Report: Montana’s Thriving Tech Sector Surpasses $1 Billion in Revenues

The high-tech sector expects to add more than 960 new jobs in 2017 that pay average annual salaries of $60,000

By Dillon Tabish
ViZn Energy Systems' CEO Ron Van Dell discusses the latest grid scale energy storage products on July 20, 2016. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Montana’s presence continues to grow in the high-tech landscape.

High-tech companies generated more than $1 billion in revenues in 2016, according to a new study conducted by the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

The state’s tech sector is growing at a feverish rate, roughly seven times that of the statewide economy, the study found.

The high-tech sector expects to add more than 960 new jobs in 2017 that pay average annual salaries of $60,000, more than twice the median earning per Montana worker, according to the study.

The latest findings were the result of the third annual survey commissioned by the Montana High Tech Business Alliance, a statewide association devoted to furnishing more tech jobs in Montana. Members of the alliance were responsible for $1.09 billion in revenues last year, an increase from $867 million in 2015, and responding non-member firms generated $487 million, according to the survey.

“Our third annual report shows once again the incredible opportunity for the high-tech industry to transform Montana’s economy by bringing high revenues and high-paying jobs into the state,” said Christina Henderson, executive director of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance.

Henderson said Montana continues to develop a positive business climate and extensive network of resources, including universities, that help entrepreneurs and startups succeed.

The Flathead Valley is home to a cluster of successful tech companies, including Columbia Falls’ ViZn Energy. ViZn is based in Austin, Texas but operates its primary research and development facility along U.S. Highway 2 between Evergreen and Columbia Falls. The company is developing state-of-the-art large-scale battery technology.

“ViZn Energy is proud to employ more than 50 scientists, hardware and software engineers, as well as marketing, finance and operations staff in Montana – jobs that pay between $50,000 and $150,000 per year,” Ron Van Dell, CEO of ViZn Energy said. “This report from the Montana High Tech Business Alliance is an important tool to help Montana’s decision makers understand the first order economic impact that high-growth businesses like ours are having in the state.”

Locations of High Tech Business Alliance Members. Courtesy BBER

The survey found overwhelmingly positive feedback about the alliance as a beneficial business resource. Also, Montana University System-based resources were cited frequently cited by both alliance members and non-members and included Montana State University, University of Montana, the MSU and UM Blackstone LaunchPads), MonTEC and the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center.

Bootstrapping, or creating and sustaining a business based on sales and little external funding, was heavily cited by survey respondents as a financial tool to success. Also, private investors and banks were helpful drivers.

Alliance members were most likely to mention bootstrapping and non-members were most likely to mention banks, the survey found.

For the third year in a row, the BBER survey highlighted Montana’s quality of life – its lifestyle, the work/life balance, the recreational opportunities, and the beauty of the landscape – as the most significant overall advantage to doing business in the state. Survey respondents also mentioned Montana’s high-quality workforce as a major advantage.

The survey included responses from more than 300 high-tech and manufacturing firms that are part of the alliance, as well as responses from 82 non-member high-tech and manufacturing companies.

“This report shows that for the first time, Montana’s high-tech companies crossed $1 billion in revenue in a single year, and high-tech remains our fastest growing industry sector,” Greg Gianforte, board chair of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance and founder of RightNow Technologies in Bozeman, stated. “As a result, more Montanans won’t have to leave to find a high-wage job, and our economy is becoming stronger for all.”

Seventy-seven percent of Alliance members and 63 percent of non-members would encourage someone to start a business in Montana, according to the survey.

“Overall, this is a strong endorsement of Montana’s business climate,” stated John Baldridge, BBER’s director of Survey Research.

As in previous years, respondents mentioned several barriers to faster growth, including attracting talent and hiring skilled technology workers, access to capital and finding new customers. For the first time, challenging market conditions were mentioned as a barrier to growth.

The third annual survey was sent to 242 Montana High Tech Business Alliance member companies in high tech and manufacturing and 304 non-Alliance member companies.