The route to the summit was slow going on day one, but there was excitement in Butte’s thin air.
A caravan of shiny SUV’s, pickups and late-model cars made their way up a congested Park Street to Montana Tech. They contrasted starkly with the aging historic structures that lined the route.
The rigs carried roughly 3,000 business people, government workers and curious citizens. They were on their way to see the Max Baucus show, officially called the Montana Economic Development Summit. And what a show it was.
Democrat Baucus is Montana’s senior senator and the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and one of the most powerful men in America. When his office calls, the mighty listen. Those attending the summit were treated to appearances by some of the rock stars of the contemporary business scene and a panel made up of some of the world’s highest ranking diplomats.
Among those speaking at the summit were Google COO Eric Schmidt, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk, former ambassador to China John Huntsman, Oracle President and CFO Safra Catz, ConocoPhillips Chairman and CEO Ryan Lance, Boeing CEO Jim McNerney, Delta CEO Richard Anderson, FEDEX CEO Fred Smith and Ford CEO and President Alan Mulally.
And it wasn’t just Baucus’ job description that brought a luminous circle of business leaders to Butte. His current project made his invitations offers that were hard to refuse. The senator is working on a plan to overhaul the federal tax code, and he noted on day one of the conference that his efforts made it easier to attract high-ranking corporate speakers, the Great Falls Tribune reported.
David Ryan of the New Republic noted that the summit might be more about lobbying for preferential tax treatment than Montana jobs. “In fact, every corporation associated with the Montana Economic Development Summit has a stake in the tax reform debate. Considering the tens of billions of dollars that these companies stand to gain if they are successful, a couple of days in Butte doesn’t sound like such a bad trade,” Ryan wrote.
But some of the companies that participated do have a real stake in Montana. Oracle’s Catz told attendees about her company’s investment in the Bozeman area. Oracle’s entire cloud computing division is situated there and employs roughly 500 people, Catz said.
She noted that Oracle had moved jobs out of Mexico and back into the United States. Oracle had chosen Montana because Oracle’s business was about people, she said. “Our people in Montana do phenomenal work,” she added.
Boeing has a manufacturing facility in Helena, and at the summit CEO McNerney took to the stage to announce a $35 million expansion in Montana’s capital city that would add 20 to 25 jobs, a press release said.
Sen. Baucus also announced from the state that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana was opening a new call center in Great Falls adding 100 to 150 jobs in the Electric City. Blue Cross Blue Shield was one the of event sponsors.
In addition to the deals announced at the summit, the long-term benefit gleaned from mingling 3,000 Montana business people together may be incalculable.