Study predicts growth in high-tech sector

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Employment and revenue in the high-tech sector are growing faster than any other Montana industries, according to a study by the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

The study, commissioned by the Montana High Tech Business Alliance, found that employment and revenue are growing seven times faster than the statewide economy, with salaries increasing 30 percent faster than other sectors.

This is the second year the Bureau conducted the study for the High Tech Business Alliance.

“The numbers were good last year, so it was exciting to see them getting better this year,” said Christina Henderson, executive director of the Alliance. While Montana’s projected growth in non-farm earnings for 2016 came in around 3 percent, projected revenue growth among the Alliance’s firms was at 20 percent for 2016.

 The Alliance firms surveyed said they expect a 19.3 percent increase in employment, 4 percent more than the previous year.

The Bureau study surveyed 200 members of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance, which has more than 250 high-tech and manufacturing firms, twice as many as this time last year. According to the study, the number of firms in the high-tech industry might be two or three times higher than the amount represented in the survey sample, which was limited to Alliance members.

”When we launched our organization in 2014, no one was measuring what was happening in high tech,” Henderson said. “One of the gaps we could fill as an organization is to just survey our membership, work with the University of Montana and set a benchmark so we can track the numbers over time.”

The survey given to high-tech business leaders in the state produced the expectation of 940 new jobs in 2016 with an average annual salary of $57,000.

Bureau Director Patrick Barkey said the study serves as an important assessment of one of Montana’s burgeoning sectors.

“Growth projected in high-tech businesses significantly exceeds average statewide economic growth,” Barkey said in a press release. “Median annual wages are much higher than in other sectors, and since we completed the first survey a year ago, they have increased by 12 percent.”

Much of the boost in numbers can be credited to large-scale businesses locating new offices in Montana. Several companies are drawn by the high quality of life for their employees, Henderson said. The study also found a handful of businesses moving remote offices to Montana cities such as Bozeman, Missoula and Dillon.

“We’re seeing areas in Montana like Kalispell where high-tech advancement is becoming the main thrust of their future expansion plan,” said Doug Schust, chief operating officer of Hagadone Digital in Kalispell. “High tech is drawing in a slightly different crowd, it’s influencing our educational system, it’s changing the way we hire and train people. Montana is becoming a tech hub.”

The 40-page study is available at www.bber.umt.edu and mthightech.org.

Reporter Seaborn Larson may be reached at 758-4441 or by email at slarson@dailyinterlake.com.

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