By Bob Pepalis, The Center Square

Montana’s manufacturers quickly bounced back from the pandemic after a short period of layoffs and curtailing of operations, according to the director of the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center.

Manufacturing accounts for approximately 16% of Montana’s economic base, with more than 3,900 manufacturers operating in the state, the center’s 2021 Montana Manufacturing Report said.

“The Montana manufacturers were fortunate to be in situations where they could pivot,” Montana Manufacturing Extension Center Director Paddy Fleming told The Center Square. “So food manufacturers that maybe were dependent upon the food service products industry switched to retail products.”

The one manufacturing industry that did get hurt was suppliers for the travel industry. Other than that, most manufacturers saw an increase in business.

The outdoor products industries experienced increased demand due to the pandemic because everyone wanted to be outside, he said.

“I think they’re coming back nicely, back to probably close to normal demand. I don’t think we saw a single manufacturer in Montana go out of business,” Fleming said.

The Bureau of Business and Economic Research (BBER) at the University of Montana conducted the analysis and prepared the report for the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center.

A year ago, it predicted nondurable manufacturing would return to pre-COVID levels within a year. Employment in manufacturing returned to its pre-pandemic levels in early 2021, the report said. Durable manufacturing is falling in line with predictions from a year ago and is forecasted to return to the long-run trend in another year.

Problems with the supply chain have caused many state manufacturers to look for alternative supply chains, he said, including onshore sources. But it’s also caused them to be late with deliveries and is a constant concern.

Despite the pandemic, the gross state product out of Montana’s manufacturers grew, as did the number of manufacturers, Fleming said.

“We are seeing an influx of people to Montana due to the pandemic I believe and some of them are bringing their manufacturing businesses,” he said.

The top manufacturers now are fabricated metal and food and beverage. The state also has a significant sector in photonics. Employees have also seen some gains with higher wages.

“In Montana, manufacturing wages average about 15 to 20% higher than the average wage,” he said.

Manufacturing jobs paid approximately $52,111 in earnings while the state average for all jobs was $46,743.Manufacturing accounts for 5.1% of total private state income equaling $1.1 billion, the report said. Its approximately 20,400 employees make up 4.3% of Montana’s non-farm workforce.

Those workers helped produce $3.1 billion of the state’s output, equal to 6.1%.

As a result, manufacturing grew more than double the national average in employment, income and output, the report said. 


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