HELENA – The public got a chance Friday to see firsthand the kind of work that Helena-area manufacturing companies can produce. Several local businesses opened their doors for a “manufacturing tour,” in connection with National Manufacturing Day.
The Montana Manufacturing Association, a subsidiary of the Montana Chamber of Commerce, has been organizing Manufacturing Day tours for the last three years. Dan Brunell, the chamber’s operations director, said manufacturing is the fastest-growing sector of the state’s economy, with 8 percent of the economic output and about 20,000 people employed.
“Just like high-tech, just like health care, manufacturing is really building those higher-wage jobs that we really need to drive Montana forward,” said Brunell.
Friday’s tour began at Helena College’s airport campus, where students receive training in trades like welding and machining.
“Manufacturers work really closely with their local two-year colleges and technical education colleges,” Brunell said. “Without them, they can’t find the students with the critical certificates and credentials to really work in those fields.”
The tour then included stops at four businesses: Montana Hydraulics, which produces specialized parts for industries like mining, oil and gas and railroads; Pioneer Aerostructures, which manufactures important parts for planes like the F-35 fighter jet; YESCO, which creates custom electric signs for businesses in Montana and beyond; and Ten Mile Creek Brewery, a downtown brewery that produces a variety of beers, largely with Montana ingredients.
“We really want to show the variety and diversity of manufacturers in Helena,” said Brunell.
Businesses that took part in the tour said they were proud to show off the work they do.
“The exposure is very important,” said Ken Kluth, YESCO’s Montana production manager.
One of the key goals of the tour was to get people thinking about careers in manufacturing. Organizers said they were pleased to have a number of students from Helena High’s welding class along for the tour.
“It’s encouraging to see young people interested in the manufacturing jobs, because we definitely need that,” Kluth said. “It is a very good way to make a living.”
Brunell said there have been 18 manufacturing tours around Montana this year. On Friday, tours were held in the Bozeman area, Kalispell and Lewistown as well as Helena.