There are a several factors that led us to live in Montana and enabled us to build our businesses. We believe strongly that those factors are key to the success of the technology industry and of other businesses in this state. But those conditions will not survive unless we and those who agree with us work to preserve and even enhance them.
At the top of the list are the four Principles we’ve already mentioned: Education, Public Lands, Diversity and Infrastructure. We also recognize that accessible and affordable healthcare is critical to our efforts to recruit and retain employees so we are making that our “fifth” key principle.
Here is a fuller explanation of what we mean in each case, why these principles important and what is needed to preserve them.
Most leaders in Montana’s tech industry have their children in public schools, which is why we believe in public money for quality public schools from K-12 through university. This includes community colleges and apprenticeship programs that provide qualified job candidates for roles that are vital to building strong communities and businesses. Our public school system is a critical factor when we try to recruit and retain employees from out of state.
Montana already has a strong and effective public school system. We know this because we all have hired Montana’s university graduates and find them to be among our finest employees. Our challenge is to keep this system strong and make it even better. This means insuring adequate funding for existing programs and expanding the lower school programs to the Pre-K level, something that almost all other states have and that has been proven to improve a child’s later performance in school and college and enhance their potential for future employment.
There are some in the state who want to divert our public education funds to private schools without any accountability to curriculums and the quality of teaching. We fear this will undermine the state’s existing strong public education system. Families who consider relocating to Montana to work in our and other industries want to know Montana has a strong public education system and most of them can’t afford to send their children to private schools. This is a key reason we need to keep our public money devoted to public schools.
We all enjoy and cherish the natural beauty of Montana and our state’s legacy of open space, public lands and public access. Access to public lands contributes to the quality of life of every resident. These lands belong to all Montanans and all Americans and are part of what make our state and country unique.
Our public lands, state and Federal, are a major factor in recruiting and retaining employees from other states for our businesses. Well-managed and protected public lands and easy access to them are essential to the competiveness and success of our businesses. Efforts to sell or privatize them are tantamount to the theft of our children’s and our grandchildren’s heritage as Montanans. Efforts to degrade our public lands by opening all lands, regardless of how pristine or special, to the lowest common denominator of uses will be equally detrimental to our public lands heritage.
Funding of efforts by the state and Federal governments to preserve special lands and access to public lands is essential. An example is the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which should be fully funding with permanent authorization. Equally important are the Wilderness Study Areas, which should be dealt with in thoughtful ways that involve all interested parties and evaluated on their merits with subsequent classification for the best and most rational uses. They should not be summarily dismissed by top-down legislation under the guise of “unlocking them.”
The tech industry, nationwide, depends on qualified and hard working employees. Their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation or gender orientation or any other such distinctions are not relevant. First and foremost this is a moral question, and we do not see any grounds for prevarication on the topic. Second, diversity is good for business. Having a state and culture that welcomes diversity is critical to employee recruitment and retention.
It is critical that we have elected officials who understand this and will maintain laws and policies that promote and protect diversity in the state. Montanans respect our neighbors and we know that a giving everyone fair and equal treatment is not only the right thing to do, but also makes our state a desirable place to live, raise a family and do business.
Montana must have modern infrastructure to compete in national and international markets. This means: (1) sound roads and bridges to support efficient and safe ground-based commerce; (2) a robust communication system that includes state-wide access to high speed internet in order to support interaction with customers, partners, suppliers, and investors from outside the state and to spread economic opportunity to more remote parts of the state; and (3) efficient air transportation systems, with access to key metropolitan areas outside of the state in order to support growth of businesses that depend on direct interaction with investors, suppliers and partners from outside of Montana.
Montana’s current infrastructure is fairly good, but in order for Montana’s tech and other industries to grow and compete, the state’s infrastructure needs to be better and well maintained. An ongoing, serious commitment by the state to maintain its roads and bridges, to expand the speed and reach of internet service and to support an increase in the air transport services, is essential. Moreover, investment in our infrastructure will provide jobs right now. We must be willing to generate the necessary tax dollars to do this without taking funds from other critical priorities.
Without affordable and accessible healthcare, it is not possible to keep our workforces healthy and on the job. This also is essential in recruiting employees from other states, where they may already have good healthcare programs and will not want to relocate unless they can also have good healthcare service here. It is the smart thing to do for our economy in general and it is essential to the success of our businesses.