BUSINESS BRIEF: Another Milestone for the Headwaters Tech Hub

February 28, 2024
A Letter from Todd O’Hair, President & CEO

Montana Chamber of Commerce

On Thursday, the Headwaters Tech Hub consortium will officially submit our grant application to the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) for $75 million to advance the work already being done in photonics and sensors in our state.

While you may not be aware of it, Montana is already a global leader in photonics and sensors, and we have seen exponential growth in entrepreneurial activity and businesses around those technologies. What’s important to know is that these technologies are the future for virtually every aspect of our lives, and for our national security. Photonics is essentially transmitting and receiving data via light—so advancing those technologies into more commercial and national defense areas will move data at the speed of light, allowing us to plan and make decisions more accurately and quickly. Imagine using photonics and sensors in agriculture in such a way that a crop can be differentiated from weeds, with only the weeds receiving a precise amount of herbicide—at 10 miles per hour—with the operator working in a remote location. Advancing these technologies to make them more reliable, smaller and lightweight, will have endless applications across every sector of business.


The Headwaters Tech Hub is a unique coalition that is centered around business, academia and government—all working together to put together an application that demonstrates how well – we as Montanan’s work together toward a common goal.  If awarded this grant, Montana and the larger region, will become a gravitational center for global businesses looking to apply the technologies of sensors and photonics to their specific needs and opportunities. Securing this grant from the federal government will signal confidence in Montana’s existing ecosystem of research and business activity around these technologies and draw those businesses to our state. And with it, a growing economy and good paying jobs.

The EDA grant envisions a growing economy and demand for appropriately educated and skilled employees. Our application includes specific ways we build a talent pipeline that includes reaching into our K-12 education system in rural Montana and underserved populations such as tribal communities and reservations. We see the potential for all Montana students and in our application included ways to reach students in rural Montana like Bainville, Rapleje and Crow Agency. The skills needed to fill the talent pipeline will be broad and not just relegated to 4-year degrees; there will be opportunities for our kids and grandkids who seek higher education and those interested in going straight into the workforce.


Identifying the potential, the critical partners, budgeting, coalescing around common goals and objectives, and then putting together an application that meets the specific requirements of a federal grant is a massive lift. Dizzying in complexity, especially under tight deadlines. None of this would have been possible without the leadership of Tim VanReken, the Headwaters Tech Hub Regional Innovation Officer. Tim’s experience, persistence and vision has been the glue that pulled together what can be competing interests and different perspectives.


And Mary Craigle, with the Montana Department of Commerce—Mary saw the opportunity for Montana long before our February deadline and she has worked tirelessly—nights, weekends and holidays to keep us all on track and on time. We can’t thank Mary enough for her dedication and sacrifice on behalf of the state of Montana.


There are too many others to mention by name that have had significant contributions to this effort. It certainly was a team effort and ultimately demonstrated that Montana truly is the last best place—defined more by our people than by our place.


The Headwaters Tech Hub is guided by a steering committee representing business, academia and state government.  We are bullish on our chances to secure this federal funding. We are confident that the application we submit will demonstrate a unique ability to bring diverse interests together to achieve a common goal, without the sharp elbows of who gets credit.

We all know, the winner of this grant will be Montana. The Headwaters Tech Hub – Smart Photonic Sensing – Montana Chamber of Commerce

MONTANA EMPLOYERS: Take this workforce survey
The Montana Work-based Learning Collaborative, of which the Montana Chamber Foundation is a member, is conducting a survey to learn employers’ satisfaction with workforce recruitment, readiness, and retention, as well as their experiences with work-based learning. The information will inform the work of the Collaborative, program builders, and decision-makers across the state to improve workforce supports, work-based learning, and education opportunities so that young people are better prepared for employment success and employers gain skilled workers.
VIRTUAL Innovate Here Conference: New Disruptions in Bio, Photonics, and Quantum is THURS, MARCH 7th
Join the Montana Innovation Partnership powered by MSU TechLink Center for the Innovate Here Conference: New Disruptions in Bio, Photonics, and Quantum on Thursday., March 7th, 9 a.m.- 5 p.m., online via Zoom. The conference will bring together early-stage tech startups specializing in disruptive innovations in bio, photonics, and quantum technologies.

Designed to provide a platform for networking and learning about America’s Seed Fund and other funding strategies, the conference encourages collaboration among entrepreneurs, researchers, support organizations, and industry experts.

BOEING: Helena, MT Career Event on FRI, MARCH 8th

Looking for a job that offers best-in-class benefits, like tuition assistance and a top-rated 401k? Join our career event on Friday, March 8th in Helena.

Want to work on advanced aerospace products? We’re hiring fabrication and quality professionals. Sign-on bonuses and relocation assistance may be available.

Apply to one or more of our roles prior to the event and bring a printed copy of your resume for a potential interview.

Why join Boeing?

  • You will have the opportunity to work with advanced technologies that help make the world a better place
  • We offer a wide range of benefits, including market-leading health and retirement plans, generous tuition assistance, paid time off, and programs that support you, your family and your community
  • We’re a diverse team that is united in pushing the boundaries of imagination and excellence

Qualified candidates will be contacted with further details.

TRADE DAY for Wholesalers is FRI, MARCH 8th
Discover authentic Made in Montana products at the Made in Montana Tradeshow on March 8-9 at the Lewis & Clark County Fairgrounds, 98 West Custer Avenue, Helena, MT.

