Commerce Connection

montana department of commerce
Sidney, Montana area

Governor Bullock Announces Montana to Enter Phase Two of Reopening Plan on June 1

Governor Steve Bullock today announced the state will move to Phase Two of the Reopening the Big Sky plan and will lift the 14-day out-of-state travel quarantine beginning June 1 as Montana continues to have the lowest number of positive COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations per capita. 

“Montana has been an example for the rest of the nation in our response to this global pandemic. I have no doubt that we can continue to be that example, but only if Montanans, businesses, and visitors alike continue to take seriously the responsibility we all have in protecting others, Governor Bullock said. “As we continue with the next phase in our reopening, our goal together as Montanans for the foreseeable future is to mitigate the spread of the virus.”

“The individual actions of Montanans have collectively made a difference. Staying 6-feet away, washing hands, wearing masks while in public, and staying home when sick, have all contributed to us being able to move forward with the plan to reopen Montana. We are at an important milestone and if each of us continues to do our part to prevent the novel coronavirus from spreading, we’ll stay on the path to fully reopen Montana,” John Felton, Yellowstone County Health Officer and President/CEO of RiverStone Health, said.

“Since this COVID-19 emergency began Governor Bullock has consistently listened to city and county governments around the state as he has formulated a strategy to respond. And that strategy has worked. Thanks to Governor Bullock's leadership, Montana has escaped the tragedies other states have experienced. We are fortunate to have him at the helm as we reopen Montana. We are thankful for his commitment to ensure we will keep Montana safe during the summer months as we rebuild our economy,” Cynthia Andrus, Deputy Mayor, City of Bozeman, said.

“We are grateful for Governor Bullock’s diligence as he works to reopen Montana safely and continues to and consider the unique concerns and challenges in tribal communities including a large population of elderly Montanans and families in multi-generational households. The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council appreciate Governor Bullock has respected tribal sovereignty and decisions to put in place more restrictive measures to keep tribal communities safe and has supported our efforts to contain the virus through increased testing,” said the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council.

In consultation with public health and emergency response officials, Governor Bullock outlined the following indicators which allow Montana to move into Phase Two beginning on June 1:

  • A downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests within a 14-day period.
  • The current ability to contact and trace, along with plans to add additional contact tracers to the existing workforce.
  • Ensuring that health care workers have the supplies they need to treat COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients.
  • Ramping up testing capacity to eventually meet a target of 60,000 tests a month and prioritizing testing for vulnerable Montanans and tribal communities. A total of 5,600 tests were conducted last week. Increased testing continues with sentinel testing efforts in nursing homes and assisting living facilities, testing events in tribal areas, and drive through testing being conducted at a few sites.

Under Phase Two, effective June 1, avoid gatherings in groups of more than 50 people in circumstances that do not readily allow for appropriate physical distancing. Groups larger than 50 people should be cancelled unless physical distancing can be maintained. It is recommended to continue to social distance in gatherings of any size.

Under Phase Two, effective June 1, restaurants, bars, breweries, distilleries and casinos remains in the same operations status as Phase One, but with an increase to 75% capacity. Gyms, indoor group fitness classes, pool, and hot tubs can operate at 75% capacity and only if they can adhere to strict physical distancing and they exercise frequent sanitation protocols. Concert halls, bowling alleys, and other places of assembly may operate with reduced capacity and if they adhere to strict physical distancing guidelines.

All businesses are required to follow the social distancing and sanitation guidelines established in Phase One, and Montanans are strongly encouraged to continue sanitation practices, including hand washing and wearing masks in public places like grocery stores.

“Social distancing, wearing a cloth mask, washing your hands, and sanitizing are all part of our new normal. If not for you, do it for others, especially for the most vulnerable among us,” Governor Bullock said. “Not following these guidelines could put us in a position where we have to go backward, instead of being able to continue to move forward.”

Vulnerable Montanans should still continue to stay home when possible during Phase Two. Visitation at nursing home and assisted living facilities remains suspended except for certain compassionate care situations.

Effective June 1, the 14-day travel quarantine for out-of-state travelers and residents arriving from another state or country to Montana for non-work-related purposes will be lifted. The Montana National Guard will continue to conduct screenings in airports and train depots and refer anyone with COVID-19-related symptoms to local public health officials.

To support Montana’s destination communities, the state will assist with establishing the following protocols:

  • Surveillance testing of employees.
  • Enhanced contact tracing resources deployed to these areas as requested by local authorities.
  • Ability to surge personal protective equipment to impacted health care systems.
  • Guidelines for operation for business that see high-tourist activity.

Montana’s gradual and phased plan to reopen began on April 26 with Phase One which allowed schools, places of worship, main street and retail businesses, and restaurants, breweries, and bars to reopen under social distancing guidelines. Governor Bullock also provided additional guidance to allow gyms, movie theaters, and museums to reopen under the first phase on May 15. 

Governor Bullock and his Coronavirus Task Force will continue to monitor cases closely and carefully to analyze Montana’s work to contain the virus.

The Directive and its Appendix with reopening guidelines are attached and are posted online at

Governor Steve Bullock

Coronavirus Relief Fund Grant Programs Still Accepting Applications

Governor Steve Bullock launched nine new programs on May 7 for Montanans out of work, families with limited resources, small businesses, non-profits and others impacted by COVID-19.

Applications are still being accepted for financial relief for things like rental and mortgage assistance, business and non-profit grants, grants to serve seniors and those living with a disability, food banks and local food producers.

Learn more and apply at COVIDRELIEF.MT.GOV.



  • Montana COVID-19 Hotline: 1-888-333-0461 or 
  • Montana Coronavirus task force: COVID19@MT.GOV
  • If you are a business owner and have questions related to the April 22 announcement detailing the phased approach to reopening and how the plan applies to you directly, please call 1-800-755-6672.

