A rapidly-growing mapping technology company in Missoula is looking to expand its offices to the Riverfront Triangle area in downtown Missoula, which would be the first new development on the site in decades.
OnX, a company founded in Missoula in 2009 that developed multiple apps for hunting and backcountry GPS navigation, is also looking to create scores of good-paying jobs in the coming years.
Chris Weber, the director of accounting for the company, went before the Missoula County commissioners last week to apply for a state Big Sky Trust Fund grant that would partially reimburse the company for the creation of 16 new jobs over the next year.
“We have experienced some significant growth the past few years with the conversion of the chip Hunt product to an app and the release of two new products, onX Offroad and onX Backcountry, focusing on getting a better foothold in the outdoor community for backcountry navigation,” Weber said.
“We’ve gone from essentially 100 employees in 2018 to now we’re closing in on 300. So it’s been pretty rapid growth and our plans are still continuing the same.”
The company built two large office buildings on Brooks Street a few years ago, but it appears that isn’t enough.
“We have a newly-signed lease for downtown, the old clinic there, which we’re still waiting for some permits I think to start breaking ground,” Weber said. “But we also have plans to continue to stay in Missoula and expand our office locations here as well.”
Weber said the lot onX has secured is right next to the city-owned parking lot at the corner of Orange and Front streets.
“It’s that decrepit old clinic that we’re hoping is gonna start getting demolished here shortly because that means we’re actually moving forward,” Weber explained.
The 5 acres of parcels around the city-owned parking lot are privately-owned and the entire area is known as the Riverfront Triangle, as it is bounded to the south by the Clark Fork River.
In November, a development team called Riverfront Triangle Partners in Missoula applied for a county floodplain permit necessary to demolish the aging parking structure and clinic building on the site in order to prep it for new construction.
“Site improvements are anticipated to include a single multi-story mixed residential/commercial building, an underground parking garage, a paved pedestrian path along the river and new landscaping throughout the site,” said county floodplain administrator Todd Klietz at the time.
Riverfront Triangle Partners is led by Farran Realty Partners, the team that built the ROAM student housing complex on Front Street. Before the pandemic, the Missoula Redevelopment Agency had an agreement with local businessman Nick Checota for a $100 million civic events center with condominiums on the site, but those plans were canceled by COVID-19.
The site has sat vacant for decades and lies with in the Riverfront Triangle Urban Renewal District, where developers are eligible for Tax Increment Financing funds that can be used for infrastructure and demolition.
Weber said onX has offer letters out to about 20 potential new hires right now.
“Our most recent hires have had a lot of difficulty finding housing,” he said. “Which I think we all know, (is) dependent on that. We’re a tech company, so remote has been an option.”
Weber said one new employee who is trying to move from Seattle to Missoula has had condominium groups sign a lease and then rescind the offer twice.
He said the company could easily hire 75 new people over the next year, including customer service representatives, software engineers and other “high-value” jobs. The company is budgeted to end up at a total of 380 employees, but Weber said hiring difficulties might mean they end up closer to 350. Some of those employees are remote or based in the company’s Bozeman offices.
“But it’s entirely dependent on when they can move, if they can find housing, and, you know, if they want to,” he said. “So with those variables, you know, we (based the grant application) on the ones that we knew were going to be based here. And our plan very well could be double or triple. It’s all just out of our hands. I don’t want to over-commit and under-deliver.”
Funded by the state’s coal tax, the Big Sky Trust Fund program reimburses companies for jobs that pay a minimum of 170% of the state minimum wage and bring in revenue from out of state, among other requirements.
Commissioner Dave Strohmaier said the company’s growth is “super exciting.”
“OnX maps is the most-used app on my phone by far,” he said. “All this is great news.”
County commissioner Juanita Vero agreed.
“We’re all huge onX fans,” she said.
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