I came to Bozeman from Bloomington, Indiana in 1970. My senior colleagues at IU assured me this was a huge mistake. Their well-intended reason: Montana was a colonial economy, one isolated and insulated from cultural and commercial success.
The state supplied commodities, wheat and wood, coal and copper. From the Civil War to the first Earth Day in 1970, Montana had a coherent and dominant culture, politics, and economy. The integration of these forces came from exploiting nature's bounty: Most battles were over the spoils.
The analysis of my IU colleagues was correct but their kindly advice quite wrong. Bozeman is a far better place for me than Boston, and Montana superior to Massachusetts. The reasons involve more than scenery and recreation. Entrepreneurship has changed much of Montana from a colonial to a creative economy. For individuals whose tastes and talents resemble mine, Montana has greatly improved over the past few decades.
Two colleagues in MSU's economics department and I edited the 1977 winter issue of Western Wildlands. We focused it on Montana's then colonial economy and the potential to develop resources while protecting ecological values. I wrote that Montana "...enjoys an environmentally fostered quality of life that merits retention...." It would require entrepreneurs to move the state from a near exclusive focus on commodities to include amenities, culture and civilities. They have succeeded. Given our history, we should cherish not deride entrepreneurs.
Bozeman is blessed with a great variety of entrepreneurial talents, both for profit and non-profit. Environmental and social non-profit entrepreneurs abound here. Eagle Mount and WQW are local examples with stellar national reputations and there are dozens more success stories.
Entrepreneurs who succeed in the marketplace foster the non-profits. I consider Greg and Susan Gianforte excellent examples, ones surely worth studying and emulating. They came to Bozeman twenty years ago and created Right Now Technology, a dynamic company with over 700 Montana employees with salaries 250% of the state's average.
The Gianfortes created Montana's only publically traded company. Their story exemplifies themes in historian John Steele Gordon's recent article "Entrepreneurship in American History" in the February issue of Imprimis, a free monthly print publication of Hillsdale College (imprimis.hillsdale.edu).
After selling Right Now to Oracle in 2012 for over $1.8 billion, Greg has focused on social entrepreneurship, for example by creating bettermontanajobs.com. The site states:
My experience in Bozeman proves we can create lots of high-wage jobs here in Montana.... My focus now is to do just that - create more high-paying jobs in every Montana community.
This organization is a non-profit, one of several the Gianfortes support personally and through the Gianforte Foundation.
The presidents of Montana Tech and Rocky Mountain College are impressed by this success. Greg and Susan were invited to give the commencement address at Tech, and Greg at Rocky.
Alas, Montana is hardly immune to politically correct, progressive bigotry. Some protested and threaten boycotts of commencement exercises--or even a counter ceremony. The protestors demand speakers adhere to their cultural agenda, independent of the topic, expertise, or success of the invited speakers. Dissenters from the progressive orthodoxy simply shouldn't be allowed to speak. On anything.
In their opinion, the Big Sky should have curtains to screen inappropriate opinions and successful practices. The attempted censorship of Greg and Susan Gianforte, whether born of ignorance or envy, is noxious bigotry. The Gianfortes are explaining and encouraging entrepreneurial success through civil dialogue. Their effort is laudable and likely to further improve Montana.
A shortened version of this article appeared in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle's opinion section today, under the title, "Letter to the editor: Students should have opportunity to hear Gianfortes' message." Click here to read it or follow the link: http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/opinions/letters_to_editor/article_0dc84d00-ba79-11e3-b458-0019bb2963f4.html