Kalispell Chamber to Highlight Manufacturing Workforce Development

The chamber of commerce will host a Sept. 19 luncheon to kick off Manufacturing Month

By Maggie Dresser
A tour of the Weyerhaeuser Medium Density Fiberboard plant on Oct. 25, 2018 as part of the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce's Manufacturing Day event. Beacon File Photo

While manufacturing has a major impact on the Flathead Valley’s economy, the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce will focus on developing the workforce behind that sector at its luncheon on Thursday, Sept. 19.

The luncheon, which kicks off the 2019 Flathead Manufacturing Month, will host Lamont Kotter, the plant manager at Blackhawk, an outdoor gear manufacturer in Bozeman.

From timber to medical manufacturing, Kalispell Chamber of Commerce President Joe Unterreiner says the Flathead historically has a high concentration of manufacturing businesses. With a similar industry in Bozeman, the chamber is seeking ideas to strengthen its own manufacturing area.

“It will be a good chance to compare notes,” Unterreiner said.

Blackhawk was awarded Montana’s Manufacturer of the Year in 2018 and the chamber hopes to learn how they earned that award, and what they’re doing to expand.

Kotter will also educate the chamber about the Greater Gallatin Valley Manufacturing Partnership with Senior Business Advisor Alistair Stewart of the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center.

The Kalispell Chamber, which has its own 80-member manufacturers alliance, will learn from Bozeman’s speakers to see if similar programs, like manufacturing education and curriculum, would work in the Flathead.

Manufacturing Month will specifically focus on workforce development within manufacturing trades.

“A lot of jobs are high-tech oriented,” Unterreiner said. “There’s just a misunderstanding of work in advanced manufacturing and skilled trades these days.”

In 2017, the Kalispell Chamber began organizing field trips for 150 high school students to learn about skill trades, like welding and CNC operating, at Flathead Valley Community College. The event had a positive result and is a major chamber focus now, Unterreiner says.

The Kalispell Chamber will share these trends at the luncheon, and hopefully learn how to expand the Flathead’s economy using Bozeman’s model.

“Our two areas have some of the most dynamic manufacturing areas in the state,” Unterreiner said.

The Manufacturing Month luncheon will be on Thursday, Sept. 19 from 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. at the Red Lion Hotel in Kalispell.

Additional events will occur in October, including a timber tour at the Hungry Horse Ranger District on Thursday, Oct. 1 from 12:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.