While facing challenges of finding qualified workers, and strategies on how to expand their businesses, Montana manufacturers are holding firm after a decade of growth that exceeded the national average.

Since 2010, employment in Montana manufacturing has grown 20.4 percent while nationally it grew 12.1 percent. It grew from 19,841 workers to 23,896, in Montana, all the while changing within, as to the kind of products that spurred its growth.
In surveys, Montana manufacturers say that in response to the struggle to address their workforce problems, they are automating some of the more strenuous or monotonous jobs. To grow their businesses, many are considering new product lines, new markets and exporting. The Bureau notes that many of the manufacturing concerns have owners who are retiring and have no transition plans, which may put many jobs in jeopardy.
According to the Bureau of Business and Economic Research, Montana’s manufacturing employment grew despite permanent closures in the paper and wood products industries, because of growth in other categories such as the production of alcoholic beverages, fabricated metal products and small arms manufacturing.
Employment in the wood and paper products industries decreased from more than 3,200 in 2010 to about 3000 in 2016, a decline of 7.2 percent. Employment in all other categories increased from 16,598 in 2010, to 20,885 in 2016 – an increase of almost 26 percent.
Also, contributing to the strong growth were new and expanding manufacturing establishments. National and multinational corporations acquired existing Montana manufacturers and expanded them, including such companies as GlaxoSmithKline, Boeing, Applied Materials, Newport and FLIR.
Two manufacturing sectors with significant employment growth were fabricated metals, adding more than 1,200 jobs (65 percent growth) from 2010 to 2016; and beverage producers, adding nearly 589 jobs (75 percent growth) over the six year period. Non-metallic mineral products also grew by nearly 500 employees or roughly 53 percent; while computers and electronics manufacturers added about 390 jobs, which was about 89 percent growth.
“The production of alcoholic beverages is a rapidly growing industry in Montana,” reports the Bureau. “Distilleries, wineries and breweries together employed 950 people in 2016, up from 267 in 2011. Breweries added the most (514) employees. In 2016, there were 742 workers in breweries and 154 in distilleries. The growth in alcoholic beverages was mostly due to new firms rather than growth in existing firms, however several existing breweries and distilleries are planning for expansion. The total number of alcoholic beverage producers increased from 25 in 2010 to 87 in 2016.”
Growing the fastest, however, is the production of fabricated metal and architectural and structural metals manufacturing, as well as, firms producing small arms. Small arms manufacturing employment increased from 148 workers in 2010, to 381 in 2015, located primarily in the Flathead and Bitterroot Valleys. Employment in structural metals manufacturing rose from 727 in 2010 to 998 in 2015, an increase of more than 32 percent.
Montana has 1,479 manufacturing establishments that have employees (2016). The number of manufacturers grew by 14 percent or 185 since the state’s low point in its number of firms in 2011, when there were 1,294 companies. They include 267 food and beverage manufacturers and 250 fabricated metal shops.  Most of Montana’s manufacturing businesses have fewer than 20 employees.