Montana’s rugged beauty and pioneering legacy has forged a modern-day culture of self-sufficiency and entrepreneurship. Under Governor Steve Bullock’s leadership, the State has seen unprecedented business and industry growth, startup activity, and a refinement of longstanding culture of innovation. The State’s diverse economy affords the opportunity to embrace the changes brought by growth industries while encouraging efficiencies in traditional sectors.
While Montana’s most important industries have been agriculture and natural resource extraction, the State has become a hub for high-tech businesses. A reflection of the State’s focus to be more than The Best Vacation You’ll Ever Take, Montana is desirable to a skilled workforce weary of gridlocked traffic and the high cost of living. Small tech companies are attracted to a collaborative culture for both businesses and workforce who know they can live an amazing life without sacrificing their careers.
Missoula and Bozeman are flagship sites for clustering industries like software development, optics and photonics manufacturing, autonomous vehicle technology and bioscience. Graduates from higher educational institutions in Kalispell, Great Falls and Billings are immediate hires for engaged and receptive anchor companies who push for curriculum offerings to meet their urgent need for a trained workforce.
A renaissance in outdoor recreation and outdoor equipment is also taking place in the State. Some of the top recreational brands in the world have discovered that they can locate and draw the workforce to actually test their products in a landscape with some of the strongest protection of public lands in the nation.
A newly created Governor’s Office of Outdoor Recreation is the fourth in the nation and strives to be both a resource and change agent that works with the outdoor recreation industries, including world-class firearm manufacturing. With strong support from Montana-based and national outdoor advocacy groups, this sector will continue to strengthen, expand and diversify Montana’s economic base.
Blessed with Glacier and three entrances to Yellowstone National Park, international visitors abound in a phenomenally-vibrant tourism economy. In 2016, 12.4 million tourists to Montana spent a staggering $3 billion and catalyzed interest and cooperation across cultures and regions. Montana’s eight tribes are carefully exploring tourism opportunities while honoring traditions and values.
Tribes are also focused on training their workforce for both on- and off-reservation opportunities. In St. Ignatius, a family of companies owned by a tribal nation has built a reputation for excellence resulting in contracts with the US military, NASA, and DOE – most recently being awarded a 15-year $4.2 billion procurement and logistics contract.
Healthcare, while traditionally a local or regional industry, has a new revenue stream – medical tourism. With proximity to Canada and an aggressive regional reputation for excellence, Montana’s healthcare providers are seeing a dramatic influx of patients for both optional and required medical procedures that can be done better or cheaper.
Many of the State’s industrial parks are sited to provide the desired confluence for manufacturing, trade, transportation and access to reliable, competitive energy. Additional designations such as Foreign Trade Zones allow these ports to capitalize on multimodal transloading, warehousing and light industrial zoning to achieve efficiencies and economies of scale for their customers. The Port of Montana in Silver Bow County and Northwestern Energy, a regulated electricity utility offering generation, transmission and distribution, are two examples of partners who are integral to attracting and retaining industrial and manufacturing businesses.
Innovators reimagine processes and products to better compete in global markets. For example, Billings is home to a company that has developed a mobile solution to capturing flare natural gas from oil wells in a process that cuts emissions and puts this gas to use instead of burning it as waste. A Columbia Falls company, home to a leading manufacturer of cross laminated timber (CLT) products of panels and beams, produces a competitive replacement for traditional structural building systems and methods with amazing strength, rigidity and stability.
With a long-standing reputation for world-class crops, livestock and food products, Montana’s wheat, barley and pulse crops are some of the highest-value agricultural commodities but the State is also known for excellent genetics in beef, and production of lamb and wool. A very recent announcement with Montana’s stockgrowers in partnership with China will add value to the high-quality beef raised within the State’s borders.
There are several challenges to growth confronting Montana. Primarily, much of the workforce in the state is at or nearing retirement age. With the loss of that senior talent, there will be turnover equaling approximately eight perent of the State’s total population. Infrastructure is another challenge within Montana – the state has a low population and a large land area that creates a problem of affordability for critical road and other infrastructure development and maintenance.
This has led to Montana finding high levels of efficiency with tax revenues and innovative solutions to challenges that other states spend large budgets on. For example, rather than creating dozens of new degree programs and dramatically-increasing spending on higher education, Montana has adopted a strategy of promoting apprenticeships. Through public-private partnerships, there are now over 1,000 positions that can have a certified apprenticeship program and the outcomes have been phenomenal. These positions include both traditional, blue-collar apprenticeships but also leading edge white-collar apprenticeships as well.
Finally, Montanans have the reputation for expecting attention and excellence from their community and state leaders. That kind of engagement means that no problem festers for very long without attention and rather than competition, there tends to be an attitude of cohesion and community. That is the Montana way.
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