Months after hinting at plans to establish a technology campus on the city’s west side, Blackfoot on Friday made official its plans to launch a new high-tech innovation program as it grows beyond telecommunications into a fully integrated technology solutions company.
As part of its initiative, Blackfoot announced the hiring of Joe Fanguy as its new vice president for strategic development. Fanguy, who headed Accelerate Montana at the University of Montana, will help move the vision to reality.
“We’ve talked for years about trying to find a balance in terms of industry focus,” Fanguy said Friday. “I can start to envision where the current MonTEC takes on that biotech laboratory focus, and we can start to envision that software technology side on a west campus.”
Over the past eight years, Fanguy has helped revitalize the Montana Technology Enterprise Center (MonTEC) in Missoula, which has since produced $30 million in private investment and moved the city’s upstart tech companies toward growth and long-term success.
But the facility has filled and the city’s economic leaders have been looking to establish what some have dubbed MonTEC 2.0. With Missoula now on the nation’s high-tech radar thanks to several recent findings by the Kaufmann Foundation, establishing a new innovation campus could make for perfect timing.
“There’s two parts to it, really, and one will include the West Broadway tech campus,” Fanguy said. “Over the next several years, we’ll be working to really develop a plan and move that project forward. The other component will be more programmatic in terms of new technology and partnering with the private sector.”
Back in August, Blackfoot CEO Jason Williams unveiled his vision for a large technology campus on West Broadway. In an interview with Missoula Current, he hinted at a full-fledged “innovation corridor,” a place where Missoula’s current high-tech companies could locate, along with those looking to land in Missoula.
Like MonTEC on East Broadway, a new West Broadway campus could boost collaboration and coordination between established companies and fledgling upstarts.
“There’s some critical components – a data center component from Blackfoot’s point of view,” Fanguy said. “We envision something like MonTEC 2.0 with a focus more on high-tech software development and the data-service end of things.”
The West Broadway campus would include property currently owned and occupied by Blackfoot. It also could include the former Mattress Outlet property, recently acquired by DJ&A, which has expressed support for the campus concept.
Other properties could become available, leaving several acres open for redevelopment. The vision could go as far as housing and other amenities to establish a working technology campus.
“Way out there would be some element of commercial and possibly residential,” Fanguy said. “Really, a working campus is the right term. It’s an inclusive place for tech innovation, creativity and collaboration, giving Missoula and the state that high-level presence when it comes to tech.”
Blackfoot’s vision also includes a programmatic element, one that would take Missoula’s burgeoning tech sector to the next level. UM is nearing $100 million a year in research expenditures, and Missoula ranked 9th among 394 cites for its level of start-up activity.
Fanguy said the new program would establish greater partnerships between investor groups, UM and MonTEC, as well as Blackstone LaunchPad and the Missoula Economic Partnership. It would also help commercialize new technology developed at UM and elsewhere, and get newly developed products into the marketplace.
“It’ll be a lot of building relationships with new businesses and pushing that technology forward,” Fanguy said. “It will have that high-level focus of building this ecosystem in Missoula and expanding the tech ecosystem in Montana.”
Statewide, the tech economy generated more than $1 billion in revenue last year and grew seven times faster than the statewide economy. The new technology center would be the first of its kind in Montana and, advocates said, it could further that growth.
In his new role, Fanguy will help Blackfoot establish new partnerships with outside corporations and philanthropists. The effort will look at both local and global opportunities to help foster Missoula’s growing high-tech ecosystem.
“With his leadership, Blackfoot will continue to foster Missoula’s robust, high-tech ecosystem,” said Blackfoot CEO Jason Williams. “He’s uniquely qualified to forge relationships between established tech companies like Blackfoot, start-up companies, the Montana University System and private investors.”