Greg Gianforte

Greg Gianforte, founder and former CEO of RightNow Technologies Inc. in Bozeman, talks with Helena Christian School students in 2012.

ELIZA WILEY/Independent Record

A consortium of high-tech businesses in Montana recently announced a new initiative to establish the Montana High-Tech Business Alliance, a membership organization focused on creating more high-tech jobs in Montana and increasing the visibility of those endeavors that are successful. The group consists of about 30 founding firms now, including GCS Research, ALPS Corp., Blackfoot Communications and NorthWestern Energy.

Christina Quick Henderson, formerly the marketing director for the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research, has been hired as the group’s executive director, and she is based at the MonTEC Center on East Broadway in Missoula.

“We are launching a brand new organization, based in Missoula, dedicated to helping Montana’s high-tech companies grow and create more jobs,” she said. “We are trying to grow this thing statewide. We have Montana’s biggest high-tech companies on board and many affiliate members that are not necessarily high-tech but are supportive. We are actively recruiting members right now. We want to let everyone know what we are doing.”

The organization also believes strongly in supporting startups, Henderson said.

“Any company that has five employees or less will get a free membership and have access to resources and mentoring,” she said.

The Alliance will represent the interests of its members in pursuit of its mission to accelerate growth, global competitiveness and national visibility of Montana’s tech industry, Henderson said.

“One of our goals is increasing the visibility and amplifying the success of Montana private companies,” she said. “A lot of these firms are growing at a tremendous rate and having national success, but people don’t know it because a lot of their customers are out-of-state or international. These businesses are also not located on Main Street so their success is a mystery. We want to let people know what they do and that they are having success, paying great wages and providing their employees with great benefits, perks you might expect in Silicon Valley, and that they are actively hiring.”

Many people can find jobs at tech companies, including those without tech experience.

“These companies hire all types of talent, from marketing to human resources,” Henderson said. “These companies allow jobs to stay in Montana and will allow people to come back here. A real concern for high-tech companies is being able to attract talent and fill these positions. We want to serve as a matchmaker to connect talent with potential employers.”

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A report by the Kauffman Foundation earlier this year ranked ranked Missoula first in small cities for having the largest number of new tech startup companies started between 1990 and 2010. The report also ranked Missoula fifth among small cities for its number of high-tech ventures.

“Too often the incredible growth and innovation of Montana’s high-tech companies is a well-kept secret,” Henderson said. “I am excited to connect our members, shine a bright light on their successes and help remove obstacles to their growth.”

The group hopes to recruit all high-tech and manufacturing firms in the state to become members.

“Montana high-tech jobs are the best opportunity to increase wages in Montana because high tech makes the economic pie bigger for everyone and every community can participate,” said Greg Gianforte, organizer of the Alliance and the initial board chairman. Gianforte founded RightNow Technologies in Bozeman, and he helped recruit innovators like Tom Stergios of Advanced Technology Group in Missoula and Bill Squires of Blackfoot Telecommunications Group.

Henderson said that right now, the Alliance is focused on recruiting additional founding members from across the state. Principals of high-tech companies are encouraged to contact Henderson regarding membership at director@mthightech.org, and organizations such as law firms, banks or economic development agencies may join as affiliate members. The Montana High Tech Business Alliance office is located at 1121 East Broadway, Suite 108 in Missoula.

Reporter David Erickson can be reached at david.erickson@missoulian.com.

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