HELENA – Greg Gianforte, who co-founded the Bozeman software firm that he sold to Oracle Corp. for $1.8 billion, has unveiled a website to promote his plans for high-tech development for Montana – and says he’s in it for the long haul.
“The premise is what we’ve experienced here (in Bozeman), can happen anywhere in the state … if you have entrepreneurs with good ideas and people trained to fill those jobs,” he said in an interview Monday.
Gianforte said Monday he plans to work the next 20 years or so on developing more high-tech manufacturing and technology businesses here, which he believes can raise the wages of Montanans.
Tech-related businesses rely on a well-trained, educated workforce, which demands higher pay, and that higher pay can filter down through the economy to create more jobs in other sectors, like construction, he said.
Gianforte, who co-founded RightNow Technologies with his wife, Susan, in Bozeman in 1997, has been talking up and developing his high-tech economic plans since selling the company to Oracle in 2012.
He’s a keynote speaker Saturday at the state Republican Party’s Winter Kick-off event, where he’ll talk about his new website, bettermontanajobs.com, and his longer-range plans for the state’s economy.
The Gianfortes have been frequent contributors to Republican candidates and have funded a scholarship program for Montana kids attending private schools.
His economic plan for high-tech industry includes:
• Expanding and promoting more computer science and programming instruction in Montana high schools, which have few such programs now.
He helped launch CodeMontana last year, an online interactive program that exposes high schoolers to computer programming, and has funded a summer program at Montana State University for teachers to become certified to teach a new high school computing course.
CodeMontana already has more than 1,000 students from 140 Montana towns participating, and Montana Tech officials have told him computer science enrollment there has tripled, he said.
• Organizing the supporting industry. Gianforte is helping form the Montana Tech Alliance, a trade group for high-tech and high-tech manufacturing companies.
One task of the alliance will be determining just how many high-tech-related jobs exist in the state, he said, what they pay, and what they need to succeed.
“I plan on working on this in the next 15 or 20 years, so we need a baseline to know if we’re actually moving the needle,” he said.
Gianforte said high-tech businesses can include software firms and manufacturing that uses technology.
• Mentoring high-tech entrepreneurs. Gianforte directs the Bozeman Technology Incubator, said he has conducted 135 advising sessions for people wanting to develop tech firms, and encourages other developers to act as mentors.
RightNow Technologies, the Bozeman firm founded by the Gianfortes, developed online customer service software for many companies. It employs about 1,000 people, including 550 in Bozeman.
He said Monday one of the biggest impediments to starting a successful high-tech business in Montana is overcoming the misperception that it can’t be done in such a rural state.
“When we first moved to Bozeman 20 years ago, people said you couldn’t grow a global business here,” he said. “We spent 15 years building RightNow, and we did it. … I’m absolutely convinced that you can.”