It is gratifying when state media recognizes the importance of high-tech companies to Montana and the revenue it brings to the state. The statewide coverage of this story highlights the importance of the work being done by the Montana High Tech Alliance in bringing more high-paying technology jobs to Montana.

Billings Technology Community turns out to meet Ken Fichtler.

Ken Fichtler, the new Chief Business Development Officer for the State of Montana, recently met with some of the Billings technology community at Angry Hanks to get a feel for technology opportunities and the direction for technology business development for Billings and the state. A lively discussion was held about technology and how Billings could be positioned as a tech leader.

Governor Bullock recently selected Fichtler as the Chief Business Development Officer which directs the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.  Ken has spent his career in high-tech business management and marketing.  He is also an entrepreneur and business investor, having started several Montana companies, as well as co-founding the first and largest TEDx event in the state, TEDxBozeman.

Some of the tech folks who met with Ken at Angry Hanks:

“For the past three years, Montana’s high-tech companies have said in this survey that finding enough skilled technology talent is their number one barrier to growth. This report underscores the growing need for technology workers in Montana. But it also shows potential job candidates the strength of our tech industry and hopefully gives them more confidence to consider opportunities in Montana.”
Kathy Boelter, founder, Arrow Solutions Group, Billings

Arrow Solutions Group President, Kathy Boelter, and Billings Intellectual Property Attorney, Toni Tease, are attending the Athena Conference in Bozeman today. This invitation-only event is part inspirational, part educational, part fire-you-up-to-get-stuff-done. It brings together influential speakers, attendees, and partners to take part in a carefully crafted, high-end experience that provides participants with new acquaintances, new skills and a whole journal full of new ideas. We’re so excited to read Kathy’s journal and see what she brings back from this empowering conference.

Kathy and Andy joined business men and women from across Montana to kick off the annual MT Chamber of Commerce Business Days in Helena, MT, today. Stay tuned for highlights from the “Entrepreneurship and Innovation” panel that Kathy is moderating for the group tomorrow!

Business Days in Helena 2016


Montana Business Trends for 2015 – Remote Work Options Attract High-Tech Talent

By Christina Henderson, Reposted from original article here

In 2015, remote work options will allow more Montana workers to find high-paying jobs where they want to live and Montana companies to hire the specialized skill sets they need.

Remote Workers Drive Economic Growth

yard-500pxMontana is home to a significant number of professionals who work remotely. These independent workers bring their own jobs with them, working as consultants or team members for out-of-state companies. They are well-compensated  and enjoy a minimal (or no) commute, proximity to family, and easy access to Montana’s great outdoors.

Managers who work remotely are increasingly pressing their home offices to expand their companies’ presence in Montana into a branch sales, consulting, or development office, tapping a pool of local talent that is eager to combine the Montana lifestyle with a satisfying career. I’ve written before about MHTBA member companies that launched offices here because of local leadership – Travis Cottom at Helix Business Solutions in Dillon, Jeff Trom of Workiva in Bozeman and Missoula, and Tom Stergios at ATG in Missoula. A number of other lone wolves in Montana are quietly exploring the opportunity to build teams here in 2015.

Grassroots efforts by industry groups like Montana Programmers are bringing remote workers together for networking, sharing best practices, and building out a support system.

Doug Odegaard, founder of IntraLogix in Missoula, has worked remotely for more than a decade and teaches workshops on the subject.  He defines a remote worker as “a team member who spends part time or all time working away from a physical office,” including employees w”ho spend part of their day in a coffee shop just to get stuff done.”

Odegaard would like to build a community of people in Montana who are enthusiastic about remote work. “I feel like it’s an economic development driver here in the state that people aren’t talking about,” he said. “There are opportunities out there, but people don’t know about it.”

Employers More Accepting of Remote Work

According to Odegaard, employers who face difficulties recruiting benefit from hiring remote workers. “I find more companies being influenced into accepting remote into their culture if they have a challenging time finding talent to employ in their corporate location,” he said. “I personally work with management teams to adapt to a remote culture and frankly it enhances their internal teams by helping them focus on how they communicate.”

Odegaard cautioned that “not every corporate culture may find this adaptable, nor will every person excel under these conditions. Those managing projects with Agile methodologies have an especially fluid transition to remote work teams.”

According to Odegaard, some Montana businesses use a blended approach, trying remote work with their staff by allowing them to work remotely for one or two days per week. “This is a workplace benefit for mature employees who show the ability, but it also gives the company an opportunity to try it on for size,” he said.

Kathy Boelter, CEO of Arrow Solutions Group (ASG) in Billings, has noted similar trends toward remote and flexible work in Montana and agrees that the set up doesn’t work for everyone. ASG is a staffing and recruiting firm for companies hiring IT professionals and engineers, including contract workers in Montana.

“Montana companies are slowly coming around to remote workers,” Boelter said. “Not everybody can handle it – it takes a certain personality. Working remotely takes discipline. Rarely do we see it with junior people. The employee has to be mature enough in the workforce to understand what the deliverables are and produce.”

Boelter says a few years ago she didn’t see remote and flexible work options offered to new hires at all. Now Montana employers – including traditional industries like healthcare and banking – are starting to incorporate such benefits into their hiring plans. While negotiations used to focus primarily on salary, more job candidates are asking for perks like working remotely on Fridays before they accept an offer.

“Now that the job market is really tightening in technology, employers are looking at all options,” Boelter said. “Particularly if it’s a skill set that is hard to get in Montana.”

Good Communication is Key to Success

Both Boelter and Odegaard emphasize the importance of good communication for making remote and flexible work arrangements successful for both workers and employers.

