Montana Chamber of Commerce: Eye on Business, Spring 2022

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The Next Wave of Innovation



PO Box 1730 Helena, MT 59624-1730


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5 President/CEO Message

24 Montana Chamber of Commerce Staff

26 Upcoming Events & About Eye on Business

16 18 20


A Success Story: Envision 2026 Progress Report M A N U FAC T U R I N G

Robotics in Montana Manufacturing: The Next Wave of Innovation WO R K F O R C E

Long-Term Workforce Solutions YO U T H P R O G RA M S

Youth Entrepreneurs and The Prospects ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Equipping Local Entrepreneurs for Scalable Growth: The Key to Realizing Montana’s Economic Potential

406.431.3248 • 616 Helena Ave. Ste 300 • PO Box 1730 • Helena, MT 59624







WORKING HARD FOR YOU EVERY DAY. For years, Montana has consistently ranked as one of the top entrepreneurial states in the country. According to The Blueprint, a national publication focusing on business and tech enterprises, Montana is the top state in the nation based on six factors: tax climate, consumer spending, rate of new entrepreneurs, business survival over five years, labor costs, and overall environmental climate.

Todd O’Hair

President and CEO

And COVID-19 be damned, 2021 was a record-breaking year for business startups in Montana.


Governor Greg Gianforte and Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen recently announced that over 51,500 new businesses registered in 2021—a new record and 12,000 more than the previous record set in 2020. Entrepreneurism is a foundational strength for an economy, creating wealth in entire communities and regions. The massive growth of new business registrations in Montana is a good sign for our economy and signals that our economy is evolving, growing, and creating diverse opportunities for the entire state of Montana. Leading the evolution of Montana’s economy is the quickening pace of growth in our high tech sector. According to the Montana High Tech Business Alliance and a study by Dr. Pat Barkey, the Montana high tech business sector set a record in 2020, hitting $2.9 billion in revenue and creating jobs that paid, on average, $73,000 annually—59% more than average earnings in Montana. High tech is growing at nearly seven times the rate of the rest of the Montana economy. Technology is also tearing down the geographical barrier that has limited Montana’s growth throughout our history, creating even more opportunities for entrepreneurs. Quoting former Montana Chamber Board Chair, Paul Hopfauf with MDU Resources: “Being encumbered by geography is no longer a limitation.” Promoting Montana’s evolving economic diversity, Senator Steve Daines and the Montana Chamber Foundation announced the Montana “On The Rise” Economic Summit that will be held on Thursday, June 2, 2022 in Bozeman, Montana. The Summit will highlight Montana’s emerging and existing industries and the innovative and transformative role they have in economic development and job creation in Montana. The Montana Chamber of Commerce is the state’s largest business advocacy organization, with over 2000 members, from sole proprietors to publicly traded companies. We are committed to continually improving Montana’s business climate, appropriate investment in infrastructure, providing solutions to workforce challenges, and ensuring Montana’s ranking as one of the top entrepreneurial states in the country.

Todd O’Hair




Missoula 800-823-6262 Billings 800-823-8282








SPA | 800.332.3272


A Success Story:

Envision 2026 Progress Report By Courtney Oppel

It’s hard to believe that we’ve already reached the halfway point of Envision 2026. In 2016, the Montana Chamber developed this bold, ten-year plan to create opportunities for business growth and prosperity in the Treasure State. And just five years later, we’ve made tremendous progress in realizing our Envision 2026 goal of improving Montana’s business climate, quality of life, talent pipeline, and entrepreneurship through regulatory and legal reform, infrastructure investment, and workforce development. ENVISION 2026: DRIVING MONTANA FORWARD Envision 2026 focuses on what the Montana Chamber identified as the four pillars of a competitive and thriving economy: a healthy business climate, strong infrastructure, an educated and skilled workforce, and the encouragement and promotion of entrepreneurship, particularly among our youth. We’re excited to share with Montana Chamber members the progress we’ve made in every one of these areas, as well as our vision going forward.



Improving Montana’s business climate has been the core mission of the Montana Chamber from its very inception. Toward that end, we’ve focused on promoting what’s already working well, finding creative and effective ways of fixing what isn’t working, and actively pursuing legislative efforts that support our mission while opposing legislation that we know will ultimately hurt the businesses in our state. Preventing antibusiness legislation is just as important as advancing good bills. In that vein, the Montana Chamber is often the leading or sole voice for business against bad policy that, if passed, would have discouraged investment and job creation in our

state. Since launching Envision 2026, the Montana Chamber has successfully opposed more than one hundred bad bills for business, from tax increases to unreasonable regulations, and helped guide through our state legislature many bills that we know will improve the business climate for Montana businesses, business owners, and their employees.

