1.041 million in Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund grants for seven projects.


Montana (photo – m01229/flickr)

These grants will support a set of job creation projects that are creating 139 new jobs, and also kick off another diverse set of economic development planning projects that could lead to a lot more job growth and economic activity down the line.

The Prospera Business Network received $26,250 as a planning grant to assist the Bozeman, MT-based Oracle Film Group conduct a feasibility study evaluating the possibility of opening an animation feature film studio in southwest Montana.

Bear Paw Development likewise received $26,250 to assist the Port of Wild Horse, which is the port of entry in Havre, MT. The grant funds will support a study to quantify the impact on Montana and Alberta, Canada if the federal governments of the U.S. and Canada agree to designate the port as an international port of entry.

Prospera Business Network also received $4,750 to assist Manhattan, MT-based Montana Maltings conduct an evaluation of manufacturing facility requirements for a proposed malting facility.

Another $26,250 planning grant will assist the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce in conducting industrial development planning associated with creating two Targeted Economic Development Districts.

Missoula County, MT received a $547,500 grant in support of an expansion project by LGT Sustainable Energy Systems, Inc. that is creating 73 new jobs. The company specializes in sustainable energy systems that generate and store renewable energy from wind and water.

The City of Hamilton, MT received a $240,000 grant in support of an expansion project by Applied Training Resources, Inc. that is creating 32 new jobs.

The Big Sky Economic Development Corporation received a $170,000 grant in support of an expansion project in Billings, MT by All American Pharmaceutical and Natural Foods Corporation. The company is a leading manufacturer of dietary, food and nutritional supplements, and the expansion is creating 34 new jobs.

Governor Steve Bullock said in a release announcing the grant awards that these grants are a great example of smart and strategic partnerships between the state of Montana and private business to responsibly grow Montana’s economy.

“From renewable energy to nutritional supplements and advanced manufacturing, the variety of projects funded shows that many Montana industries are growing and thriving,” said Gov. Bullock.

NYC Economic Development Corp and B Lab Launch Best for NYC

The NYC Economic Development Corporation and non-profit B Lab have launched Best for NYC, an innovative campaign, website and set of tools designed to help businesses measure and improve the impact of their business on NYC workers, community and the environment.

Best for NYC

Best for NYC (photo –

Using B Lab’s Impact Assessment tool for measuring, benchmarking and improving economic and social impact, businesses can now take the Best for NYC Challenge online at

It’s free and confidential, and it takes only 20 minutes to find out where your business stands in relation to dozens of best practices on employee, community, and environmental impact.

The Quick Impact Snapshot will then show you how your company stacks up against other businesses that have taken the same assessment. The next step is to create a plan to improve your practices and implement them with the help of the best practice guides and examples you will find on the site.

Businesses that complete the assessment and commit to seeking ways to improve their practices may get recognition as “Competing to be Best for NYC.” At the end of the year, NYCEDC and B Lab will celebrate these businesses that are working to build a better business and improve the quality of life in all five boroughs.

With the launch of the Best for NYC Challenge, NYCEDC claims that New York City has become the first municipality in the world to host this kind of a “Best for” campaign.

B Lab Co-Founder Andrew Kassoy said in a release that cities around the world can look to New York City as a model for how to engage their business communities to create higher quality jobs and improve quality of life.

NYC Economic Development Corp. President Kyle Kimball said in the release that New York City is home to many of the most successful and innovative companies in the world, and Best for NYC challenges these local companies to give back, create opportunities and do what is best for the City.

Several businesses have already taken up the call to become the Best for NYC, including certified NYC B Corporations like Etsy, Red Rabbit, Warby Parker, and Uncommon Goods. B Corporations are business structures designed for companies that want to benefit both society and shareholders.

NYCEDC aims to have at least 500 businesses participating in Best for NYC by the end of the year. Focused outreach efforts are in the works to ensure business participation across the spectrum reflecting the diversity of the City’s businesses.

Councilmember Dan Garodnick, Chair of the New York City Council’s Economic Development Committee, said in the release that these tools will help businesses measure their operations and root out inefficiencies. Garodnick added that this is a smart way to help local businesses perform better.

Palm Beach County, Florida Offers Economic Development Incentives for Regional HQ Project

The Board of County Commissioners of Palm Beach County, FL have approved a large package of economic development incentives for a regional headquarters project.


Otis (photo – sun dazed/flickr)

The company, identified only as Project Diamond, would make a capital investment of $115 million and create 450 new jobs with an average annual wage of $85,000.

According to the impact analysis, the project will have a five-year local economic impact of $662.4 million.

