By Michael Howell
Bozeman businessman Greg Gianforte was in Hamilton last week as part of a statewide tour promoting his economic development efforts aimed at bringing young college graduates who have found high paying jobs elsewhere in the country and the world back to Montana. The plan is not to create a high paying job here in order to lure them back, but to have them bring their high paying jobs with them. The lure, in this case, is the incredible beauty of the place, the fantastic recreational opportunities and the chance to live and work close to family.
Gianforte’s “Bring Our Families Back to Montana” tour is being sponsored by the Montana State Chamber of Commerce, the Montana State University Alumni and the Montana High Tech Business Alliance. He spoke to a small group in Hamilton last week at a meeting hosted by the Bitterroot Chamber of Commerce.
According to Gianforte, Montana ranks 49th in the country in average job wages. The high paying jobs are just not here. But the growth and development of the internet has created the possibility of working for any large company located anywhere in the world from your home, wherever that home may be located.
“It’s a huge opportunity that didn’t exist 15 years ago,” he said. “Any desk job can be done remotely.”
In order to promote the idea, Gianforte has sent out a mailer to about 15,000 graduates of MSU who are currently working out of state, inviting them to return to Montana and bring their jobs with them.
Gianforte said that many large companies have discovered that working from home can be more productive than working in an office. It eliminates the commute, for one thing. He said in some areas of the country people are commuting up to an hour and half each way to work. He called telecommuting a win/win opportunity for the business and its employees.
By returning to the Montana with a high paying job many other jobs are created, he said, as the new residents spend their money locally.
Gianforte and his wife, Susan, founded RightNow Technologies, a cloud-based software company, in an extra bedroom of their home in Bozeman in 1997. Under his leadership, the company grew to more than 1,100 employees worldwide and more than $225 million in annual revenue, becoming Bozeman’s largest commercial employer. They sold the business to Oracle in 2002.
The couple established the Gianforte Family Foundation in 2006 which has become one of the top giving foundations in the state. According to its webpage, “Foundation grants focus on improving education, lifting people out of poverty, protecting the unborn, and Christian outreach, as well as enhancing the family’s hometown community of Bozeman.”
According to the foundation’s mission statement, “The primary mission of the Gianforte Family Foundation is to support the work of Christian organizations engaged in education, poverty, and outreach work. There is a predisposition toward organizations serving people in Montana, and those organizations with which the Gianforte family has personal relationships. Smaller gifts are made to non-Christian organizations that enhance the local community of Bozeman, Montana and other causes of particular interest to the family.”
Gianforte’s promotional tour has been criticized by some as a thinly veiled political campaign in a yet to be announced run for governor. Gianforte has not announced his candidacy nor did he mention any possibility of running for office at the meeting in Hamilton.