Missoula’s Coaster Cycles to launch electrically assisted prototype; eyes growth

With business growing, Coaster Cycles in Missoula plans to add 39 new jobs over the next two years if the prototype of its new electrically assisted and fully enclosed cab takes off. (Coaster Pedicab photo)

With business growing, Coaster Cycles in Missoula plans to add 39 new jobs over the next two years if the prototype of its new electrically assisted and fully enclosed cab takes off.

But Missoula County may require the company and others seeking job creation grants from the Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund to offer health insurance before it approves future assistance – a move that could put Coaster and other startups in a box.

Coaster Cycles, which opened five years ago and now employs 16 workers, looks to grow its staff by 19 this year and 20 next year. It also plans to add 8,000 square feet to its manufacturing facility in Bonner to accommodate the growth.

“The goal is for this to be our research and development, and our innovation lab,” said Justin Bruce, the company’s COO. “This is where the enclosed bike will be built along with certain new products we build for Starbucks and other clients.”

On its road toward growth, Coaster Cycles has established a list of noted clients, ranging from Wendy’s and the U.S. Coast Guard to Lyft and UPS. It’s currently talking with other delivery companies about its new prototype.

Interest in the electrically assisted and fully enclosed bike in congested cities, such as New York, is also promising.

“We’re going to be launching one of the first pedal-powered electric bikes that will be fully enclosed for cargo and for passengers” Bruce said. “It’s a huge opportunity where there’s nothing out there that’s pedal powered.”

Coupled with the success of its standard pedicabs, the new prototype has Coaster looking to grow its workforce. One Wednesday, Missoula County commissioners approved the application of a job-creation grant on the company’s behalf.

“It’s a forecast of what we think will happen based on the growth projections,” said Bruce.

But Missoula County Commissioner Josh Slotnick scolded the young business for not offering its employees health benefits. Coaster currently offers paid time off and a 401K.

Slotnick is looking to condition job grants to local business like Coaster, which he believes is established, on whether they offer health benefits.

“If you’re asking for your third employee and you’re business has been around for 15 months, that’s a different type of thing,” Slotnick said. “But given how big you are, your success and the age of your business, it doesn’t seem like an outsized ask.”

State law requires companies that reach 50 employees to offer health insurance. Commissioner Cola Rowley said that’s used as the standard to gauge a business’s size and its general ability to pay health benefits.

“We need to be very careful imposing certain standards on certain businesses arbitrarily,” said Rowley. “If we’re going to make this a conditional approval we better make sure we’re consistent with all businesses that would apply (for this grant).”

Bruce said Coaster plans to offer health insurance within the next 12 months, though the firm is not yet financially positioned to do so. As it stands, he said, most of the company’s revenue goes into research and development and creating new products.

“I’d love to commit, but it’s hard to say it will absolutely happen,” he said of health benefits. “It’s something we currently don’t do. We know it’s the top priority.”