By Michael Howell
USDA Rural Development State Director Anthony J. Preite was in the valley last Wednesday to drop off a check for $59,700 to the Ravalli County Economic Development Authority (RCEDA). The funds are from the Rural Business Enterprise Grants (RBEG) program and will provide technical assistance to three local businesses. The purpose of the RBEG funds is to support projects that finance and facilitate development of small and emerging rural businesses.
According to RCEDA Director Julie Foster, RCEDA relies on the USDA and the RBEG program to assist the start up and expansion of businesses in the community each year. Since 2006, the USDA has honored RCEDA and the worthy business project with 25 RBEG awards. The funding has assisted in a broad array of assistance to local businesses. Foster said without this program many of the projects would have taken much longer or not occurred at all.
The latest businesses to benefit from the program are Space-Age Ceramic Guideblocks Inc. in Hamilton which will receive $20,000, Hopestone Retreat Center LLC in Corvallis which will receive $16,700, and PEAR Corporation in Darby which will receive $23,000.
Space-Age Ceramic Guideblocks Inc. is a light manufacturing company that designs and manufactures ceramic guide blocks and thrust bearings, primarily for band saws.
In the coming 24 months, 2.5 new jobs will be hired to work in production. The wages will be approximately $12 per hour to start and projected to be $15 per hour by year two, with access to paid vacation, sick leave, and paid holidays.
“Companies like Space-Age Ceramic Guideblocks Inc. provide the good paying jobs that stabilize and strengthen rural communities. The assistance provided by Rural Development is critical not only to Space-Age Ceramic Guideblocks but to other businesses in our community,” said Foster.
Hopestone Retreat Center is a small therapeutic program for females ages 18-25 years old. The program will serve private clients from all over the US. These are young adult women with a background of trauma, PTSD, mood disorders, and personality disorders, limiting their ability to move into functional young adulthood. The mission of Hopestone Retreat Center is to create a self-sustaining, small therapeutic community that uses the resources in the Bitterroot Valley while positively contributing to this community. Operations will include a small farm, wilderness-based expeditions, horse-packing, rafting, backpacking, rock-climbing and other outdoor adventures.
The owners project to open the facility this fall and employ 20 people by the end of 2016 in Corvallis. Salaries of staff are projected to start at $28,000 per year not including benefits.
PEAR Corporationsells aviation hose assemblies that are custom made in its Darby facility.
“Employment opportunities at PEAR Corporation will add to the number and diversity of higher paying jobs in the South Valley area,” said Foster. “Supporting companies like PEAR is an important element of the strategy to improve the overall economic viability of our communities.” Over the life of the project, 24 months, it is projected that three new jobs will be created with a starting wage of about $12 per hour. Funds from this request for technical assistance from Rural Development will provide technical assistance that is imperative to the company’s growth strategy.
Unemployment in the Darby area has been a chronic problem since the loss of the logging industry. The state’s unemployment rate is 5%. Ravalli County’s unemployment rate is 6.7%, over 25% more than that of the state. Darby area unemployment is 11.4%. Of those employed in Darby, 66.5% make a commute with an average commute time of 31 minutes – the most likely scenario is that the majority are traveling to the Hamilton area for work.
Foster spoke highly of all the people at USDA and Rural Development for their help in funding the local economy, saying, “They help us to craft strong, competitive applications and then they help us make the most of the project funding that we receive. The community sees small snapshots of that work, the check presentation, a local event that celebrates the business expanding or reaching some milestone. Sometime in the future, in five to 10 years, you realize that some time has flown by since that check presentation and the small company is now pushing 30 employees. That and similar successes are the story that began with today’s check presentation and the leg up that those funds will provide to the businesses and to this community.”