The Christian Science Monitor: By Todd Wilkinson, Correspondent / June 9, 2013
Greg Gianforte, a charismatic man with a goatee who resembles Mr. Clean, is known for passionately stalking opportunity in the West – both in the boardroom and in the woods. He tells the story of once rising before dawn during hunting season, suiting up in camouflage, and disappearing into the rugged foothills around this small Montana city.
After shooting a black bear with a bow and arrow, he hurried home to put on jeans and a starched shirt, and headed into the office just in time for a 10 a.m. conference call with clients on the other side of the world. They, of course, had no idea what he had done that morning before work.
Yet the chance to get in some early morning hunting is a prime reason Mr. Gianforte, the founder and former chief executive officer of RightNow Technologies, a customer-service software firm, moved to Bozeman to begin with. After selling a different high-tech company in Silicon Valley in the mid-1990s, he and his wife settled here intending to retire as 30-somethings. But the restless entrepreneur soon came up with another idea for a start-up firm.
Venture capitalists in California told him he would never be able to make it work in such an isolated area, one closer to geysers than sales markets and software engineers. Undeterred, in 1997, he converted a guest bedroom into an office and put up $50,000. In 2011 he sold RightNow to Oracle for $1.5 billion. It had become the largest private employer in Montana, with 550 workers, and has inspired numerous spinoffs.
“The Internet removed geography as a significant obstacle that formerly prevented out-of-the-way places from being active players in the New Economy,” says Gianforte. “I think this is the future.”
Gianforte’s successful venture, and his passion for the outdoors, helps explain why the Mountain West is now one of the most robust regions in the United States. Drawn by the area’s natural amenities, a new generation of entrepreneurs and professional service providers, many of them well educated, is moving into towns like Bozeman and other scenic communities across the West.
From Kalispell, Mont., near the Canadian border, down the spine of the Rockies to places like Durango, Colo., and Taos, N.M., and over to Flagstaff, Ariz., they are adding an entrepreneurial dynamism to the region, a phenomenon first identified by analysts with the Federal Reserve banks of Kansas City and Minneapolis who track economic barometers.
These software engineers, biotech researchers, medical specialists, outdoor-gear manufacturers, and day traders are being joined by a wave of retirees who want to take advantage of the outdoor lifestyle and relatively inexpensive living costs. Together, economists say, they helped the Mountain West enter the recession later than other parts of the US and come out of it sooner. Now the region leads in population and job growth.
While the boom in energy production – coal in Wyoming and oil and gas in the Bakken formation of eastern Montana and the Dakotas – gets most of the attention, experts say the New Economy growth, rooted in the region’s scenic wonders, is one of the most important forces shaping the West. Call it the rise of the “Green Coast.”