Advocating for Tax Reform Recognizing that our state’s tax structure is an integral part of the business climate, over the past twenty years the Montana Chamber has pursued legislative advocacy efforts that have resulted in saving Montana businesses and employees approximately $149 million per year through business equipment tax reductions, $75 million per year in income tax decreases, and $379 million per year by defeating other proposed tax increases. Specifically, here are some legislative wins the Montana Chamber has helped usher through our state legislature during the last three sessions: In 2021: HB 303 increased the Business Equipment Tax exemption from $100,000 to $300,000. SB 399 and SB 159 simplified the tax code and reduced individual income taxes. In 2019: SB 318 allows pre-approval of tax abatement for new and expanding

industry. HB 386 provides additional flexibility for a commercial property owner to cancel delinquent taxes accrued by a prior owner. And SB 111 continued the charitable endowment tax credit, which has saved Montana individuals and businesses nearly $7 million since 2010. In 2017: SB 317 reduced penalty and interest assessments levied on business taxpayers. SB 132 provided a tax exemption for installing pollution control equipment, saving Montana businesses nearly $23 million since its passage. And HB 226 increased tax abatement for new and expanding industry, saving Montana businesses more than $4 million since its passage. As part of Envision 2026, we also have pursued research initiatives to help us identify what tax policy changes would encourage businesses to be attracted to and/or remain in our state. In February 2020, we commissioned a scientific poll of Montana voters about our state’s tax structure to help us identify effective tax reform messaging with the voting public. In December 2018, a study of Montana’s tax structure helped us identify incremental reforms for our tax structure that became starting points for our longterm tax reform advocacy efforts. continued on page 8



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INVESTING IN INFRASTRUCTURE As another pillar of Envision 2026, developing and maintaining a strong infrastructure across our great state has been a principal focus of the Montana Chamber’s legislative advocacy efforts. In 2018, we engaged with the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research to study the issue. According to this study, more than 10 percent of Montanans owned a business as a primary job, compared with only six percent of all Americans. Around 3,400 Montanans start a new business each month, and more than half of those startups are still operating five years later. These findings indicate that our state has a healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem. Smart public investments in infrastructure are necessary to continue to support those small businesses, which rely increasingly on fast, dependable Internet connectivity, sound roads and bridges to effectively move goods and services, and clean water and other public utilities to support their daily operations. However, Montana’s political landscape over the last decade has made infrastructure investment an uphill battle. Using Envision 2026 dollars as seed capital, the Montana Chamber formed the Montana Infrastructure Coalition after the state government repeatedly failed to approve bonding legislation for capital projects. This coalition of private companies, trade associations, and governments throughout Montana has led the charge in identifying infrastructure projects that communities need for a healthy economy. The Montana Chamber and others built the Montana Infrastructure Coalition to get results, which is exactly what it has done. As funding and opportunities emerge to address specific infrastructure types, the Coalition has invested in research that has helped build the case for many legislative victories. Some Envision 2026-commissioned studies include: • The June 2018 “Economic Impact of the Early Retirement of Colstrip Units 3 and 4,” which measured jobs, wages and tax collections of a major infrastructure asset in Montana. • The March 2018 “Case for Carbon Capture,” which explored an environmentally friendly strategy to prolong the life of existing major infrastructure assets in Montana. 8


• The December 2016 “Funding of the Montana Transportation System,” which educated decision-makers about existing transportation funding in Montana. • The November 2016 “Capping the Coal Severance Tax Trust Fund – Impact and Alternative,” which identified a potential ongoing funding source for core infrastructure assets in Montana. • The November 2016 “Overview of Critical Local Government Infrastructure Needs,” which demonstrated the need for infrastructure funding reform during the 2017 Legislature. • The November 2016 “Impact of Restoring Coal Severance Tax Flow to Treasure State Endowment Trust,” which explored alternative infrastructure funding policy. • The November 2016 “Montana’s Local Option Resort Tax,” which educated decision-makers on the existing policy as they considered general local option tax proposals.


qualifications needed to successfully fill job openings. Our Envision 2026 plan forward includes helping businesses pay for additional education and work-based learning programs, such as job shadowing and apprenticeships, that will equip workers to successfully fill openings in targeted, high-demand industries. We also support dual enrollment opportunities for high school students to earn college credits. In addition, we believe that growth in the area of career and technical education (CTE) courses for middle and high school students will better prepare them for the workplace. We look forward to using the valuable data from our Workforce Survey to help policymakers and education officials understand how to drive fundamental changes in Montana’s middle and high schools. Thanks to the vision and enthusiastic support of the Montana Chamber Foundation, we also have been able to bring to Montana two programs that can bring tremendous growth potential in the areas of workforce readiness and entrepreneurship: Youth Entrepreneurs and The Prospects.


The Montana Chamber recognizes that the workforce challenges in our state require a collaborative approach to address complicated issues impacting employees and businesses. We work with the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, the Montana Department of Commerce, the Office of Public Instruction, and the Montana University System to communicate what training solutions and programs will best prepare our state’s workforce to meet business needs. According to our 2020 Workforce Survey, which compiled responses from over 750 respondents within the Montana business community and gathered results of four executive focus groups comprised of dozens of community leaders, the Montana Chamber discovered several key challenges business owners face in recruiting qualified employees. While unemployment rates continued to spiral downward as roughly 85 percent of Montana businesses were experiencing growth, 64 percent of businesses reported difficulty filling both entry-level and mid-level positions. In addition to getting too few applicants for each position, Montana business owners reported that many applicants lacked the interpersonal skills and other

The Montana Chamber Foundation: Investing in Tomorrow’s Workforce The Montana Chamber Foundation (MCF) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization run by the Montana Chamber’s executive director, Todd O’Hair, and the Montana Chamber Foundation Board of Directors. Established by the Montana Chamber of Commerce, the MCF provides an important structure for the MCC to fund business education and encourage entrepreneurship among K–12 and undergraduate students, participate in research projects, host events that promote economic development opportunities, and administer funds that support workforce readiness and entrepreneurship programs in the Big Sky State. The Foundation Board of Directors supports the mission and vision of the Foundation by bringing together the education and business communities from all across Montana in mutually beneficial partnerships. Our board members are actively involved in providing education that promotes free enterprise and develops a strong workforce to support a growing, vibrant economy. Each August, MCF sponsors the ever-popular Governors’ Cup golf tournament, one of Montana’s premier networking events and MCF’s

largest annual fundraiser. The three-daylong Governors’ Cup, held in Montana’s beautiful Flathead Valley, brings together hundreds of business and government leaders in what has become the state’s largest business sporting event.

