“Leaders are visionaries with a poorly developed sense of fear and no concept of the odds against them.”
– Robert Jarvik, scientist and inventor
Today I mark two milestones as director of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance – the end of my first 90 days on the job, and the enrollment of our 90th member. Much of the work of launching this Alliance has been fairly mundane. I populate spreadsheets, complete legal paperwork, answer emails. But when I get on the phone or on the road and hear the stories of Montana’s incredible high-tech entrepreneurs, I’m reminded that I have the best job in the world.
A few weeks ago I made the beautiful drive to Great Falls and Helena to visit MHTBA members and share our vision for the Alliance with the Great Falls Development Authority, Hometown Helena, and the Montana Chamber. One highlight of the trip was my visit with the founders of Loenbro, one of our platinum members.
Brothers Paul and Jon Leach honed their entrepreneurial skills growing up on a family farm 20 miles west of Great Falls. They fixed motorcycles, built mobile lemonade stands, and generally believed anything was possible.
The day after younger brother Jon graduated from high school in 1998, the brothers went to Cleveland for welding school. They returned home, landed a two-week job at the oil refinery in Great Falls, and never left.
Paul and Jon set themselves apart from other welders at the refinery who only wanted to weld. They said yes to any job that was offered. They took action to get the job done, solving any problem that came up. They fulfilled every promise they made. And they practiced stewardship, giving back from the blessings they had been given.
In 2001, Paul and Jon went into business together and hired good people who shared their core values. As Loenbro’s reputation grew and the company had new opportunities for growth, the founders expanded beyond welding to include services like pipeline construction, inspection, and industrial insulation. They employ a variety of talent – welders’ helpers just starting their careers, civil engineers from Montana Tech, and MBA’s from the University of Montana.
Loenbro now has operations in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming and recently broke ground on a new 30,000-square-foot steel pipe fabrication facility near Great Falls. The company that started with two brothers in a spare bedroom now employs 700 people. Paul Leach still lives in the house he grew up in.
I will never get tired of telling stories of Montana entrepreneurs like Paul and Jon. I am inspired by their work ethic and values, their success in creating high-paying jobs for themselves and hundreds of other workers in their hometown, and their belief that we can and will grow more world-class, high-tech companies in Montana.
Christina Henderson, Executive Director