The call of the mountains

Why are entrepreneurs flocking to Boise, Missoula, and other mountain towns?

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A bike break on Boise's Corrals Trail

(FORTUNE Small Business) -- Kevin Benedict worked for years at a Seattle software company, but burned out from the grueling hours, heavy traffic, and high cost of living.

"We hardly saw our kids," he says. And so, in 2001, he moved to Boise, where he took a management position at semiconductor giant Micron Technology (MU, Fortune 500). Three years later Benedict launched Mobile Dataforce, a software startup that sells mobile productivity applications.

Thousands have followed Benedict's path in recent years. Boise and other Rocky Mountain cities scored higher than the rest of the U.S. for entrepreneurial activity, according to the Kauffman Index, an annual survey conducted by the Kauffman Foundation, a nonprofit based in Kansas City, Mo., that promotes entrepreneurship. Montana boasts the highest rate of startups a month (0.6% of adults) of any state. Why the boom?

The Mountain States offer cheap real estate, educated workers, uncrowded airports, cultural amenities, and, in many areas, good public schools The beginnings of this bonanza date to the 1970s and 1980s, when firms such as IBM (IBM, Fortune 500), Hewlett-Packard (HPQ, Fortune 500), and Micron (MU, Fortune 500) set up shop in Idaho and Colorado. These firms chose the Rockies in part to avoid employee poaching by coastal competitors.

The strategy was not entirely successful: With average commercial rents of $12 a square foot (compared with the national average of $32) and average state and local taxes at $2,728 a year (compared with $3,736 nationally), the pull to leave and launch one's own company is irresistible.

And so are the leisure opportunities that arise from working at a slower pace compared with Seattle or Silicon Valley. Says Benedict, 42: "I fly-fish at lunch."  To top of page

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