Montana’s communal, agrarian Hutterite colonies are unfamiliar to many outsiders, but a first-of-its kind study shows the religious sect’s statewide economic impact can’t be ignored.
Hutterite communities pack an economic wallop, even in non-Hutterite sectors of Montana’s economy. That’s according to a study released Tuesday by researchers at the University of Montana and Montana State University.
Patrick Barkey, the director of UM’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, says Montana, “is larger, contains more jobs, has more income, has more production and has more people because of the presence of Hutterite communities in the economy.”
Specifically, the researchers found Montana’s Hutterites produce more than 2,100 year-round jobs, contribute over $365 million dollars in annual spending for the state and added more than 5,300 people to Montana’s economy.
BBER teamed up with the MSU Departments of Agricultural Economics and Economics, the university’s College of Ag and its extension office to produce the study.
Montana State Economist Joel Schumacher says the Hutterites contribute only a fraction of the state’s cattle production
“However, if we take a look at hogs or eggs, we see nearly the opposite. These Hutterite communities in this particular study make up over 90 percent of the state’s output in the area of hogs and eggs. You’ll notice there are other areas like grain - 7 percent. Not a large percentage, but that’s still a very sizeable component of the state’s production. And then dairy, we have about a third of the dairy production statewide coming from the Hutterite colonies.”
The Havre Herald reported last summer that former state representative Bob Sivertsen tried to rally support for a boycott of Hutterite products. Sivertsen and other local farmers say the Hutterites have unfair tax advantages over other Montana family farms; accusations Hutterites and their supporters deny. In fact, the Herald reported that local Hutterite colonies are among the biggest real property taxpayers on the Hi-Line. The researchers who conducted the new survey say that controversy had no influence on their report commissioned by the Great Falls-based law firm of Church, Harris, Johnson and Williams. That firm represents about 40 Hutterite communities in North Central Montana.
In a press release announcing the study results, the firm’s Ron Nelson said, "We saw the need to obtain an objective understanding and quantification of the Hutterite Communities’ economic contributions to their communities and the state."