City of Tallahassee Chooses Spika Work Platforms to Maintain its StarMetro Electric Bus Fleet.

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Montana manufacturer’s expertise in stands to maintain sensitive equipment in aerospace comes in handy to support the needs of electric mobility in mass transit.

January 12, 2021. 05:00 PM Mountain Time

Lewistown, Montana – Spika Design & Manufacturing, Inc., today announced that the City of Tallahassee, Florida has awarded a contract for a custom-designed work platform to support the maintenance needs of the city’s electric bus fleet that is a part of StarMetro, the city’s mass transit system.

Electric buses come with sensitive equipment and unique design features as well as contours around which maintenance personnel must navigate safely and conduct operations with complete peace of mind. Spika’s Wrap-Around Fleet Maintenance Platforms, which the City of Tallahassee will acquire, require no PPE, are easy to move, height-adjustable for quick setup, and are virtually maintenance free.

“We are delighted to have the opportunity to serve the City of Tallahassee with Spika’s robust work platforms,” says Katie Spika, Chief Executive Officer of Spika Design & Manufacturing, Inc. “Our experience working with the electric bus manufacturing industry, and our expertise in building complex access platforms for the aerospace industry since 2001, makes us uniquely qualified for safety access at varying elevations around an electric bus,” adds Spika.

About StarMetro mass transit system: StarMetro is the city-owned and operated public bus service for Tallahassee, the capital city of Florida, serving a population of almost 300,000. StarMetro provides almost 3.4 million fixed route rides per year.

About Spika Design & Manufacturing, Inc.: Forged in the ethos that put Americans on the moon, Spika Design & Manufacturing, Inc. is a design-led manufacturing company classified as a Woman-Owned Small Business (WOSB), based in Lewistown, Montana. Built on the timeless American values of quality, manufacturing ingenuity and innovation, Spika was established in 2001 to develop unique ways to tackle a variety of complex ergonomic challenges in manufacturing, assembly, and MRO, across industries. Spika Design and Manufacturing specializes in the design and manufacture of aluminum work platforms that help clients stay OSHA compliant and safe while working at varying heights and cantilevers. Certified under AS9100D with ISO 9001:2015 for the Aerospace Industry, Spika also designs for efficiency and improved throughput and for elegance that matches the professionalism of the global brands they serve in industries such as aerospace, defense, space, transportation, utilities, and technology infrastructure. Learn more at


Factory Expansion Positions Spika to Serve the Defense and Space Industry Faster.

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With an expanded facility, Spika bets on a brighter future of American manufacturing.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Lewistown, Montana – Spika Design & Manufacturing, Inc., today announced the completion of its factory expansion to increase its capacity for providing powder-coating finishes to the safety work platforms and maintenance stands it has been delivering to OEM’s and MRO worldwide, since 2001.

The factory expansion brings the facility close to 20,000 square feet. The expanded facility adds capacity with a new powder coating equipment and a 2-million BTU natural gas-fired industrial oven. The expansion idea came from the first cohort of an internal leadership training program at Spika in 2019. The added facility will bring an estimated 20% improvement in delivery times of Spika work platforms, making more untethered workers stay and feel safer at heights and cantilevers.

“At Spika, we pride ourselves on our culture of continuous improvement. It is one of our core values. When this expansion was strongly recommended through an internal team project, we decided to make the investment and stay committed despite the onset of the pandemic, because we anticipate strong growth in industries we serve, such as aerospace and advanced manufacturing,” says Katie Spika, Chief Executive Officer of Spika Design & Manufacturing, Inc. “The expansion also allows us to stay environmentally conscious while serving our customers better, faster and at a lower cost,” adds Spika.

