“Big Sky” country is rapidly becoming home to big tech.
Though it does not have a reputation as a top state for technology, Montana’s IT sector is now growing nearly seven times as fast as the state’s overall economy.
The state is expected to add nearly 1,000 new tech jobs in 2017, according to a University of Montana of 220 Montana-based tech companies. Those jobs have average annual salaries of $60,000, nearly double the median in the state, while the local cost of living is a fraction of what workers are used to in Silicon Valley.
According to the Bankrate cost of living (which factors in a basket of goods including average home prices, food, and various services), if a worker in Bozeman earned $60,000 to achieve the same standard of living in San Francisco he or she would need to earn $103,000, or 71 percent more. In Manhattan, that climbs to $132,000, or a 120 percent increase.
The burgeoning tech industry has been a boon for Montana native Tom Sturgis, who moved back to the state six years ago from Washington, D.C. Sturgis opened an office in Missoula for his firm, Advanced Techhnology Group, with a single employee. Now, Sturgis said in an interview with CBS News, “We’re looking to hire between 35 to 40 this year.”
Another city benefitting from the tech sector’s growth is Bozeman. That’s where Greg Gianforte, an entrepreneur and now a congressional candidate, started software company RightNow Technologies with $5,000 in 1997. In 2011, Oracle () bought it for $1.8 billion.
“The internet was causing the biggest discontinuity in business we had seen in decades.” Gianforte said.
Still, the sector faces challenges in the state, including finding workers to fill the jobs. Some 27 percent of respondents in the University of Montana survey said the largest impediment to faster growth was “attracting talent or hiring skilled workers.”