Relationships Matter: Why Montana is Becoming the Unlikely Winner in Attracting Global Tech Firms

By Christina Henderson

Left to right, Brigitta Miranda-Freer, executive director of the Montana World Trade Center, Christina Henderson, executive director of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance, and Aaron Pratt, business development specialist for the Montana Governor’s Office of Economic Development, at the 2018 Manufacturing & International Trade Day hosted by the Montana Chamber of Commerce in Missoula on May 22. Partnerships and openness among entrepreneurial support organizations are crucial in serving Montana companies and attracting new tech firms to the state. Photo by Brigitta Miranda-Freer.

Last month, executives from Israeli high-tech firm 4Cast announced their decision to locate their U.S. base in Montana. This summer, 4Cast is setting up an office in Missoula and hiring the first of what they hope will ultimately be a workforce of 100 employees in sales and software development. According to CEO Nissim Titan, Montana was the winner out of 19 states considered.

I asked Titan this week what led 4Cast to choose Montana. “Relationships,” he said.

According to Titan, Brigitta Miranda-Freer, executive director of the Montana World Trade Center, had established a strong connection with the 4Cast team and the Israeli consul general. More than direct flights, tax incentives, or lovely scenery, relationships mattered most in the company’s decision to come to Montana.

4Cast specializes in decision-making software. They know what they’re doing.

In their April 2018 announcement, 4Cast noted multiple public and private partners in Montana who played a key role in the site selection process.

“In our search for a U.S. base, we were particularly impressed with the enthusiasm, responsiveness and cooperation we received from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, the Montana World Trade Center and the Missoula Economic Partnership,” Titan said.

4Cast is not alone in their assessment of Montana’s supportive business community.

According to the 2017 Kauffman report on Montana’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, Montana boasts a robust network of individuals and organizations who work together to support companies. The study described connections among entrepreneurs and supporters “built out of open relationships with small degrees of separation.”

Montana’s ecosystem has won the hearts of other global tech firms searching for HQ2 or 3. In late 2017, venture-backed fitness technology company ClassPass announced that after reviewing 900 cities in the U.S., the firm would open its third North American office – after San Francisco and New York – in Missoula.

Brian Mitchell, head of talent acquisition for ClassPass told Martin Kidston of the Missoula Current in January, “The reason why we chose to come to Missoula was the support that we got before we got here.”

ClassPass initially planned to hire 50 employees in Montana in 2018, but Mitchell said in a conversation this week the company now intends to hire 200 people by the end of the year.

As Mitchell said in his interview with Kidston, the support ClassPass received after they arrived in Montana “just underlined that we made the right decision.”

According to state and local economic development officials, many more global tech firms have cities across Montana on their short list for new offices. The relationships Montanans are building today mean we will see more big announcements, more jobs, and an even stronger high-tech economy in the future.

About the author: Christina Quick Henderson has served as executive director of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance since its launch in April, 2014. Henderson writes and speaks on Montana business trends, entrepreneurship and high-growth companies for Montana Business Quarterly and other publications. She holds an English degree from the University of Iowa and an MBA from the University of Montana, Missoula.

About the publisher: The Montana High Tech Business Alliance is a statewide membership organization made up of more than 325 high tech and manufacturing firms and affiliates.

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