Rocky Mountain Bank hosted another big, high-energy crowd for the Montana High Tech Business Alliance reception in Bozeman for the third year in a row on February 21, 2017. Bob Gieseke, Bozeman Market President at RMB and member of the Alliance Board of Advisors, and his team served up beer and wine from the teller booth, laid out three kinds of baked brie, and awarded beautiful wine baskets as door prizes. Rocky Mountain Bank is a founding member of the Alliance and an ongoing supporter of high tech and manufacturing, which continue to outpace growth of the overall Montana economy by seven times and pay twice the median Montana wage. The CEO Bozeman roundtable and reception again drew more than 150 guests. Photos by Paige Pavalone, Pistol Creek Photography for Ndigena.
CONNECT: Bozeman and Missoula Airport Directors Join Forces to Expand Daily Flights to More Cities
At the CEO Roundtable hosted by Elixiter, Brian Sprenger, director of Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport, discussed current initiatives and future plans affecting air travel out of Bozeman. According to Sprenger, primary destinations with the most consistent daily service are Seattle, Denver, Salt Lake City, and Minneapolis – the closest four big cities. Bozeman’s airport has added cities beyond that core and in the next few years will focus on moving cities with seasonal service such as San Francisco, Portland, and Chicago toward daily service. “San Francisco is a big market, especially in the high-tech world,” said Sprenger. “We’re at about 260 days a year now, non-stop. The other markets where we’re working on filling in the gap are Dallas-Fort Worth and Los Angeles.”
Expanded service benefits companies across the state. David Thompson, Director of Engineering at SoFi, said his team members regularly drive the 100 miles from Helena to Bozeman in order to take advantage of the direct flight to San Francisco, the location of SoFi’s headquarters.
Sprenger noted Bozeman is unique in Montana, and indeed across the country, in its paired advantages of combining leisure and business travel. “What really has benefited [Bozeman] is that the leisure and tourism industry gets [the airlines] in the door, the business community keeps them here,” Sprenger said. “That is a big difference. For example, when we talked to American Airlines about their projections for this winter season, they literally told us, ‘…This is the best of both worlds. We’re filling up airplanes on Fridays and Saturdays with people who are coming out to go skiing and we’re filling up Monday through Friday with people who are flying for business.’ And they can fill a whole flight. There’s a dynamic here that is rare in the tourism world to have also a thriving business community, so that leveraging those two segments together is what’s really making us stand out.”
Cris Jensen, director of the Missoula International Airport, and Jenni Graff from Missoula Economic Partnership (MEP) also shared about efforts to expand air service in Missoula. In many ways, Missoula’s airport is tracking just a few years behind Bozeman in its growth and expansion. According to Jensen, Missoula International Airport is ready to break ground on a new $72 million, 8-gate facility in the summer of 2018.
Like Bozeman, the Missoula Airport is looking to fill gaps in service to key cities, such as flights to Chicago and San Francisco year-round instead of just during the summer season. Jensen also hopes to make service from Missoula to Los Angeles more accessible for business travelers. Sprenger believes that by next summer there’s a high likelihood Missoula will have air service to Dallas-Fort Worth. Missoula’s airport has some advantages Bozeman currently does not, such as year-round service to Portland. Missoula was also up 9.6% in enplanements last year – almost triple the national average, putting it neck-and-neck with Bozeman on this statistic.
“Missoula is probably following in the footsteps of our bigger brother [Bozeman Yellowstone] in that we kind of view them as the cutting edge of what’s going on in the country in terms of air service development,” Jensen said. Bozeman’s example often helps Missoula make the case to stakeholders for new initiatives. “We can point to what worked in Bozeman and say it will work in Missoula,” Jensen said. “In general that tends to be a true story.”
The Bozeman and Missoula airports have taken the extraordinary approach of partnering rather than competing to expand air service. “One of the dynamics that’s changing now is that airports are working much more closely than we ever have,” Jensen said. “For the first time, two airports – Missoula and Bozeman – sat down with a major airline and told them they should come to Montana. Missoula said you should go to Bozeman first because it makes sense. You’ll be successful, and then you should come to Missoula and the other communities. We’ve changed the dynamic. American Airlines said ‘We’ve never seen this. We’ve never seen airports come together and sit in front of us.’ [We] recognize that we all have a symbiotic relationship. In the past I don’t think we recognized it.”
