Manufacturing strong across Montana, reports say

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Multiple reports recently released by Montana State University’s Montana Manufacturing Extension Center highlight the strength of Montana’s manufacturing sector.

“Manufacturing is doing quite well in Montana right now,” Center Executive Director Paddy Fleming said.

The Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana prepared the 2019 State of Montana Manufacturing report and surveys of Montana manufacturers and MMEC clients. These barometers of manufacturing across the state demonstrated the sector’s recent strength and identified focus areas to address going forward.

The State of Montana Manufacturing report analyzes data from various sources, including the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The report offers an overview of statewide manufacturing trends and breaks down specific areas within manufacturing that are performing particularly well.

According to the report, manufacturing was equal to tourism and ahead of mining and farming in statewide earnings in 2018. The petroleum and coal sector accounted for the largest share of these earnings, followed by wood products. However, these sectors were also counted among those losing firms in 2018, along with paper and primary metal.

The fastest-growing sector, meanwhile, was “beverages and tobacco.” The number of establishments in this sector more than doubled over the past year, and “breweries alone employed 979 people in 2018,” according to a press release from MSU.

The report counted well over 1,000 total manufacturing establishments in Montana last year. Of these, approximately two-thirds were small businesses employing fewer than five people.

In addition to the Manufacturing Report, the 2019 Manufacturers’ Survey shed light on manufacturers’ own perspectives on recent industry trends. The BBER has been conducting this survey since 1999.

More than half of respondents reported their gross sales and production increased over the past year. Half of respondents said their profits increased, and more than half expected their production and gross sales to continue to increase in the next year.

Only 32% of respondents reported increases in their number of employees, and they identified an insufficient qualified workforce as the primary challenge affecting their operations.

According to the report, there are currently 25,100 jobs in manufacturing across the state. This represents 3.7% of the state’s total workforce, up from 3.2% in 2010.

The sector with the most jobs, wood products, declined 35.6% over a 10-year period from 2007 to 2017.

“The lack of workforce is really concerning,” Fleming said. “We know companies are turning down business because they can’t find people to get the work done.”

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