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Tech Firms Recreation

Employees of ClassPass, a New York City-based tech company, pictured in their Missoula office in the winter of 2017-18. The company, like many other tech firms in the state, said Montana's recreational opportunities are a major reason they've been able to attract and retain skilled talent to generate and grow revenue. 

In less than a year, a high-tech fitness-focused company called ClassPass has gone from just a few workers to more than 100 relatively highly paid employees in Missoula. The company will soon be moving into a new 15,000-square-foot office on the fifth floor of the First Interstate Bank building downtown.

On Wednesday, ClassPass hosted Gov. Steve Bullock and executives from its home office in New York to celebrate the achievement.

Brian Mitchell, the head of talent acquisition for the company, said ClassPass began discussions about a third office in January 2017 and looked at more than 900 towns and cities before adding Missoula to its New York and San Francisco locations.

“Probably the very first visitor to our office was the governor himself, and that kind of echoes the type of support that we got from the governor in November of 2017 when we really started to commit to Missoula and started thinking about it,” he said. “We did talk to the governor and he did promise us a challenge-ready workforce here in Missoula, and here we are less than a year later with over 100 employees in town and it’s exceeded our expectations, obviously.”

The company developed an app that allows customers to choose different classes at fitness studios, from yoga to Pilates to weightlifting, rather than having a single membership at one gym. It also allows people to take classes when they travel. In Missoula, the company has hired customer experience representatives, sales people, software engineers and other jobs, with many starting at around $16 per hour and others paying much more than that. Mitchell said some employees have traveled to Dubai and Kuala Lumpur on work assignments.

The company encourages its employees to be physically active and enjoy the outdoors, and Mitchell said that one of the most important factors that made Missoula top its list was the access to public open space, with trails, rivers and mountains nearby. The new office has room for 175 employees, and Mitchell said he’s confident the company will get to that number before long.

“What’s important to understand is it wasn’t just about getting us here, it was the continued support once we were here,” he said. “That’s truly a reflection of the governor and his policy and his attitude toward ClassPass and that’s been fantastic.”

Mitchell also thanked local business leaders like Submittable CEO Michael Fitzgerald and local property developer Ed Wetherbee for their assistance, as well as University of Montana President Seth Bodnar.

Julie Armstrong, a member of the Missoula City Council, was on hand to introduce the governor.

“Steve Bullock is largely responsible for ClassPass being here in Missoula and for all the assistance that they got and why they were able to become so successful in our city so quickly,” she said. “We appreciate (ClassPass) hiring over 85 percent of your employees from Missoula. That makes us very happy.”

The company has benefited from the Montana Department of Commerce’s Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund program, which reimburses companies who pay relatively high wages and bring in revenue from outside Montana. ClassPass has gotten $159,000 in the past for creating 22 jobs and will get reimbursed about $300,000, minus administrative fees, for another 40 jobs in the future. Most of ClassPass’ customers are located outside Montana.

Bullock said the company has seen “meteoric” growth.

“Everybody takes credit for ClassPass being here, but really the reason I think ClassPass is here is because of the community, the quality of life, the talented train people that they’ve hired,” he said.

Bullock also touted Missoula’s surrounding natural lands as a business attractant.

“It’s the ability to double down on what makes knowledge-based businesses want to be in places like this,” he said. “Fresh air, clean water, endless recreational opportunities, public lands and a business climate that makes sense for businesses in the state. It’s proof positive that as we protect special places and enhance them, boost creativity and build your dreams, good things can happen and ClassPass is certainly a real demonstration of that.”

Bullock also said the state’s economy is booming.

“The unemployment rate is 3.6 percent,” he said. “It’s the lowest it’s been in a decade. More Montanans are working than at any time in our state’s history. We had the highest, fastest median income growth in the nation from 2016 to 2017, almost 5 percent, which is 2.5 times faster than the rest of the country. By looking at 2013 to 2016, Montana led the nation in middle-class income growth, faster than any other state in the country. We’re certainly seeing record growth in health care, construction, financial activities, and manufacturing.”

Bullock said Montana has a high rate of entrepreneurship, and quoted a New York Times article from 2015 that said “Silicon Valley gets all the glory, but the real hotbed of American entrepreneurship appears to be a few hundred miles to the northeast: Montana.” (Bullock likes to joke about how the writer thought Montana is only a few hundred miles from San Francisco, when that city is at least 900 miles from anywhere in Montana.)

“So I think that it’s safe to say the emphasis we’re putting on growing the economy, ensuring that Montanans have a place to live, to recreate, to educate, to raise a family combined with the business-friendly environment is paying off,” Bullock concluded.

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