About Spika Design & Manufacturing, Inc.: Forged in the ethos that put Americans on the moon, Spika Design & Manufacturing, Inc. is a design-led manufacturing company classified as a Woman-Owned Small Business (WOSB), based in Lewistown, Montana. Built on the timeless American values of quality, manufacturing ingenuity and innovation, Spika was established in 2001 to develop unique ways to tackle a variety of complex ergonomic challenges in manufacturing, assembly, and MRO, across industries. Spika Design and Manufacturing specializes in the design and manufacture of aluminum work platforms that help clients stay OSHA compliant and safe while working at varying heights and cantilevers. Certified under AS9100D with ISO 9001:2015 for the Aerospace Industry, Spika also designs for efficiency, improved throughput and for elegance that matches the professionalism of the global brands they serve in industries such as aerospace, defense, space, transportation, utilities, and technology infrastructure. Learn more at

Preaching, Practicing and Producing Safety at Spika

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Spika Design & Manufacturing, Inc. celebrates over 2 years without lost work.

Friday, May 1, 2020


Yesterday marked yet another milestone in our journey towards a safer work environment. With joy, pride and much humility, we celebrated having completed over 2 years without lost work at Spika’s manufacturing plant in Lewistown, Montana.

Spika Design & Manufacturing, Inc. believes in practicing what it preaches, and producing what it practices.

We produce safe OSHA compliant walking-working surfaces for elevated access, so that operators at our customer’s factories know that they are in safe hands.

The noteworthy thing about the celebration at Spika is the stress-free work-environment in which we design and manufacture the products that keep your operators and workers safe, giving them priceless peace of mind.

Our team takes pride in its work knowing that safety is a responsibility that we owe not only to ourselves but also to our valued customers. We take great pride in the fact that we at Spika Design & Manufacturing are playing an important role in providing safe work environments around the world, making sure that people return safely to their families every night after working on the safety platforms we meticulously design and build for them.

Yesterday’s celebration of our safety record was as much a celebration of the safety of our family, as it was of the safety of your family. Thank you for being a part of our journey and giving us the opportunity to keep you safe and productive.

Stay safe, stay sturdy, and stay secure. Just like a Spika product!

Visit to learn more about Spika Design & Manufacturing, Inc. Contact us to learn how we can help your workforce operate with peace of mind, safely at heights.

“Employer of Choice” Honorees Announced

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Lewistown Job Service Employers Committee members Karen Sweeney and Tracy Kelsey presented Hobson Insurance and Spika Design and Manufacturing with the 2016 Employer of Choice awards. Spika Design and Manufacturing CEO Tom Spika, founder Carol Spika, COO Katie Spika, and Director of Marketing Bekhi Spika, with their staff, accepted the 2016 Employer of Choice Award for business with 25 or more employees.


Spika Design & Manufacturing: A Family Affair

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Just over 4 miles from the heart of historic Downtown Lewistown, Montana sits a large, beautiful building that seems right at home against the glorious Central Montana landscape. But, take one step in the door, and you instantly know, this is no ordinary building. Hidden behind the front door lies Spika Design and Manufacturing, the company that sets the standard for the work platform, and became a successful global player in the industry. COO and Director of Quality Assurance Katie Spika, and Director of Marketing Bekhi Spika, both daughters of Founder, CEO and Director of Design, Tom Spika, sat down with us and shared a glimpse into the world that is Spika Design and Manufacturing.

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15 Montana Companies to Watch in 2017

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By Christina Henderson

Here’s a quiz – how many high tech and manufacturing companies do you think we have in Montana?

On December 20, 2016, the Montana High Tech Business Alliance emailed our third annual survey of Montana tech companies with the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana to 242 Alliance member companies and 304 non-member companies in high-tech and manufacturing. That’s 546 total tech companies in Montana.

This doesn’t include the tech companies we haven’t found yet. We have to hunt them like rare wild beasts as they tend to hide in remote business parks and second floor offices without signage.

The Alliance is ramping up our efforts to raise the visibility of Montana’s many world-class businesses and related jobs that need to be filled. To kick things off, we’re highlighting 15 Montana companies to watch in 2017. To form this list, we looked for startups and growth companies that fit at least one of the following criteria:

  • steep revenue growth and/or working in a high-growth sector
  • received notable angel or VC investment
  • poised to launch high-potential products or services
  • plan to expand operations or add a significant number of jobs in 2017

Here are our picks in alphabetical order.

