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High Tech Flourishing Under the Big Sky

by Hannah Stiff | Apr 24, 2019 12:53:39 PM

Panel
Discusses Montana’s Tech Industry at Monday Luncheon

Years ago, when Bozeman-based RightNow
Technologies was growing its sales of customer relationship management (CRM) software
at breakneck pace, top company officials were hesitant to tell investors where
the company was located.

As former RightNow employee Andrew Hull puts it,
executives thought if they told investors the business was in Montana, they
would be wary of working with RightNow. Obviously that narrative got flipped on
its head. As many Montanans and Bozemanites know, RightNow Technologies
employed more than 1,000 people at the peak of its reign. The tech company was
eventually sold to Oracle Corporation for $1.5 billion in 2012. The company’s
founder, Greg Gianforte, went on to become Montana’s lone representative in the
U.S. House of Representatives. 

To say that RightNow put Bozeman on the map as a
tech town is a bit of an understatement. Hull, talking to a crowded room at the
Hilton Garden Inn Monday afternoon, said that when he would recruit employees
from out of state, very few had heard of Bozeman. Now, less than a decade
later, Hull (who successfully opened his own tech/marketing company in town,
Elixiter) says that his out-of-state hires not only know about Bozeman, but
they seek it out as a dream place to work, live and re-create. It’s part of the
reason Bozeman is one of the fastest growing micropolitan cities in the nation.

Hull was joined by four other top tech
entrepreneurs and economists Monday to discuss their industry and what it’s
like to do business in Montana. Bryan Robertus, CEO of Advanced Electronic
Design Bryan Robertus, Montana High Tech Alliance Executive Director Christina
Henderson, Blackfoot Communications CEO Jason Williams, and City of Bozeman
Economic Development Specialist David Fine spoke alongside Hull.

Henderson said the Montana High Tech Business Alliance
remains busier than ever helping its 350 member firms operate and hire
throughout the state. Membership in the alliance is available to for-profit businesses engaged in high-tech and
manufacturing that have operations in Montana. Those firms, Henderson said,
provided Montana with $2 billion in revenue last year, a $1billion gain over
the previous year.

Fine talked about the more nuanced
aspects of luring talent to town to fill the burgeoning tech market.

“Urban renewal might not be sexy
to talk about,” Fine said. “But if you want to have an office downtown, you
need parking downtown.”

City officials, Fine said, are
increasingly concerned about smart growth that incorporates great parks,
schools and amenities throughout the Gallatin Valley. Those elements will
matter just about as much as the actual job, the high-tech panel agreed. After
all, that’s exactly what transformed Montana from a hush-hush business location
to a thriving tech destination.

As the tech sector in
Montana continues to boom, the Better Business Bureau looks forward to working
with industry leaders. Together, we can sustain an ethical and fair marketplace
for Montanans to do business, whether they’re behind a computer screen or
standing in a brick-and-mo

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