Youth Entrepreneurs In 2017, having identified the lack of a skilled workforce as the main impediment to the growth of businesses in our state, the MCF reached out to Youth Entrepreneurs for solutions to help overcome this serious hurdle. Youth Entrepreneurs (YE) is a nationally recognized program that develops employability traits and instills economic and entrepreneurial principles in our future workforce. YE uniquely supports the Envision 2026 pillar of Workforce Readiness, which focuses on creating an appropriately educated and skilled workforce to meet the needs of a growing economy while engaging with students, teachers, and schools. Beginning with a pilot program of six teachers, YE brought to Montana a project-based curriculum that teaches soft skills, encourages an entrepreneurial mindset, utilizes activitybased learning, and allows students to try new things using experiential self-discovery. In 2021, after witnessing the growing success of YE programs across our great state, the Montana Chamber hired a fulltime YE Coordinator, Tiana Yates. She recently graduated with a master’s degree in teaching, and previously worked as a high school teacher in Colstrip. It

was there she was introduced to Youth Entrepreneurs and was able to put the practical curriculum to the test. “When I started teaching, I had to build my own curriculum from scratch,” said Yates. “I wanted something that applied to real life and that got kids out of their seats. YE provides training in a lot of employability traits and encourages the students to do so much learning themselves. It seemed too good to be true. But when I saw some of those skills starting to come to life in my students, I realized that’s something I wish all teachers had access to.” As a YE educator and ambassador, Yates had opportunities to help with a YE video in Massachusetts, enter a Big Pitch competition to present new curriculum ideas, and participate in a presentation at a YE national conference. Since joining the Montana Chamber, Yates has presented and provide hands-on demonstrations of YE curriculum at a national Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) conference, as well as for Business Professionals of America (BPA), the nation’s leading Career Technical Student Organization (CTSO). By the time Yates came on board last fall, the YE program had grown from the original six teachers to fiftythree. Thanks to Yates’ enthusiasm and hard work, that number has more than doubled—to 127—and continues to grow. Overall, 84 schools in 78 communities currently offer this curriculum. “My goal is to keep up that momentum by keeping teachers motivated and involved,” said Yates. “Governor Gianforte even joined a recent Zoom meeting with YE teachers because he sees the value of getting this program into more schools across

our state.” During that call, the governor encouraged the teachers to continue their efforts. “Government doesn’t create jobs. Businesses do,” Gianforte said. “Expansion of good-paying jobs in Montana relies on entrepreneurs.” Yates continues to develop big plans for this program going forward. “We’re also looking into how we can integrate this curriculum into all schools, K-12, and hopefully create a structure for other chambers to implement this program in their communities,” said Yates. “I am genuinely excited to introduce Youth Entrepreneurs into all the schools across Montana. I am certain it will change the way communities view education and produce students who are prepared for whatever life holds for them.” Using Technology to Introduce Alternative Careers In addition to introducing new curriculum into Montana high schools, Youth Entrepreneurs sponsors creative ways to introduce students to exciting new career opportunities made possible by the latest technological innovations. Last spring, partnering with Youth Entrepreneurs and RDO Equipment Company, the Rapelje schools and community was awarded a two-day drone exhibition. The turnout from the community went far beyond what was anticipated, with hundreds of students and others traveling to Rapelje, which itself has a population of about 120. Adam Gilbertson, Vice President of RDO, said, “The world is changing rapidly, which creates new opportunities for young people in a traditional industry continued on page 11



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that they weren’t maybe expecting.” In addition to a video call from Governor Gianforte, YE President Kylie Stupka attended and spoke at the event. “We’re hoping that this experiment with the Montana Chamber will help us formulate a pilot that we can take to other states.” “This is one of the great things about Youth Entrepreneurs,” said Montana Chamber President and CEO Todd O’Hair. “It’s teaching those principles that we hear businesses are lacking the most, such as critical thinking, problem-solving, thinking outside of the box, taking responsibility. Montana Chamber is taking the charge instilling and developing those critical skills that are most needed in the workplace.”



As evidenced by the higher-thanaverage percentage of business owners reported by University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research in 2018, Montana leads the nation in entrepreneurship. In fact, according to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Missoula and Bozeman enjoy some of the highest levels of entrepreneurship in the nation in terms of startup and high-growth companies. A study by the Montana High Tech Business Alliance found that this high level of entrepreneurship is leveraged by networks of active local support organizations, non-profits, universityrelated organizations, government, and successful entrepreneurs who serve as mentors to younger, up-and-coming entrepreneurs. While legislation can clear obstacles for entrepreneurs and help cultivate a more business-friendly climate, the Montana Chamber and the Montana Chamber Foundation believe that—as entrepreneurs in Montana’s high-tech corridors have discovered—focusing our efforts on programs aimed at Montana’s youth will pay the biggest dividends in the long term. In November 2020, as a perfect complement to expanding the skills-based curriculum that Youth Entrepreneurs brings to grades 9–12, the Montana

Chamber launched The Prospects, a competition that rewards high school entrepreneurs.