The Missoula Airport and partners like the Missoula Economic Partnership recognize that Missoula doesn’t have large contributors such as the Yellowstone Club, Big Sky Resort, or RightNow Technologies/Oracle in Bozeman to help fund flight guarantees. Instead, Missoula has taken a creative, collaborative approach to inspire increased support from airlines and the community. Jensen got the Missoula Airport into the business of baggage handling – a rare iniative for an airport – to help make it easier for airlines to expand service in Missoula. And efforts are underway to raise a $1 million fund from smaller contributions by individuals and the business community to help incentivize more direct flights to Missoula.
The Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID) – an initiative of local hoteliers to expand tourism in Missoula – formed in 2010 and has partnered with Destination Missoula (the local convention and visitors bureau), MEP, and the Missoula Airport. In 2014, they were successful in bringing Frontier Airlines to Missoula with direct flights to and from Denver, CO. Jensen noted his own surprise that Frontier is still offering that service from Missoula to Denver three years later.
Jensen and Sprenger both invited suggestions for airport facility improvements from the frequent flyers at the CEO Roundtable. Improved broadband and cell service, more charging stations, and access for Uber drivers were at the top of the list.
PROMOTE: Lightning Talks Feature Quiq (formerly Centricient) and Ascent Vision
Mike Myer, founder and CEO of the company formerly known as Centricient, unveiled his firm’s name change to Quiq (pronounced Quick) at the Feb. 21streception. Launched in October 2015, the rapidly-growing software startup now has 25 employees and closed a $6.5 million round of funding in August 2016 led by Venrock (venture capital arm of the Rockefeller family) and followed by Next Frontier Capital.
“The fundamental premise of what we’re building is that the world communicates via mobile,” Myer said. “More than half the internet traffic is mobile, we probably spend more time on the internet on mobile devices than any other way. But customer service hasn’t really changed to advance in the same way that the communications have changed.” Quiq is forging a text messaging channel between consumers and companies.
Myer was previously CTO of RightNow Technologies, which sold to Oracle in 2011 for $1.8 billion. Quiq’s platform builds on the enterprise scale of RightNow, working with the largest brands. Myer’s team released its first product in September 2016 and customers so far include Jackson Hole, Simms’ Fishing Products, and a Fortune 100 retailer adopting messaging across their entire customer service platform. Myer encouraged customers who want to reach Quiq to text for an immediate reply.
Tim Sheehy, a former Navy SEAL officer and Army Ranger, spoke about his decision to launch Ascent Vision in 2013. A native Minnesotan, Sheehy decided to “plant the flag” for his company in Bozeman in November 2014 with the vision to commercialize aerial surveillance capabilities used in the military for private-sector business applications. His clients include General Motors, which is using Ascent Vision’s sensors for several of its self-driving vehicles.
Ascent Vision now employs 50 people worldwide and is building a new 30,000 sq. ft. facility at Bozeman airfield. Sheehy noted the company has invested about $4 million into the local economy in the last 18 months through wages, new construction, and supply chain contracts. The team mainly includes young graduates of Montana State University and military veterans.
“Montana has been a great place to build a business,” Sheehy said. “Bozeman has been a great home for us. They’ve embraced us, they’ve helped us…We’re really happy to be supporting the community that’s supporting us. I think we’ve got a lot more growth to come.”
ACCELERATE: 2017 Survey Finds Montana’s High Tech Industry Surpassed $1 Billion in Revenue Last Year
The Montana High Tech Business Alliance also shared preliminary results of our 2017 survey report from the UM Bureau of Business and Economic Research. According to BBER’s findings:
- The Montana-based activities of Alliance members were responsible for $1.09 billion in gross sales in 2016.
- Members expect to hire 963 people in 2017, a 19.2 percent increase.
- Montana high-tech businesses are still growing 7 times the overall Montana economy and paying twice the median wage.
This year’s survey includes responses from 82 non-member high-tech and manufacturing companies (in addition to 138 member responses) and adds new insights on Montana’s business climate and beneficial business resources.
The 2017 report will be released to members, the public, and the media on Thursday, March 2.
Christina Quick Henderson is executive director of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance, a statewide membership organization made up of more than 300 high tech and manufacturing firms and affiliates. Search for Montana career opportunities at MTHighTech.org/jobs.