Port Authority pays off Stinger Welding grant

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The Lincoln County Port Authority has paid $141,586.20 to close a grant awarded years ago to Stinger Welding that failed to create the jobs it was contingent on, despite an expansion of its guidelines and seven extensions.

The County Commission authorized the payment at its Feb. 21 meeting.

“The Montana Department of Commerce has been pretty generous in allowing us to extend it fairly often in the hopes that we will cultivate more job growth within the Port Authority boundaries,” Tina Oliphant, Port Authority executive director, told the Commission. “We believe we’re coming to a slow down in that.”

Stinger Welding in 2010 received the roughly $705,000 Big Sky Trust Fund grant with the stipulation that it create 96 jobs paying the average county wage — $13.55 an hour at the time — for at least 35 hours a week and lasting for at least two years.

Hitting the jobs target proved challenging, and the Port Authority annually requested and was granted extensions to allow for more time. In 2015, following Stinger Welding’s 2013 bankruptcy and closure, the Montana Department of Commerce tried to ease the task by expanding the grant’s guidelines to include jobs created throughout Kootenai Business Park.

Those measures were to no avail, and when the county commissioners agreed May 24, 2017 to request a seventh extension they made it clear it would be the last. At the time, Commissioner Mark Peck said he didn’t “want these obligations hanging out over our head” for much longer.

According to a letter accompanying the closeout payment, Lincoln County documented the creation of 75 jobs fitting the grant’s requirements.

It is not known how many of those jobs still exist.

“We do not track these numbers,” Oliphant said Monday via email. “They could go up or down.”

“As painful as it is,” Peck said after the Commission’s 3-0 vote to approve the payment, “it’s good to have it...”

“Put to rest,” Commissioner Jerry Bennett said, completing the thought.

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