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Montana's Unique 'Ecosystem' For Entrepreneurs

The cover of a new report released by the Montana High Tech Business Alliance Monday
Montana High Tech Business Alliance
The cover of a new report released by the Montana High Tech Business Alliance Monday

In the last several years, studies have shown that Montana is hotbed for entrepreneurs, people starting up new companies. A new study released yesterdayexamined what’s different about the so-called entrepreneurship ecosystem here.

The study was co-authored by Yasuyuki Motoyama from the University of Kansas.

"Small towns in Montana exhibit high levels of entrepreneurship with several factors combined," Motoyama said.

The factors that combine to create what Motoyama calls the "entrepreneurship ecosystem" here are; an openness in the start-up community and governments that help support new businesses. A quote, “excellent” workforce that comes from several in-state universities and colleges, and an ability to set up and work with teams in locations outside Montana.

"Montana has a fundamentally different yet functioning entrepreneurship ecosystem," he said.

Motoyama says other places, like Atlanta and Buffalo, New York, have similar elements in place, but don’t crank out the start-up companies at the rate Montana does. His study says that on a per capita basis, nationwide Missoula and Bozeman rank 9th and 12th respectively for new business creation.

He made his remarks at a gathering of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance in Missoula, where both Governor Steve Bullock and Greg Gianforte gave remarks.

A panel of successful Montana start up businesses all said that a big reason they’re thriving is because of the great quality of life here.

Tom Stergios an executive with Advanced Technology Group, a global IT consulting firm based in Missoula.

"Six years into this experiment of doing world class cloud-based technology in Missoula," he said, "all of my key people are staying, and now they’re growing into becoming very senior leaders. And when you can do great work, get great pay and live in a great place, why would you leave?"

Stergois praised the University of Montana for its openness to helping meet workforce needs, the High Tech Business Alliance, and government at the state, county and city level for helping make his business a success.

Other panelists said similar things, but all agreed that one of the state’s biggest challenges going forward will be competing for a skilled workforce. The co-author of the study of Montana start-ups suggested the state might have to start recruiting more foreign born workers. And the Missoula and Columbia Falls companies represented on the panel all said high airfares are a significant challenge going forward as well.

Copyright 2020 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.