That’s a big project by any standards, and the county staff memo urging approval of incentives for it says that other states under consideration for the project include Georgia and North Carolina.

Project Diamond is mentioned as being a subsidiary and regional managing office project. According to the Palm Beach Post, this company is United Technologies and the subsidiary considering relocating its regional headquarters to Palm Beach County is their Otis Elevators division.

In order to secure the project, a package of State of Florida and Palm Beach economic development incentives has been put together. This includes $2.66 million under the Qualified Target Industry (QTI) Tax Refund program with a high-impact sector bonus, and another $4.9 Million from the Quick Action Closing Fund (QACF).

Palm Beach County, for its part, is required to provide part of these amounts as matching funds. To be specific, the County Commissioners voted to adopt a resolution approving $532,000 as the QTI local match and $2,468,000 for the QACF, adding up to $3 million in local incentives.

The Palm Beach County Commissioners have conceptually approved this $3 million in economic development incentives for Project Diamond in the form of an ad valorem tax exemption over ten years.

The company will be required to enter into a formal agreement with the county in order to receive these incentives, and will have to maintain the 450 new jobs in Palm Beach County for at least five years.

The Otis Elevator Company was founded in Yonkers, NY by Elisha Graves Otis, who literally invented and founded the modern elevator industry by himself when he came up with the idea of safety brakes and sold the first safe elevators in 1853. Today, the company is the world’s leading manufacturer and installer of elevators, escalators and moving walkways.

The Farmington, CT-based Otis Elevator Company now has around 61,000 employees serving customers in almost every country on the planet.

Howard County Economic Development, Maryland DBED Secure Astrum Solar Expansion

Astrum Solar, Inc., a leading full-service residential solar provider in the Eastern United States, announced plans to expand its headquarters in Howard County, MD.

Solar jobs

Solar jobs (photo – codepinkphoenix/flickr)

Supported by the Howard County Economic Development Authority (HCEDA) and the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development (DBED), Astrum Solar plans to triple its footprint in the county.

The company is currently housed in a 14,400-square-foot facility in Annapolis Junction, and plans to add another 28,000 square feet. Astrum Solar also expects to create 240 new jobs as part of the expansion. This will take the total number of employees at the facility to 315 over the next two years.

The company plans to make an investment of approximately $750,000 on the project for upgrades, including leasehold improvements and equipment.

In order to secure the expansion and support the company’s job creation plans, DBED has offered Astrum Solar a $500,000 conditional loan through the Maryland Economic Development Assistance Authority and Fund. HCEDA is separately providing the company local incentives including a $50,000 workforce training grant.

DBED Secretary Mike Gill said in a release announcing the expansion project that Astrum Solar is one of the fastest-growing companies in the country, and added that they are thrilled the company is expanding and adding jobs in Maryland.

HCEDA CEO Lawrence F. Twele said in the release that diversifying their jobs base is a priority at the Howard County Economic Development Authority, and this expansion by Astrum Solar is a great example of the opportunities the energy sector holds.

Twele added that by working closely with their partners at the state level, they can help grow businesses that are environmentally friendly and generate well-paying jobs.

Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman likewise noted that the expansion of Astrum Solar in Annapolis Junction is a perfect example of the type of economic development they strive for in Howard County.

Astrum Solar Vice President Cory Byzewski said that the company was born and raised in Maryland, and they have been committed since the beginning to helping the state by creating jobs and helping Maryland residents benefit from the environmental and financial benefits of solar power.

Astrum Solar, a part of the Direct Energy family of brands, has been ranked second on Inc. magazine’s annual listing of fastest growing private U.S. companies. Maryland’s solar industry, which employed nearly 3,000 workers last year, is likewise expected to grow fast this year by more than 25 percent.

Alabama House Passes Economic Development Bills in Made in Alabama Jobs Incentive Package

The Made in Alabama Jobs Incentive Package took a big step forward in the Alabama Legislature with House passage of three crucial economic development bills in the package.

Alabama State Capitol

Alabama State Capitol (photo – jimbowen0306/flickr)

The three bills that were passed (HB 58, 57 and 59), along with two more that are still in the works, will enact a major shift in Alabama economic development incentives to post-performance tax credits based on tax revenue generated by projects.

HB 58 – The Alabama Jobs Act starts off by repealing various incentives such as the capital credit that are currently offered by the state to companies. The bill replaces the existing incentives with a jobs credit for qualifying business projects that create new jobs. The job creation incentives offered would be three percent of the company’s previous year’s wages paid to the new employees. An investment credit likewise offers 1.5 percent of an eligible capital investment for a period of ten years.