The Prospects The Prospects is a virtual statewide entrepreneurship competition with scholarships and cash prizes for high school students with new ideas and existing small businesses. This is a collaborative initiative with Youth Entrepreneurs for investing in our students and developing a mentorship platform for connecting them with business and community leaders. Last year’s competition had a $53,000 prize purse, 93 submissions, and more than 70 Montana leaders stepping up to volunteer their time to review and judge student submissions. With categories like Best New Business Idea, Best Existing Business, Most Promise, Rural, and Urban, The Prospects connects Montana students with industry experts through the Chamber Foundation for mentoring, internships, apprenticeships, and workbased learning opportunities. “The Youth Entrepreneurs program really goes handin-hand with this competition,” said Yates. “In fact, we noticed that the students who were in YE classes had higher quality submissions,” demonstrating the added value of the YE curriculum’s hands-on, project-based approach. This year’s competition is in full swing and consists of two rounds, fall and spring, and is on track to have one hundred judges and two hundred (or

more!) student submissions. The Chamber Foundation, with the help of Matt Olson, the Montana Chamber’s Director of Network Development, has been raising money for the 2022 prize purse, now over $75,000. Currently, thanks to our generous sponsors, prize offerings include a combination of cash, scholarships from five colleges, and two Alaska Airline tickets. “This year, we’ve launched the Junior Prospects, a middle-school version of this program,” said Yates. “The opportunity prepares them for the high school competition, as well as encourages them to shoot for bigger and better things.” The goal of the program is to keep the entrepreneurial spirit alive and well in Montana by encouraging our youth to pursue their business dreams and connect them with our business community. BUILDING BUSINESS PARTNERSHIPS We at the Montana Chamber are excited and energized by the incredible strides we’ve made so far with our Envision 2026 goals, thanks to the incredible support of national organizations like Youth Entrepreneurs, the Montana Infrastructure Coalition, Montana’s schools and teachers, Governor Gianforte, our federal and state legislators who have sponsored pro-business bills and prevented detrimental bills from passing, the Montana Chamber Foundation, and, most of all, our members. We’re confident that we’ll continue to maintain the focus and momentum we’ve enjoyed so far as Envision 2026 drives us forward, and we’ll continue to work hard to help create a strong and prosperous Montana. stop

“This is one of the great things about Youth Entrepreneurs. It’s teaching those principles that we hear businesses are lacking the most, such as critical thinking, problem-solving, thinking outside of the box, taking responsibility.” TODD O’HAIR. MONTANA CHAMBER PRESIDENT AND CEO

Courtney Oppel is freelance writer and editor whose clients include Bangtail Press, Pearson Education, and Rowman & Littlefield. She earned a B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Montana-Missoula longer ago than she’d like to admit, and lives with her husband, son, daughter, and four-footed hiking partner, Lucy, in beautiful Helena, Montana.



”Bob” the Cobot and MMEC Associate Director Jenni West demonstrate a pick and place operation to staff at PDM in Manhattan, Montana.


Robotics in Montana Manufacturing: The Next Wave of Innovation By Carla Little


Over the years, Montana manufacturing has remained strong by adapting to changing resources, business models, and product demand. Only 25 years ago, the major manufacturing sectors were still mineral extraction and resource harvesting, led by a small number of larger companies. As these industries declined, forward-thinking Montana manufacturers moved in new directions.


ow companies are often smaller and more entrepreneurial, and they have found success in a broad range of diverse products, ranging from photonics to recreational equipment, from medical devices to organic food products, and much more. Another change that manufacturers in our state may be ready to adopt is more advanced automation—including robotics. Traditionally, industrial robots have been more common in large facilities, due to the large space requirements, technical support needs, and of course, hefty sticker price. Montana is dominated by small and medium size manufacturers (SMMs) who may have previously found robotics to be out of reach. (Montana fun fact: according to Dun & Bradstreet, our state currently has no manufacturing facilities large enough to be classified as a “large manufacturer”). But there are several reasons why even small manufacturers are now giving robotics a second look.

THE NEW GENERATION OF ROBOTIC EQUIPMENT IS SMALLER, MORE FLEXIBLE, AND LESS EXPENSIVE Meet “Bob,” who is a collaborative robot, or “cobot.” He is one example of a smaller, mobile automated tool that can be easily programmed (and re-programmed) to conduct highly repetitive tasks. For the last year, Bob has traveled around the state with Jenni West, Associate Director of the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center, to demonstrate his capabilities to manufacturers, business groups, educators, and students. He can be set up for a demo in about an hour and then packed for travel into two large cases. “One of Bob’s most commonly used skills is his ability to pick up and place components in precise locations,” said West. “The end of the robotic arm can be fitted with custom tools, so during continued on page 15




