by Travis Mateer
I was intrigued and a little confused when I read that “geographic distribution” was the big concern when it came to how local Covid job retention money was recently dispersed. I mean, it’s in the headline: Missoula County Defends Job Grants Amid Questions On Geographic Distribution. From the link:
Missoula County is defending the job retention grants awarded to 27 area small businesses last week as a tool to help prevent further layoffs amid the pandemic.
More than 125 businesses across the county applied for the limited pool of funding, which totaled $625,000. The award amounts ranged from $10,000 to $25,000 and the majority of the funds – 58% – went to the food and drink industry.
“There were many different ways the role-out of program could have happened,” said Melissa Gordon, manager of grants for the county. “The program design we landed on, which was first-come first-serve for complete and eligible applications, made the most sense given that the goal was to get the funds out in short order.”
With a first-come, first-serve approach set up by the County, it’s not the GEOGRAPHIC location that matters, unless by “geographic” you mean proximity to information networks, either formal, or informal. That is what the following criticism from Seeley Lake Pathfinder, quoted in the article, is actually talking about:
After the awards were announced in December, the Seeley Lake Pathfinder questioned the geographic distribution of the grants. Most, if not all of the businesses that applied for and received funding, were in the Missoula urban area.
Gordon said the county worked with the Missoula Economic Partnership, the Missoula Downtown Association, the county’s communications team and neighborhood councils to help spread the word that the grants were available.
Examining the geographic distribution of the 27 recipients glosses over the fact that ONE Montana State Senator by the name of Ellie Boldman received 8% of this money for her law practice and Cannabis testing business.
Before your curiosity turns to concern, don’t worry. County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier wants you to know these are “familiar small businesses in our community”:
“People wonder what Missoula County is doing to help with the economic crisis we’re in. This is it,” said Commissioner Dave Strohmaier. “It’s not as much as we wish we could provide, but it’s not an insignificant amount of money and it was leveraged creatively. These are familiar small businesses in our community.”
What exactly does Dave Strohmaier mean when he says the money was “leveraged creatively”? And when he claims these are “familiar small businesses in our community” I have to wonder, familiar to WHO?
After trying to understand third-party contracts for Cannabis testing, I’m still not very familiar with what Willow Branch does, but this Missoulian article from 2019 helps explain it this way:
Former state Rep. Ellie Hill’s extraction company, Willow Bark Sciences, had been leasing its high-caliber equipment to growers, creating what’s been termed a third-party extraction arrangement.
In this case, medical marijuana providers take their plants to Willow Bark, which has specialized equipment to extract components of the plant to be used in edibles or other marijuana-infused products.
This partnership between Hill’s Willow Bark lab and providers — notably Bozeman-based Lionheart, far and away the largest medical marijuana provider in the state — took on scrutiny last year. Hill and Willow Bark associates contend that the 2017 law for regulations (Senate Bill 333) allowed third-party extractions, but the health department argues its interpretation found the contrary.
I definitely want to become more familiar with Willow Branch Science and how $25,000 dollars was creatively leveraged to retain jobs.