When one hears the word “manufacturing,” images of metal being bent, lumber going through various saws and high-tech factories making the latest microchips come to mind. But in Flathead Valley, the largest shift in manufacturing involves microbrews and lager.
The Kalispell Chamber of Commerce and the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research (BBER) have reported that Flathead’s largest growth in manufacturing came from distilleries, breweries and wineries.
Tours of these local establishments were recently offered, which allowed guests to see how agribusiness and manufacturing can be tied together. Many consumers in Montana and across America have developed a renewed interest in locally produced food items. This has led to food and beverage manufacturers stepping up to meet demand.
The whole production process has also been changed to include local ingredients whenever possible. For example, fertilizer from local farms is used to help produce hops, which are then sent on to local breweries that make the final product.
Local beer production in Montana has grown very well in the last couple of years and the industry isn’t likely to lose its momentum anytime soon. A BBER study that was presented in August shows an 87 percent increase in local beer production since 2010. This is also highly beneficial for local workers, as the increase is responsible for 1,044 more permanent year-round jobs across the whole state.
All this attention that local beer has been getting has since spilled over into the restaurant sector as well. Unique local dishes get special attention from customers, with some becoming very popular as a result.
Even though mass produced food and beverage items aren’t going to disappear from Montana anytime soon, a lot of consumers will go for a local option whenever possible. A common attitude is that locally made products are more likely to be fresh and have a more authentic feeling.
Even though food and beverage manufacturing is doing great, the news isn’t all positive for the entire industry in Montana. The wood products industry, once very strong, is still suffering in the Flathead.
This has been made worse by Weyerhaeuser’s plants in Columbia Falls being shut down. Accessing timber has grown more difficult lately, causing supply problems.
A strong US dollar is affecting exports, but the housing market has been rebounding after a downturn. The local firearms industry is experiencing a flux, with several companies in that sector going through mergers and consolidations.
Anyone skilled in precise machining will find it quite easy to find a job in the area, as local employers aren’t able to find enough people for jobs that pay very well. In their quest to get more qualified workers, businesses are cooperating with Flathead Valley Community College, which provides a variety of trade education options, including manufacturing trades.
Efforts to fill manufacturing jobs are likely to continue in the near future, as businesses are facing worker shortages. Problems related to transportation, especially by air, are also a concern among all the different industries that one may find in the Flathead.
Despite this, local residents remain optimistic. Food and beverage manufacturing is showing very rapid growth, being one of the hottest industries in Montana. The industry’s stellar performance is very likely to stay strong for the foreseeable future.