When I was younger, I could count on hearing this phrase whenever I traveled with my family. I used to laugh at my parents’ stories of people asking if they had electricity or rode horses to work because I couldn’t believe anyone would say those things seriously. But, as I got older and left Montana for college, those questions didn’t stop.
I’m always surprised by these remarks, because I think it’s the combination of small towns, rich university life, and talented, forward thinking people that makes Montana such a special and dynamic place. I grew up surrounded by news of events like the Oracle acquisition, meeting people from all over the country who had come to take advantage of MSU’s top STEM programs, and having the parents of my classmates be renowned researchers, engineers, and business owners. As a result, I never doubted there were myriad opportunities here. What I’ve realized is Bozeman and Montana are growing and changing so rapidly that the stereotypes can’t keep up. To those on the outside, it might not be obvious, but if you’re paying attention, you know big changes are happening in Big Sky Country.
The fact that the population of Bozeman increased by almost 10,000 between 2010 and 2018 may not seem significant to people from major cities. But to someone who was here in the 90s when the population was less than half of today’s, it’s clear Bozeman is quickly becoming a hub of activity in the Rocky Mountain West. While it comes as no surprise that Broomfield County (adjacent to Boulder and CU) is growing at 3.9x times the national average, Gallatin County isn’t far behind at 2.7x. The Bozeman Micropolitan Area in particular was ranked as the fastest growing in the nation per the US Census Bureau in 2018, meaning that even though it isn’t as prominent as the Boulder area, it’s quickly making a name for itself.
But populations are increasing everywhere. So what makes the growth in Bozeman and Montana such a big deal? It’s backed by powerful economic activity. In 2018, Policom named Gallatin County the country’s strongest economy of its size for the second year in a row. A third of Montana job growth over the last five years was located in Gallatin Valley, and the Montana High Tech Business Alliance now boasts over 350 member technology firms across the state that were projected to add over 1,100 new jobs in 2018. On top of that, last March they reported that tech companies in Montana generated more than $2.3 billion in annual revenues in 2018 and were reported to be growing at rates nine times faster than the statewide economy.
On top of economic activity, Montana State University continues to attract some of the brightest minds from across the state and nation, boasting continuously growing enrollment every year since 2008. And when people graduate, they aren’t leaving. Montana’s high quality of life and exploding employment opportunities are allowing people to choose to stay right here.
The combination of economic growth and talented, educated people has Montana attracting major company operations and investment. Some of the most notable include SoFi, Classpass, Dataminr, FICO, Oracle, Boeing, Workiva, and Figure to name a few. And this doesn’t even count the multiple professional service partners across the state who work directly with companies such as Medallia, Qualtrics, Salesforce, and Marketo. Regarding talent, perhaps the industry’s leading technology recruiting firm, Riviera Partners, boasts a high performing office in Bozeman that complements their SF HQ. Lastly, there’s a strong crop of home-grown Montana technology companies such as Submittable, Quiq, LumenAd, Blackmore Sensors, Foundant, OnX Maps, and PFL that collectively employ hundreds of Montanans in high paying technology jobs.
This is important for NFC because it means Montana is becoming a place where entrepreneurs can find everything they need to thrive, and that major national investors are taking a closer look at local companies. Previously, a significant barrier for Montana entrepreneurs was a lack of access to capital, and a lack of visibility outside the state. This was one of the main reasons NFC was founded in 2015—to help start-ups obtain the seed to series A funding they need to get off the ground and gain the size, revenues, and business models required to catch the eyes of later stage investors.
Over the past four years, we’ve seen capital come flooding in from Funds all over the country. And the trend of a growing population pursuing higher education and entering fast growing sectors like SaaS, hardware, and biotech looks like it’s only going to pick up speed. After taking a step back, it’s not hard to understand why. As more and more people discover the beauty and opportunity the state has to offer, individuals will continue to flock from all over to live, work, study, and raise their families in Montana. When people move, their ideas, past experiences and future passions come with them, positioning us in the center of what we see as a demographic storm ripe for the development of a stronger and stronger start-up and investment ecosystem.
So yes, I’m from Montana. I have electricity, running water, and I only ride a horse to work when my tractor is out of gas. But in all seriousness, what do I do here? I’m the newest employee at Next Frontier Capital, and I’m energized by the opportunity to meet local founders and see what our firm does to help them grow and scale their innovative, high-potential companies on a daily basis. But let’s flip the question since you asked. What could you do here? The possibilities are endless, but one thing’s for sure. Montana is growing, and I know our companies are hiring :)