Montana’s Hutterite colonies support at least 2,191 jobs and $365 million in revenue for state businesses, according to a new study.

The 35-page report, released Tuesday by the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research and Montana State University’s Departments of Agricultural Economics and Economics, is described as the first attempt to quantify the economic impact of Montana’s Hutterites, a Christian sect who live in communal agricultural settlements throughout Montana, the Dakotas and Canada.

About 5,000 Hutterites currently live in 53 Montana communities, mostly along the Hi-Line and in the central portion of the state. The study focused on 38 communities with a total of 3,749 members for which financial records were readily available.

These settlements own and operate 81 farming operations and some manufacturing ventures, and the study found that “the substantial linkages that exist between their agricultural and other operations and the rest of the state economy ultimately support jobs and income in non-Hutterite and non-agricultural sectors of the economy, resulting in a larger economic pie for all Montanans to share.”

By accounting for the communities’ production, income, employment and spending, and constructing an economic model without those activities, the researchers attributed several benefits to the colonies, including:

  • 2,191 permanent year-round jobs, 40% of which are in non-agricultural sectors that receive community spending.
  • $365.3 million in additional revenue for Montana businesses.
  • $63.2 million in additional pre-tax income for Montana households, both inside and outside the communities.

These benefits were concentrated in north-central and south-central Montana.

The report also noted the surveyed communities produced 95% of Montana’s eggs, 90% of its hogs, 34% of its dairy products, and smaller shares of its poultry, grain and cattle. “The communities implement cutting edge technologies to help promote efficiency and reduce labor requirements in their operations.”

The state’s Hutterite communities faced scrutiny this past summer, when Bob Sivertsen, a former state representative from Havre, called for a boycott of Hutterite farm products, alleging that their “socialist-commune system” and purported tax benefits gave them an unfair advantage over non-Hutterite farmers.

The Havre Herald reported that, in reality, Hutterite colonies are among the largest property taxpayers in Hill, Blaine and Liberty Counties. Under Montana's 2019 Medicaid expansion law, the colonies also pay the state's share of covering their members.

Their income tax contribution is harder to determine, the Herald reported, and is likely quite low given the communities’ practice of dividing profits equally among every man, woman and child. But the $63 million in additional income attributable to the colonies includes $9 million in additional taxes, the report found.

Great Falls-based law firm Church, Harris, Johnson and Williams, P.C. commissioned the study last fall.

"It really will assist us in responding to criticisms of Hutterite communities," said Ron Nelson, a shareholder with the firm, in a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon. "It really quantifies something that I think we already knew, and now we have the data and analysis to support what we already know."

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