1. Ascent Vision, Bozeman

Ascent Vision founder Tim Sheehy was a Navy SEAL officer and Army Ranger who saw an opportunity to provide lower-cost aerial surveillance to government and industry. Launched in a barn in 2013, Ascent Vision formed a joint venture with Australian gimbal maker UAV Vision and in the first year grew from two people to 50 and multi-millions of dollars in sales. In late 2016, Ascent Vision broke ground on a 30,000 sq. ft. facility to meet high demand for sensors in unmanned aerial vehicles, maritime surveillance and self-driving cars.

2. Audience Awards, Missoula

Launched in 2013 by award-winning filmmaker Paige Williams, Audience Awards is a platform that connects brands to high-quality, user generated content through video contests and film challenges. Partnerships with GoDaddy, Hilton Worldwide and Kodak have brought Audience Awards recognition in Forbes, Entrepreneur and Inc. magazines. The company raised more than $500,000 in funding in late 2016 from Alliance of Angels and Victress Capital, expanding its offices and its team.

3. Centricient, Bozeman

Centricient closed a $6.5 million round in 2016 led by Venrock (venture capital arm of the Rockefeller family) and followed by Next Frontier Capital. Centricient is re-imagining customer service for a mobile world, connecting customers and enterprises through text messaging. The firm was founded by Mike Myer, the former CTO of RightNow Technologies which sold to Oracle in 2011 for $1.8 billion. Centricient also formed a partnership in 2016 with Helix Business Solutions, an Oracle Service Cloud solutions integrator, to sell and implement messaging to its customer base.

4. Clearas Water Recovery, Missoula

Clearas Water Recovery, maker of a patented biological wastewater treatment system, closed a $4 million series B round in 2016. The 40-person team has developed a scalable, algae-based system that purifies industrial and municipal wastewater to the highest regulatory standards and creates a useful byproduct. According to CEO Jordan Lind, Clearas earned $4 million in revenue in 2016, and has a backlog to reach $16 million in 2017 and $27 million in 2018. Lind is a 3rd generation Montanan, descended from sugar beet farmers, who co-founded a previous high-growth Missoula tech company as an MBA student at the University of Montana.

5. Elixiter, Bozeman

Founded by Billings native and RightNow Technologies veteran Andrew Hull in 2011, Elixiter is a marketing services firm focused on clients of the Marketo platform. Rapid expansion led Elixiter to relocate four times in four years. Since the company’s inception, Elixiter has averaged 100% year over year growth and landed on the Inc. 5,000 list of fastest-growing companies in 2016. Fortune Magazine ranked Elixiter number 52 on its inaugural list of 100 Best Workplaces for Women. The company has a team of about 40 consultants serving clients like FitBit, Aetna, Cisco, and

6. Foundant Technologies, Bozeman

Co-founded in 2006 by MSU graduates who were early RightNow Technologies employees, software-as-a-service company Foundant Technologies helps philanthropic foundations streamline and simplify their grant proposal processes. Foundant was on the Inc. 5,000 list of fastest growing companies in 2014, 2015, and 2016 and named one of Outside Magazine’s Best Places to Work. By late 2016, Foundant had 50 employees, more than $4 million in annual revenue, and merged with Washington firm Smalldog to offer the promising new CommunitySuite – financial solutions for community foundations.

7. Girlzilla, Malta

Misty Kuhl’s vision for Girlzilla – a marketplace for women’s used outdoor gear – earned her a spot as a Native Entrepreneur in Residence and $125,000 in funding from New Mexico Community Capital, as well as a seat at Obama’s 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Palo Alto. An enrolled tribal member (Gros Ventre) of Montana’s Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, Kuhl graduated (cum laude) from Montana State University as a first-generation college student. She then relocated to Albuquerque, NM where she was a small business owner, whitewater rafting guide, and REI sales lead. Kuhl moved her company home to Malta, Montana in 2016 in the hope of bringing sustainable economic opportunity to her community. The Girlzilla platform is slated to launch in 2017.

