When you think of Kalispell, Montana, the phrase “high-tech” may not come to mind. Maybe you picture Silicon Valley instead.
But speaking to someone like Doug Schust, chief operating officer of Hagadone Digital will have you reevaluating that conception.
Schust, who has been in the tech game for over 25 years, believes Montana is on the cusp of being a hotspot for the tech industry, an observation rooted in his own experience. From a Montana High Tech Business Alliance press release:
“We’re seeing areas in Montana like Kalispell where high-tech advancement is becoming the main thrust of their future expansion plan, Schust said. “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 recent tech boom in Montana reminds Schust of the boom experienced in his hometown in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada nearly 25 years ago. Schust was one of the entrepreneurs who helped launch the tech industry in the Tri-Cities region – which includes Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo and is often referred to as “Canada’s Silicon Valley.”
Like Montana, Waterloo’s economy struggled during the recession of the 1980s, and companies began to shut down and jobs began to leave the area, Schust said. The Canadian community started looking at the tech industry to turn the economy around. Over the years, the community has built a region with a high concentration of tech companies, the most well-known was probably Research in Motion (RIM), makers of the BlackBerry smartphone.
Although BlackBerry has declined in recent years, after emerging as a global force in the phone market, Schust points out the Waterloo tech economy was resilient enough to weather the loss, adding that Google and Facebook recently added offices, something the city of Bozeman hopes will happen in the coming years.
Speaking of resilience, Schust went onto point out Montana shares a similarity with the Canadian Silicon Valley: the presence of a strong high-tech organization. While in Waterloo, Schust helped found Communitech, an organization very similar to the Montana High Tech Business Alliance in terms of reach and purpose.
Perhaps the biggest insight Schust had to share, however, as to why Montana has the potential to become a great tech hub was also the simplest: the digital economy changed things. Access is no longer privileged to places like Silicon Valley or other well-connected regions. Kalispell may boast a small population, but in the Internet Age, it’s anything but isolated.
Hagadone Digital, which specializes in digital marketing (and boasts clients such as BMW, Mitusbishi, Disney, Canon, and Weston; they also partner with giants like LinkedIn, Adobe, and Google) was founded in 2012, and has been in Kalispell since 2013. They have several other offices spread across the U.S., including one in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho. Schust has said the company has grown steadily the past several years and expects to post 100 percent growth annually for the next several years. As of writing they have four employees in Kalispell, but Schust anticipates the need to double that number in the coming future.