Montana's high-tech industry generated nearly $1.7 billion in revenue last year and grew nine times faster than the state's economy as a whole, according to the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana.

Released on Thursday, the study also found that members of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance employ nearly 6,000 people and pay a median annual salary of $63,000 – a 5 percent increase over 2016.

“The growth trajectory of Montana’s high-tech industry has far exceeded our expectations when we began collecting this data in 2015,” said Christina Quick Henderson, the alliance's executive director. “This data tells a new and surprising story about what's possible, not just for our state, but for other rural communities across America.”

The fourth annual survey, commissioned by the high-tech alliance, found that respondents expect to add more than 1,200 new jobs this year, an 18.5 percent increase over last year. They also expect to increase wages by 5 percent, outpacing the 1.6 percent increase offered by other state employers.

The state's high-tech sector currently pays more than twice the median earning of Montana workers, representing the third highest-paying industry in the state.

“This report confirms that Montana’s tech companies are continuing to grow at a record pace,” said Lance Tinseth, chair of the alliance's board of directors. “It also indicates that the Montana tech community is vibrant and invested in growing Montana’s economy as a whole.”

The economic success of companies like Advanced Technology Group and onXmaps in Missoula have generated billions of dollars in revenue, helping drive the sector's growth. The mapping company recently closed on a $20.3 million equity investment, one of the largest in state history.

"We launched onX in 2009 from my wife’s scrapbooking room in our Missoula home,” said Eric Siegried, the company's CEO. “Over the past nine years, tens of millions of dollars in revenue and investment from out of state have flowed through onX and into Montana. This state’s culture, people and landscape all played a major role in that growth story.”

For the fourth straight year, the survey found that Montana's quality of life and its work-life balance bolster the sector's growth. But it also found that 28 percent of the alliance's members and 48 percent of nonmembers had a difficult time finding and hiring new qualified employees last year.

Finding those employees will be key to the industries’ continued growth in Montana.

“Over the past two years, we've welcomed more than 50 employees to support our fiber optic network investments and growing customer base across Montana and Idaho,” said Jason Williams, the CEO of Blackfoot Communications in Missoula. “Along with a new technology innovation program, we know attracting talent is the key to reaching our goals.”