8. GTUIT, Billings

GTUIT was Montana’s fastest growing company last year, reaching the 203rd position on Inc. magazine’s 2016 Inc. 500. The firm grew 1,894 percent over three years and earned $10.9 million in revenue in 2015. GTUIT was Launched in 2011 by three engineers with decades of experience in the Bakken oil fields. After convincing their first customer to fund the prototype, the co-founders developed a process that cuts emissions and puts flare gas to use instead of burning it as waste. In 2015, GTUIT received equity investment from Caterpillar Oil & Gas and an award of excellence from the World Bank Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership.

9. LMG Security, Missoula

After earning degrees in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering from MIT and writing the world’s first textbook on Network Forensics, Sherri Davidoff launched LMG Security in 2008. LMG is a cyber security consulting, research and education company experiencing fast growth in a hot field. LMG’s global clients include government agencies, health care organizations, and Fortune 500 companies. Davidoff teaches at industry knowledge centers like SANS and Black Hat and has been featured in Wired Magazine. The LMG team has doubled in size over the last three years to 25 employees and climbing. The firm just purchased a new building near the Clark Fork River in Missoula.

10. Montana Precision Products, Butte

Montana Precision Products was created in 2013 when SeaCast Inc. and General Electric formed a 50-50 joint venture to build parts and castings for GE’s jet engines. SeaCast was owned by Butte natives and brothers Bert and Mike Robins, who continue as owners of Montana Precision today. According to General Manager Chris Eurich, Montana Precision has around 135 employees in Butte. The company invested $1.5 million in new technology in 2016 and plans to grow its workforce by 50 percent in the next three years to meet growing demand for more fuel-efficient LEAP jet engines.

11. onXmaps, Missoula

Eric Siegfried launched onXmaps in 2009 as a new graduate of Montana State University’s College of Engineering to solve his frustrations finding accurate land ownership maps while hunting in Montana. He started making GPS plug-ins and later launched the ROAM app for hunting and backcountry recreation. Siegfried bootstrapped a $500 initial investment into a multi-million dollar enterprise employing 65 people. Thanks to the ROAM app’s popularity, onXmaps is expanding its offices in 2017 and plans to have 200 employees in Missoula in five years.

12. Orbital Shift, Missoula

After earning a Master’s in Computer Science and an MBA from the University of Montana, Orbital Shift founder and serial entrepreneur Kevin O’Reilly relied on bootstrapping and early customer feedback to fine tune his SaaS products in online workforce management. Today over 40 percent of Orbital Shift users log into the software every single day. In late 2016, Orbital Shift closed a $1.25 million Series Seed round led by Next Frontier Capital and added an office in Bozeman.

13., Livingston

Founded in 1996 by CEO Andrew Field as a traditional print shop, PFL went online in 1999 with the first ever e-commerce site for commercial print – PFL landed on the Inc. 500 list of fastest growing companies three times and was featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and on CNBC for its innovative HR policies. Two decades later, the firm has 225 employees and is evolving into a marketing technology company. PFL has developed a popular SwagIQ gifting plugin for Salesforce and carved out a niche MarTech category called Tactile Marketing Automation that’s on track for steep growth in 2017.

14. Spika Design and Manufacturing, Lewistown Lewistown native Tom Spika started his company in 2001 as a two-person shop on the family farm. Today Spika Design and Manufacturing is a multi-million dollar company, designing and building aviation maintenance equipment for global markets. Spika was Montana Exporter of the Year in 2013. The firm now employs 60 people, including Tom’s daughters Katie Spika (COO) and Bekhi Spika (Marketing Director), and is developing innovative programs to attract and train local talent for high-paying jobs. A 6,000 square foot expansion in 2016 is accommodating new contracts and engineers.

