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Polson Chamber hears about manufacturing

POLSON – One may not realize it, but Montana is a good place for manufacturing. 

Lake County native Paddy Fleming tried to get that message across to the Polson Chamber of Commerce on Aug. 2. 

Fleming, who has been director of the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center at Montana State University for three years, previously owned Flathead Lake Winery for 12 years. Lake County Community Development Corp.’s Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center helped him get that business off the ground, he said. 

Fleming noted that many think of manufacturing as backbreaking labor conducted in a hot environment, but times have changed. Today it’s usually done in a clean and safe environment, although he added that manufacturing is proceeding toward automation. Some of the future jobs in the field will consist of maintaining and programming robots, he said. 

Top in the nation 

Montana has been ranked as the top state in the nation for entrepreneurs by the Kauffman Foundation of Kansas City, he said, speculating this is because people want to live here so they figure out something to do so they can. 

Since 2004, Montana has seen a 5-percent increase in manufacturing jobs while the nation as a whole has declined 12.8, he said. 

Montana’s manufacturing jobs pay 17 percent more than the average job in the state, he said, but noted that 81 percent of manufacturers have less than 10 employees. 

While production of food and alcoholic beverages is doing well in the state right now, Fleming pointed out that there is a workforce shortage in manufacturing along with the healthcare and tourism fields.

Lake County’s largest manufacturers are: Jore Corp./Rocky Mountain Twist, which makes drill bits in Ronan; S & K Technologies, Inc., which builds electronic circuit boards in Pablo; Ashley-Martin Manufacturing, LLC, which makes vitamins in Arlee; and Western Bee Supplies Inc., which produces bee hives in Polson. Also of note is MT Solar which makes solar panels in Charlo. 

“Lake County is poised for great manufacturing growth if that’s the direction you want to go,” he said, noting it’s strategically located between the third and fourth best counties for manufacturing in the state, has lower housing and land costs than those counties and has a railroad spur. 

In addition, he said the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have a great government model that allows tribal businesses to be insulated from tribal politics. 

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