Three Montana Business Trends for 2015 – #1. Growing Industry Clusters Attract Attention

By Christina Henderson

When we founded the Montana High Tech Business Alliance in April 2014, our expectation was that by January 2015 we would reach 50 members. Our ranks have swelled to more than 130 member firms by the New Year. It’s clear the size and growth potential of Montana’s high tech and manufacturing sector have been underestimated, even by those of us inside the industry.

Over the last nine months, I’ve had the privilege of hearing from members across the state about their plans for the year ahead and some patterns have emerged. This is the first of a series of three posts detailing trends I see coming in 2015.

  1. Growing Industry Clusters Attract Attention

The Montana High Tech Business Alliance aims to unite diverse technology and manufacturing firms under one umbrella, but within our ranks industry clusters are starting to emerge. Software/ software-as-a-service (SaaS) is by far the largest industry sub-group in the Alliance, with around 20 firms. Other states have identified software as a key segment of the tech sector worthy of special attention, and it’s time for Montana to do the same.

There is a lack of awareness – both in and out of the state – of the volume and caliber of Montana software companies. We need to do a better job of marketing Montana’s success stories. Many of our state’s high-growth companies – those that have scaled quickly and created significant numbers of high-paying jobs – are in the software space.

  • Launched in 1997, Bozeman-based RightNow Technologies employed more than 1,000 people when it sold to Oracle for $1.8 billion in 2012. RightNow’s cloud-based customer relationship management software became the core of Oracle’s Cloud Services division in Bozeman.
  • Zoot Enterprises in Bozeman has been around since 1990, providing credit decisioning and loan origination solutions for the nation’s most influential financial institutions, including three of the top five U.S. banks. Zoot is still privately held and employs more than 250 people.
  • Education Logistics (EDULOG) in Missoula created the first routing and scheduling software for school districts over 35 years ago and has stayed ahead of the curve with GPS and student tracking solutions, including mobile apps. The privately-held company has more than 150 employees and plans to grow significantly in 2015.
  • Workiva is an Iowa-based SaaS company whose platform allows companies to submit business reports, such as SEC filings, digitally. Workiva’s customers include more than 65 percent of Fortune 500 companies. The company has grown to nearly 1,000 employees since its launch in 2008 and went public in December 2014. Workiva’s CTO, Jeff Trom, and its second-largest development office are located in Bozeman, with around 70 employees.

Beyond software, the Montana High Tech Business Alliance membership includes clusters in consulting, manufacturing, marketing, and professional services. In recent years, Montana companies have formed other industry groups like the Montana Bioscience Alliance, Montana Manufacturing Council, and Montana Photonics Industry Alliance.

Expect to see more attention paid in 2015 to the particular needs of growing sub-groups in the technology sector – including educated workforce, customized training programs, infrastructure needs like broadband, affordable airfares, and access to capital.

This post is part one in a three-part series about Montana business trends in 2015.  Read part two here: Serious Startups Take Center Stage or part three here: Remote Work Options Attract High-Tech Talent.

About the Author: Christina Quick Henderson is executive director of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance, a statewide membership organization made up of more than 130 high tech and manufacturing firms and affiliates. More information on the Alliance can be found at: www.MTHighTech.org.