server room in datacenter equipped with data servers

Montana's top business recruiter traveled to California's Silicon Valley this summer to meet with key executives at what he described as two "data-intensive companies."

His goal: Persuade them that Montana is a good place for a large-scale computer data center, or at least to get them to think about including Montana on the list of states being considered.

It's a challenging objective, because Montana has no specifically crafted incentives for data centers. Almost half the other states do, including its western competitors of Oregon, Washington and Wyoming.

"It's been hard to stay visible in lieu of what other states have done, that have gone out actually looking to buy their business," said Sean Becker, administrator of the Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development.

An analysis conducted last year by the state's Commerce Department concluded that Montana could be marketed as a potential location for large data centers. Among its desirable attributes: lots of available land; a low risk of natural disasters; a cool climate; the potential for wind or hydropower to feed a data center's high electricity demands; and the lack of a state sales, which could be beneficial when buying expensive computer equipment.

But "if they do a search just for data center tax incentives, we're not going to be on that list," Becker said.

Another challenge, according to the report, is a workforce lacking people trained in data management.

Three months after his Silicon Valley sales trip, Becker says he has received no commitments from those large companies. But others are at least expressing an interest.

"We're getting more inquiries from smaller (data companies) than we are from large data center investors," he said.

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