MISSOULA - One month after hosting a round table in Missoula, Sen. Jon Tester this week urged the Biden administration to consider placing a new technology hub in Montana.
In a letter to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, Tester said feedback offered by Montana entrepreneurs, academic leaders and businesses should serve as solid evidence as to why a tech hub would thrive in the state.
Montana can provide both the skill and the ambition to make it work, Tester said.
“Bringing a tech hub to Montana would be a big win for our state,” Tester told the Missoula Current. “It would create good-paying Montana jobs, help ease our supply chains, and reduce our reliance on foreign adversaries like China by investing in research and development right here in our own backyard.”
Tester helped draft the CHIPS and Sciences Act last year and joined Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, to include language requiring that one of the 11 planned tech hubs be established in a rural state.
The new law allocates $39 billion to build American-made semiconductors, $11 billion in research and development, and $10 billion to establish regional technology and innovation hubs, including rural areas.
“Great ideas don’t just come from big cities along the coasts,” Tester said. “For America to stay at the forefront, we need to support innovation ecosystems wherever they can thrive, and that includes rural Montana.”
Last month Eric Smith, who heads the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the U.S Economic Development Administration, described the new program as a tool to invest in the creation of American technology and jobs.
If Montana is selected as one of the states to host a tech hub, Tester said hundreds of millions of dollars in new federal funding could follow. That could create new jobs, serve as an accelerator for young companies, and help produce and distribute new innovative products.
“Too many folks in Washington don’t understand the untapped potential of rural America,” Tester said. “It would be real misstep if the Economic Development Administration and the Department of Commerce were to focus exclusively on the current urban Tech Hub model and fail to build in the program flexibility needed for rural Hubs to innovate and succeed.”
In the coming weeks, Tester said he will continue meeting with stakeholders across the state to pin down what a tech hub might look like in a region as expansive as Montana. At last month's round table, industry experts said it would likely draw from the strengths of various locations.
“It's not going to be a big, shiny center with spokes,” Alison Harmon, the vice president of research and economic development at Montana State University, suggested. “It's going to be a network of nodes, and those nodes are going to be all of the educational institutions in our state, along with industry alliances.”