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the demonstrations, manufacturers can immediately envision applications not only in production, but also in inspection, packaging, and inventory management.” For example, on a visit to PDM in Manhattan, West demonstrated how the cobot could perform palletizing by stacking parts coming off a conveyor or out of a production operation with minimal programming or “training” done right on the arm itself. Cobots are also more affordable than many believe, with a quick return on investment (ROI) for many applications. While they excel at repetitive tasks, their versatility and mobility also provide opportunities for manufacturers to move them among several areas of operation as needs changes, unlike their larger industrial counterparts. EMPLOYEES SEE THE POTENTIAL FOR JOB IMPROVEMENT West has also witnessed a shift in how employees view robotics in the workplace. Those who have worked with large industrial robots in the past may have been wary of them due to concerns about safety or the potential impact on job opportunities. Technology advancements allow cobots to literally work alongside employees, with sensory features that greatly increase safety and reduce the risk of accidents. As employees physically engage with them, they can see and suggest additional uses based on their own experiences. “Sometimes at the beginning of a demonstration, employees may cautiously hang back from participating,”

said West. “But by the end, there’s often a couple who have thought of at least one tedious part of their job that they would be more than happy to hand off to a cobot.” This can also mean that employees may have the time and opportunity to learn more advanced skills and progress in the careers. Courtney Bakken, a production manager at Simms in Bozeman, noted, “What we’ve seen here with the introduction of new machines and a lot of automation are two really cool things. One, it’s allowed our more skilled trained workers to focus and dedicate their efforts on the more difficult tasks—the things that take more training, the more detailed work, the more skillful work. It’s also allowed new operators to be able to jump right in with loading and programming machines and be a part of production without have to spend weeks or even months in training.” EMPLOYERS SEE A TOOL FOR WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT In the current environment of worker shortages, robotics tools that decrease employee workload, enhance working conditions, expedite training, and supplement staffing can be one of the resources manufacturers employ to adapt to what appear to be long-term shifts in the workforce. “Attracting people to careers in manufacturing is a complex challenge, and we’ll all have to work together on a multi-faceted approach,” said Paddy Fleming, MMEC Director. “However, robotics and other forms of

automation can play a valuable role, especially as the technologies become more cost-effective and relevant for the mid-sized businesses common in our state. Eliminating repetitive tasks that are generally disliked by employees can increase job satisfaction and retention, and potentially reduce the number of jobs that can be difficult to fill—it’s a win-win for management and staff!” Cobots, as well as many other types of automation, including iPads or other tablets, cameras, and other types of sensors are becoming more commonplace around the state in all types of facilities, from machine shops to food processing and everything in between. For more information on automation or how to schedule a cobot demo at your facility, contact or at the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center ( stop

Carla Little is the Marketing and Communications Lead for the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center, based at Montana State University. MMEC is a statewide manufacturing outreach and assistance center that helps Montana manufacturers grow, innovate, and enhance their businesses. It is also part of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) National Network.




Long-Term Workforce Solutions By Matthew Olson


As part of the Montana Chamber’s ten-year strategic plan, Envision 2026, we are scaling programs that connect the business and education communities to solve a major challenge for our state—Workforce Readiness.


etween late 2019 and January 2022, through focus groups and one-on-one meetings, we surveyed over a 1000 business leaders around the state. It re-confirmed that the #1 key challenge to growth was a lack of available skilled workers. Employers are struggling to find employees, and especially those with strong workplace behavior and interpersonal skills necessary to be successful.


of business have turned down business opportunities due to workforce challenges. Businesses can train the skills necessary to complete the job, but they are less equipped to teach basics, such as: • Dependability/timeliness and work ethic • Dressing appropriately • Expectations of a workday, full work week, and time off • Putting the phone down • Calling in when sick rather than just not showing up Additionally, there are other Workforce Readiness skills that consistently show up in our employer surveys and discussions, including: • Leadership • Teamwork • Written and verbal communication • Critical thinking and problem solving • Adaptability • Basic computer literacy such as email, file sharing, and spreadsheets These survey results reaffirmed the Chamber’s focus and our efforts to be a part of the solution to these workforce challenges. Through the Montana Chamber Foundation (MCF) with financial support from business leaders for Envision 2026, 16


the Montana Chamber is funding two programs that are developing the workforce readiness skills and encouraging entrepreneurship among K–12 students. Youth Entrepreneurs is a nationally recognized program that develops employability traits and instills economic and entrepreneurial principles in our future workforce. Youth Entrepreneurs is currently in over 80 schools across Montana. Top among the many skills that the Youth Entrepreneurs program teaches students are personal accountability,

problem solving, and basic business economics, to name a few. The Prospects is a virtual statewide entrepreneurship contests for both high school and junior high students with over $70,000 in scholarships and cash prizes for students with new ideas and existing small businesses. The Prospects requires students to identify problems and offer solutions using basic economic understanding and promotes teamwork, written and verbal communication skills and leadership.

These programs change the way communities view education, as well as produce students who are prepared for life beyond the four walls of their current educational institution. Through our Youth Entrepreneurs program and The Prospects competition, the Montana Chamber is providing opportunities for mentorship and guidance by business leaders to engage with students through career awareness webinars, judging The Prospects business pitch competition, and hosting field trips that allow students to experience work environments. With support and direction from the Montana Chamber Board of Directors, the

Montana Chamber’s goal is to expand the Youth Entrepreneurs program and The Prospects competition to every school in Montana. These programs change the way communities view education, as well as produce students who are prepared for life beyond the four walls of their current educational institution. In addition to the Montana Chamber’s own unique programs, we are actively supporting Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs such as MACTE, FFA,

DECA, BPA and SkillsUSA by sponsoring and participation in their conferences, connecting students and educators with business mentors, and judging their competitions that are supporting the skills needed for Montana’s future workforce. THE PROSPECTS One of the ways we bring career awareness into the classrooms is by connecting Youth Entrepreneurs to our second program which is a high school business pitch competition called The Prospects. This competition is designed to find, celebrate, and reward promising high school students and provide them with mentorship, training, and access to business leaders. We promote a positive self-image as innovative problem-solvers and entrepreneurs to motivate high school students to realize their full potential. stop

Matthew joined the Montana Chamber of Commerce in October 2019 to increase our reach across the state and build partnerships that add value to our Members and Envision 2026 investors. Utilizing two decades of international sales / business development experience, and an insatiable entrepreneurial spirit, Matthew has an appetite for connecting people and building trust among leaders. Since moving home from Singapore in 2013, he has built complex growth strategies and interdisciplinary communities of leaders in the energy, water, financial, and health sectors. After graduating from the University of Montana in 2002, Matthew spent his early career in Asia managing regional sales teams for a Japanese technology company, supporting foreign multinational corporations expanding throughout the APAC Region.



