High Tech, Business Startups Looking Good in 2021
Following a booming year in 2019, Montana’s high tech businesses held their own in 2020, according to Christina Henderson, Executive Director of Montana High Tech Business Alliance. “Companies have been able to adapt with remote work,” she said, “which provided for a fast come back” after initial shut downs. The data is still coming in regarding 2020.
In 2019, the state’s high-tech firms grew nine times faster than other sectors and generated a new record of $2.5 billion in revenues, according to a survey conducted by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research. Bozeman’s Next Frontier Capital reported $150 million in venture capital investment in Montana companies in 2019, also a new record. Another survey will be conducted in 2021.
“In 2020 we identified 600 high tech firms,” said Henderson, adding that in Montana the industry pays twice the median wage at $65,000. Most of the companies are in central and western Montana — in Bozeman, Missoula and the Flathead Valley. Henderson said, “It will be interesting to see how locations might shift due to the increase in remote work.”
There were a few high tech firms that failed to make it through the COVID business shutdowns, but “most were able to pivot quickly and rebounded.”
“For many tech companies, the shift to working from home or with new workplace safety protocols was smoother than expected. For some firms, growth continued or even accelerated,” said Henderson.
There were some noteworthy events in high tech in Montana in 2020:
In August, Ascent Vision Technologies (AVT), a veteran-owned firm specializing in counter-drone technology and aerial surveillance systems was acquired by CACI International for $350 million. AVT employs 60 people in Montana and plans to keep its headquarters in Bozeman.
Montana’s robust biotech industry rose to meet the challenges of COVID-19, accelerating advances in virus testing, vaccine development and telemedicine. In July, Missoula-based therapeutics company Inimmune secured $22 million Series A investment from Two Bear Capital in Whitefish, in addition to over $30 million awarded in recent NIH research grants and contracts.
Henderson pointed out that “the new normal” of working from home will bring changes to the workplace culture. It’s a change that could benefit Montana and rural communities in being able to recruit new workers and entice former residents to return home bringing high paying jobs with them.
The reverse could also happen in that companies outside the state could attempt to recruit Montana workers, depleting local talent by offering pay above local market wages.
The New York Times, Bloomberg and Forbes have identified Bozeman, Missoula and Butte as potential zoom towns – zoom towns being “relatively affordable vacation destinations where populations are rising as remote workers relocate.”
A negative factor in the new trend is that “the new influx of residents is also driving up housing costs and adding to the stratifying growing pains of Montana communities.”
Henderson said, “The demand for tech talent in Montana remains strong, but there is a gap between the skills and experience of local workforce and the requirements of available roles…. Leaders in business, education and government will need to collaborate to help Montana’s workforce adapt to a tech-driven economy.”
The shift presents an opportunity for Montana companies to recruit skilled remote Times, Bloomberg and Forbes as zoom towns – relatively affordable vacation destinations where populations are rising as remote workers relocate. Montana’s outdoor amenities and relatively low cost of living have long made it attractive to tech workers, helping to fuel economic growth. But the new influx of residents is also driving up housing costs and adding to the stratifying growing pains of Montana communities. 3) Changing Career Pathways The demand for tech talent in Montana remains strong, but there is a gap between the skills and experience of local workforce and the requirements of available roles. New graduates and displaced workers are often eager to transition into tech jobs, but need support finding career pathways in the field. Leaders in business, education and government will need to collaborate to help Montana’s workforce adapt to a tech-driven economy.