15. ViZn Energy, Columbia Falls

Ron Van Dell had stints at GE and Dell Computer and was CEO of three startups in Austin and Silicon Valley before coming to Montana to join ViZn Energy as president and CEO in 2014. During Van Dell’s tenure, the industrial-scale battery manufacturer has grown from about 15 employees to more than 60 scientists, engineers, and software technicians working on the forefront of the clean energy revolution. ViZn previously raised over $37 million in independent investments and was closing up another $25 million round of funding in late 2016.

These are just a few of the Montana companies we’ll be keeping an eye on in the coming year. Who would you add to the list?

Case Study: Kuka Systems Outfits Entire Manufacturing Facility With Custom Work Platforms

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KUKA Systems Aerospace Group needed a custom work platform system for use in a high-profile aerospace manufacturing line. Rather than tie up their resources designing and building it themselves, they contracted the project to Spika. Working closely with the KUKA team, Spika provided 30 work platform systems for the project, which were based on 15 different designs. The project was comprised of over 90 modules.


KUKA Systems, part of Germany-based KUKA AG, is an international supplier of engineering services and flexible automation systems for the Automotive, Aerospace, Energy, and Industrial Solutions segments. Some 5,800 employees worldwide work on ideas, concepts, and solutions for automated production and the provision of products and services for virtually all tasks in the industrial processing of metallic and non-metallic materials. The range is marketed internationally via subsidiaries and sales offices in Europe, America, and Asia. KUKA Systems North America LLC, based in Sterling Heights MI, is responsible for the North American business and the worldwide aerospace group. The KUKA Systems Aerospace Group focuses on all aspects of tooling and assembly processes for aircraft manufacturing.

Sourcing Custom Mobile Platforms

A few years ago, KUKA Systems Aerospace Group secured a contract to develop the manufacturing facility for a high-profile helicopter. Included in the project was the requirement for a series of work platforms designed to interface precisely with the helicopter and tooling at various stages of production.

While existing work platforms were available, they were cataloged, and KUKA needed something custom-designed. Additionally, most of the standard work platforms were built of steel and fixed in place. KUKA needed platforms that were lightweight and mobile.

KUKA had the design capability to build the work platforms they needed, but the project involved coordinating and implementing over 600 tools. Instead of tying up their resources in designing and manufacturing work platforms, they decided to hire experts to work that part of the program for them.

They researched potential suppliers and performed site visits to ensure the companies could meet the requirements of the project. Ultimately they selected Spika to design and manufacture all the platforms required in the manufacturing line. “Spika has the production capabilities to take care of volumes, quality control systems in place to put out a good product, and a management team to help us with the designs for different manufacturing facilities,” said Rick Zaitonia, KUKA Project Manager for the program.

Partnering with Spika

For the next three years, Spika worked with KUKA and KUKA’s customer to design and manufacture work platforms for the various stages of assembly. Overall, Spika provided more than 30 work platform systems for the project, which were based on 15 different designs. The project was comprised of over 90 modules.

The platforms utilized several complex designs, including:

  • Electrically controlled, dual-stage actuation for significant height adjustability
  • Decks with trap doors which allowed the aircraft to pass through the platform when it was raised or lowered; the decks were equipped with sensors and limits to ensure the platform could not be lowered past a specific point with the trap decks down
  • Work platform sections that could be removed and reattached to larger sections for different configurations during assembly
  • Removable railings that could be used in multiple platform configurations
  • Electric and electric over hydraulic floor locks to remove the working load from the casters
  • Extensive air and electric supplies plumbed throughout

Spika worked with KUKA to accommodate to the updates and improvements to the system throughout the process, and both KUKA and KUKA’s customer were happy with the outcome.

“We consider Spika to be a partner with Kuka. The Spika design team has been great — they’re flexible and accommodating to all the change requests we made throughout the process. Spika platforms are quality, clean, and well put together.” – Rick Zaitonia, Project Manager, KUKA

Spika Design & Manufacturing Joins Largest-Ever U.S. Business Delegation to 2016 Hannover Messe

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Spika Design and Manufacturing today announced it is part of the largest-ever U.S. delegation to Hannover Messe, the world’s foremost trade fair for industrial technology, taking place April 25-29, in Hannover, Germany. For the first time in the Fair’s history, the United States will be the Partner Country, a status that provides the more than 390 businesses and organizations in the U.S. delegation an unprecedented opportunity to be prominently featured throughout the event. President Obama will also participate in this year’s event, themed “Integrated Industry-Discover Solutions.”