HB 57 – The Alabama Veterans and Rural Jobs Act adds provisions to the Alabama Jobs Act to make it easier for projects located in rural areas to qualify for incentives. The number of jobs required to be created is reduced from 50 to 25. The jobs credit is hiked to four percent, and an additional 0.50 percent is made available for qualifying jobs filled by veterans. The investment credit would be available for an additional five years.

The bill also creates the Accelerate Rural Alabama Fund and allows the State Industrial Development Authority to make loans to rural entities for funding site preparation and other expenses associated with projects that are creating jobs in a rural area.

HB 59 – The Alabama Reinvestment and Abatements Act would provide tax incentives and worker training through workforce development organization AIDT in order to encourage capital reinvestment by existing businesses in Alabama into their current operations. The bill also allows for abatements of state ad valorem taxes and local non-educational property taxes for up to 20 years, which is double the current 10-year period allowed under current state law.

Governor Robert Bentley issued a statement praising House passage of these three bills, adding that the Alabama Legislature has always played a critical role in helping to make sure the state is a leader in economic development.

“This legislation will ensure Alabama remains a leader in recruiting new industry and helping our existing businesses continue to be successful,” said Gov. Bentley.

Amazon Adding 500 Jobs at Lexington County, SC Fulfillment Center

Amazon is adding more jobs to its Lexington County fulfillment center in West Columbia, SC.

Amazon fulfillment

Amazon fulfillment (photo – BCRP/flickr)

Since opening in 2012, the fulfillment center has already brought more than 1,500 jobs to West Columbia and Lexington County.

The 500 new jobs that Amazon is now adding to the facility are for meeting growing customer demand. The employees will pick, pack and ship customer orders.

Governor Nikki Haley said in a release announcing the project that the 500 new jobs this expansion will create is terrific news for the Midlands community, and added that they look forward to watching Amazon continue to grow in South Carolina for many years to come.

Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt noted that having such a recognized company make repeat expansions in the state is a credit to South Carolina’s positive business climate and workforce.

These 500 new Amazon jobs are the ongoing rewards of a long process undertaken to recruit Amazon to Lexington County that goes back to 2010. Amazon first announced in Dec 2010 that it would establish a $100 million fulfillment center in Lexington County, with plans to create 1,249 new permanent jobs at the facility.

They chose the Saxe Gotha Industrial Park in Lexington County for the one million-square-foot distribution and fulfillment center. The location not only provides easy interstate access, but also proximity to the UPS ground hub located near Columbia Metropolitan Airport.

At that time, the SC Commerce code name for the project during the site selection process was Project ASAP, so named because of the paramount need to meet the company’s needs in a timely fashion. The SC Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) and Lexington County staff got all the required permitting for the project done on a fast track to meet the company’s tight schedule.

Lexington County Council Chairman Johnny Jeffcoat said in the release that in December 2010, they were thrilled to welcome to Lexington County and to have this caliber of company locate in the county. Jeffcoat added that this new announcement of 500 additional jobs at the facility absolutely affirms the quality of their workforce.

Apart from this Lexington County fulfillment center, Amazon also has another South Carolina fulfillment center in Spartanburg County. This $50 million project was announced in 2012 as a one million-square-foot facility that has also created hundreds of jobs.

EPA Awards Brownfield Grants to 20 Communities in 16 States

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded 20 communities in 16 states approximately $4 million in Brownfields Area-Wide Planning grants.

EPA Brownfields AWP grants program

EPA Brownfields AWP grants program (photo –

The EPA’s AWP program provides funding for cleanup and reuse of Brownfields sites to revitalize communities and strengthen local economies.

It is modeled after New York State’s Brownfields Opportunity Area Program and the HUD-DOT-EPA Partnership for Sustainable Communities.

Several of the communities awarded AWP grants are participating in the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership. The IMCP communities in the list of EPA grant awardees include Milwaukee and Racine, WI; Portland, ME; Rochester, NY; and Pittsburg, KS.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Jay Williams said in an EPA release that the EDA has a longstanding and productive history of working with the Environmental Protection Agency in assisting communities undergoing economic transformation.

ASC Williams added that EPA’s AWP grants can help identify potential areas for EDA investment, both of which are intended to create conditions for private investment and job creation.

EPA is awarding each recipient up to $200,000 for Brownfields planning activities and reuse. The area-wide planning approach that takes into consideration plans for revitalization of the area surrounding Brownfield sites greatly enhances the chances for successful reuse of the property.

For example, the City of Pittsburg is getting a $196,400 AWP grant to help the City and other stakeholders develop an area-wide plan and implementation strategy for the 350-acre Mid-City Renaissance area that is near the city’s revitalized downtown.

