Bozeman Daily Chronicle: Tester talks technology with local business leaders

A group of high-tech business owners joined Montana Sen. Jon Tester on Thursday at the Bozeman Public Library to discuss how the state could continue to attract and retain high-paying jobs for the state.

The forum, Tester said, was to hear from the technology community about issues important to them. The senator sat alongside a panel of four business owners in the Gallatin County area and heard from each of them before taking questions from the audience.

“To the folks out there doing, I want to say thank you,” he said.

The panel included Stan Abel, chief executive officer of SiteOne Therapeutics; Bill Stoddard, founder of NorthFork Financial; Pat LaPointe, managing director for Frontier Angels; and Ali Knapp, president at Wisetail. The four presented what their companies do and offered their suggestions on improving the business climate to the senator.

Traditional tech-hubs like San Francisco, San Diego and Cambridge, Massachusetts, are getting crowded and extremely expensive, Abel said. The time to try to attract more businesses in Montana is ideal, he said.

“All our competitor states are recognizing this opportunity that there are people that want to get out of those major tech-hubs,” Abel said. “South Dakota, North Dakota, Utah, Texas, Nevada – I mean, they’re all offering aggressive incentives to leave those states and put their business there.”

Knapp said the state should extend STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematic programs – across the state to rural areas. Montana is really great at having the programs in Bozeman and Missoula, she said, but in rural areas these programs are lacking or don’t exist.

She also said that public lands were a big recruiting tool for companies and should be protected.

“This has been a huge advantage for us, and it’s something that we just need to keep in mind to continue recruiting methods,” she said.

Other suggestions included upgrading infrastructure, providing more opportunities to seek start-up funding, mental health services in rural areas and bridging the gap to rural parts of the state.

Lance Trebesch, CEO of Ticket River in Harlowton, said that rural Montana is in decline. The company is the biggest employer in its county and aims to employ people from Harlowton, he said.