Commerce Connection

montana department of commerce

Business Adaptability Grant Program Expands

The Business Adaptability Program provides reimbursement for COVID-19 expenses related to keeping staff and customers safe – from the purchase of personal protective equipment to resources needed for staff to work remotely.

Eligible business must be Montana-based, have incurred eligible adaptation expenses since March 1 due to COVID-19, and be in good standing with the Secretary of State or local tribal government. Nonprofit entities are eligible. Eligible expenses include costs related to communication, remote work equipment, cleaning supplies, tools to enhance social distancing and sanitation, travel and hotel costs related to quarantining workers.

Total funding available is $20 million. Eligible businesses may submit up to two applications for a combined total of $10,000 of costs paid (receipts and proof of payment are required) for reimbursement.


Montana Tourism Industry Unites for ‘Montana Aware’ Campaign

The Montana Department of Commerce’s Office of Tourism and Business Development has launched the “Montana Aware” campaign to promote safe and responsible behavior among those who are traveling in the state. The public health initiative aims to educate residents and visitors on best practices to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“Our top priority is to keep those who live, work and travel in Montana safe,” said Commerce Director Tara Rice. “It’s important that we put safety first and adventure second because we all have a shared responsibility to slow the spread of COVID-19.” 

The “Montana Aware” initiative is a formalized effort encouraging Montana’s tourism partners and local businesses to use flyers, posters, social media messages, customer emails and business websites to help inform guests about public health guidelines and best practices. The Montana Department of Commerce’s Office of Tourism and Business Development first began promoting a safety message on June 1 and worked with tourism partners to do the same. Through the formal “Montana Aware” campaign, 17 of Montana’s Convention and Visitors Bureaus and six tourism regions share $5 million to promote the initiative.

Montana Aware Badge


Gardiner CVB, Belgrade CVB, Miles City CVB, Livingston CVB, Red Lodge CVB, Glendive CVB, Havre CVB, Billings CVB, Big Sky CVB, Bozeman CVB, Missoula CVB, West Yellowstone CVB, Great Falls CVB, Kalispell CVB, Whitefish CVB, Butte CVB, Helena CVB       


Southeast Montana, Southwest Montana, Central Montana, Missouri River Country, Glacier Country, Yellowstone Country      

Safe Travel Guidelines

Before travelers hit the road, they should, “Know before you go.”

  • Know the local public health guidelines before arriving to their destination
  • Understand some services and destinations may be limited
  • Stay home if they’re sick

When travelers are on the road, they should:

  • Wear a mask – face coverings are required in certain indoor spaces and for certain organized outdoor activities in counties currently experiencing four or more active case of COVID-19
  • Maintain social distance (at least 6 feet apart)
  • Wash their hands and use hand sanitizer
  • Avoid touching their face
  • Cover coughs and sneezes

The “Montana Aware” initiative is funded with federal dollars through Montana’s Coronavirus Relief Fund. For more information about the Montana Aware program go to VISITMT.COM. To download the partner toolkit visit MARKETMT.COM

Mask Up, Montana

Masks are now required in counties with more than four active COVID-19 cases, and strongly encouraged in all other counties, for individuals over 5-years-old in public indoor spaces and outdoor settings where social distancing cannot be maintained.

Governor Bullock issued the directive July 15 to require businesses, government offices and other indoor spaces open to the public to ensure that employees, contractors, volunteers, customers, and other members of the public wear a face mask that covers their mouth and nose while remaining inside these spaces. The directive also requires face coverings at organized outdoor activities of 50 or more people, where social distancing is not possible or is not observed.

-------> The full directive can be found here

-------> The map of active cases can be found here.

If you're looking for a Montana-made mask, check out our list of companies producing masks, sanitizers and other PPE. 

Click for Montana Made Masks

Apply at Your Bank: Montana Loan Deferment Program

Governor Steve Bullock has created the Montana Loan Deferment Program to assist businesses impacted by COVID-19. The governor is directing $125 million to the program with $25 million specifically dedicated to hotels and restaurants and the remaining $100 million dedicated to other eligible borrowers.