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Youth Entrepreneurs and The Prospects By Tiana Yates



outh Entrepreneurs (YE) is a nationally recognized program founded over 30 years ago in Wichita, Kansas. It was brought to Montana in 2017 and was pioneered by six teachers. In just the past six months, the YE program has grown significantly in Montana and now boasts 150 teachers in 88 schools. The YE curriculum is designed to effectively develop employability traits and instill economic and entrepreneurial principles in our future workforce through the Foundational Principles that guide behavior. YE believes the Foundational Principles help students succeed in both the classroom and in life. The YE Foundational

Principles are: • • • • • • • •


By engaging with the curriculum, students learn behaviors business leaders are asking for—creative thinking, punctuality, putting away phones during work time—so when they get to a job site, they see how their role in the company directly impacts the company’s success.

YE encourages students to think outside the box and utilize critical thinking; two traits identified as lacking in today’s workforce. Within the YE curriculum, a program called “Think Outside the Box” encourages students to utilize YE’s Foundational Principals in a race to put together puzzles. The catch is, neither team will have all the correct pieces to their puzzle. This leads to trading and communicating with the other groups to solve the challenge. The Montana Chamber Foundation also brings career awareness into the classrooms by connecting YE to our second workforce readiness initiative—a high school business pitch competition called The Prospects. Through this competition, students are rewarded for their entrepreneurial ideas with cash, scholarships, mentorships, and experiences. Students utilize what they learn through YE to create a two-minute video and one-page business summary. Business leaders from across the state judge the submissions and mentor the students on their ideas. The Prospects—and now Junior Prospects for junior high students— connects the business and the education communities. Also, The Prospects provides teachers an opportunity to bring business leaders directly into their classrooms for relationship-building and real-life experience. YE and The Prospects are transforming the student experience and positioning students to be better prepared for the workforce. Both programs have gained incredible momentum in the last six months, and we’re looking forward to seeing how far we can go. stop

Tiana Yates is the Youth Entrepreneurs Coordinator for the Montana Chamber of Commerce and lives in Colstrip, Montana. She graduated college with a degree in Business and Economics and worked in the business world for a few years after graduation. Upon moving to Colstrip, she discovered her passion for education and taught business education classes at Colstrip High School for three years.



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Equipping Local Entrepreneurs for Scalable Growth: The Key to Realizing Montana’s Economic Potential By Jenni Graff


Montana has long been known for its boot-strapping entrepreneurship ethic, boasting some of the highest entrepreneurship rates in the nation, according to the Kauffman Foundation. But how do we harness this ethic to launch and grow more scalable startup companies in the state? How do we move Montana’s innovators out of labs and basements to selling unique solutions to the global market at scale?


calability is not a unique challenge, but the challenge is particularly acute in Montana, where local entrepreneurs tend to be wary of building a growth venture and taking on outside capital. Training, exposure, and connections for Montana’s entrepreneurs will ultimately be the key to encouraging entrepreneurs to build scalable companies within the state. When these efforts are successful and more startups start to scale, Montana can position itself well to compete in the new digital economy. DEFINING ‘SCALABLE’ “Scalable” companies have a number of unique characteristics which differentiate them from main street businesses. First, they create intellectual property through the form of an invention or an intangible innovative process. They also have a stated goal to grow and sell outside the state to large markets. Finally, the ultimate goal of the scalable organization is to be sold— either to a large competitor through an



acquisition, or by becoming a publicly traded company through an IPO (Rural Innovation Strategies, 2021). In general, scalable companies must compete on strategy, and rely on their ability to gain traction or marketshare quickly, before other competitors can get a foothold. These types of scalable companies often come out of research spin offs from university systems and need strong links to the business community in order to become commercially successful. When researchdriven entities are linked with the business community, their scientific and technological advances create incredible opportunities for the state. Neuro-ID is a scalable company born from research based in the Flathead Valley. The company recently closed a Series B funding round worth $35M to fuel its impressive growth. One of the founders, Joe Valacich, a graduate of the University of Montana, developed a mechanism to understand human intent by analyzing

computer mouse and keyboard movements. Neuro-ID is well on its way to becoming a significant commercial success for its cybersecurity and banking applications. Examples of high-potential research spin offs coming from the Montana University System include Resilient Computing, Nano Magnetic Solutions, and Dermaxon, which are building solutions for space computing, lab research tools for neurological disorders, and topical treatments for pain, respectively. These companies show incredible promise, but require deeper connections to the business sector to help open doors to new customers, assist with sales and marketing strategies, and funding in order to reach full commercial potential. WHY FOCUS ON SCALABLE STARTUPS? It is tech-leveraged companies that we must train to become growth ventures as they have the greatest potential to scale and diversify Montana’s economy. With their growth, scalable companies create the most net new jobs in the economy (StartUs Up, 2020). Historically, 35% of new positions in the US have been created by fast-growing companies (Mehta, 2020). One can easily argue that in the current environment, new job creation should not be the goal; it’s already too l difficult to find new employees. Instead, retraining the workforce to fill jobs requiring a moderate level of specialized tech skills should be the goal. Scalable startups will do that too. Startups play a critical role in workforce continued on page 22

