Missoulian: Montana to get $41M for Headwaters Tech Hub, according to Tester

by David Erickson

Montana will see $41 million in federal dollars for a technology hub that will have a mandate to help the United States develop “smart optical sensing technologies,” according to Sen. Jon Tester.

Tester announced Tuesday that the Headwaters Tech Hub, which is being developed in Montana, is one of only 12 Regional Tech Hubs nationwide to get a Phase 2 investment under the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022. That legislation was billed as a big federal incentive to lure certain industries back to the U.S., such as chip-making, rather than relying on China. Tester’s office said that the “smart optical sensing technologies” developed in Montana will “address pressing priorities such as autonomous systems, national defense, precision agriculture and critical resource management.”

It’s unclear exactly how the money will be spent and exactly what types of jobs will be created in Montana. In other states, specific U.S. companies have been named as recipients of CHIPS and Science Act funding, but it’s been a little more vague in Montana.

According to Tester’s office, the University of Montana, Montana State University and Salish Kootenai College and the Montana Photonics and Quantum Alliance will all be beneficiaries of the funding.

Bozeman and Montana State University appear poised to have a jumpstart on getting a big chunk of the funding, as there are several photonics companies in that area. However, the tech hub will be led by Accelerate Montana, which is based on the University of Montana campus in Missoula.

“Montana is a big state that can do big things, and we’ve proven that we have what it takes to lead the nation in technological innovation that will ensure America can continue to outcompete countries like China,” Tester said in a statement. “That’s exactly why I fought to secure this major $41 million investment for the Headwaters Tech Hub, and it’s why I’ve served as a leading voice in the Senate advocating for the untapped potential of rural America.”

Tester hosted a conference at Missoula College last February to talk about the benefits of the program for Montana, saying it would bring innovation and economic growth.

“Bringing good-paying jobs back to the United States, securing our domestic supply chains, and developing next generation technology starts with investments right here in the Treasure State, and I will continue to partner with the Headwaters team to make sure they have the resources they need to succeed,” Tester said.

Montana was one of 31 places selected out of 198 applicants for the “tech hub” designation.

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines also supported Montana’s bid.

“Today’s announcement is another milestone for Montana, speaks volumes about the quality of our workforce and further solidifies our standing as a leading hub for cutting edge technology and research in the country,” Daines said last October following Montana’s selection. “From optics and photonics to quantum computing, I am grateful to help advance Montana’s ability to contribute even further to the important research and development that will help strengthen our national security and help us stay competitive against China.”