After Montana became one of the first governments willing to publicly invest in bitcoin mining last year, the governor’s economic development team is trying to distance the state from the cryptocurrency gold rush that’s making its way here.

“I think that, generally speaking, Montanans are after good, stable jobs. When a company is sort of volatile by definition, I don’t think that provides the sort of stability our workforce is looking for,” says chief business development officer Ken Fichtler.

Fichtler’s comments come a few days after Inc. magazine reported that the state was “eager to get in on the trend further” after a large bitcoin mine appeared in Bonner, with even larger ones planned in Butte and Anaconda, by actively marketing Montana as a destination for data centers, including cryptocurrency mines.

As the Indy reported Feb. 1, the governor’s office claims its position was misrepresented. Now Fichtler is drawing a distinction between the kinds of data centers Montana aims to attract and what bitcoin mines have offered.

“It certainly also doesn’t provide the same level of jobs to the state that other data centers do. At this point I would say we’re just much more focused elsewhere,” he says.

The words of caution are notable given that the state Department of Commerce made headlines across the cryptocurrency world by offering a $416,000 job creation grant to Project Spokane in Bonner. That grant was later declined — a story the Indy explored in a Jan. 25 cover story.

But in the past two months, plans for large new mines have emerged in Anaconda and Butte, where operators say they’re “in this for the long term,” according to the Montana Standard.

Fichtler says his office has fielded several calls from bitcoin prospectors since word spread about the state’s attractiveness to cryptocurrency mining, but that the office has redirected callers to other sources of information.

“These operations typically call up looking for information on sites. We can’t provide information like that,” Fichtler says.

Fichtler says the state finds the new industry fascinating, and that he’s “anxious to see where it all goes.”

Staff Reporter

Staff reporter Derek Brouwer joined the Indy in 2015 after year-long stints covering education at the Billings Gazette and the Helena Independent Record. He graduated from Montana State University. Follow him on Twitter: @derekwbrouwer.

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