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continued from page 20

training as they often hire younger and less experienced individuals and train them to become specialized employees with high-value skill sets in research, engineering, sales, marketing, operations, and other vocations that add substantially to the state economy (Oumet & Zarutskie, 2014). Therefore, investing in early stage, scalable businesses creates an outsized benefit because it builds a pipeline of growth-oriented businesses that will lead to quality job creation and workforce specialization (United States Department of Treasury State Small Business Credit Initiative, 2014). A scalable growth orientation requires startup founders to think differently than main street entrepreneurs, so it requires very different support, programming, and incubation initiatives. Montana has robust assets that have allowed scalable startups such as RightNow Technologies, OnXMaps, Printing4Less, Submittable, Neuro-ID, and others to thrive across the state over the past decade. But as the pace at which the world moves to the digital economy increases, so too must the rate of scalable startup generation within the state in order for us to sustain, compete, and grow the economy. MONTANA’S STARTUP CLIMATE STRENGTHS AND OPPORTUNITIES Strengths Montana boasts many inputs required to foster fertile grounds for startup communities. Each metropolitan city in the state now has a coworking space. Coworking spaces allow startups to access a shared office environment, and often serve as an informal community hub that drives collaboration and innovation in a physical location. The land grant universities in Montana both boast researchers developing cutting edge solutions in biotech, climate tech, cybersecurity, and fintech which hold the potential to spinoff the next big development in science or technology. 22


Both Montana universities offer Blackstone Launchpad programs which serve as catalysts for students, faculty, and alumni to gain business skills. These programs host startup plan competitions for students, and offer a number of resources to support student entrepreneurs. MSU has the added asset of TechLink, which helps companies develop partnerships with NASA and the Department of Defense. Recently, the Montana Chamber of Commerce developed “The Prospects” pitch competition to expose youth entrepreneurs to a culture that encourages problem-solving, the foundation of all solid business plans. The Montana High Tech Business Alliance has grown to over 300 member companies, and offers networking events and training for tech companies at any stage. The state also has two growth accelerator programs, C2M Beta and Early Stage Montana Accelerator Series, which have been designed to train entrepreneurs to move from the idea stage to investment ready. Many accelerators charge money or take equity in a company, whereas both these programs are free for selected participants, an added benefit for Montana’s cashstrapped startups who need to maintain equity as long as they can so they don’t give away too much of their company too early in its lifecycle. Opportunities While startup funding has long-been considered the achilles heel of scalable ventures starting in Montana, we are fortunate to have one of the most established angel investor groups in the country, Frontier Angels, which began making investments in Montana-based startups in 2006. In just five short years, venture capital investments in the state have gone from last in the nation to the middle-of-the pack, thanks to investments led by Montana-based firms Next Frontier Capital and Two Bear Capital. While Montana does have a robust basis upon which to cultivate scalable startups,

we face a few challenges. The first is the reason we live here—the expansive geography. It is difficult to build a critical mass of startups clustered around resources with so much distance between all of Montana’s innovators. However, during the pandemic, this challenge has become an opportunity: virtual events bring together communities now more than ever. What Montana may lack with regards to population density is what makes us so captivating. We have a population of startup founders who are committed to building companies here, as well as seasoned tech entrepreneurs and investors living here either full or part time who can provide much-needed advice and introductions to large potential customers. Just like John Steinbeck, there are highly specialized and knowledgeable people both in and out-of-state who possess a love of Montana and its people, and many are willing to give back to support the next generation of Montana-based entrepreneurs. Connecting Montana’s growth-oriented entrepreneurs to the right knowledge and support is no small task. Efforts to unify the state’s resources to grow a scalable startup culture have been limited and generally underfunded for such a large feat. And Montana’s startup founders don’t dream big until they have been exposed to a community of advisors who coach them to think beyond their daily grind. A survey of Early Stage Montana’s 2021 HyperAccelerator cohort found that each company’s anticipated revenue grew significantly after attending the training, and founders were 100% confident in their ability to achieve their projected revenues after completing the week-long course. In addition, the cohort underestimated their external funding needs significantly. While seed capital funding requirements increased for each firm, each founder reported feeling more prepared than before to raise significantly more outside capital. It is these

types of increases in confidence and growth orientation coupled with connections to expertise and advising, that Montana’s entrepreneurs need. Superior Traffic Services (STS), a Missoula-based firm credits the 2019 HyperAccelerator as being transformational to the company. Michael Sullivan of STS claimed,“The biggest realization after going through the HyperAccelerator was how big we could grow the business. At the time, we had five employees, and now we have over 35 employees. There is a big world of business out there and Early Stage helped us see it.” Specialized training programs for startup

founders have been proven to help founders become more growth oriented and provide them with access to needed resources allowing them to scale their companies successfully. Early Stage Montana has run its accelerator program for over three years and has worked with over 30 early stage companies to help them bulletproof their startups in the week-long accelerator course. Those companies have gone on to create over 100 jobs and generate over $35M in new investment in just three years. In summary, Montana has fertile grounds for growing a robust, scalable startup

economy. The seeds have been planted, and we have the tools necessary to foster innovation coming from the state into scalable commercial successes. Early Stage MT is working to unify efforts and provide ample support and training to fully harness the potential of Montana’s innovators to help them build scalable companies. Work is being done to actively build a community of growth-oriented entrepreneurs and connect them to mentors, advisors, new customers, and key employees to help them build growth ventures from Montana. This will be the key to diversifying the state’s economy in the coming years. stop

