Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area

In this file photo, the peaks of the Hyalite Ridge make a rocky backdrop for the Blackmore Trail in the northern part of the Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area in July 2013.

As discussions heat up over land use issues both locally and nationally, a panel of area high tech industry executives met in Bozeman on Thursday to discuss the importance of outdoor access, recreation and public lands to their businesses.

Hosted by advocacy group Business for Montana’s Outdoors, the public meeting amounted to a celebration of the positive impacts the outdoors has on an industry typically more associated with cubicles than cutthroat trout.

“Access to open spaces and public lands is what makes our business tick,” said Daren Nordhagen, president of grant management software firm Foundant Technologies. “That has real benefits because employees don’t miss work because they’re sick, but also because they are happier, healthier and more productive.”

Several on the panel — which included pulseCHECKER founder Steve Cannon, Wisetail president Ali Knapp, onX COO/CFO Josh Spitzer and Christina Henderson, executive director of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance — echoed Nordhagen’s sentiment with comments about how the state’s “quality of life” has improved the attraction and retention of employees and subsequently their companies’ bottom lines.

“In Montana, you have a work-life balance: We understand people are more productive if they get outside and exercise,” Henderson said. “It’s a huge competitive advantage and something we should seek to preserve.”

Ray Rasker, executive director of local thinktank Headwaters Economics, presented data gathered by the nonprofit demonstrating the relationship between economic growth and public lands. In a study of rural areas of the western U.S. produced last year, Headwaters found that counties with more federal lands grew more by most economic metrics (employment, personal income and per capita income) than those with fewer such lands.

“There’s no shame in having more people here who are invested,” Spitzer said of growth. “They’re not the enemy, they’re the ally. Don’t close the door behind you, welcome them here in a way that supports them making a positive impact on these places.”

When asked what the panelists’ businesses were doing to preserve access and open lands, Knapp and Nordhagen pointed to company-wide programs that donated money to the Gallatin Valley Land Trust.

For its part, Business for Montana’s Outdoors operates under an advocacy model, creating videos targeted at the state’s three congressmen and the Montana-born Secretary of the Interior, while also “maintaining relationships and communication” with elected representatives.

The group has previously put its weight behind groups fighting against mining in the Paradise Valley, and pushed for increased public input on decisions to reclassify wilderness study areas around Montana.

On Thursday, the topic of conversation was the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a federal program that provides money for agencies from the National Park Service to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The fund is set to expire on Sept. 30.

“We are all stewards to this ecosystem; it’s a valuable resource that we should protect,” Cannon said. “It’s not just going to stay here if we do nothing.”

Kendall can be reached at 406-582-2651 or lkendall@dailychronicle.com. He is on Twitter at @lewdak

Lewis Kendall covers business and the economy for the Chronicle.