Despite the many hurdles brought by COVID and the business shutdowns of 2020, a study reveals that Montana’s high tech businesses not only survived but thrived, growing seven times faster than other industry sectors.

A study done by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana and released in May, found that Montana’s tech sector continued a multi-year trend of growth and generated more than $2.9 billion in revenues in 2020, up from $2.5 billion in 2019, according to the most recent issue of Montana Business Quarterly – High Tech Soars Despite Pandemic, by Christina Quick Henderson.

Montana tech firms employ about 15,772 workers and pay an average salary of $73,100, 59% higher than the average earnings per Montana worker. Companies said that they plan to hire for 1,500 new jobs in 2021.

The companies plan to increase wages by 5 percent, somewhat faster than the 4.2 percent wage growth rate of all Montana employers. Survey respondents anticipated making at least $164 million in capital expenditures in Montana in 2021, a significant increase from anticipated 2020 capital expenditures ($133 million).

“Firms reported that access to capital was their largest impediment to faster growth. For the first year in four years, slightly more high-tech leaders (12%) said that it was harder to obtain capital in 2020 compared to the previous year (9%). Other frequently mentioned impediments to growth were the need for new customers, visibility or marketing, and hiring skilled technology workers”

“Despite pandemic-induced headwinds, deals kept flowing in 2020. Missoula-based biotech company Inimmune secured a $22 million series A investment from Two Bear Capital in Whitefish. Major acquisitions of Ascent Vision Technologies in Bozeman and Helix Business Solutions in Dillon also fueled economic growth across the state.”

As with most other industries high tech businesses’ biggest problem is finding talented and experienced workers, which is compounded in some places by the cost of living and lack of affordable housing.

While Bozeman is especially noted for having housing problems, it’s a problem statewide. Sometimes, more so than the cost, it’s simply a matter of availability. There are no houses.

The survey asked what job titles tech firms hire most often. “The most frequent response was software developer/computer programmer, followed by sales representative and engineer. When asked what skills they are looking for in new hires, employers most often said coding and software development, followed by sales or marketing, communication skills, general experience and problem solving.”

Some of Montana’s leading tech companies like Zoot Enterprises or Spika Design and Manufacturing are collaborating with colleges to develop new courses that prepare “the next generation.”


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