Jenni Graff is the Executive Director of Early Stage Montana (ESMT), a nonprofit organization dedicated to growing Montana’s tech ecosystem by providing training and mentorship programs. She oversees daily operations and is tasked with multiplying the organization’s statewide impact on the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Prior to joining ESMT, Jenni was the founder of a professional recruiting firm, and worked in Economic Development. She has worked extensively with state and local agencies to bring technology companies to the state and encourage business growth. She holds BA and MBA degrees from the University of Montana. 1 Mehta, Stephanie. “Report: Fast growth companies are the true powerhouses of the U.S. economy.” Fast Company, 3 February 2021, Accessed 6 January 2022. 2 Oumet, Paige, and Rebecca Zarutskie. “Who Works for startups? The relation between firm age, employee age, and growth.” Journal of Financial Economics, vol. 112, 2014, pp. 386-407, 3

Rural Innovation Strategies, Inc. Supporting Tech Entrepreneurship in rural America. September 2021,

The Start Us Up Coalition. America's New Business Plan. Powered by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Start US Up, AmericasNewBusinessPlan.pdf. 4


United States Department of the Treasury State Small Business Credit Initiative. “Best Practices from Participating States: Venture Capital Programs.” no. April 2014.

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WORKING HARD FOR YOU EVERY DAY. TODD O’HAIR President & CEO 406.439.0289 Contact me for: Envision 2026

STACYE DORRINGTON Office & Events Manager 406.439.4220 Contact me for: Events Registration & Sponsorship, Montana Chamber Foundation

MATTHEW OLSON Director of Network Development 406.360.6443 Contact me for: Envision 2026, Workforce Development, Youth Entrepreneurs, The Prospects

CHARMAINE ROGERS Director of Accounting 406.202.2549 Contact me for: Billing & Invoice Questions

BRIDGER MAHLUM Government Affairs Director 406.270.2652 Contact me for: Legislative Advocacy, Political Action, Elections & Endorsements Montana Justice Coalition, Montana Infrastructure Coalition

DEE DURAND Senior Office Administrator 406.431.3248 Contact me for: General Montana Chamber Information, Member Services

PAYTON DOBBS Member Relations Coordinator 406.431.3749 Contact me for: Becoming a Member, Member Services

TIANA YATES Youth Entrepreneurs Coordinator 307.254.4154 Contact me for: Youth Entrepreneurs, The Prospects, Work-Based Learning Opportunities for Students

MICHELLE SKINNER Marketing Communications Manager 406.410.1897 Contact me for: Digital Marketing, Website Updates, Media Inquiries, Social Media Campaigns, Publications

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MSU provides critical resources to help Montana companies succeed.

Contact the MSU business assistance programs that can help your company MSU Technology Transfer facilitates university and business partnerships, and for technologies and research collaborations at MSU. |

TechLink helps businesses and entrepreneurs identify, evaluate, and license technology developed within Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs labs nationwide and leads the Montana Innovation Partnership, connecting Montana businesses to Federal SBIR and STTR funding opportunities. | ·

Blackstone LaunchPad, in the Jake Jabs College of Business & Entrepreneurship, provides students, faculty and alumni with mentorship and support to develop their entrepreneurial ventures, so they can bring their ideas to life and grow their business.

MSU Innovation Campus, located on approximately 100 acres adjacent to MSU, provides services, facilities, programs and expertise to stimulate and support the growth of research and technology-based enterprises. |

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The Montana Manufacturing Extension Center, part of the MEP National Network, provides hands-on assistance from staff with extensive experience helping manufacturers grow, innovate, Contact: 406-994-3812




Senator Steve Daines and the Montana Chamber Foundation are excited to announce the Montana "On The Rise” Economic Summit that will be held in Bozeman. The Summit will highlight Montana’s emerging and existing industries and the innovative and transformative role they have in economic development and job creation in Montana.


Enjoy three packed days of golfing in the beautiful Flathead Valley in August. The first evening, gather for the Governors' Reception and Ace in the Hole Barbecue.


Join us each October to elect Board of Directors, discuss the status of the Montana Chamber’s goals and objectives, and help set priorities for the upcoming year.


Be sure to attend Business Days at the Capitol, which is the largest convergence of business leaders and government officials. Participate in a variety of educational and networking events.

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The Montana Chamber of Commerce’s quarterly magazine provides an opportunity to reach business leaders across the Treasure State. Eye on Business is distributed to all of the Chamber members, which includes professionals in all industries and segments of Montana’s economy. Put your company in the hands of Montana’s business leaders today!


All of the articles in Eye on Business are written by our members who are industry experts and leaders in their field.


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An American Success Story

We Should Never Take for Granted America’s unique R&D ecosystem delivered multiple COVID-19 medical breakthroughs in recordbreaking time. As we continue our work to help end the pandemic — from researching variants to seeking additional therapeutics — we are committed to common sense policy changes that will improve our health care system for everyone. Unfortunately, some legislators want to enact partisan changes that could threaten access to medicines today and new treatments and cures in the future. Instead of ramming through sweeping changes that upend our system without addressing the broader challenges facing American patients, let’s work together to end COVID-19, strengthen the health care system and make health care – including medicines – more affordable. We are ready to do our part.



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