Spika will exhibit in the Industrial Supply Pavilion at the show.

“The U.S. business community and the Department of Commerce have a clear message for the world: the United States is open for business. We will demonstrate and deliver on that message at the 2016 Hannover Messe,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. “We are proud to have some of America’s most innovative and forward-thinking companies joining the U.S. delegation at this year’s fair.”

Hannover Messe typically hosts more than 200,000 attendees from more than 70 countries, including global investors, buyers, distributors, resellers and government officials.

“Spika has a lot of opportunities internationally,” said Bekhi Spika, Director of Marketing at Spika. “We’re excited for the opportunity to network with potential customers and representatives at Hannover Messe to identify opportunities in the European market.”

Montana Manufacturers Eye Trade Deal

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Small rules trip up small companies in the world of foreign trade, which is why Lewistown’s Spika Manufacturing is interested in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Spika makes fine-tuned catwalks that allow technicians to work on every square inch of U.S. war craft without ever setting foot on their high-tech surface. The company also makes similar products for helicopters, jumbo cargo and refueling planes.

U.S. manufactured aircraft tend to flow to other countries once free trade agreements are forged. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed 12-nation trade agreement among Pacific Rim countries, could help Spika get a foot in the door of TPP countries.

The benefit to Spika is that free trade countries usually agree to recognize each other’s manufacturing standards, like Underwriters Laboratories, which tests and certifies U.S. products.

“If they recognize UL that’s helpful,” said Spika’s Jeff Ruffner. “Unlike a big manufacturer, we don’t have the resources to work through things if they don’t recognize our standards.”

There are several Montana businesses that would benefit from a free trade agreement in the Asian Pacific, said Arnie Sherman executive director of the Montana World Trade Center in Missoula.

Missoula-based Washington Companies, owns Seaspan Corp., which owns and manages container ships. If there’s more trade in the Asian Pacific, Seaspan will be a winner, Sherman said.

TSI USA, a Missoula-area manufacturer of health supplements, has laboratories in both the United States and Asia. Free trade could make business a lot easier for companies with manufacturing on both sides of the Pacific.

The Asian-Pacific region is a natural fit for Montana trade, Sherman said. Roughly 75 percent of the Montana’s wheat is shipped to nations in the region, particularly Japan, which is one of the biggest buyers of the Montana wheat.

In the last decade, grain companies with stakeholders in South Korea and Japan have either expanded or built from scratch more than a half dozen million-bushel grain elevators in Montana. Each facility is equipped with a loop track large enough to quickly load more than 120 grain rail cars bound for shipping terminals in Washington and Oregon.

Trade agreements have made a difference for manufacturers like MRL Equipment of Billings. MRL is the nation’s largest manufacturer of truck-mounted road-marking machines. It does its manufacturing in a 90,000-square-foot warehouse on Southgate Drive in Billings and at a Missoula facility. The company’s workforce is about 120.

In 2010, one of the MRL’s foreign markets, South Korea, entered a free trade agreement with the United States. The deal eliminated an 8 percent tariff on U.S. products.

Intellectual property protections are a big concern when doing trade without an agreement, MRL President Jim Spielman said, as are concerns about the manufacturing and local materials.

By Tom Lutey

Billings Gazette

Central Montana’s Vibrant Manufacturing Center Reaches Global Markets

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By Shannon Furniss

Situated in the geographic center of Montana in the midst of rolling hills, farms, and ranches is something a little unexpected: one of the most vibrant manufacturing communities in the state. With a population of about 6,500, Lewistown, Mont. has a cluster of companies that design, engineer, and manufacture products for airports, oil companies, federal agencies, food distribution centers, sports arenas, hospitals, banks, schools, the military, and the aerospace industry, to name a few. Together, the group supports nearly 500 manufacturing jobs in the Lewistown area.

