When visiting a place as wild and extraordinary as Montana, it’s natural to gravitate toward locally made items that bring a sense of authenticity to place and purchase.
It’s a way to remember how it felt to be there and experience it for yourself, not just a way to remember you went. And in Montana, visitors have help picking out such items through the Made-in-Montana program from the Department of Commerce.
“People, when they travel, they want something authentic from that place. It makes sense to seek out something special from that location,” said Susan Joy, manager of the program for the Commerce Department.
Since 1984, the department has offered the Made in Montana label as a way to show that the product was manufactured or produced or grown here. To qualify for the free program, the product must also have 50 percent or more value added. The main tenants of the program are “we’re a cut above, we’re Montanan through and through, and we’re here by choice.”
“It’s a badge of honor,” Joy said.
Additionally, the Commerce Department created the Grown in Montana label in 1998, followed by the Native American Made label launched in 2011. The department also recently launched the “Taste Our Place” program to showcase restaurants that use made- or grown-in-Montana products year-round. So far, Kalispell’s Hop’s, Montana Coffee Traders, Desoto Grill, and Ceres Bakery are participants.
The Made-in-Montana program’s success is measured in pride of product, but it’s also measured in dollars. According to the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana, non-resident travelers bought $82,700,000 worth of Made-in-Montana purchases in 2018, a significant increase over 2017’s $70,853,000.
Flathead County accounted for $24 million of the 2018 purchases, or nearly 30 percent. That’s roughly an $8 million increase over 2017’s $16,446,000. Joy said the concentration of purchases here makes sense, given the county’s proximity to Glacier National Park. In Gallatin County, near Yellowstone National Park, travelers spent $11.3 million in Made-in-Montana purchases last year.
Traveler spending on Made-in-Montana products outpaced even hotel spending in Lincoln County, coming in at nearly $2.4 million.
Joy said the program has grown with the state’s economy, now consisting of at least 2,300 members. And the Commerce Department gets 50 new applications a month.
“It’s definitely increasing every year because people see the label and they want to know how they can join the program,” Joy said.
All of the members are listed in a directory on the department’s website, with filters that allow searches specified by product, place, and label type. The department revamped the directory about 18 months ago to give it a cleaner, more-modern look.
The program also has its own trade show every year, which happens in March in Helena. Joy said the program has grown in a manner most things grow in Montana, with an even-paced progression by folks who care what goes into it.
“It’s a natural progression, things have grown authentically and have grown because members want to be part of the program,” Joy said.
For more information on the Made in Montana program, as well as access to the product portal, visit www.madeinmontanausa.com.