LEWISTOWN — There was a crowd at the Yogo Inn in Lewistown Friday morning, for the official announcement of a new business development that’s set to bring tens of millions of dollars in investment and hundreds of jobs to the community.
VACOM, a high-tech manufacturing company from Germany, says it’s going to build a new American headquarters in Lewistown. CEO Jens Bergner joined state and local leaders for a news conference, showing off some of the plans for the facility.
“Let me be the first one to say, welcome to Montana!” said Gov. Greg Gianforte. “We’re very happy to have you.”
VACOM is a family-held business started by Bergner’s mother in 1992. It specializes in vacuum components, measurement technology and other products used in a variety of high-tech applications, from microscopes to microchips. Bergner says their plan is to eventually produce everything for the American market from their Lewistown facilities.
VACOM’s main campus will be located near the Lewistown Airport. The largest facility, called Big Sky, will include 40,000 square feet of production space. Bergner says they plan to invest $20 million in the buildings and $15 million in equipment and technology for the first phase. They expect to ramp up to 100 employees by 2026 and 200 by 2027.
“The biggest issue for that one is we need time to educate the people in our knowledge, especially in the vacuum technology and the cleaning,” said Bergner.
After the initial phase, Bergner said they want to invest another $50 million, eventually increasing to 500 employees. VACOM is also working on a smaller project, called Big Spring, that will launch sooner, with another $6 million and 30 employees.
State Sen. Dan Bartel, R-Lewistown, is one of a group of local leaders who have been working to pitch VACOM on the community.
“This is a really big deal for Lewistown and central Montana,” he said. “VACOM is going to bring a vital industry that we are going to need in the next generation.”
Bartel said, while agriculture and construction are the biggest industries in the Lewistown area, they also have a history with manufacturing.
“We know about light manufacturing, and that's what attracted VACOM to here, is that we have a lot of good quality companies that build and manufacture different metal products and steel,” he said. “This will just be a very well complemented business to come along and to sustain the industrial industry that we're looking for.”
Gianforte met with Bergner directly as VACOM was looking across the U.S. for potential locations.
“I said, ‘We want you to locate in Montana,’” he said. “And it's a good complement for existing high-tech businesses here.”
Gianforte says their decision to choose Montana shows the administration’s efforts to make Montana a business-friendly state are paying off.
“This is going to create higher-wage jobs that allow Montanans to prosper, right here in Fergus County,” he said.
Bergner said when he came to Montana, it reminded him of Thuringia, the German region he’s from.
“The people are very friendly, and if you go in a small village anywhere in Thuringia, they have an open mind and they are very helpful,” he said. “And that is – exactly that – what I saw in Montana.”
VACOM’s campus won’t only include manufacturing space. They’ll also set up a training center for their employees, as well as a daycare and learning center – what Bergner calls a “kindergarten” – for employees’ children.
“I really believe if there's a problem you can solve it with education, so education is the key for everything,” he said.
Bartel said Lewistown is going to be ready for the growth that comes along with this new opportunity. He said leaders have been talking to investors about affordable housing development, working with the state on transportation infrastructure and planning for where expansion can occur.
“It's a huge impact, but we're going to manage it well,” said Bartel.
Bergner said VACOM is going to need about a year of planning time to get ready for this project. They hope to begin construction on the Big Sky facility in 2025 and have it ready for production in 2026.