Odegaard advised, “When you’re a remote worker of any kind, it’s incredibly important to over-communicate. If the decision-maker starts doubting that they’re getting their money’s worth it’s a problem.”

“We see [remote work] fail,” Boelter said. “[Employers] can’t put people out on an island. You have to keep engaged with them.  ASG has remote workers and we talk to our people every single day. For many tech companies, particularly those using Agile methodologies, this is the way they communicate. They do stand-ups everyday. All day long we are IMing (instant messaging). Even with somebody in the office next to me I’m still IMing.”

Odegaard has seen changes in the last five years in remote work, particularly the collective capabilities of broadband and communication tools such as Microsoft Lync to keep workers connected.

“I work on one team across Montana, Switzerland, Brazil, Germany and the Netherlands,” Odegaard said. “Between GoToMeeting, HipChat and Skype we do a great job staying connected and then meet twice per year in a location to connect physically.”

Odegaard believes remote workers will have a huge impact on Montana’s economy in years to come, particularly in rural areas, though access to broadband could be a constraint.

“[Montana] is a great place to live and work,” he said. “Remote workers contribute to the tax base by owning property and earning wages here. I see the presence of internet broadband greater than 10MB in the rural areas as a boon to economic development to support such remote workers.”

Given these three positive trends – industry clusters, serious startups, and remote workforce – watch for 2015 to be a great year of progress for Montana high tech and manufacturing companies.

As Jeff Trom, CTO of Workiva, said recently, Montana is not the state it was five years ago. It will be a different state five years into the future.

(Image by Lance Fisher “Working in the Yard” July 20, 2005 on Flickr)

This post is part three in a three-part series about Montana business trends in 2015. Read part one here: Growing Industry Clusters Attract Attention or part two here: Serious Startups Take Center Stage.

About the Author: Christina Quick Henderson is executive director of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance, a statewide membership organization made up of more than 130 high tech and manufacturing firms and affiliates. More information on the Alliance can be found at:


Fortunately, Montana is currently ranked 12th in the nation’s unemployment ratings. The flip side to this low unemployment rating is a shortage of skilled and qualified job candidates.

While the unemployment rate is a key indicator in determining the health of the nation and a state’s economy, it is also considered a lagging indicator as it does not capture the total number of job seekers. The unemployment rate is defined as the percentage of the total labor force that is unemployed, but actively seeking employment and willing to work. This number does not include those who have given up the job search, are retired, or are underemployed.

The more important indicator is the underemployed (those working part-time or at a job below their education, experience, and skill level). If you combine the percentage of adults in the workforce who are unemployed with the percentage of those working who are seeking full-time employment but are not working at capacity, these rates exceed the unemployed totals put forth by the Bureau Labor Standards.

What does this mean for us in Montana?

The Center for the Rocky Mountain West has projected that Montana jobs for Computer Specialists will increase by 18.2% within the next 5-10 years with IT specialties even higher: Software Engineers at 32.2%, and Network Systems and Data Communications Analysts at 32%.

Combine low unemployment, underemployment, and a shrinking workforce with a high-growth industry and a shortage of skilled IT talent, and you have a situation in Montana where traditional means of hiring via newspaper or network connections, does not produce the desired results.

So what can be done?

As Specialists that focus on employment solutions in the IT industry, Arrow Solutions Group has many options that can help Montana employers fill their gaps in their IT workforce. These staffing options include:

  • Contract, supplemental staffing or staff augmentation,
  • Contract-to-hire or temp-to-hire.

I need it done now!

If your business is in a position where you need help to finish a project immediately, or recognize you lack the right skill set to complete a project, the pressure is on to meet deadlines and satisfy customer’s demands. In this situation the long process of hiring a new employee and getting them up to speed can complicate problems, rather than solve them. This situation has a solution that larger companies, such as Apple, Microsoft and others, have used for years as their “secret sauce” for completing projects on time: contract IT resources. supplemental staffing and contract employees provide specialized, flexible and beneficial resources to an organization at the time they’re needed.

It may surprise you to know that Montana has a large number of IT professionals, who love the varied and challenging pace of moving from one project to the next. They have experience working with Fortune 500 companies and can bring their knowledge and subject matter expertise to benefit your company. Also known as supplemental staffing or staff augmentation, contract assignments are used to help with IT projects, both large and small, whether it’s for three months or three years, as the contractors are hired for a specified amount of time or until project completion. An example may be a conversion from current software to new software or possibly an upgrade to existing software. Adding resources in this manner will get the project rolled out, software implemented, and data transferred in an efficient and cost-effective way.

First-hand experience as a contract-to-hire

Contract-to-hire allows the company to make sure a candidate has the necessary skills and culture fit before employing them directly. Employee turnover is a huge expense and by using this option, the staffing company bares the majority of the cost.

Contract-to-hire also allows the candidate to personally experience the company in a working environment.

As a college graduate in a new town where I was unfamiliar with the local labor market, I was assigned as a Contract-to-hire (temp-to-hire). The contract assignment was for three months (customary timeframe). This gave the company the chance to see if I fit their business needs and culture. It was also beneficial to me as it provided the opportunity to see if the organization was really where I wanted to be – knowledge that can only be gleaned by experiencing the environment first-hand. After the allotted timeframe, the company offered me full-time employment which evolved to a career of 12+ years with the business. By using the Contract-to-hire option, the company was able to evaluate “the fit” and move forward with confidence in their hiring decision.

Going forward

The next time you’re in need of IT professionals holding specialized skill sets and you’d like the opportunity to assess an employee prior to making an offer or you have a project for a contract employee, let us assist you in overcoming the IT talent shortage. We believe the opportunity to see if the fit is right is essential to selecting the best talent for your business.

At Arrow Solutions Group, we guarantee quality human connections every time.