The Brownfield site in question has been used by zinc smelters dating from the late 1800s, plus a clay pipe manufacturing plant and an industrial facility that generated hazardous materials. The site is ideal for a range of urban redevelopment options, including housing and retail space and enhanced transportation choices such as hiking and biking trails.

The City of Dubuque, IA, the other AWP grant recipient in EPA Region 7, is getting $200,000 to assist with the development of an area-wide plan and implementation strategy for the 33-acre South Port area along its Mississippi riverfront.

Dubuque’s plan is to convert the former industrial properties of South Port into a new downtown mixed-use neighborhood along the Mississippi in a walkable, transit-oriented environment.

Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for the EPA Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, said in the release that the selected grantees have demonstrated a strong vision and partnership to catalyze brownfield redevelopment as a pathway to transform their communities into vibrant destinations for housing, manufacturing, and transit-oriented development.

The full list of the latest AWP funding recipients and detailed information about each project is available here.

This is the third round of grants awarded by the EPA under the Brownfields AWP program. The 2010 pilot, under which $4 million was awarded to 23 communities, has leveraged approximately $418 million in infrastructure and project development investments.

US Launches TechHire Initiative Linking Community Technology Jobs Programs

The U.S. is launching a new federal initiative called TechHire to get more Americans rapidly trained for good-paying technology jobs.

TechHire includes a $100 million grant competition by the U.S. Department of Labor to train and successfully employ low-skill individuals who face barriers to training and employment such as disabilities, limited English proficient workers, those with child care responsibilities, etc.

Grants will pilot and scale innovative partnerships between employers, workforce boards, training institutions, non-profit organizations, and cities and states across the country. The funding for these grants will come from a user fee paid by employers to bring foreign workers into the United States under the H-1B nonimmigrant visa program.

The TechHire initiative also brings together communities that are already taking action on training citizens and getting them ready to fill local tech jobs.

As a start, 21 cities and regions that already have technology jobs programs in place will work together and with national employers as part of the TechHire Initiative to expand access to tech jobs. These 21 communities have over 120,000 open technology jobs and more than 300 employer partners in need of this workforce.

The list includes New York City, the State of Delaware, St. Louis, MO and Louisville, KY, among others.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio recently launched the Tech Talent Pipeline Inititiave, under which the NYC Economic Development Corp. and other City agencies are working with employers including Microsoft, Verizon, Goldman Sachs, Google, and Facebook to prepare college students in the City University of New York (CUNY) system and connect them to paid internship opportunities at local tech companies.

Mayor de Blasio issued a statement in which he says that “New York City is proud to rise to President Obama’s nationwide Tech Hire challenge with our Tech Talent Pipeline initiative, and I applaud the President’s call for more local governments across the country to equip their citizens with the skills and access they need for the technology jobs of the 21st century economy.”

Similarly, several of Delaware’s biggest employers that collectively have thousands of unfilled tech jobs are joining with the state to train and hire hundreds of Information Technology workers through accelerated education programs and a “coding school” launching this fall.

The Delaware TechHire initiative is an accelerated coding bootcamp initially focusing on Java and .Net community college programs. Large employers in Delaware’s finance and health care sectors such as JP Morgan Chase and Capital One are participating in this program, and will be recruiting those who successfully complete it, allowing them to become software developers in months rather than years.

In St. Louis, MO, a network of over 150 employers has teamed up to build on a successful Mastercard pilot to partner with local non-profit Launchcode aimed at building the skills of women and underrepresented minorities for tech jobs.

Louisville has the Code Louisville initiative involving over 20 IT employers that is training and placing new software developers. As a part of the TechHire Initiative, Louisville will set up a high-quality coding bootcamp and establish a new partnership between Code Louisville and local institutions offering degree programs in order to further standardize employer recognition of software development skillsets.

Apart from NYC, Delaware, St. Louis and Louisville, other communities that are currently a part of TechHire include Philadelphia, PA; the City of Kearney and Buffalo County, NE; Colorado; Salt Lake City, UT; San Antonio, TX; Los Angeles, CA; Minneapolis, MN; Kansas City, KS; Memphis, TN; Rural Eastern Kentucky, Nashville, TN; Rochester, NY; Detroit, MI; San Francisco, CA; Albuquerque, NM; Chattanooga, TN and Portland, OR.

The TechHire website has a map that highlights all these communities. Actually, it has three maps. The first one shares stories about each community, and the second one shows the number of open information technology jobs in each community’s metro area. The third one shows the total information technology jobs are in each community.

