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New West Daily Roundup for Feb. 6, 2017

Today in New West news: 15 Montana companies to watch, Salt Lake City unveils solar deployment plan, new angel fund in Wyoming, and WY legislature kills wind bill.

We’ve talked about the rise of the tech sector in Montana, as the state has worked tirelessly to draw in new and existing companies, both through the efforts of Governor Steve Bullock’s office and organizations such as the Montana High Tech Business Alliance. Indeed, the latter recently released a list of 15 Montana companies to watch in 2017, citing various metrics, including their potential for big revenue growth, chance to attract angel and VC investment, and ability to launch exciting products and add jobs. From a MHTBA press release:

On December 20, 2016, the Montana High Tech Business Alliance emailed our third annual survey of Montana tech companies with the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana to 242 Alliance member companies and 304 non-member companies in high-tech and manufacturing. That’s 546 total tech companies in Montana.

This doesn’t include the tech companies we haven’t found yet. We have to hunt them like rare wild beasts as they tend to hide in remote business parks and second floor offices without signage.

The list of companies is below, along with a statement from MHTBA executive director Christina Henderson:

1. Ascent Vision, Bozeman

2. Audience Awards, Missoula

3. Centricient, Bozeman

4. Clearas Water Recovery, Missoula

5. Elixiter, Bozeman

6. Foundant Technologies, Bozeman

7. Girlzilla, Malta

8. GTUIT, Billings

9. LMG Security, Missoula

10. Montana Precision Products, Butte

11. onXmaps, Missoula

12. Orbital Shift, Missoula

13., Livingston

14. Spika Design and Manufacturing, Lewistown

15. ViZn Energy, Columbia Falls

“Montana has more than 540 high tech and manufacturing companies,” said Christina Henderson, executive director of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance. “We hope that by featuring a small sample of the many world-class businesses we have across the state more people will see the momentum in our entrepreneurial community and seek job and investment opportunities in Montana.”

Over in Utah, according to Utah Business, Salt Lake City and Utah Clean Energy have announced a 10-year plan to “reduce costs, simplify and expand rooftop solar in the city and state.” The plan, “A Bright Future: 10 Year Solar Development Plan,” was developed as part of the Wasatch Solar Project and is one of 15 projects in the U.S. to receive funding from the Department of Energy’s Solar Market Pathways Initiative. From Utah Business:

Utah’s rooftop solar market has nearly doubled every year for the past 10 years, and the estimated annual economic benefit to Utah’s economy rose to $300 million in 2016. According to the Department of Energy’s 2017 U.S. Energy and Employment Report, solar electric generation represents more than 5,894 jobs in Utah.

“Utah’s affordable, abundant energy sources support our diverse economy and high quality of life,” said Ben Hart, managing director at the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. “Solar is one of Utah’s fastest growing energy generation resource, and I applaud the solar industry for its success in our state.”

In forming the plan, Utah Clean Energy sought input from representatives of solar companies, utilities, local and state government, financiers and community and business organizations. The team then developed solutions that will help the solar industry grow in a manner that is fair for both consumers and utilities.

Salt Lake City’s Sustainability Department Director Vicki Bennett said, “Solar power is a local, inexhaustible, clean energy resource that will draw new investments to Utah and continue to create new jobs and grow our economy. Salt Lake City is committed to expanding rooftop solar. Considering all of the economic and health benefits of solar, we urge our leaders and policy makers to look seriously at how we can implement this plan.”

Recent data from the Utah Department of Energy showed that the solar industry in Utah employs more people than all other electrical power generation segments combined. Solar power has quickly become a critical component of the national power landscape as well: solar accounted for 65 percent of new energy resources in the U.S. in the first quarter of 2016, and there are now 374,000 Americans employed in the solar industry.

Over in Wyoming, according to the Wyoming Business Report, a new “angel fund” has cropped up in the Cowboy State—Breakthrough 307, convened by Charles Walsh (CEO of the Casper Area Economic Development Alliance), Ron Wright (local bank president) and Jared Stack (high-tech specialist). Breakthrough 307 has recruited 21 angel investors, who each contributed $100,000 to a $2.1M fund. From the WBR:

Investor Chris Tice of Jackson said, “Breakthrough 307 provides entrepreneurs the ability to share their ideas to a group of individuals with established networks and varied talents. The outcome from the successful submissions will promote economic growth and personal success.”

Dr. Eric Cubin of Casper noted that “…investing in Breakthrough 307 is an excellent way to help the community and promote small businesses in Wyoming.”

Founder Charles Walsh has experience in angel investing in another state and is also a successful small businessman in Casper. “Although angel investment isn’t right for every company it can often mean the difference of the next big idea sitting in a garage or actually being in the market and producing economic value,” Walsh said. “Having a wide range of specialties within the group is essential for providing the best resources to entrepreneurs and their qualified businesses.”

The diverse list of investors, from medical, construction, business, lawyers, accountants and marketers provides entrepreneurs access to financing and technical assistance to help launch new businesses.

“The vision of Breakthrough 307 is to provide early stage seed capital to high-growth potential companies in Wyoming and the Rocky Mountain West while producing positive returns for investors,” said a statement issued by Walsh. A three-fold approach takes form in the shape of BT307: Entrepreneurs; BT307: Connections and BT307: Investors.

Finally, keeping with Wyoming, the Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee opted to stall a proposed bill that would have penalized state utilities from providing Wyoming customers with utility-scale wind and solar power. Senate File 71 would have established six energy resources for electricity generation, as well as a $10 per megawatt hour fee for utility-scale wind and solar power. The fee would not have applied to utility-scale wind and solar power going out of the state. According to the Casper Star Tribune, the bill was proposed, in part, as a response to California’s goal of using 50 percent renewable energy by 2030. Per the Tribune, no lawmakers moved to advance the bill from committee:

Many people offered testimony to the committee about SF71, said Case, a Republican from Lander.

“Honestly, almost everybody was against it,” he said. “The utilities sort of thought it had merits but it wasn’t ready. They weren’t totally supportive.”

People who testified at the meeting didn’t believe the bill was workable and difficult to implement and regulate, said Shannon Anderson, an attorney with the Sheridan-based Powder River Basin Resource Council, a landowner group that opposed SF71.

“Citizens from across the state discussed their support of renewable energy,” she said.

Case, the committee chairman, said he will suggest to legislative leaders that the committee study the issue of energy mandates in the interim period between the 2017 and 2018 sessions.

One of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Tyler Lindholm (R-Sundance) said the bill prompted good discussion, in his opinion.

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