The Montana Loan Deferment Program is facilitated by Montana banks, credit unions, and lending institutions in partnership with the State of Montana. Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF) will be used to provide payments to participating lenders to convert existing commercial loans to interest only status, with the result being an existing borrower will be able to defer principal and interest payments on existing loans for a period of 6 to 12 months, thereby freeing up a significant amount of otherwise-dedicated capital for the borrower on a monthly basis. Upon approval, the State of Montana will provide a lump sum CRF payment to the lender in an amount equal to the following:

  • For borrower obligations with interest rates less than 6%, an amount equal to the full interest payments for the eligible term will be funded; or
  • For borrower obligations with interest rates of 6% or higher, an amount equal to 6% interest will be funded.
  • For the duration of the eligible term, the lender will lower the interest rate to 6% for the modified deferral period.
  • For variable rate loans, the interest rate used in the calculation will be the interest rate applicable to the loan at the time the application is submitted and will be fixed at that interest rate for the term of the deferment.
  • The maximum amount of Loan Deferment Program funding per Borrower is $300,000. [Updated: 6/26/2020]
  • Entities and individuals with multiple loans for one or several businesses will be allowed to apply for each individual loan
  • Borrower is defined as an individual, corporation, limited liability company, partnership, association or any combination of these if there is common ownership. Including Holding and Operating Companies. [Updated: July 1, 2020]
  • It is the responsibility of the Lender and the Borrower to agree on a reasonable term for the deferment which will be no less than 6 months and no more than 12 months.


  • The Lender must be an Approved Lender with Montana Board of Investments (MBOI).
  • The Borrower must be a Montana-based business. Borrower is defined as an individual, corporation, limited liability company, partnership, association or any combination of these if there is common ownership. Including Holding and Operating Companies. [Updated: July 1, 2020
  • This program is extended on a per note basis, i.e. Lender’s may fill out an application for each current loan the Borrower would like deferred.
  • To be eligible, businesses/Borrowers must have:
      • Experienced a reduction of gross revenue of 25% or greater attributable to the direct or indirect impacts from COVID-19;
      • physical presence in Montana;
      • Been no more than 30 days past due as of December 31, 2019;
      • Been current on all other state financial obligations (i.e. income tax, property tax, payroll tax, worker’s comp, child support, etc.) as of March 12, 2020;
      • Good standing with the Montana Secretary of State; and
      • No reasonable access to 12 months of working capital from any other sources.
      • Receipt of Payroll Protection Program, Economic Injury Disaster Loans, or other state grants or assistance programs does not affect eligibility. [Updated: July 1, 2020]

Montana businesses should contact their lender to access the program.

Montana Housing Partners with NeighborWorks Montana to Boost Emergency Housing Assistance

The Montana Department of Commerce announced Tuesday that Montana Housing and NeighborWorks Montana will partner to increase awareness of the availability of rent and mortgage payment assistance as federal unemployment insurance benefits expire.

“Montanans impacted by the economic effects of COVID-19 are not alone,” Montana Department of Commerce Director Tara Rice said. “Commerce has a good, longstanding relationship with NeighborWorks Montana and we are excited this partnership will help us deliver housing assistance to more Montanans faster and more efficiently.”

NeigborWorks Montana will assist the program by providing technical support to renters and homeowners who apply for the Emergency Housing Assistance Program. The partnership will also create a coordinated and organized statewide system to improve the delivery of the program while increasing awareness of available assistance.

The Emergency Housing Assistance Program provides rent, security deposit and mortgage payment assistance for Montanans who have lost a job or substantial income as a result of COVID-19. Applicants are eligible for up to $2,000 per month. The program pays the difference between 30 percent of the household’s current gross monthly income and their eligible housing assistance costs. Income limits range from $75,000-$125,000 annually based on family size. The program was created in May by Governor Steve Bullock using $50 million of Montana’s allocation of federal CARES Act dollars.

As federal benefits expire, the state expects to see an uptick in the number of renters and homeowners in need of monthly assistance.

“We know so many people across the state are struggling with disruptions caused by COVID. Stable housing is a critical need at any time, and particularly now,”NeighborWorks Montana Executive Director Kaia Peterson said. “We look forward to helping people meet their immediate needs with the help of the State’s Housing Assistance funds while also supporting clients as they work toward long-term housing stability and financial well-being.”

Montana has been a national leader in using CARES funding for emergency housing relief. Six states and the city of Chicago have reached out to Montana to model their own programs on the Emergency Assistance Housing Program. To date, $1.06 million has been paid to landlords or mortgage servicers on behalf of renters or homeowners who apply.

For more information and to apply visit COVIDRELIEF.MT.GOV.


Mortgage, Rental Assistance Available

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

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

Transparency Dashboard Updated Weekly

The state of Montana has launched a dynamic dashboard that shows the Coronavirus Relief Fund grants that have been awarded to businesses and nonprofits. This dashboard will be updated weekly until all grant dollars have been expended. 

Funds have now been distributed to all 56 Montana counties. 


  • 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 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

Film Marker

Film Industry Contributed $48 Million to Montana’s Economy in 2019-2020

Independent report details 18-month industry impact

The production of films, television shows and commercials contributed $47.6 million to Montana’s economy over the last 18 months according to a new independent report on the film industry’s impact commissioned by the Montana Department of Commerce. 

