Grunke column: Big data, I.T. a good fit for Missoula

In recent decades, cities across America have worked to attract and grow information technology companies. It’s no wonder those businesses are welcome wherever they plant roots: Jobs in the sector typically pay very well, business processes take a relatively negligible toll on the environment, and these companies most often sell their products and services elsewhere – creating real economic growth locally.So when Missoula Economic Partnership identified IT as one of five “best-fit” business sectors for the future of our local economy, we knew we weren’t the first community to make that argument.Nevertheless, this wasn’t just pie-in-the-sky thinking.

According to the Ohio-based State Science and Technology Institute, five elements are required for a community to develop a tech-based economy: intellectual infrastructure, knowledge transfer mechanisms, physical infrastructure, a skilled technical workforce and sources of risk capital.

All of these assets are here in abundance.

Math, computer science and business graduates from the University of Montana provide a steady stream of workers whose skills align with the needs of IT companies. UM’s research faculty provide intellectual resources that few other small cities in America can match.

The backbone of the Internet – the northern east-west line of U.S. fiber-optic cable – runs right along Interstate 90 through Missoula.

And risk capital is available through the MEP Angel Network and elsewhere. Last summer, Atlantic Cities ranked Missoula eighth nationally for per-capita density of venture capital deals.

The ingredients are here. And they’re mixing together in exciting new ways – particularly in the area of big data analytics, a field devoted to gleaning useful information out of the exploding quantity of business data.

Earlier this month, Missoula was one of 25 cities to participate in Big Data Week, a global confluence of events focused on the impacts of data.

The list of other cities participating in Big Data Week reads for the most part like a ranking of the world’s largest metropolitan areas. São Paulo hosted three days of events. Budapest and New York City hosted one day.

Missoula – by far the smallest participating city – held eight events over six days, including a Cyber Triathlon and presentations on the role of data analytics in health care, cybersecurity and other areas.

Those local events were organized by representatives from Missoula City Council, Inteneo Systems, SemanticWeb.com, the UM Business School and Missoula Economic Partnership.

The cooperation of business, government, education and economic development leaders will remain a key to our success moving forward.

Toward that end, we continue to provide support to Missoula’s Big Data Alliance, an organization that aims to solidify Missoula as an international leader in big data analytics.

We’re also excited by nation-leading initiatives at UM, which this year opened a new Cyber Innovation Laboratory and launched a certificate program in network and information security. The school is expanding its educational offerings with a big data-focused summer course covering the process and law surrounding electronic discovery. UM also recently hosted the first in a series of guest lectures on the real-world implications and applications of big data analytics, sponsored by Missoula’s GCS.

Already, Missoula IT companies are growing into national powerhouses. Submittable is America’s go-to submission management service provider. LMG Security is expanding its offices and expertise in cybersecurity testing, forensics and other services. TeraDact Solutions, GCS, Blackfoot Telecommunications and others continue to grow.

By strengthening local resources, supporting local companies and nurturing collaboration between the private, public and education sectors, Missoula can make a big splash in tomorrow’s IT industry.

James Grunke is CEO of Missoula Economic Partnership. Please visit, bookmark and share the website at MissoulaPartnership.com.


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