The camper and RV dealership is hard to miss with its polished merchandise lined up along Reserve Street in Missoula. The hotels in Bozeman with their glowing billboards command attention from the interstate.

What’s not as visible are these cities’ network of high-tech businesses or the jobs that lie within. Students who graduate from the state’s universities may never know the firms are hiring, let alone exist.

“High-tech and manufacturing businesses are kind of invisible,” said Greg Gianforte, founder of RightNow Technologies in Bozeman. “They’re not the popular coffee shop on Main Street or the John Deere dealership on the interstate. They’re hidden back in the business parks and they have trouble finding qualified employees.”

That’s been a problem for a state looking to retain its best and brightest students, boost wages and grow a sector that’s flourishing in Montana’s far-flung corners. Qualified students fresh from college are often picked off by the likes of Google and Microsoft, putting state firms at a disadvantage.

But the Montana High Tech Business Alliance is looking to change that by bringing visibility to the state’s high-tech and manufacturing sectors and connecting workers to in-state firms looking to hire.

Just four months old, the alliance has launched a new web-based jobs portal to achieve that goal. Gianforte and the alliance’s executive director, Christina Henderson, have spent the week promoting the new portal and collaborating with state universities to spread the word.

“We’ve been working very hard to build relationships with career services and recruiting offices on campuses across Montana,” Henderson said. “We’re in there working to get the news of this jobs portal in front of students. We want to get it on people’s top list of sites.”

Henderson said the site will help the alliance’s 100 member firms recruit employees while listing opportunities for internships and apprentice work. Members range from large companies like Oracle in Bozeman to small companies like Agile Legal Technology in Missoula.

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“From inside the industry, there’s a sense of momentum in Montana,” said Henderson. “It’s growing and there are tons of opportunities here. One hindrance is they can’t find the talent. They can grow faster than they currently are if they could find the employees.”

On the national level, Gianforte said, high-tech businesses pay an average wage greater than $90,000 a year while manufacturing pays around $60,000. Montana ranks nearly last in the nation in wages and continues to lag.

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“If we want to impact the state’s economy, we’ve got to create jobs in the high-tech and manufacturing sectors,” Gianforte said. “High-tech and manufacturing represent one of the best ways to improve the job prospects in every community in Montana.”

Gianforte said most firms in Montana can’t compete on the recruiting platform, but the new site can help level the field. The site isn’t just for “geeks and techies,” he added, but for a wide range of workers with varying skills.

Jobs range from direct sales to Android developers. The portal had 45 jobs listed on Thursday, including 10 in Missoula and 15 in Bozeman.

“Our state firms have had an unfair advantage in the recruiting process,” Gianforte said. “Companies like Google and Microsoft have entire teams of recruiters and they come here and pick off our best and brightest. We hope to give more visibility to our companies and the opportunities in this state for our students.”

The new portal at the Montana High Tech Business Alliance can be found at MTHighTEch.org/jobs.

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Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, or at martin.kidston@missoulian.com.

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