Montana breaks export record in 2011

An industrial kiln dries cuprous oxide at the American Chemet plant in East Helena

Montana exports are reaching all-time highs. The state commerce department says export sales in 2011 broke the state record set back in 2008. Montana companies sold $1.6 billion  in products to other countries.

If you’re heading East out of Helena, you drive by the American Chemet plant.

Inside, green flames erupt within giant rotating kilns. The kilns are drying out the plant’s main product—cuprous oxide. That stuff is pretty crucial for saltwater vessels.

“And if you look at ships going through the ocean, lots of times the bottom of those will be red. That’s the cuprous oxide in that coating,” said American Chemet Global Regulatory Affairs Director, Neal Blossom.”

Blossom says the cuprous oxide keeps critters off the bottom of the ship, like barnacles, mussels and some kinds of algae.

American Chemet does over $200 million dollars in business every year—75 percent of it outside the U.S. Chemet makes a part of the record 1.6 billion dollars in export business Montana did over the last year.

About 12 percent of the state’s workforce deals with international exports. Montana Department of Commerce Office of trade and International Relations

Bureau Chief, Mark Bisom says that’s impressive, and it’s a rebound.


“We’ve had some down years, in 2009 with the recession and so good to see the trend is going up at this point,” Bisom said.


Mineral fuel like coal led the way in exports for 2011. Coal exports increased by 60 percent last year. The biggest coal importer is South Korea. Bisom says exports are a really big deal for a large, rural state like Montana. For instance, we export 80 percent of the wheat we grow every year.

“Clearly far more wheat than we could consume in this state so it’s important that we find these markets outside of the U.S. for the state,” Bisom said.

The 2011 export figures hold some surprises—notably with our exports of legumes, like peas and lentils.

“And we’re seeing a pretty significant increase in that to countries like India and Pakistan that we haven’t seen in the past,” Bisom said.

That’s an increase of over 200 percent.

Another new development, Mexico has climbed from 6th place to 3rd place on Montana’s top importer list, right behind first place Canada and South Korea in second place. They’re taking in more Montana ores like gold and palladium.

Bisom says exports look to continue this upward trend. And as long as sailors needs to keep barnacles off its boats, American Chemet will be a piece of that export pie.


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