By Tim Leeds
The second annual Manufacturer's Conference was held at the Montana State University-Northern Monday and Tuesday of this week.
The conference was held by MSU-Northern's Student's in Free Enterprise (SIFE). The conference was held to help small manufacturer's learn about opportunities and ideas to help them succeed in their business.
Lanny Wilke, faculty advisor for the organization, said the attendance had more than doubled, from six at last year's first conference to 15 this year.
The conference included presentations from Dick King of the Bear Paw Development Center; Tracey Jette from the Small Business Development Center; Roberta Demarest of BRAND; Carey Hester of the Montana Department of Commerce; Walter Coffman, executive secretary of the Montana Council of Cooperatives; Annette Sutherland of the Native American Small Business Development Center; Greg Jergeson and Suzanne Tilleman of the Montana Cooperative Development Center; Al Beute of General Electric; Randy Hansen of the Montana Department of Commerce; and Sandra Erickson, Kevin Carlson, Roger Stone and Terry Munson from the university's business and computer science departments.
Topics covered included growing a business; patents, copyrights and trademarks; marketing considerations; internet commerce; international sales and customs considerations; transporting products to customers; and use of cooperatives.
Dennis Kleinjan, who ranches between Havre and Chinook, makes the Hayboy, a bale handling tool. He said the conference was worth attending.
"They've got a lot of good ideas," he said. "Doing a market analysis and business plan are probably the two biggest steps."
Dean Hodges of Joplin owns Hodges Manufacturing with his wife Mary, said he heard some good information at the conference.
"They're talking about networking to get things and information," he said. "Also the resources at the college; they're probably the best kept secret (on the Hi-Line)."
Maralyn Benjamin of Fort Benton, who owns Circle Mountain Industries with her husband Robert, said they thought the conference was pretty good. Circle Mountain Industries makes the PedalPro, a pedal-powered outboard motor for small boats.
Benjamin said one of the most interesting things she heard at the conference was from Hansen's presentation.
"(He talked about) the possibility of grants, engineers coming to help you on the spot."
She said that, just like anything, there's always room for improvement.
Jessie James Hawley, who makes gift baskets out of Harlem, said she would like more sharing of information from manufacturers. She said the academic information was valuable, but she would like to see more people in business talk about problems they have and how to resolve them.
At the close of the conference, Wilke mentioned the possibility of setting up periodic hands-on workshops to practice and experience some of the topics discussed as an off-shoot of the conference.
SIFE had several sponsors and donors to set up this year's conference.