Virginia Awards $2.3M in Industrial Revitalization Funds

Governor Terry McAuliffe announced $2.3 million in Industrial Revitalization Fund awards to support market-driven revitalization projects in the Town of Ashland, VA and the cities of Petersburg, Roanoke and Waynesboro.

Ashland Theatre in Ashland, VA

Ashland Theatre in Ashland, VA (photo – sarahstierch/flickr)

The Industrial Revitalization Fund (IRF) was established to use state funding for leveraging additional local and private resources and achieve market-driven redevelopment of vacant and deteriorated industrial and commercial properties.

The three cities are getting $600,000 each for specific redevelopment projects, and the Town of Ashland is getting $500,000.

IRF funding targets non-residential derelict structures whose redevelopment is aligned with local and regional economic development strategies, with a particular focus on projects in distressed communities.

The program, administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), received nine applications from communities and local economic development organizations seeking a total of more than $5.5 million in funding. The $2.3 million that has been awarded for the four projects will spur nearly $11 million in total development.

Gov. McAuliffe said in a release announcing the IRF awards for these projects that “By revitalizing these dilapidated structures, we are generating new economic development opportunities for these communities and bringing these once-empty structures back to life.”

The project in Waynesboro that has been awarded $600,000 is the Virginia Metalcrafters factory that closed in 2003 and has since become an eyesore. It is being redeveloped by the current owner into a facility that will house a craft brewery and other tourism service providers.

The owner, VM Acquisition Waynesboro, LLC, has been working with the Waynesboro Economic Development Department and other city officials on determining the best readaptive uses for the complex.

In Petersburg, the Ice and Coal Building is likewise being redeveloped into a new $5 million brewery and an apartment building over the next few years. The historic building was built in 1890, and is being redeveloped into a craft brewery and restaurant, with the apartment complex adjacent to it.

In the City of Roanoke, the Gill Memorial Building, which has been lying vacant for nearly two decades, is being converted into a technology accelerator. The City is working on this project in partnership with the Roanoke-Blacksburg Innovation Network.

The Ashland Theater in the Town of Ashland is being brought back to life through efforts led by the Ashland Main Street Association. They managed to get a $25,000 grant from the Virginia Main Street program as a feasibility grant to determine the scope of the renovation, and the $500,000 IRF award makes it possible for the $1.2 million project to go ahead with additional funding from a private partner.

Greater Houston Economic Development Group Teams With ExxonMobil Initiative to Address Workforce Issues

The Greater Houston Partnership is joining forces with an ExxonMobil community college initiative to form an innovative petrochemical recruitment and training initiative.


EnergizeHouston (photo –

GHP is the main Greater Houston economic development group serving 11 counties in the region and comprised of more than 1,400 member organizations who together represent approximately one-fifth of the region’s workforce.

The GHP announcement says that the ExxonMobil-funded EnergizeHouston program will join the GHP’s UpSkill Houston initiative. The latter is a community-wide integrated workforce that was launched in 2014 to address the skills gap in Houston by increasing the number of Texans trained for critical middle skills jobs.

EnergizeHouston was likewise launched in 2013 by ExxonMobil and nine community colleges to attract, train and place workers in jobs within the region’s petrochemical industry. The program allows community colleges and school districts in the Greater Houston and Texas Gulf Coast area to provide workforce training for the region’s businesses and industries.

A partnership that allows these two initiatives to work together narrows the focus of their combined workforce training activities to a highly specific purpose – closing the skills gap for middle skills jobs in the petrochemical industry in Greater Houston.

Middle skills jobs are those that need more than a high school education but less than a four-year college degree. Around 1.4 million of the 3.6 million jobs in Houston are already considered middle skills jobs, and GHP forecasts that 75,000 of these middle skills jobs will open annually from 2015 to 2017.

Developing a pipeline of skilled talent to fill these jobs is therefore a critically important component of the Greater Houston economic development plan. EnergizeHouston now becomes the first pillar in the region’s comprehensive workforce development effort.

GHP President and CEO Bob Harvey said in a release that EnergizeHouston is an incredible, innovative first step toward solving the region’s petrochemical and construction shortage, but added that this challenge is far bigger than what one company can solve. Harvey added that this combination adds an already strong and functioning job and training platform to UpSkill Houston.

Matt Aguiar, senior vice president of ExxonMobil Chemical Company and co-chair of UpSkill Houston’s petrochemical committee, took the opportunity to announce that the company is investing an additional $500,000 in the petrochemical training initiative. This latest investment brings ExxonMobil’s cumulative financial commitment for this initiative to $1.5 million.

Aguiar said that they expect new industry investment to attract thousands of jobs to the Houston area as industry capitalizes on the abundant, affordable supplies of U.S. natural gas to produce chemicals.

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