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Broadband expansion necessary in Montana, reader says

by The Western News
| January 11, 2012 9:53 AM

Letter to the Editor,

If I asked you to characterize Montana’s rural economy, the things that probably come to mind are agriculture, mom and pop businesses on Main Street, and enterprises that connect people with the great outdoors.  One thing that probably didn’t come to mind is manufacturing.

But hopefully that’s about to change.  Manufacturing businesses are springing up in places you wouldn’t expect in Montana, and entrepreneurs are finding that rural areas in our state are ideally situated for manufacturing enterprises.  And if our state takes advantage of the technological changes on the horizon, our manufacturing future looks bright.

When we started PFM Manufacturing, Inc. one of the many hurdles we had to overcome as a small business starting up in rural Montana was our remote location—and to make matters worse, our lack of broadband access.   When our company started up in 1998 we had access only to dial-up Internet. Despite our urging, the provider in our area was not able to supply high-speed broadband access until 2004—several years after most of the country had broadband access.  Even today, after six years with access to broadband we are still light years behind most urban areas in terms of quality of coverage and reliability.

PFM focuses on the manufacturing of all-terrain vehicles known as RAV’s (Remote Access Vehicle’s) such as our flagship model, the Land Tamer.  From our headquarters in Townsend, we successfully developed, patented, and introduced the Land Tamer to fill a niche in the marketplace for a heavy- duty, low-impact, commercial grade amphibious vehicle.

But creating such a unique and specialized product was no easy task. The process of developing and marketing our product, depended heavily on access to the Internet, which at the time was undependable. We depended on the ability to hold teleconferences with other businesses and government agencies lacking broadband access made our research and development phase that much more difficult and ultimately made it more time consuming and expensive.

However, the limitations that unreliable Internet access placed on our business doesn’t stop there. At PFM, we order all of the component parts for our vehicles from different parts of the country and assemble them at our Townsend facility. As you can imagine being able to compare options among vendors is critical.

Many of the parts that we use we order directly from the Internet, and not having quality Internet service can make the ordering process not only cumbersome but also frustrating.

The same can be said of our marketing and distribution process—every time there is a glitch in our connection, there is a glitch in our business process. We depend heavily on our ability to market our products through use of the Internet and the ability to distribute information about our products through the various channels that Internet marketing provides. From research and development to sales and marketing, there is no question that quality broadband service is one of the tools a start up cannot do without in our rapidly-changing, technology-driven economy.

Rural areas of Montana have so many advantages in the quality of their workforce, the quality of life for families, in recreational opportunities for workers; the list goes on.  But a major detriment to starting a business in Montana is that we’re slightly behind the technological curve.  That has to change in order to keep Montana competitive.

We’re proud of what we’ve done in Townsend, and we hope others can replicate our success all over our great state. 

— Patrick Miller

Townsend, Mont.