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Our growing tech sector in Montana is fueling important economic growth and contributing critical jobs across the state, supporting growth that is nine times faster than the rest of the state’s economy. According to a survey from the Montana High Tech Business Alliance, the high-tech sector generated $1.7 billion in revenue in 2017, and will add an additional 1,200 jobs and increase wages by 5 percent this year — a 17 percent increase over last year’s benchmark growth.

Headwaters Economics recently presented additional research showing that counties with the highest amount of public lands are growing the fastest. This is no coincidence. Public lands provide inspiration for innovation within our companies, they provide the backdrop for employee wellness and they serve as a competitive advantage in our ability to attract and retain talent.

While public lands and outdoor recreation do not, in and of themselves, create new technology businesses, they are a significant asset.

There is real data and an undeniable economic argument behind fighting for policies such as full funding and permanent reauthorization for the bipartisan Land and Water Conservation Fund, standing up against the rollback of protections for our national monuments and other public lands, and saving public lands at the doorstep of Yellowstone from industrial-scale gold mining. Montanans should have the right and the opportunity for intentional public engagement in the decisions that are made about our public lands. And now, it’s more important than ever for technology companies like ours, and others, to get engaged.

Access to open spaces and public lands is what makes our businesses tick. They are not just a means by which we refuel, but are also providing a foundation of solid work culture, creativity, innovative thinking and a spirit of entrepreneurship. There are real benefits that ripple throughout our business model that depend on public lands and our access to vast wild places. At Foundant Technologies in Bozeman, we see that because of access to public lands, employees are happier, healthier people and frankly, they are more productive. It reflects in our customer service, and client satisfaction. For onX, our company wouldn’t exist without public lands. Public lands inspired our first products, and continue to inspire our team members as they think about products that help the public access the outdoors.

A recent Outdoor Industry Association report shows that Montana’s outdoor economy supports 71,000 jobs, generates $2.2 billion in wages and salaries, $7.1 billion in consumer spending and $286 million in state and local tax revenue. Those numbers don’t even take into account the impact our public lands are having on non-outdoor recreation enterprises.

As the high-tech sector continues to drive important high-value, well-paying job growth in Montana, it’s important that we collectively and proactively stand up in a nonpartisan way to advocate for our public lands.

Public lands are our common thread, regardless of our unique business models. We can come together as a formidable industry, to stand up for the policies that affect our public lands. Our businesses and others like ours have the ability to influence the decisions that are made on behalf of our public lands. Our economic growth and opportunities for future entrepreneurs are depending on it.

This opinion is signed by Alex Philp of Adelos; Daren Nordhagen of Foundant Technologies; Eric Siegfried of onX; and Shannon Hughes of Spur Studio.

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