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Resources are once again available to businesses in southwest Montana that add value to food, renewable energy and agricultural products harvested in the Big Sky State.

That’s because Headwaters RC&D, an economic-development organization that serves southwest Montana, was recently re-designated as a Food and Agriculture Development Center.

The designation allows the organization to assist businesses that produce and commercialize food, agricultural products and more with practices like grant writing, financing, food safety and marketing.

This won’t be the first time Headwaters served as an FADC, so the resources aren’t exactly new — they’re more like new-ish.

Joe Willauer, who heads Headwaters and the Butte Local Development Corp., said Headwaters was an FADC for about four years until 2017, when the local program lost its state funding. However, as the result of the recent passage of Montana House Bill 52, Headwaters’ FADC program is back on.

Sponsored by Butte state Sen. Jim Keane, the bill reauthorized funding for economic-development programs across the state. The bill also removed a cap that limited the number of FADCs allowed by state law. As a result, the number of Montana FADCs has increased from four to eight.

Because of the re-designation, Headwaters will be allocated $154,000 to provide FADC services for two years. The organization will also take on a new staff member, an FADC director.

Headwaters plans to post an ad for the position in the weeks ahead, Willauer said, adding that the organization hopes to land someone with dual backgrounds in business and agriculture.

Willauer served as the point person for Headwater’s FADC program the last time the organization held the distinction. It’s the position, he said, that introduced him to the world of economic development.

“When I stopped rowing a boat full-time seven years ago and started in economic development, it’s the job I did and so I know it inside and out,” said Willauer, who was a fly-fishing guide.

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He added that part of the mission of the program is to keep more agriculture dollars in the state by offering opportunities for in-state processors.

During Headwaters last run as an FADC, the organization helped businesses acquire over $2 million in grants and helped them leverage $17 million in financing, according to the executive director.

Previous clients assisted by the program include, among many others, Bausch Potatoes in Madison County, Philipsburg Brewing Co., Headframe Spirits, L&S Meats in Dell, and hop-producer Sarah Rachor of Sidney, who Willauer said supplies hops to Montana brewers, including Butte Brewing Co.

Businesses eligible to receive assistance from the program come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from meat-processing facilities that package Montana-raised beef to breweries and bakeries that utilize ingredients grown in the Big Sky State.

Justin Fisher — who with wife Ashley co-owns two Butte-based businesses, Excelsior Meats butcher shop and the meat-processing business Ranchland Packing Co. — said Headwaters helped him get a grant from the Montana Department of Agriculture in the early 2010s.

The grant, around $40,000 to $50,000, allowed the company to build a storage facility for scraps destined for a rendering plant.

Today Fisher has about 25 employees, and both he and Willauer say applying for grants and raising capital can be unfamiliar territory for those whose primary expertise resides in ranching, agriculture and food production.

“Most of us are working people,” said Fisher. “We’re out there getting our hands dirty for the most part.”

Having a little extra help, the two said, can help fill the knowledge gap.

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Business Reporter

Business Reporter for The Montana Standard.

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