MISSOULA – At the University of Montana on Monday, high powered lawmakers and company executives took a hard look at how Montana can play a role in the future of rural America’s potential for growth in the high tech industry.
At the Montana High Tech Jobs Summit, the president of Microsoft, Brad Smith, said that investing in digital and computer science education in rural schools is an investment in future job growth.
Smith said that their efforts to promote high tech jobs begins with training their future job applicants.
“I think the strategic plan starts with educating people, so that whether they are students or whether they are employees, they have the digital skills needed to put this technology to work,” Smith said. “The second part of the strategic plan is really to start getting broadband everywhere so that everyone can use this. The third part of the strategic plan really involves companies like Microsoft and others, so we are working with businesses to help them identify how they can apply this technology, put it to work, grow, and create more jobs.”
Speakers discussed the challenges of building infrastructure in rural America, and the evident shortfalls in the current infrastructure.
“Over sixty percent of rural Montanans don’t have access to broadband,” said U.S. Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT). “Sixty-five percent of Indian Country does not have access to broadband. We have got to bridge that connectivity divide.”
Daines said creating policies and incentives in Congress and fast-tracking the process of building infrastructure across public and private sectors is crucial to bringing high tech jobs to the state.
Anthony Kochenour, the owner of Hoplite Industries, Inc., works with a cybersecurity company based out of Bozeman. The company works remotely with many of its customers, and he says broadband is critical to their success.
“We can’t readily protect our customers, without having ready-made broadband, and reliable access, so it is a give and take,” Kochenour said. “So that is an economic driver for us. Without broadband, we have fewer customers.”
FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn said the benefits of investing in tech are clear, and she looks forward to progress being evident next year.
“I, for one, want to have a progress report of what the investment that we enabled through good policy, through the targeted dollars,” Clyburn said. “I, for one, want to have a report to say, look at what we have done, look at how many more people have been served, look at how many more people have been seen through clinical services. Hopefully, those are the conversations that we will have when we come back next year.”