  • If your question relates to unemployment insurance/benefits, please contact the Department of Labor and Industry at 406-444-2545. If you think you are eligible for unemployment benefits accessible to workers laid off due to COVID-19, you can apply for benefits online at: or contact the Unemployment Insurance Division over the phone at 406-444-2545.

  • CDC:
  • Visit Montana: VISITMT.COM or 1-800-847-4868


Workplace, Employer Resource for COVID-19 Questions

The Montana Department of Labor is posting frequently asked questions and resources for businesses and employees at its new webpage dedicated to providing novel coronavirus-related information. 



Commerce Department Announces 2020 Montana Tourism Award Winners

Montana Department of Commerce Director Tara Rice has announced the winners of the 2020 Montana Tourism Awards, recognizing the significant contributions Montanans have made to the state’s tourism and recreation industries.

The annual Montana Tourism Awards recognize the outstanding accomplishments of the people, businesses, organizations and communities that play an integral part in strengthening the state’s tourism and recreation industries and in sharing the message of Montana’s spectacular, unspoiled nature and vibrant, charming towns. Nominations were reviewed by a panel of industry peers.

“As we face this new challenging time together, it’s important to recognize some of the people and organizations that have made Montana’s tourism and recreation industries the economic drivers they have long been,” Montana Department of Commerce Director Tara Rice said. “This year, we celebrate the 2020 Tourism Award winners in new ways and recognize that the strength of these people and industries is their ability to adapt as we look toward the future and remind visitors and residents alike that Montana is ‘Worth the Wait.’”

See the full list of honorees here.


Mortgage, Rental Assistance Available

UPDATE: The March 30 and April 13 Directives to limit foreclosures, evictions, and disconnections from service and all of their terms are extended through May 24, 

Montana Housing’s Emergency Housing Assistance program provides rent, security deposit, mortgage payment, and/ or hazard insurance assistance as-needed for Montanans who have lost a job or substantial income loss as a result of COVID-19. 

Initial payments may include up to three months assistance where the eligible household can demonstrate arrears for April and May, with continual inability to make their June payment. Montana Housing will pay the difference between 30 percent of the household’s current gross monthly income and their eligible housing assistance costs, up to $2,000 a month. Household income limits range from $75,000-$125,000 based on family size. Montanans receiving other forms of housing assistance are not eligible.

Renters and homeowners can estimate their assistance payment using this calculator. 

Apply here


Upcoming Application Deadlines 

  • June 12, 2020: Treasure State Endowment Program (TSEP) construction application deadline. 
  • September 15, 2020: CDBG Affordable Housing Development and Rehabilitation application deadline. Learn more and apply here
  • September 15, 2020: CDBG Community and Public Facilities application deadline. Learn more and apply here. 
  • Ongoing: CDBG Housing Stabilization Program applications are accepted on an ongoing basis. Learn more and apply here

Responding to Crisis: Commerce-Supported Companies Step Up During COVID-19

As the novel Coronavirus spread closer to home during the early spring of 2020, Department of Commerce-supported businesses quickly shifted their product manufacturing lines to support the needs of the global pandemic.

Distilleries in nearly every corner of Montana started making hand sanitizer and shipping it to hospitals and health care centers by the truckload. "We are just trying to get it out to the people who need it the most," Gulch Distillers co-owner Steffen Rasile told the Helena Independent Record. "We felt like it was our duty to help out where we can. We are in a unique position, so we decided to step up."

Gulch Distillers, Bozeman Spirits and Headframe Spirits are among a handful of other spirits-turned-sanitizer companies that have accessed Commerce’s State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) grant dollars to expand their reach. The Montana Manufacturing Extension Center also assisted the distillers quickly shift their operations by hosting weekly conference calls where they collaborated on many issues, including finding bottles. It was MMEC that secured bottle and cap donations for the Montana businesses from Berry Global in Indiana.

Montana’s well-known pet accessory maker West Paw also shifted their manufacturing of indestructible dog toys and pet beds to make face masks for healthcare workers.

According to its website, West Paw worked to retool their Bozeman, Montana production facility, leveraging the skills of their employees who normally might be making dog toys, beds, collars, and leashes. “As a purpose-driven certified B Corp, we live our values of community and employee support by unleashing the capability and skills of our staff to make an impact,” says Spencer Williams, President and CEO of West Paw.  

West Paw was MMEC’s first client in 1996 when Williams bought the company, and their relationship with Commerce started in 2006 when it first worked with the ExportMontana team. Since, it has grown to a large international exporter with assistance from the State Trade Expansion Program and Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund Planning Grant program.

Several plastic injection molders in Montana; including Spark R&D, PDM, Diversified Plastics, Blackhawk, and Creative Sales; collaborated to produce nearly 20,000 facemasks for Bozeman Health and Billings Clinic. These masks were invented by Billings Doctor Dusty Richardson and made national news. Montana Silversmiths, Salient Technologies, and Thompson Precision also collaborated to produce these “Montana Facemasks” using their 3D printers.

These companies stepped up to make in-demand products and were able to adapt quickly through the support of the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center at Montana State University. MMEC partners with and is funded through Commerce.

“Seeing Montana’s manufacturers collaborate to meet the demands of the crisis in Montana is truly inspiring,” said Paddy Fleming, Director of MMEC. “Former competitors are now talking about how they can better work together in the future and there are even a few of them talking about forming joint ventures!”

Going from making pedicabs to protective face shields like Bonner-based Coaster Cycles, or from making world-class Gortex flyfishing waders to sewn surgical gowns like Bozeman-based Simms Fishing – these Montana-made companies have stepped up in a big way to respond to the crisis.