One Lewistown business, Century Companies Inc., has about 175 employees and does everything from paving streets to building subdivisions and airports throughout the rural West and “hangs its hat” on manufacturing a raw product to a finished product, according to Century’s CEO Tim Robertson. The company produces much of its own material – around 50 tons to 400 tons of hot-mix asphalt per hour out of each of its eight plants. With its fleet of “rolling stock,” which encompasses more than 400 pieces of large construction equipment, the company paves airport hangers, runways, access roadways, and highways.

Just down the road is Spika Welding and Manufacturing, a company that specializes in designing and manufacturing industrial work platforms and ground support equipment for people working on military aircraft, tactical vehicles, and satellites. Tom Spika started his business as a two-person shop and has grown it to a multi-million dollar company employing about 50 people. Last year, Gov. Steve Bullock presented Spika Welding with the “Manufacturing Exporter of the Year” award. Spika exports his products globally to markets in Sweden, Australia, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. He also is the chairman of the Montana Manufacturing Council, a subsidiary of the Montana Chamber of Commerce.

Not far from Spika Welding and Century Companies is Allied Steel, which manufactures structural steel for malls, schools, hospitals, sports arenas, power plants, and other buildings all over the U.S. Allied Steel employs 190 people, 90 in its Lewistown shop and 100 in different locations in-state and out-of-state. Most of the manufacturing is done in Lewistown – the employees located elsewhere help with skilled detailing and overflow projects, according to Jeff Southworth, Allied Steel’s president. Right now, the company has 20 active jobs, which involve 11,343 tons of structural steel and a total of 193,640 shop hours. This year, the company’s president says he expects around 1,000 semi-trucks to carry full loads of product to different jobs.

Also nearby are HCR Inc. and Hi-Heat Industries Inc. HCR produces a re-circulatory air curtain door system that major food distribution centers such as Costco and Walmart use to keep products efficiently refrigerated. Hi-Heat engineers specialized heating elements to keep equipment such as ATMs warm in sub-zero weather. Spika got his start at HCR, where he worked for 10 years during the 90s.

These are just a few of the companies that are part of Fergus County’s high-tech manufacturing center. From time to time, Spika’s president ponders how Lewistown – “in very rural Montana where beef cattle and winter wheat are big” – could become such a business center. The town used to revolve only around agriculture, with relatively low-paying jobs.

In the late-70s, key people – like Jack Morgenstern who started Century Companies and is a mainstay in the community – began to move to Lewistown to start companies. They were drawn in by the lifestyle –hunting, fishing, the outdoors, motorsports, and snowmobiling, said Spika. In the 90s, several other “talented and expert business people” landed here and started what would become very successful companies, he said. “They had a bit of the entrepreneurial personality and were willing to take a little bit of a risk to get something up and going.” Of course Spika and the founder of Allied Steel, Jim Southworth (Jeff’s father), had grown up in Lewistown and built businesses that allowed them to stay in their hometown.

Healthy Businesses in the Heart of the State

This unique group of businesses in Lewistown that has worldwide markets and distribution, is something that community leaders are committed to keeping healthy, according to Century’s Roberston. Thirteen years ago, the Central Montana Manufacturing Alliance was formed with a mission of “sharing ideas, capabilities, and opportunities that lead to further development of member business and the economy of Central Montana.” Dale Detrick, a field engineer for the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center, brought the group together, and they’ve been meeting for breakfast once a month for the past 13 years.

“There’s a synergy between our companies,” according to Spika’s CEO. “None of us are really competitive with each other, but we have very similar challenges in running our businesses.”

