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The Gallatin County Commission has agreed to partner with Bridger Aerospace to help the Belgrade-based company improve its firefighting capabilities.

The commissioners voted Tuesday to issue $160 million in industrial development revenue bonds on behalf of Bridger Aerospace. The company will use the money to build two new hangers at the Bozeman-Yellowstone International Airport, buy five firefighting aircraft and refinance loans for two previously purchased aircraft.

“This really hasn’t been done before. We haven’t done it before in Gallatin County in this way or on this scale, and probably not in all of Montana,” said commissioner Joe Skinner said. “… In Gallatin County, we’re always on the cutting edge of doing something different and better, and I think this has some great potential.”

Under state law, government agencies are authorized to issue industrial revenue development bonds.

Proceeds from the sale of the bonds can then be made available to private companies for specific projects.

The private company assumes all the liability related to the bonds, and the bond issuance does not affect the government agency’s borrowing capacity or taxing power.

“We are simply the conduit,” said commissioner Scott MacFarlane.

By working with Gallatin County on its expansion, Bridger Aerospace is gaining access to the municipal bond market.

For its part, Gallatin County is helping grow a business that provides emergency services and bolsters the economy, MacFarlane said.

“This $160 million issuance stands to increase and strengthen the county’s wildfire response capabilities, increase the technical sophistication of our wildfire response locally and regionally and will be economically invigorating,” he said.

The city of Bozeman also supported the partnership between Gallatin County and Bridger Aerospace.

“Support for this project demonstrates commitment by Gallatin County to support new and expanding businesses in a high-growth sector,” said Brit Fontenot, the city’s director of economic development.

Bridger Aerospace was founded in 2015 and has since been expanding.

The company employs about 70 people in Gallatin County and plans to hire at least 60 more in 2021 due to the expansion facilitated by the industrial revenue bonds, said COO Darren Wilkins.

The company works with government agencies across the United States to provide aerial wildfire management, relief and suppression services.

The company’s firefighting equipment includes unmanned aerial systems, which can be used in fire zones to provide information to ground crews, and super scoopers, aircraft built to pick up and drop water on nearby fires.

The company’s equipment was used last month to fight the Bridger Foothills Fire northeast of Bozeman.

Bridger Aerospace has also helped Gallatin County respond to the coronavirus pandemic, Wilkins said. The company has designed and produced more than 2,000 face shields for front-line workers, made its aircraft available to Bozeman Health for emergency medical transportation and diverted workers from building its new hangar to constructing additional hospital beds at Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital.

“We believe it is our responsibility to be a community partner,” Wilkins said.

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Perrin Stein can be reached at or at 582-2648.

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