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Tech company commonFont picked Bozeman over Silicon Valley

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BOZEMAN, Mont. - A Bozeman city official says the city has the fastest growing economy in Montana, in part because of the role technology plays in society today.

Technology businesses like commonFont, a company that helps clients set up software that enables them to collect feedback from their customers, are feeding the city's reputation as a blooming tech bubble.

Located in the downtown Bozeman area, commonFont's founders were once based in California's Silicon Valley. They say they picked Bozeman as the place to start the company because they believed in the community here.

The city is trying to nurture that sentiment about Bozeman in the area of fiber optics. Many tech companies in Bozeman live and breathe on an Internet connection for their business. Quality speeds and affordability are key issues for companies like these.

The owners of commonFont pay about $100 a month for Internet, but that is going to change when they add more staff.

"We're going to need to upgrade our Internet at some point this year, at which point it will cost drastically more than that," said Abby Schlatter, the co-director of commonFont.

Schlatter says she estimates the cost to go up several thousand dollars more, just to set up the infrastructure for the upgrade.

The city wants to help reduce these kinds of costs, which could cripple a tech company that is just starting up.

"The city is installing multi-ducted conduit in these areas for telecommunications facilities and that way the private sector can come in and license these conduits from the city," said David Fine, a city economic development specialist.

Fine says that allows communication companies to deploy fiber-optic lines much more cheaply and force them to compete.

"And hopefully businesses and residents in these areas can get fiber at reasonable prices from competitive provider selections," said Fine.

The city already owns conduit that runs along North Montana Avenue that connects fiber from City Hall to the City Shop Complex to link the two buildings together. Fine says the city was paying $625 a month to lease a line from an Internet provider. They are saving thousands with their own line now.

That is the kind of savings the city wants to pass on to the tech businesses in town.

"It shows that Bozeman is investing in the tech community here," said Schlatter.

Bozeman plans to install nearly 17,000 linear feet of conduit this summer. It will cost the city about $1 million to install conduit in the downtown and midtown areas. Tax diversions based on the value of properties in each particular district will cover the costs.

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