ATG Center Opens 2

The new Cognizant offices in Missoula house most of the company's 176 employees in Montana.

The tech industry in Montana saw a record $2 billion in revenue in 2018, double the revenue reported in 2016.

According to a new report Tuesday from the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research, the high-tech industry in Montana is growing nine times faster than the statewide economy and pays an average of nearly $70,000 per job.

Montana high-tech companies expect to increase wages by 5 percent in 2019, add 1,700 new jobs and make at least $125 million in capital investments.

The BBER was hired by the Montana High Tech Business Alliance to survey tech companies and analyze the industry for the fifth year in a row. Christina Quick Henderson, the executive director of the Alliance, said it’s a pretty amazing story that the industry has doubled its revenue in two years, from $1 billion in 2016 to $1.4 billion in 2017 to $2 billion in 2018.

“For 99 percent of these companies, they are doing business nationally and globally and bringing revenues into the state,” she said. “These companies are paying more than twice the median wage and investing money back into the community and employees are sending their kids to local schools. The industry has a substantial impact.”

The BBER surveyed 153 tech business alliance member firms and 67 non-member firms, and found that the No. 1 business advantage the company owners cite is “Montana’s quality of life,” meaning recreation opportunities, the beauty of the landscape and the work/life balance available here.

One of the companies that has contributed greatly to Montana’s tech employment and revenue is onX maps in Missoula, which secured a $20-million venture capital investment last year.

“Every day our team is inspired by the incredible outdoor recreation opportunities surrounding our offices in both Missoula and Bozeman, and the high quality of life in Montana enables to us to recruit the best possible talent,” explained company CEO Laura Orvidas. “We are continually inspired by Montana, and seek to enable others to experience the many adventures this great state and nation have to offer."

The full BBER report can be found online at mthightech.org/surveys/.

Also on Tuesday, two Missoula companies applied for Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund grants from the Montana Department of Commerce in exchange for creating high-paying jobs that bring in revenue from outside of Montana.

ATG Cognizant, a Missoula tech company, asked for $75,000 in Big Sky Trust Fund grants to partially reimburse the company for creating jobs. Tom Stergios, senior vice president of strategy and corporate development at ATG, said the company hired 24 people in February and is accepting 34 more applications on April 1. He touted a new three-month training program at the University of Montana and said the average salary for employees is $78,000.

PatientOne Inc., a health care startup formed by local health care executives, also applied for Big Sky Trust Fund grant consideration. They will hire eight to 10 people locally this year and hope to hire an additional 38 in the second year, according to company executive Jeff Fee, the former CEO of the Western Montana Region for Providence Health. He told the Missoula County board of commissioners that his company “can’t change health care within the belly of the beast,” so they’ve developed a new way for people to engage in the health system by using patient navigators.

They’re starting a patient navigator tool with PatientOne and will be reimbursing physicians for remote monitoring of patients. That reduces care and complications, Fee explained, due in large part to the significant number of errors on a daily basis, like patients not stopping their blood thinning medication before a procedure, meaning they then can’t get the procedure done.

All the jobs they hope to create will pay $19.65 an hour, Fee said, and will be in sales, content development, product development, user information and customer support.

In 2017, an analysis by the Bozeman Daily Chronicle found that many times, companies “over promise and under deliver” on the amount of jobs they create, although some create more than they initially plan. The Chronicle found that statewide, between the inception of the program in 2005 and 2017, only 23 percent of the 114 companies have created the number of jobs they proposed.

Some of that could be due to the fact that companies get incentives to apply for as large a grant as possible, since they can’t go back and ask for more money if they create more jobs than they apply for. The state doesn’t lose money if fewer jobs than proposed are created.

Missoula County and the Missoula Economic Partnership both help administer the Big Sky Trust Fund grant program locally, although the money comes from the state's Coal Severance Trust Fund and is distributed by the state Dept. of Commerce.

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