Montana World Trade Center Survey Reveals Importance of International Trade

MISSOULA – The University of Montana-based Montana World Trade Center and Bureau of Business and Economic Research recently completed an analysis of data from a survey aimed at better understanding the prevalence and importance of international trade and investment engagement for Montana firms. 

In addition to surveying firms across Montana engaged in hard goods export and import, the survey gleaned insights from Montana service exporters, as well as Montana-based firms that have received investment from international sources to help capitalize their growth and expansion.

“In our day-to-day work, we recognize how many Montana firms are actively engaged in international trade and how that helps to make them stronger companies overall,” said Brigitta Miranda-Freer, MWTC executive director. “Especially since we’re beginning to see some light at the end of this COVID-19 tunnel and re-engaging, I hope we can do so even more intentionally when it comes to pursuing international trade and investment.

“Montana may be landlocked, but we’re not isolated from the global community, nor should we want to be,” she said. “A strong international trade portfolio for Montana means more and better-paying jobs for Montana and more pathways to access transformative capital for our homegrown businesses.” reports that exporting enables companies to diversify their portfolios and weather changes in the domestic economy, which helps small companies grow and become more competitive in all their markets.

In addition, Select USA, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, reports that in 2020 over 9,000 jobs were directly supported by majority foreign-owned affiliates in Montana, with Canada, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Germany and Japan listed as the top sources of foreign direct investment in Montana.

A 2015 White House trade analysis indicated that, “Exporters pay higher wages, and the average industry’s export growth over the past 20 years translated into $1,300 higher annual earnings for the typical employee. The report also asserted that middle-class Americans gain more than a quarter of their purchasing power from trade. Trade allows U.S. consumers to buy a wider variety of goods at lower prices, raising real wages and helping families purchase more with their current incomes.”

Following are the central findings of the MTWC survey, which included responses from a mix of 100 exporting, importing and foreign direct investment-funded businesses.

  • The 100 Montana-based respondents comprised a mix of importing, exporting and FDI-funded businesses. Ninety reported they export a product or service. Sixty-two reported importing products or services for use in Montana operations.

  • Responding businesses paid their Montana employees an average annual wage of $61,000 in 2020 – an average considerably higher than the Montana average annual wage of $45,370 as reported in July 2020 by the Montana Department of Labor and Industry.

  • Responding firms employed a total of 3,358 Montanans in 2020, averaging 34 Montanans per business.

  • The average total export sales value per business was $8.7 million in 2020.

  • The average 2020 value of imports per business was $3. 2 million.

  • The average anticipated change per firm in annual revenue in 2021 is an increase of 23%.

  • The 2021 average estimate per firm for the change in annual wages is an 8% increase.

  • The top-five export markets for reporting firms were Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany and Japan. These are slightly different from top reported export markets for Montana hard goods (Canada, Korea, China and Japan) as reported by 2020 U.S. Census data.

  • A majority of responding businesses (53%) said their firm was negatively impacted by U.S. tariffs over the last three years.

  • The most frequently cited impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on responding firms was delayed or prevented incoming transport of components or supplies.

Growing international trade in Montana is central to the MWTC mission. The center is a longstanding UM program and part of the World Trade Centers Association, which includes nearly 300 world trade centers in 100 countries around the globe. MWTC spearheads initiatives statewide that help grow Montana’s international trade and investment portfolio. For more information about MWTC initiatives or to view the full survey, please visit


Contact: Brigitta Miranda-Freer, executive director, Montana World Trade Center, 406-243-6982,