Joan Hughes - Consultant for Coal Black Liquids, LLC

Coal Black Liquids is using the technology developed by ARCTECH, Inc., a diversified research and development company in Chantilly VA, to manufacture as from coal products for soil mitigation and water treatment. They hope to begin manufacturing this year, in Billings. The company’s managing partner is Tom Rossetto, the former president of Westmoreland Coal. The bio-conversion technology uses naturally occurring microorganisms to convert the coal. The entrepreneurs are completing a feasibility study that was made possible by a $415,000 grant from the Department of Commerce’s Montana Board of Research and Commercialization Technology. The study is helping to locate the right kind of coal and to identify a plant site. The proposed plant will, at a minimum, produce 10 million gallons of fertilizer product, 5,000 tons of environmental remediation products, and 10,000 to 100,000 mcf of biogas.

Dan Kern, Adapting Designs

Dan Kern and his partner, Chris Nurre, are right on the cusp of bringing a new invention to market. Nurre devised a physical therapy devise that retrofits bicycles so that people with limited mobility can ride them. They have developed a prototype and tested it, and are now in the phase of refining the design for manufacturing. Kern said that they anticipate launching sales through high-end bike shops.

New Technology Venture

New Technology Venture

You probably won’t see a street sign identifying one of Billings’ newest business concerns, Altitude Technologies LLC.

Currently employing four people, Altitude Technologies’ staff is a “virtual team,” says founder Kirk Porter. “Over the years, I have never understood why a technology company would have an office when it can be hosted through the sky,” says Porter. No matter how large his company grows it will probably never have a “bricks and mortar” kind of location. Such technology should be a big boon for all industries since they can rely on talent across the country.

Porter should know about that of which he speaks as a technology consultant. Helping other small businesses to best utilize the technology available to them is the mission of Altitude Technologies. “We go in and help the small and medium business market and run their technology, at a reasonable price,” explained Porter. While large companies have such expertise in house, most small businesses cannot afford it. “We help them make good solid investments,” said Porter.

Read more: New Technology Venture

Michael Sweeny - Techhelpers

Having recently moved to Billing from Alaska, Michael Sweeney is poised to launch a new business that will target a niche technology market. Tech Helpers will provide consultation services to the law firms and other enterprises aligned with the legal profession. Launching a business has many kinds of challenges, with which Sweeney has been dealing, but the one thing that has not daunted him at all is the state of the economy. He couldn’t be more confident about the future, especially for Billings.

Networking Event Draws Tech Entrepreneurs



A networking event in Billings, hosted by TechRanch, for technology entrepreneurs generated a full house at The Rex last week. Representing a wide range of businesses and ventures, people came from throughout the region to meet others of like mind and interest – and that was exactly TechRanch’s purpose.

Read more: Networking Event Draws Tech Entrepreneurs

New Kings Ace Hardware

New Kings Ace HardwareProving that a local business can successfully compete with the chain box stores, one of Billings’ rising entrepreneurs is expanding in the midst of a recession. Kings Ace Hardware is planning a third store at the corner of Zimmerman and Grand Avenue.

Read more: New Kings Ace Hardware

Keith Lauver, The Healthy Pantry

Keith Lauver has a better idea, one that has launched a new business, The Healthy Pantry, Red Lodge. In a former life as a computer technician, Lauver realized how difficult it is for busy people to prepare and eat the right foods in order to keep fit. He has developed an easy-to-prepare line of foods that are healthier. He likens them to “Hamburger Helper” style of prepared foods, only made with whole grains and higher quality ingredients. The company employs four people. The products are available at about two dozen retail outlets, including the Good Earth Market in Billings.

Newspaper Publishers Revenues Decline in 2008

Newspaper Publishers Revenues Decline in 2008

Newspaper publishers experienced a single-year decline in total revenue of 8.3 percent — from $47.9 billion in 2007 to $43.9 billion in 2008. This followed a more modest decline of 2.7 percent in 2007, the U.S. Census Bureau reported.

A major contributor to the overall loss in revenues for the industry was the decline in advertising space revenue for general newspapers, which dropped 10.2 percent — from $30.9 billion in 2007 to $27.8 billion in 2008. Revenue from newspaper subscriptions remained largely unchanged over the period, from $8.3 billion in 2007 to $8.2 billion in 2008.

These estimates come from the 2008 Service Annual Survey: Information Sector Services. The survey provides national estimates of annual revenue and expenses for industries primarily engaged in producing, processing and distributing data, which range from motion picture production to libraries.

Read more: Newspaper Publishers Revenues Decline in 2008

American Steel Expands

American Steel is seizing upon this moment in time to invest in the future. The Billings fabricator of structural steel sees the current economy as a time to take advantage of reduced costs, low interests rates and market position to prepare for the resurgence when it comes.

“We will probably never see interest rates this low again,” said Paul Neutgens, co-owner of American Steel which is in the process of building a new facility in Lockwood.

“We are very fortunate to be in the position we are in,” said Neutgens, “We are lucky to be located in Billings.” William Kronmiller is Neutgens’ partner in American Steel which began business in 1998.

The company hopes to occupy their new 26,000 square foot facility at 1655 Coulson by March 1. They will move from their current location at 4110 Neibauer Rd. which they lease.

Jones Construction is the general contractor.

The new plant will have two large fabrication bays and a painting bay. With more space, Neutgens said that his company will be able to attain larger projects and produce at a higher level. Floor heat will allow production to continue even when temperatures plunge to 20 degrees below zero.

“Our paint facility is pretty close to being one of the largest in a four or five state region,” said Neutgens. The increased space will allow the company to acquire “bigger, faster, state-of-the-art machines,” which will help in production efficiencies. The facility’s design allows for future expansion as the company grows.

“We are preparing ourselves for the future,” said Neutgens, “You can always be afraid of what is directly in front of you, but you have to look past that. It takes years to develop a plant like this and we are looking five to ten years down the road. I think it is a wonderful opportunity if you are in position to do it, some people are and some people aren’t. It is a brave jump I guess, but we have good return customers and very good employees who we depend upon to find the work and to do it. We have the best team in the western US on board with us.”

Part of American Steel’s finance package in building of the new facility includes a Small Business Administration 504 loan for $1.468 million loan on a 20 year note for the purpose of acquiring the land in Lockwood. The loan has been approved by the Big Sky Economic Development Corporation.

Neutgens said that Lockwood was chosen as a sight because it meets their transportation needs so well, and a number of their employees live in Lockwood. Also, Neutgens said he believes Lockwood is the next boon area of the community.

The company employs 22 people now, and hopes to expand that by six to ten over the next year.

Most of American Steel’s production is exported out of state – almost anywhere west of the Mississippi River. The company sells Ceco Prefabricated Metal Building Packages, as well as commercial and industrial structural steel components, and miscellaneous steel products such as stairs, guardrails, frames, decks and joists.

Market Update

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