Montana has everything to build a great tech economy.
There's plenty of capital. Why? Because rich people love coming to the state and settling down (Bill Gates owns a home not far from Bozeman, I learned today, among other famous technologists).
I just opened a safety deposit box here in Emigrant, MT, and learned that it is a profitable bank and quickly growing because of all the big money that's moving into Montana. Lots of Hollywood types buy homes here and need some place to bank.
Then there's land. Unlike Silicon Valley, which can't build out anymore, there's plenty of open space here that can be built on.
Oh, and Montana is only a 1.5 hour flight from either Silicon Valley or Seattle.
But, what is needed? John O'Donnell, executive director of the TechRanch says entrepreneurs.
Today I met several of the companies that are working with the TechRanch to establish a foothold in Montana. I'll definitely be meeting up again and writing about them when we have some more time to spend together.
But today wasn't about them, it was about getting me among the geeks of Montana and having some pizza and have a fun discussion.
Thanks to everyone who showed up today, I definitely needed that! It's always fun to be around problem solvers (which, really, is what geeks and entrepreneurs are).
One fun entrepreneur that I met was Jen Boulden, co-founder of Ideal Bite. She wants to make the world more green, but like Treehugger blogger Graham Hill, she isn't willing to do it the hippie way. I love her tag line "a sassier shade of green."
I told her "you should go to BlogHer." Her answer disturbed me. She said she couldn't afford to go.
Hey, I have an extra $100. Can anyone else kick in some money? It costs about $700 to go Silicon Valley and stay for a couple of days.
By the way, if you wanna see who Jen is, just pick up this month's Vanity Fair magazine — she is featured there along with Graham and a few other environmentalists.
Anyway, I'm going to come back to the TechRanch. It's an interesting place with its own .NET user group, a small set of companies that are being funded and helped along (interesting discussion too that we had about getting non-tech-friendly customers to try out new Web sites and services aimed at them).
If you're considering a college to attend, by the way, you should consider Montana State University. It's in a stunningly beautiful part of the world with skiing, hiking, and lots of other activities nearby and seeing the kind of support that they are getting from the community (the governor of Montana dropped in on the .NET user group a while back) I'd say that entrepreneurs here have a high chance of success. Ted Turner (the guy who started CNN) has two sizeable buildings within sight of the TechRanch and John tells me that the TechRanch is going to be expanding soon. He says that he's well into getting funding for new buildings that they are planning.
Some other anecdotes. The other night in Livingston I talked with a city planner. He said that he's planning for really rapid growth (housing prices are going nuts in Montana, he says to expect them to triple over the next five years). Livingston was rated one of the top five places in the United States to retire. If you have an average house in California that costs $1 million, up here that'll buy you an entire ranch. Or, you could buy a very nice home like my mom has for $300k and live off of the interest from the rest.
Tonight we're driving to Billings, but my cell phone isn't working. My brother isn't feeling well, so looks like dinner tonight won't work, but I'm game for breakfast in Billings. How about at 8:30 a.m. — meet in the Sheraton lobby and we'll go head out from there?