HELENA — Tumbleweed Teas in Big Timber got their start like many Montana small businesses - making a product and selling it at a farmers market.
Now sold all across the country and in parts of Canada, co-owner Riza Gilpin said it all started with a simple dream. “Tea was my passion,” said Gilpin. “My whole life I always wanted to do something with tea, but life took us in different directions and I never really had a chance to do anything specific. After moving to Montana with my husband, life presented the opportunity.”
Shortly after her farmer’s market debut, Gilpin found her business partner in Montana native Laurie Rennie. The two women spent years traveling to farmers markets and trade shows growing customer base and in turn their company.
“One of our big first clients was Chico Hot Springs, which was a really big deal to us,” Rennie said. “They were so supportive and kind of took us in a different direction as far as food service and made us think outside of our box.”
Since their humble beginnings, Tumblewood Teas are only continuing to grow. They’re now the exclusive tea provider for Montana State University; and are prominently featured in Yellowstone and Glacier National Park.
In addition to their custom blend of teas, Tumblewood Teas has also branched out to tea accessories like mugs and tumblers.
Tumblewood has been making their tumblers in China, but thanks to a grant from the Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund they’ll be moving that manufacturing to Plastic Design & Manufacturing (PDM) located in Manhattan, MT.
“The Big Sky Trust Fund is one of the most effective tools for economic development in the state,” said Director of the Montana Department of Commerce Tara Rice. “There’s a couple different pieces of the grant program. One is a planning grant which is what Tumblewood Teas used to assess the feasibility of doing manufacturing here in Montana.”
While Tumblewood Teas has been successful, they’re still a relatively small business. “The financial aspect of this project is going to be daunting. It’s a lot for a small company to all of the sudden decide to become a manufacturer,” said Gilpin.
Setting aside the thousands of dollars needed to spec and get in-state manufacturing of a tumbler rolling would have taken years to achieve. The Big Sky Trust Fund grant doesn’t cover the entire cost, but it has allowed Tumblewood to make the jump to manufacturing in a fraction of the time.
All of the work to move their manufacturing to Montana also happened months before the pandemic hit. Gilpin and Rennie say state grants for personal protective equipment (PPE) and business stabilization have been lifelines that also ensured they could move forward with the manufacturing expansion.
The Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund also funds job creation projects and has expanded to help businesses recover lost employees due to COVID. Due to the pandemic, Governor Steve Bullock expanded the parameters of the Big Sky Trust fund with Workforce Recovery grants. The grants are fully funded through the state, no CARES Act funding, and are designed to help companies get workers back to work who were laid off due to impacts of the pandemic.
“One of the great things about the Big Sky Trust Fund is it’s focused on creating economic opportunity and supporting high paying jobs and it has that focus across a whole range of businesses,” said Rice. “We’re able to provide a tool that’s useful to high tech information technology companies, and a tool that’s also useful to a tea company out of Big Timber or a butcher shop and meat processing facility up on the Hi-Line.”
The Big Sky Trust Fund is a tool for the state to help grow the economic sector, and they’re always taking applications. More information about the trust fund and qualifications for each program can be found on the Montana Department of Commerce website.