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Manufacturing Day 2021: Celebrating Resilient U.S. Manufacturers Like Headframe Spirits in Butte, Montana


Manufacturing Day 2021 (MFG Day), Oct. 1, 2021, is an opportunity to celebrate the resilience of U.S. manufacturing. Due to the pandemic, America’s manufacturers faced closures, difficulty finding workers, and trouble sourcing materials. Yet many manufacturing firms completely changed course, keeping doors opened, people employed, and producing the things we need. This can-do spirit of problem-solving and innovation is on display during MFG Day and throughout October. MFG Day offers the next generation of workers the chance to see firsthand what it would be like to work for innovative companies that can pivot and make the best of the worst situations. Manufacturers will open their doors and share their unique pandemic stories for MFG Day. Take a look at this small, but mighty, manufacturer that embodies what it means to step up to the pandemic’s challenges and use manufacturing to help their community in trying times.

A generous spirit: a distillery that focuses on community and employee needs

John and Courtney McKee founded Headframe Spirits in Butte, Montana, in 2010. Inspired by Butte’s history, they produce microdistilled spirits that celebrate the local mining industry, including Neversweat Whiskey, High Ore Vodka, Anselmo Gin, and Orphan Girl Bourbon Cream Liqueur, which are distributed across the state and sold online. Since then, the business has expanded to include a packaging facility, which provides packaging services for other brands in the distillery industry, and a manufacturing facility that produces custom, continuous-flow distillation equipment. Headframe Spirits employs 27 people and has a strong community focus — it recently qualified as a Certified B Corporation®, which recognizes companies that meet high standards of social commitment, environmental performance, and corporate responsibility.

Pivoting from liquor to hand sanitizer

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many food and beverage companies closed their restaurants, bars, and tasting rooms. When Headframe Spirits closed its tasting room, business sales went down significantly and employee jobs were at risk.

Like many other small distilleries, Headframe quickly pivoted to manufacturing much-needed hand sanitizer. The company had the expertise and capacity to make the sanitizer product and quickly modified the distilling process, ordered ingredients and trained personnel on the manufacturing process. The challenge came in securing packaging materials. Personal size sanitizer containers and caps were in very short supply.

The Manufacturing Extension Partnership and CARES Act make a difference

That’s when the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center (MMEC) sprang into action. MMEC is one of 51 centers in the U.S. and Puerto Rico funded by the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) and part of the MEP National Network™. With emergency funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, MEP centers like MMEC helped manufacturers across the country respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Headframe Spirits is among the firms that MMEC worked with.

According to Headframe Spirits CEO Courtney McKee, “MMEC was proactive about reaching out to us, looking to support us with their existing knowledge, relationships and even just time we didn’t have.”

With the help of CARES Act funding, MMEC provided a number of support services to manufacturers during the early stages of the pandemic. This included sourcing hard-to-find materials for Headframe and other Montana distilleries making hand sanitizer.

While reaching out to national contacts, MMEC Senior Business Advisor Alistair Stewart received a generous offer. Berry Global, a Fortune 500 global manufacturer of plastic packaging products headquartered in Evansville, Indiana, donated more than 15,000 bottles and 15,000 caps to Montana’s distilleries. Altogether, MMEC acquired more than 142,000 bottles and caps for distilleries around Montana at no charge. Headframe Spirits received 20,000 units to support its operations.

Challenges bring opportunities

Headframe Spirits manufactured 7,000 gallons of hand sanitizer from March to December 2020, donating its product to more than 20 organizations. Selling hand sanitizer at the local tasting room brought in a new base of customers who also purchased bottles of liquor products — helping Headframe Spirits earn back a portion of sales lost while its tasting room was closed. In addition, the company hired two temporary manufacturing employees.

MMEC made all the difference for Headframe Spirits during the pandemic. Courtney McKee said, “They cared about our success and the success of our peers, and we could not have accomplished what we did without their support.”

Celebrate MFG Day 2021!

Join MEP and manufacturers across the country to celebrate MFG Day 2021! MFG Day 2021 features events that promote manufacturing on Oct. 1 and throughout the month of October. MFG Day helps show the reality of modern manufacturing careers by encouraging thousands of companies and educational institutions around the nation to open their doors (some virtually and some in person) to students, parents, teachers and community leaders. Click here to find a MFG Day event near you and celebrate the resilience of modern U.S. manufacturing!