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City Desk

Montanans "innovative by nature" governor Bullock says


By Jim Larson

It’s business’s favorite buzz word. 

It’s associated with Silicon Valley and its heroes

It’s been prescribed as the cure for our economic ills.

It’s innovation, and we hold the term in full embrace.


No wonder then that Montana’s young progressive governor has been holding an annual symposium that’s all about it.


This year, that symposium came to Butte.


The October gathering called Innovate Montana 2019 was the fourth of the symposiums, and Montana’s Governor Steve Bullock has sponsored all four.


This year it was held at the Copper King Hotel, and it was organized by the Butte Local Development Corporation in partnership with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.


During opening remarks the governor said that it was only fitting that the symposium be held in Butte, because the city “even in challenging times will say, ‘How do we reinvent ourselves. How do we go that much further to ensure that opportunity exists.’”


He encouraged those attending the symposium to get out into the community and talk to its “creatives, makers, and thinkers,” He singled out Courtney and John McKee for running a successful business in a community-minded manner in Butte.


Governor Bullock told the crowd that on one hand “all of the markers” were in place for the state’s success to continue.  He noted that the nation was “currently in the longest recorded expansion in US history.” Montana’s labor force was the largest in its history. That force had enjoyed the sixth fastest growth in average wage over the last decade in the nation. That wage growth pushed Montana to lead the nation in median household income growth. Montana also had the highest rate of business ownership in the nation, the governor noted. The state was fourteenth in the nation for business startups, Bullock said.



Incorporating the theme of the 2019 gathering, Bullock said that he believed that Montana’s business owners were “innovative by nature.” He noted that those businesses were able to survive in a world dominated by big box stores and the Internet.


The governor argued that Montanans weren’t just innovating in knowledge-based industries such as financial technology, photonics, bioscience, and software. The state’s traditional businesses were innovators as well. He noted that Montana has the largest number of acres in cultivation of hemp in the nation. That revelation drew a big cheer from the audience.


Montana had more investment capital available in the state than ever before, the governor noted. That allowed “high growth” businesses to stay in Montana. Montana boasted the sixth best business tax environment in the nation.


And the business climate wasn’t the only thing that made the state attractive to business, the governor said. Clean air, clean water, and outdoor recreation made Montana a great place to locate a company as well.


Traveling the state, the governor said that he saw innovation in every sector and in every size of business. He pointed to Philipsburg brewing and a repurposing of the water that it uses to brew its beer. The company has been selling water from the spring that lies beneath its facility. Packaging the water in recyclable aluminum cans, the company has been able to provide water to consumers in Yellowstone Park in an environmentally friendly manner, the governor noted.


The state’s biggest economic challenge now, noted Bullock, was to find “that talented and trained workforce.”


As Montana’s economy grows and its population ages, the state faces a workforce shortage, the governor said. The unemployment rate in Montana is 3.3 percent, a ten-year low, he said.


He said that the state’s innovators would have to step up to the challenge and find ways to improve worker training. Workers would have to be given the knowledge and experience needed to replace the retiring workforce. He said that a partnership between the private sector and higher education has produced the best results so far. He added that the state had to try to “maintain a pipeline of talented and trained workers in those demand jobs.”


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