Collaboration and Community

As the members of Central Montana Manufacturing Alliance learned about some of their neighbors’ companies, they began to figure out ways to collaborate. For example, there are some products that Spika Welding needs to powder coat, but they don’t own the equipment, which would cost around $120,000 and require a suitable building for the process. HCR Inc, which manufactures the re-circulatory air doors for refrigeration warehouses, is only a mile and a half away from Spika Welding and leases its powder coating facility to them. “It saves us a big investment and generates a new revenue stream for them,” said Spika. “It’s that kind of collaboration that really pays the dividends.”

Another way the companies collaborate is by sharing employees. In manufacturing, it’s hard to keep an even pace all year because job orders come in at different times, said Spika. Sometimes companies are really busy and need a few extra workers, and they can “lease” them from member companies. This helps companies through tight spots and provides workers with new learning experiences. On the other hand, if times are slow, workers can do temporary work for another member company instead of being laid off. “It’s a win-win for everybody,” he said.

Having a peer group to discuss challenges and issues with is important, too. The manufacturing alliance came about because of the “desire to help one another, stay relevant with trends in the manufacturing industry, and solve problems the best way possible,” said Century’s Robertson. “We are committed to maintaining a healthy economy here in Central Montana so that our businesses are in a healthy place.”

Partnering with Higher Education to Strengthen the Workforce

One of the challenges that Lewistown manufacturers often discuss is workforce shortages. A few of the companies are planning expansions in the next few years, but anticipate a critical shortage of trained workers in the area with skills in welding, machining, electronics, and diesel technology. While the group has been able to attract students from the nearby two-year colleges (Great Falls and Havre), it is difficult to compete with the high demand across Montana and North Dakota for these students, Robertson said.

A $25 million grant from the Montana Department of Labor and Industry may help Lewistown address some of the workforce issues. The Strengthening Workforce Alignment in Montana’s Manufacturing and Energy Industries (SWAMMEI) grant aims to create training programs accessible from anywhere in the state that link workers with high-wage jobs and enhance the state’s manufacturing and energy workforce, according to Matt Springer, director of the SWAMMEI program (now rebranded as RevUp Montana). Thirteen colleges throughout the state are participating. Through SWAMMEI, students will be able to take “stacked credentials” and decrease their time in training and increase their financial return on educational investment.

Earlier this fall, Springer and higher education leaders from the Montana University System met with the Lewistown manufacturers to discuss ways that they might collectively solve labor problems. One of the ideas discussed was developing some welding, manufacturing, and construction skills programming in Lewistown to attract students graduating from the local high school or for employees that need the training to go up to the next level, said Spika.

After the meeting, Springer and team worked on figuring out a way to meet the Lewistown manufacturers’ needs. Within a few months, Springer hopes to have three comprehensive training programs available in Lewistown – an industry safety program, a welding component, and an introductory electrical course. These programs also will provide industry-recognized credentials, which are critical in the manufacturing and energy industries, he said.

“Lewistown is a cool case study of what we’ll be able to do if we’re successful with the project overall,” said Springer. “The manufacturers have done such a great job coordinating with each other and articulating their needs. They are great minds, and they are really entrepreneurial and willing to partner. It’s a great collaboration between a group of manufacturers, the higher education community, and the Department of Labor.”

In another effort to address workforce and training issues across the state, the Gianforte Family Foundation recently announced $500,000 worth of scholarships for students who enroll in manufacturing and energy industry programs at two-year colleges in Montana. The scholarship aims to create opportunities for Montana students to receive training, to address the workforce issues in the manufacturing sector, and to create high-wage jobs in the state.

Montana: A Manufacturing Powerhouse

These days, it’s not altogether uncommon to see business executives from Tokyo or Tel Aviv in the local coffee shop, said Spika. “When they come to our little town of 6,500 people that’s two hours from the nearest commercial airport and two hours from the nearest Walmart, they say, ‘Geez this is remote.’” But that’s the appeal for many Lewistown residents, he said.

And according to Robertson, Montana has the potential to be a “manufacturing powerhouse in the Northwest. And if we recognize and embrace it fully, there is an opportunity to see Montana thrive.”


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. More information on the Alliance can be found at:

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