BOZEMAN – On Thursday, hundreds of people gathered in Bozeman to hear stories highlighting the growth and opportunities of Montana’s high-tech industries.
U.S. Senator Steve Daines and the Montana Chamber Foundation sponsored the “Montana on the Rise Economic Summit.” Dozens of business leaders – from Montana onwards – delivered their thoughts on the future of high-tech industries from software to manufacturing to biotechnology, and what Montana can do to keep attracting them.
“The state of Montana is growing; some amazing things are happening around the state, ”said Scott Sehnert, of First Security Bank.
Daines said high-tech jobs will be an important part of the state’s economy going forward.
“Montana needs more high-paying jobs with great benefits,” he said. “These tech jobs are ways we can take our graduates from our universities here in Montana and keep them here and contribute to this innovation economy instead of exporting our kids.”
The companies represented at the summit included financial companies in Helena, research and development in Bozeman and vaccine manufacturers in Bitterroot Valley. Everyone was impressed with everything Montana has to offer.
‘There is a set of like-minded people, there are educational institutions, there is a workforce. Now Montana has it, but it’s also a beautiful, beautiful place to live, which is a phenomenal attraction, ”said Al Thompson, vice president of strategy and transformation for GlaxoSmithKline. The pharmaceutical giant has invested $ 100 million to expand its Hamilton plant, where they manufacture key components for vaccines.
“I think Montana long ago figured out what we’re just about to find out today – I think it took something like COVID for us to figure it out, and that’s the balance of work. and privacy, “said William Tanona, senior vice president of business development and investor relations at SoFi. “When we opened our office here, it was important to people that they wanted to have this lifestyle.”
SoFi, an online finance company, has more than 100 engineering and product employees in Helena. Tanona said their Montana offices see some of the lowest turnover in the company.
While many of these high-tech companies have been near each other in “hubs,” Daines said the impact can go much further.
“The good news is: this is nationwide, and it’s going to be an important part of the growth of this Montana economy,” he said. “Technology has removed geography as a constraint, so we can now do that kind of high-tech job anywhere in Montana.”
The keynote speaker was Kevin O’Leary, a prominent entrepreneur and investor known for the TV show Shark Tank. He said there is growing competition between states to attract businesses and that Montana has the type of business-friendly climate he is looking for.
“Where else can we find leadership that likes business, that does not hate it, that wants to attract it, that has a policy that is competitive?” he said.
To that end, Bitzero, a major investor in O’Leary’s, announced at the summit that it plans to develop a new data center near Polson in partnership with the Confederate Salish and Kootenai tribes. One of the main attractions was access to reliable, clean hydropower from Kerr Dam – now controlled by the tribes and called SKQ Dam.
O’Leary called the data “the new oil,” saying all aspects of the modern economy depend on them. He said Montana stands out as a great place to develop data centers because of its easily accessible hydropower and its favorable business environment.
“You need data centers, and there’s no reason Montana can’t emerge as a leader in this,” he said. “It’s safe, it’s stable, it’s the kind of place where people want their data stored.”
Bitzero CEO Akbar Shamji told reporters that they initially plan to build a 12-megawatt data center, powered by a combination of hydropower and other renewable sources. They then plan to expand it, with the original target of 48 megawatts.
Speakers at the summit said that in order for Montana to continue to attract high-tech companies, the state needs to focus on developing infrastructure and continue to invest in education. They also highlighted the ongoing need for housing.
Bill Moseley, CEO of GL Solutions, a software company that recently moved its headquarters from Bend, Oregon, to Kalispell, said that too many communities are striving for “growth at all costs.”
“Think about the holistic perspective of your community so you can both preserve the things that make you great now and lead it further into your future,” he said. “When you get house prices that go up to $ 700,000, $ 800,000, you have to start thinking about what happens to people who have fixed incomes, for example.”
Governor Greg Gianforte acknowledged the challenge of finding that balance.
“Our march orders, which I have received from all of you, are 1: more well-paid jobs – we do – but the other is just as important: Protect our way of life,” he said.
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