From January 2019-June 2020, 117 productions were filmed in Montana, directly spending $23.9 million in Montana communities, supporting 280 jobs, and contributing $1.3 million in local tax revenue. The report by Econsult Solutions, Inc. or ESI was commissioned by the Montana Film Office at the Department of Commerce as required by House Bill 293 which created the Montana Economic Development Industry Advancement Act (MEDIA Act). The MEDIA Act is Montana’s new film industry tax incentive which went into effect July 1, 2019.  

“Montana’s film industry is a powerful tool for creating good-paying jobs and supporting small businesses in our communities,” Montana Department of Commerce Director Tara Rice said. 

Read more here.


Upcoming Application Deadlines 

Whistling Andy

Montana-made Spirits May Soon be in Highball Glasses All Over the World

Support from Department of Commerce Puts Bigfork-based Whistling Andy on the Map for International Success


Brian Anderson and Lisa Cloutier, the husband-wife creators of Whistling Andy, opened their Bigfork-based distillery on New Year’s Eve almost 10 years ago. They believe it’s the oldest operating distillery in Montana. That makes Lisa and Brian old pros at trying new things.

Named after Brian’s grandfather’s nickname in the military, Whistling Andy is working to put Montana’s craft distillery cocktail culture on par with the state’s well-known craft beer industry. But it hasn’t always been easy. For the first two and a half years after the distilling duo bought their 8,000 sq. ft. building in the middle of downtown Bigfork during the height of the Great Recession, Brian slept on the distillery’s floor five nights a week delving into recipes for making vodka. A hydrogeologist by training, he knew a thing or two about the water that goes into their award-winning spirits. The rest, however, was a mystery.

“We actually stopped making our vodka about three and a half months in,” Brian says. “It just wasn’t good.” 

Since then, however, they’ve refined, released and re-released many batches of spirits, racking up accolades from across the country and the world. Their spirits have been ranked in Esquire, Whisky Advocate, Wine Enthusiast Magazine and have earned medals in competitive tasting contests, including Sip Northwest’s Judge’s Pick for their Pink Peppercorn and Pear Gin (Lisa’s favorite). \

And they’re doing it all while keeping it local, with nine employees who produce and sell their 10 award-winning spirits.

“Every time you walk into someplace, ask for a Whistling Andy vodka or a Montgomery gin or whoever is producing their spirits inside of our state,” Lisa says. “That’s helping the Montana ag industry, which at the end of the day, is one of the big things that we try to do and that we adamantly believe in.”

In fact, aside from the molasses and sugarcane that go into their (also award-winning) Hibiscus Coconut Rum, 100 percent of Whistling Andy’s products are grown in Montana.

“We are a true grain-to-glass distillery,” Brian says at a recent presentation of his award-winning spirits at the Montana Club in Helena. “We know our farms. And we know our farmers.”

Being small has its advantages. For example, Brian and his staff can move barrels around the distillery floor to age them faster or slower based on climate conditions. “It gets ripping hot in the back of the building in the summer, which ages the barrels faster,” he says.

But as they look to the next decade, they’re focused on expanding to markets a little farther from home. As far as 6,000 miles from home, in fact. Lisa and Brian hope to soon put their Montana-made spirits in highball glasses all over the world.

With help from the Montana Department of Commerce’s ExportMontana team, the pair have applied for and received funding through the State Trade Expansion Program and Tradeshow Assistance Program. With ongoing technical assistance from Commerce’s ExportMontana staff throughout the process, Whistling Andy plans to expand to international markets like Taiwan, Japan and even South Africa.

“[Commerce has] been absolutely fantastic,” Lisa says. “I feel like we would not be able to grow outside of the country without their help.”

Some additional help came in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, when Lisa and Brian again drew on their ingenuity to adapt quickly to a vastly changed world. Whistling Andy partnered with Bigfork’s The Good Stuff Botanicals to add Top Shelf Sanitizer to its list of locally made products. The distillery has been awarded a Montana Innovation Grant through the Governor’s Office of Economic Development as well as a Business Stabilization Grant from Commerce – two programs created by Governor Steve Bullock in response to Covid-19 and funded through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Lisa and Brian hope to someday make and export enough of their spirits to make a noticeable impact on Montana’s agricultural industry, taking their dream from Bigfork worldwide.

“We’re employing people in a really cool industry. Our staff’s traveling around the country and the world getting our products out there,” Lisa says. “Bringing something that’s homegrown in a tiny little town in Montana – and seeing it across the world – is the end goal.”