By Shannon Furniss
What started out as a two-person shop on a family farm has grown into a multi-million dollar company, which employs 50 people in the heart of Montana.
Spika Welding and Manufacturing specializes in designing and manufacturing industrial work platforms and ground support equipment for people working on military aircraft, tactical vehicles, and satellites. Last year, Gov. Steve Bullock presented Spika Welding with the “Manufacturing Exporter of the Year” award. President and founder, Tom Spika, exports his company’s products globally to markets in Sweden, Australia, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Israel.
Spika is a longtime Lewistown resident. He and his wife, Carol, grew up in Lewistown and started their business in 2001 on their farm. They watched as classmates that grew up on family farms left for jobs in the city, a trend that was happening all over rural America. The couple was determined to stay on the farm and make their business work.
Shortly after opening his shop, Spika got a contract to manufacture aviation equipment for the National Guard, which allowed him to learn the ropes in the unique world of aviation and get connected with the Department of Defense. New to the military arena, it took Spika a while to get established.
After working with the military for a number of years, Spika realized that the equipment the servicemen were using to maintain their aircraft could be built better, and he set out to create a product that would be high-quality, safe, and effective. By 2008, Spika perfected his technology and began building OSHA-compliant maintenance platforms and wrap-around systems that would allow technicians to work on helicopters, fighter jets, stealth planes, and other aircraft. Having outgrown the shop on the farm, the company invested $1.5 million in a new 12,000 square foot building and moved the operation. Over the years, Spika has secured millions of dollars in defense contracts.
Around 2011, the Defense Department began scaling back the budget, so Spika decided to start pursuing other markets in the U.S. and overseas. Spika now designs and builds aviation maintenance equipment that he exports to global markets. His latest project involves outfitting a helicopter manufacturing company with platforms that are specifically designed to each work station, a process he calls “very design and engineering-intensive.” The company also is working with three different satellite companies on aerospace equipment. It’s been six years since Spika moved into the new building, but he says the company is planning another expansion this spring.
“A lot of our motivation when we started this business was to try to create job opportunities,” said Spika, who is currently the chairman of the Montana Manufacturing Council, a subsidiary of the Montana Chamber of Commerce. “There are so many kids that grow up on the farm that want to stay here, but farming is no longer employing the people that it used to. I hate to see us losing people that want to be here.”
Just recently, Spika’s daughter, Katie, assumed the role of Chief Operating Officer from her father. Spika continues on as lead product developer and president of the company. A graduate of theUniversity of Montana School of Business Administration, Katie and her father spoke at a CEO Forum hosted by the Great Falls Development Authority about making the leadership transition. Bekhi Spika, a University of Montana Journalism School graduate, is the director of marketing. One of Spika’s goals is to help reverse the trend of young people leaving Lewistown – creating opportunities for his daughters is a good start.
This article is part two of a four-part series on the Lewistown manufacturing cluster. Read Part one: Central Montana’s Vibrant Manufacturing Center Reaches Global Markets
About the Author: Shannon Furniss is a Missoula-area journalist and communications specialist. Ms. Furniss is currently the communications director at the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research and the editor of the Montana Business Quarterly. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Montana.
About the Publisher: Launched in April 2014, the Montana High Tech Business Alliance is a statewide membership organization made up of more than 135 high tech and manufacturing firms and affiliates.