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This story is excerpted from the MT Lowdown, a weekly newsletter digest containing original reporting and analysis published every Friday.

The administration of President Joe Biden announced last week that it is naming portions of western Montana as a regional hub focused on smart sensing technology, a designation that could bolster that industry sector with tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in federal and private funding in the years to come.

The designation stems from the 2022 CHIPS and Science Act, a measure passed by Congress in an effort to boost made-in-America semiconductor manufacturing and support other technological innovations in fields seen as vital to national security. Montana’s newly designated “Headwaters Hub” applies to Missoula, Bozeman, Kalispell and Butte and is intended to help the region’s existing cluster of photonics companies grow into a globally prominent Silicon Valley-esque technology hotspot focused on applying remote sensing to applications including national security, natural resource management and disaster prevention.

Application materials provided by the Montana Department of Commerce describe how Montana companies are already involved with sensing technology that can equip laser-guided missiles and self-driving cars, as well as monitor forest-floor fuel density and inform more efficient agricultural practices. They also describe the investment as necessary to keep the development of cutting-edge technology from shifting to Asia.

The hub will be administered by Accelerate MT, a business incubator affiliated with the University of Montana. Other initial partners include Montana State University, the Montana Chamber of Commerce, assorted state agencies and several private-sector photonics businesses and venture capital funds. 

Officials and industry groups who worked on the application celebrated the announcement in statements last week, with Montana Chamber President Todd O’Hair saying the designation “has the potential to propel our region’s economy to unprecedented heights.” Additionally, U.S. Sens. Jon Tester, a Democrat, and Steve Daines, a Republican, both issued statements touting their roles in developing the legislation and support for the Montana application.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Montana tech hub was one of 31 designated nationally out of 198 applications.


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Eric came to journalism in a roundabout way after studying engineering at Montana State University in Bozeman (credit, or blame, for his career direction rests with the campus's student newspaper, the Exponent). He has worked as a professional journalist in Montana since 2013, with stints at the Great Falls Tribune, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, and Solutions Journalism Network before joining the Montana Free Press newsroom in Helena full time in 2019.