Sen. Tester to host small business workshop on manufacturing

Helena Independent Record

by Derek Brouwer

Sen. Jon Tester will host a small business workshop in Helena next week aimed at expanding manufacturing opportunities in the state.

The public workshop takes place on Friday, March 7, at the Carroll College Campus Center. It will feature a guest speaker and a panel of Montana business owners.

In a recent interview, Tester said the state is poised for increases in the manufacturing sector.

“I think we are very, very well positioned, particularly for light manufacturing,” he said.

He said changing international labor markets offer a chance for Montana to recapture some manufacturing jobs and cited momentum as the industry’s chief barrier.

“Success breeds success. We’ve had some success but we could have a lot more,” he said.

“We don’t have manufacturing because Montana isn’t seen as a manufacturing state,” Tester added. “I really think it’s as simple as that.”

In a recent survey of Montana small manufacturers, business owners listed infrastructure and availability of qualified labor among their top challenges.

Tester said working to make college and technical schools more affordable as one way of ensuring small businesses have access to qualified employees.

The state’s broadband network, according to Tester, has removed connectivity barriers for small towns.

“Co-ops have done a pretty darn good job of getting broadband in the rural areas. I think there’s just as good opportunities in a place like Hingham, Mont., as there are in Havre or Helena,” Tester said.

Tab Wilkins, regional manager for the U.S. Department of Commerce Manufacturing Extension Partnership program will deliver the workshop’s keynote speech.

The workshop will also include a few industry panels. Members of a panel highlighting manufacturing success stories include:

  • Paige Montague, The Billings-based company prints custom maps for professionals and recreational users.
  • Ashley Moran, Fort Peck Tech Manufacturing. The tribal-owned business provides welding services and fuel systems for the U.S. military.
  • Tom Spika, Spika Welding. The Lewistown business fabricates work platforms and ground support equipment.
  • James Stephens, Blue Marble Biomaterials. The Missoula company processes petroleum-replacement chemicals for household products.
  • Bill Nicholson, inDimension3 Printing. The Kalispell company manufactures 3D printers.

Another “industry support” panel includes:

  • Ronda Coguill, lab manager at Montana Tech Materials Testing Lab.
  • Cary Hester, international trade specialist with Montana U.S. Export Assistance Center.
  • Todd Daniels, field engineer with Montana Manufacturing Extension Center.

The March workshop is the 14th hosted by Tester. More than 2,000 residents have attended them, according to Tester’s office.

The workshop begins at 8 a.m. and is free and open to the public. Those wishing to attend are encouraged to RSVP at