The Tradeshow is a unique selling opportunity for Made in Montana companies as it incorporates a “Wholesale” day and a public “Retail” day. View Exhibitors and learn more here.

  • Friday, March 8, 2024 is reserved for Wholesale Buyers. The Exhibit floor is open for buyers from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wholesale buyer preregistration opens in January.
  • Saturday, March 9, 2024 is open to the public. Shop from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the latest in Made in Montana food, home, gifts and more. Free admission and free parking.
Join BLM and Montana APEX Accelerator to learn about business opportunities for your company! Emphasis on: Construction/Trades, Land Stewardship, Architects & Engineering, Cultural Resources/Archeology, Recreation Services, Veterinary Services, Professional Services & Supplies.

During this event, businesses will receive information on the topics below and meet with BLM contracting officers. Click HERE to see what BLM buys!


SAVE THE DATE: World Trade & Investment Day is MAY 22nd
Join the Montana World Trade Center, the University of Montana Max S. Baucus Institute, and Stockman Bank of Montana on May 22nd from 12:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at Montana State University inside the Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering with a reception to follow.

International trade & investment are essential to Montana’s economy— from wheat to SaaS products and everything in between, Montanans are selling their products & services worldwide, importing supply chain solutions, and receiving investment from global markets. Come celebrate Montana’s successes on the global stage, learn about untapped opportunities, and gather together in honor of World Trade Month.

Gleaning insights on a dynamic global trade landscape from Ambassador Baucus, unveiling results of the MWTC Annual World Trade & Investment report, honoring the Montana Exporter of the Year as chosen by the Montana District Export Council, inviting Consuls General from our trading partner nations to share insights, meet with businesses and amass more granular detail about mutually beneficial trade and investment opportunities between Montana and their home country, offering timely training for Montana’s exporting and importing firms.’

Early bird tickets are on sale now until March 1st.

Purchase tickets here.

Montana Chamber Signature Events:
WED-FRI, MARCH 6-8, 2024

AC Hotel Bozeman Downtown | Kimpton Armory Hotel

Bozeman, MT

Lodging $179 / night

The countdown is on and the stage is set for the first Montana Women in Business Summit.
Thank you to all of our 2024 Speakers, Sponsors, Summit Committee members and attendees without whom this event would not be possible – View them here.
SAVE THE DATE: National Travel & Tourism Week is May 19-25
Stay tuned for details coming soon!
Montana Chamber Member Spotlight:
OUR MISSION We love what we do + have fun doing it. We design places + we build relationships. We’re a team that fosters family spirit. We seek excellence through innovation.

For over four decades, SMA Architecture + Design has provided professional architectural services throughout the intermountain west. Founded by John D. McKittrick and Rick Schlenker, the firm is now lead by Jason M. Davis, Tim Meldrum, Klint Fisher, Mark Ophus and Charley Franklin who have carried on SMA’s client commitment to providing the best possible project, all while ensuring the process is enjoyable. SMA has expanded over the past ten years with offices located in Helena and Bozeman, while serving the entire state of Montana and beyond.


SMA truly believes we are in the business of not only designing great buildings, but more importantly, building relationships with our clients. Our resume includes services for commercial, institutional, educational, historic preservation, healthcare, and military projects, many of which manifest repeat clients. We emphasize an in-depth programming phase for each project identifying our client’s vision and needs as this is the foundation of a successful project. We embrace an integrated design process and delivery between the construction disciplines, specialized consultants, and building contractors to achieve the most cost effective and timely solutions. Each client has different program requirements and budgets to guide our performance from project inception through construction administration, and continue long after owner occupancy. We are committed to our client’s satisfaction by providing excellent design that will serve our client’s mission and users.

Building projects are complex and expensive. Ultimately, buildings make a mark on their neighborhood and community that lasts as long – or longer – than the people who build them. SMA has the broad experience that assures the mark you make will be successful both today and tomorrow.

Learn more at


The Benefits of Delegation

By Bryan Peterson, VP Human Resource Services


Delegation can be a powerful tool from a leadership standpoint in a couple of different realms. For the individual, delegation can be a great time management instrument. For the organization, delegation can be a way to empower and develop our employees.


From a time management standpoint, delegation may allow us to better balance our workload. We are working in a time where everyone is doing more with less. Workloads and stress are high. Do you have an opportunity to distribute some of your workload?


For those that feel overwhelmed with everything on your plate, sit down some evening and make a list of everything you feel you are responsible for. Sleep on the list. Look at it the next day with a critical eye. Are there items on your list you shouldn’t even be in the middle of? Are there items that could be delegated to someone as a development opportunity?


Our employees can be developed and empowered through delegation. Delegation is not dumping your work on someone else and getting rid of tasks you no longer want to do by passing them on to someone else. If others have time to assist, and you can dump some of your workload, dump. Delegation is giving up key tasks and responsibilities that you do well and have been probably recognized for in the past. You are giving these tasks and

responsibilities up to someone else as a professional growth opportunity.

This Business Brief Is Sponsored by Our Treasure State Member:
To learn more about Treasure State Membership benefits for your business, contact Matt Olson, Director of Network Development at [email protected] | 406.360.6443
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Montana Chamber of Commerce | 616 Helena Ave Ste 300, PO Box 1730, Helena, MT 59601

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