Harris Manufacturing

Harris Manufacturing was the first business to open on the 116-acre Bonner West Log Yard site. The county's newest tax increment financing district will receive representation on the Missoula Development Authority's board.

MICHAEL GALLACHER, Missoulian

A manufacturer of oil and energy equipment spent Wednesday in Missoula interviewing potential employees and briefing county commissioners on the planned opening of the firm's new fabrication plant in Bonner.

Eric Groenweghe, general manager of Harris Thermal Transfer Products in Oregon, said the company’s local spinoff – Harris Manufacturing – plans to be fully operational by March, though work could begin sooner.

“We’ll get support from our sister company and with that, we’ll bring in welding procedures and safety programs – all sorts of things that are already established that make life a lot easier for a company starting up,” Groenweghe said. “We’re bringing in some of our Oregon crew on a temporary basis to help train people.”

Groenweghe said the company is working through the Missoula Job Service to interview candidates this week. Skilled welders are in demand, though Harris also offers an apprentice program to the right applicants.

The firm is also working with Missoula and Helena colleges to introduce sub-arc welding into the curriculum. Harris uses the method to manufacture its code-stamped pressure vessels.

“Over Christmas break, Missoula College came to our new facility for a lesson on sub-arc welding,” Groenweghe said. “We gave them some materials so they can train their students. If we grow like we hope we’re going to grow, we need that workforce.”

The Missoula County commissioners on Wednesday placed their support behind a county application awarding Harris Manufacturing a Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund Grant.

The Montana Department of Commerce awards the grants to local governments to help businesses create new jobs that pay the average county wage – roughly $17.23 an hour in Missoula County.

Groenweghe said the 35 jobs Harris expects to create over the next two years meet the grant requirements. The facility’s top jobs will pay $28 an hour, while lower-skilled workers will earn more than $17 an hour when pay and benefits are combined.

Marcy Allen, executive director of the Bitter Root Economic Development District, said other Missoula firms, including ALCOM, Submittable and Film Spur, have also received the Big Sky grants.

“That money can be used for equipment purchases, land purchases and lease reductions,” said Allen. “The funding helps a company scale up. Ninety percent of startups fail, and they fail during the time they scale up, not during the concept or idea phase.”

Harris Manufacturing chose to locate its plant in Missoula over Billings and Great Falls, Groenweghe said. It completed construction of its facility last month on the old west log yard in the former Stimson Lumber Co. site in Bonner.

The county and Harris are both working with the Montana Department of Transportation to create a new signaled intersection at the plant. While steel could arrive by rail, Groenweghe said most of the products will come and go by truck.

The plant’s location at the junction of Montana Highway 200 and Interstate 90 will help the company better serve customers in Canada, Montana and Texas, including those in the oil fields.

“What we’re building in Montana is a combination of differing things, like larger equipment for the power and oil industries, as well as hitting some places east of the Rockies and down South where we weren’t competitive because of our shipping costs,” he said.

The firm manufactures stainless steel, nickel alloy and some titanium products for a number of industries, including pulp and paper, energy, food and chemical.

It also manufactures products that are code-stamped by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, making it one of the only manufacturers in Montana to do so.

“Anything that runs over 15 PSI needs to have the code stamp,” Groenweghe said. “There are no real pressure-vessel manufacturers in Montana. We’re bringing a new sector of manufacturing to Montana.”

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