Diversity In Glass

By Beacon Staff

A hotel in Kalispell, an airport traffic control tower in Missoula and a tornado-scarred stadium in Billings; these are just a few projects that Big Mountain Glass and Windows, LLC, of Whitefish can lay claim to. Thanks to a strengthening economy in Montana and an unstoppable oil boom in North Dakota, Big Mountain Glass has rebounded from the depths of the economic recession.

Project manager and part-owner Scott Gearhart says the company has 12 full-time employees and the dealer and commercial glass shop is looking to grow. Diversifying, Gearhart says, is a big part of the company’s recent success.

“To stay in business in such a small valley, you have to be able to do anything that is thrown at you,” he said.

Big Mountain Glass started in 1972 and Chris and Kathy Gearheart purchased it 19 years ago. Since then, the company has sold residential windows and doors and worked on commercial glass installations. At its peak in 2008, just before the recession hit, the company had nearly 20 employees. In 2010, it downsized to about 10 employees. Scott said moves like that saved the company.

“We’ve been able to do more with less, just like everyone else,” said Scott, who graduated from Montana State University with a degree in construction and engineering technology.

The Bakken oil boom in North Dakota has also helped the company. Three years ago, Big Mountain Glass bid on a small project near Williston and now almost 15 percent of its business is with contractors in North Dakota. Scott said most of the work involves commercial buildings, like stores and strip malls, but the company has also installed glass at a school.

One the company’s largest projects is installing the glass for a prison expansion in Bismarck. Due to security, the glass must be five-ply so that it cannot be broken. Big Mountain Glass has been working on the $1.1 million project for nearly a year and a half.

“(The Bakken) has definitely been a big help for us,” Scott said.

Big Mountain Glass has worked hard to form trusted relationships with contractors locally and in North Dakota. Those bonds have resulted in a variety of projects, including working on the glass for the new Hilton Homewood Suites in Kalispell. On a recent afternoon, Rich Boule was working in Big Mountain Glass’ Whitefish workshop, piecing together window frames for the new hotel.

Boule has worked as a fabricator in the glass business for 40 years, but only recently joined Big Mountain Glass. Boule said it is satisfying to see large projects like the Hilton completed.

“When a job gets done, it gives you some satisfaction knowing you did that,” he said. “Especially when you come back and replace a window you put in 20 years ago.”

Steve Sheler grinds the edges off a mirror while working at Big Mountain Glass and Windows in Whitefish. – Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon

Other notable projects include Flathead Valley Community College’s new nursing center and the University of Montana’s Native American Center in Missoula, a 19,900-square-foot building with a circular glass area in its main entrance that resembles a teepee.
“There is a ton of engineering that goes into a job like that and guys with a lot of experience,” Scott said.

Another high-profile project Big Mountain Glass undertook was the installation of windows at Billings’ Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark, which suffered damage from a tornado on Father’s Day 2010. Scott said it was challenging because of unexpected problems that don’t usually happen when working on a brand-new building.

Scott said high-profile projects help the company forge relationships with various contractors across the state and those bonds will help the company grow in the future.

“I hope we can see the economy in the Flathead Valley pick up as well as to continue to work with contractors outside of the area,” he said.

For more information about Big Mountain Glass and Windows, LLC., visit www.bigmountainglass.com or call (406) 862-4206.

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