Guest opinion: Business thrives on Montana values of individual liberty

2014-04-02T00:00:00Z Guest opinion: Business thrives on Montana values of individual libertyBy GREG GIANFORTE The Billings Gazette
April 02, 2014 12:00 am  • 

When I wanted to start a global business in Bozeman, many people told me it was impossible. They just didn’t know Montanans like I do. We don’t give up easily. If there’s one thing I’ve found as I raised my family and grew my business here, it’s that the love of freedom and individual liberty really count for something in Big Sky country.

It was those Montana values that helped take the business I started 15 years ago, RightNow Technologies, from the spare bedroom of our house in Bozeman to one of the largest employers in the state. When we sold the company to Oracle, we kept the jobs right in Bozeman. Now, Oracle is the largest commercial employer in town.

I’ve seen firsthand the world of good that much-needed investment can do for our Montana communities, and I know how much work there is still to be done. That’s why I’ve devoted my energies full-time to coming up with ways to create better jobs and superior opportunities, and growing the economy in our state.

In recent weeks, there has been a lot of discussion in the media about my positions on certain local issues. I believe, and have always believed, that discrimination of any kind is flat-out wrong. That’s not how we do things in Montana. I believe in just and fair treatment for all. I built my business by hiring the best people based on ability, not ideology – period. I owe my success to the principles of freedom and liberty on which this nation was founded. It’s those same principles that allow us to put aside our disagreements and work together as Montanans toward a common goal that benefits us all.

Private scholarships

The absolute best way to fight discrimination, level the playing field and lift up those who need help most in our state is a strong education. In Montana today, 29 percent of kids from low-income families don’t graduate from high school. We can do better. That’s why I helped to found the Montana affiliate of ACE Scholarships, which provides scholarship money to low-income families so we can start to raise Montana’s graduation rates. The program has seen demonstrable success in Colorado, where the nonprofit is based, and we’ve already given hundreds of scholarships in Montana this year.

The technology sector is rapidly expanding, and tech jobs are some of the most promising for our newly-minted grads. But last spring, only 40 students graduated with Computer Science degrees from Montana State University, University of Montana and Montana Tech combined. I helped start CodeMontana so that young Montanans can hold their own with the best in the country – and the world – in the burgeoning technology field. So far, over a thousand high school students have received programming training through CodeMontana free of charge, and computer science enrollment has already increased.

Rural entrepreneurs

Our most rural communities need help most of all. To help other rural entrepreneurs create jobs in their communities, I started a program with the MSU Business School to give out microloans at zero percent to help these businesses get on their feet. I know that financial assistance doesn’t solve everything. It takes more than money to build a business. You need help and advice from people who’ve been there before. Nothing can take the place of face-to-face mentorship, and that’s what I value the most.

When I travel around the state meeting with folks just starting out, for whom the possibilities are as limitless as the skies above, I’m reminded of the spirit of freedom and innovation that holds the key to Montana’s success. If we work together, I know we can make Montana a model for the nation.

Greg Gianforte lives in Bozeman. He and his wife, Susan Gianforte, are scheduled to deliver a commencement address at Montana Tech in Butte. That has generated controversy because of the Gianfortes’ opposition to a city non-discriminantion ordinance and their support for a museum that portrays prehistory not based on science.

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