Missoulian: Sen. Tester makes case for Montana to become a regional tech hub

by Skylar Rispens

Sen. Jon Tester visited with Montana leaders in higher education and technology to discuss how the state could best secure federal funding that would transform it into an innovation hub.

Those invited to participate in the roundtable event at Missoula College on Tuesday afternoon made their case about how creating a technology and innovation hub in Montana will benefit the state.

“I look around the room and I see a lot of people who’ve been working with me to get us to this point,” Tester said. “You’ve put Montana research institutions on the map, you’ve grown and created businesses in Montana. You’ve laid the foundation for the next step that if done properly, will be a step that we all take together.”

Tester served on a committee that helped draft the final version of the bill, known as the bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act, with the acronym representing “Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors.” The bill seeks to strengthen the country’s manufacturing supply chains and global position by investing in new research and development opportunities in the United States.

The bill created nearly $100 billion to be used for the development of semiconductors (also known as integrated circuit “chips” used as computer processors) and other research and workforce development opportunities. Within that funding, $10 billion will go toward the creation of Regional Technology and Innovation Hubs, which could be located in rural areas like Montana.

At least 20 hubs will be established with at least one-third of those hubs providing significant benefit to small and rural areas. At least one of the hubs must be headquartered in a low-population site.

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U.S. Sen. Jon Tester on Montana becoming an innovation hub

“Let me be clear, I am going to be working very, very hard over the next few months, as I have the last few months, to make sure Montana is home to one of these tech hubs,” Tester said. The truth is, I can’t do it alone. That’s where you come in.”

Leaders with the Montana University System and representatives from the University of Montana, Montana State University, Montana Tech and Salish Kootenai College spoke about how their research and workforce training opportunities could be utilized in a regional tech hub.

UM President Seth Bodnar expressed his excitement about the possibility and how it could continue to expand research efforts at the university, which recently achieved R1 research status. He noted that Montana would be a competitive candidate for a tech hub due to its strong research output by campuses across the university system.

“It’s about more than just our university system,” Bodnar said. “It’s about the employers and I’m very grateful to be on this panel with employers whose research spawns new companies.”

Sandra Boham, president of Salish Kootenai College, spoke about how creating higher paying jobs in Montana will benefit her graduates, who generally would prefer to stay in their home communities to work.

“Montana is so positioned because we have incredibly bright minds, we have incredibly talented people who want to contribute to our state and stay in our state,” Boham said. “We have an entrepreneurial mindset because not everywhere you go is going to have a job there and you might have to create your job.”

While many of the panelists on Tuesday came from the state’s main population centers, Tester is hopeful that if Montana is selected for a regional tech hub, it will stretch across the state into rural communities through a framework already constructed through four-year, two-year and tribal colleges.

It could also help revitalize industry in rural communities, he said. For example, communities like Sidney — where the sugar beet processing plant is set to close in April — could harness development opportunities with water use and water management, which could also come to benefit local agriculture producers in the area.

“There’s going to be plenty of opportunities,” Tester said. “Where the challenge is going to be is just realizing that there is opportunity and going out and getting it because it’s not going to come to you.”

Sen. Tester makes case for Montana to become a regional tech hub (missoulian.com)