Donald Pierce

Donald Pierce stands atop the 40- by 60-feet concrete slab that will be the foundation of his meat processing business. Two days after pouring the slab he was notified that he was awarded a $150,000 meat processing infrastructure grant from the Montana Department of Agriculture.

Char-Koosta News 

ST. IGNATIUS — Donald Pierce is feeling “happy as a clam” to receive a huge chunk of change from the Montana Meat Processing Infrastructure Grant (MMPIG) to complete the construction and purchase of some of the vital equipment he needs of his fledgling meat processing business. Last week he was notified that a check for $150,000 from the MMPIG program was on its way. In butchering parlance that is like a half a beef worth of money he needs to construct his business, located just east of the St. Ignatius school football field, the projected cost will be a full beef of $300,000 to complete.

Pierce had previously received a $7,000 grant from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Economic Development program that he will use to purchase refrigerated coolers and freezers. He will need three and each has a specific purpose. He also had already invested his own funds to get going on construction of his meat processing business. He received the MMPIG funds two days after pouring the foundation cement for the two buildings that will comprise his business. One is 40- by 60-feet and the other is 20- by 20-feet, both have 14-feet ceilings. 

Pierce said got into the meat processing business as a hobby, which started small from his home in Ronan, then blossomed to where it soon got the attention of the Ronan City officials due to the fact the business was located in a residential area. That spurred him to take the leap to relocate to his property in St. Ignatius to construct his business.

“I decided to go for it and see what happens, how it would work out,” Pierce said.

Prior to seeing “what happens” Pierce took six weeks of business basics training from Tina Begay of Redtail Enterprises, LLC. Begay conducts the training under a contract with the CSKT Economic Development program. There he learned how to write a business plan that, among other things, included vital cash flow plans, and grant sources. One of the grant sources was the recently created MMPIG program. With the assistance of Begay, he submitted his business plan to the MMPIG program, but he wasn’t awarded a grant.

A tad dejected, he continued on with his business project with his own money and the $7,000 CSKT ED grant funds. Then soon after the initial MMPIG $7.5 million in funds were awarded, the state added $4.2 million to program and that’s when the end of the rainbow $150,000 notice came on Sept. 23.

“Tina applied for the grant the first time, but I didn’t get it,” Pierce said. “Then the second time I got it. I was first on that list. That really took a load off my mind, but I still have a way to go.”

He said he was very satisfied with the MMPIG program funding award but expressed concern about all the people in the meat processing industry, largely located in the Midwest, who have lost their jobs because of COVID-19. However, Pierce said he was uplifted that the focus on meat processing, for now, has switched to local small businesses that help fill the needs for local consumers.

“I hate to see all the other plants go down and saddened by all those people losing their jobs,” Pierce said. “But on the other hand, that helps me out. I think local production is the way it has to be. I hope we get back to the way it used to be when local agriculture producers filled the local needs.”

Pierce said he won’t be selling meat but will be processing it for customers that bring him domestic and wild game meat. His business plans include a mobile vehicle so he can pick up un-butchered meat from customers.

“I’m always nervous about this working out but I just have to be positive that things will be fine,” Pierce said. “I’m happy as a clam.”

Pierce expressed his gratitude for the assistance given by the CSKT Economic Development program and Tina Begay. It would have been a hard row to hoe without that assistance, he said.

The Montana Meat Processing Infrastructure Grant program was created to aid small and medium-sized meat processors in responding to the COVID-19 crisis through the adaptation and advancement of meat processing infrastructure and capacity in Montana.

“The impacts of COVID-19 have highlighted how fragile the nation’s supply chain can be, especially when it comes to meat processing,” said Gov. Steve Bullock in a press release, adding that the program has garnered a lot of interest. “It’s crucial that our producers have viable options for getting their meat to market. Investing in meat processing infrastructure will help our Montana producers, strengthen local food systems, and bolster food security for Montanans in communities across the state...”

There were two releases of MMPIG funds that were derived from the state’s allocation of federal relief dollars made available through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, with a maximum award of $150,000.

The first release of MMPIG funds amounted to $7.5 million, the second amounted to $4.2 million for a total $11.7 million. All the funds have been awarded.

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