About Montana

Report published: March 31, 2017

Extensive research and more than 30 interviews with stakeholders and experts in Montana have identified photonics as showing particular promise in the state. Photonics — generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy — is a key enabling technology for many manufacturing industries. It can provide a pathway for technological innovation, thereby creating middle-income jobs for Montanans and elevating the state’s companies in the marketplace.

Montana is well-positioned to benefit from rising global demand for photonics given its existing cluster of over 30 companies, its leading research university with photonics expertise, its affordable cost of living, and its attractive quality of life. Opportunities to leverage this momentum to further serve growing regional, national, and global markets offer real benefits for the state economy and Montana residents. Montana could capitalize on its existing cluster and vast wind resources to create a competitive advantage over other clusters in the U.S. and Europe by promoting photonics solutions with advanced energy applications.

However, there are several barriers hindering Montana’s photonics industry and preventing its existing companies from reaching their full potential. These barriers to growth range from lack of access to capital for the next generation of photonics researchers and entrepreneurs, to the lack of technical training for business development. Montana must address these roadblocks in order to become a competitive hub for photonics.

To take full advantage of these opportunities, state leaders can pursue strategies to create a strong foundation for industry growth and help Montana businesses grow, innovate, and outcompete regional, national, and global competitors. With forward-thinking policies, Montana’s photonics industry can support over 6,300 direct, indirect, and induced jobs annually through 2030. These jobs will spark local job growth and economic development as employees spend their earnings in the local economy.

Summary of Policy Recommendations

The analysis presented in this report culminates in recommendations for Montana’s leaders based on best practices in the United States and abroad. Each recommendation identifies opportunities to remove barriers and grow Montana’s photonics sector. While the recommendations are intended to be complementary and would be more powerful if adopted as a package, each can also be viewed as a stand-alone option.

Recruiting and Expanding Photonics Companies

Boost the Foreign Direct Investment Strategy: Take advantage of Montana’s high quality of life, ample space, and existing photonics infrastructure to attract international optics investment. 

Provide Tax Incentives to Attract New Photonics Businesses and Fill Supply Chain Gaps: Create incentives for large companies to locate in the state and recruit their supply chain companies to join them.

Institute a Business Equipment Tax Exemption for Photonics Companies: Spur photonics companies to invest in the technologically sophisticated and expensive equipment necessary to manufacture optical products.

Access to CapitalAccess to Capital

Create an Online Crowdfunding Hub: Create an online hub where potential investors can learn about and invest in Montana companies. 

Use an Insurance Credit Auction to Fund the Montana Board of Research and Commercialization Technology: Strategically invest in the most promising Montana photonics startup companies to generate a positive return on investment, increase tax revenue, and create jobs.

Establish a Technology Investment Tax Credit: Create an incentive for early-stage investments in photonics to grow companies.

Innovation EcosystemInnovation Ecosystem

Leverage Philanthropic Funding Via a Foundation Liaison: Bolster state resources by coordinating and leveraging private funds.

Provide Scholarships and Fellowship Grants to Attract and Retain Top Photonics Students: Back the best and brightest photonics students to attract world-class talent to Montana State University’s photonics program, where they can discover cutting-edge photonics technologies and applications.

Become an AIM Photonics Innovation Center: Join the preeminent national photonics research, development, and commercialization organization to elevate Montana’s profile and expand exposure to potential investors, entrepreneurs, and researchers.

Workforce DevelopmentWorkforce Development

Introduce Lab Space and Equipment Sharing: Pool lab resources and space for Montana’s leading photonics research university and technical college to unleash cost savings and add capacity to train additional photonics engineers, lab technicians, and scientists.

Develop Online and Field Training Options: Offer remote learning methods to overcome the vast geographic expanses that separate hundreds of thousands of Montanans from places where the photonics training programs are based.

Offer an Accelerated Optical Technician Training Program: Provide a one-year, intensive program to empower those Montanans changing careers to gain the technical skills and training necessary to enter the industry while minimizing their time out of the workforce. 

Create Demand for Advanced Energy Photonics Products

Increase Montana’s Renewable Portfolio Standard: Include a wind carve-out in an updated RPS to stimulate Montana-based demand for photonics products with wind applications.