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Flathead Manufacturing Facility Ahead of the Curve
Tester tours Creative Sales Company, home of the Big Bobber, just as it looks to expand, add jobs
Gary Byers, right, owner of Creative Sales Company, shows U.S. Sen. Jon Tester the F4 Tactical pepper spray adapter on an AR-15 during a tour of the company in Columbia Falls on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon
 COLUMBIA FALLS – Inventor Gary Byers’ popular Big Bobber Floating Cooler helped keep his manufacturing facility afloat during depressed times.

Today, the success of the novelty cooler, and nearly two-dozen of Byers’ other unique inventions, may serve as a bellwether for a rebounding manufacturing sector.

During a recent tour of the Columbia Falls manufacturing plant, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said Byers’ innovation and niche marketing is helping the inventor cash in on a nationwide trend while providing local jobs by producing the products on site.

Much of the manufacturing sector was obliterated between 2000 and 2010, with the number of employees falling from about 17 million to 11 million nationwide, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In November, however, U.S. manufacturing grew at the fastest pace in two-and-a-half years as factories ramped up production, stepped up hiring and received orders at a healthy clip.

Byers kept his business solvent, and grew jobs, by fighting against industry trends and maintaining a strong conviction in keeping jobs and businesses local, rather than doing business in China.

“That attitude kept us busy through the whole downturn. In fact, we continued growing,” Byers said. “It’s tough sometimes, trying to think of new products that people need, but we keep coming up with new ideas.”

With a staff of 30 working inside an expansive 25,000-square-foot building on U.S. Highway 2 near Columbia Falls, Byers’ business is an all-in-one inventor’s workshop.

He’s best known for his Big Bobber – an insulated lightweight, red and white cooler shaped like a fishing bobber – but Byers’ product line features everything from an all-in-one sharpener, to a laptop-cooling table, to snap-on grommets for battening down tarps, to his most recent invention – a tactical rail-mounted pepper spray.

The bobber coolers are sold in Bass Pro Shops and Bed, Bath & Beyond outlets across the country and can be found locally at Western Building Center and Army-Navy Surplus.

But when he launches the F4 Tactical rail-mounted pepper spray, the non-lethal self-defense weapon could be his most successful product yet.

“This will be a big deal here. It’s going to mean we have to employ a couple hundred people,” he said, billing the product as the first rail-mounted pepper spray, which would allow law enforcement officers or civilians to defuse a hostile situation rather than allow it to escalate to a fatality.

“When only moments stand between you and a potentially hostile situation every moment counts,” Byers said, demonstrating how the pepper spray mounts onto the tactical rails on firearms.

Hoping to launch the product line in earnest next month, Byers said he will manufacture the product himself, expanding his facility onto a portion of the 10 acres of property he owns.

Creative Sales began in 1980 as a small family business in a shop in Whitefish. The first real invention was a knife sharpener, and the sharpeners have been the foundation and top-selling products at the company ever since. A new custom all-in-one sharpener was recently developed that can work with a variety of tools.

“We’ve got a butcher shop at the farm with a stone grinder. This would be much easier to use,” Tester said as he tried out the sharpener on a pair of shears.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that, for every 100 jobs, manufacturing supports 58 indirect jobs.

“That’s job creation. That’s economic development. And that will help us reduce the unemployment rates in the country overall,” Tester said. “Look, we are starting to see some market advantages for light manufacturing that had been previously been shipped overseas and now it’s returning to the United States.”

It’s estimated that increased exports and production work re-shored from China could create up to 5 million U.S. manufacturing jobs, according to a report by The Boston Consulting Group. Over the next five years, manufacturing costs in the United States will be between 8 percent and 18 percent cheaper than in the major export countries of Germany, Japan, Italy and the United Kingdom, according to the report.

“I think we have reached a moment in time where economies have grown and wages are on the rise, and we are poised to be able to do some really cool stuff,” Tester said. “Obviously this business is ahead of the curve. But there are also a lot of folks out there who are very innovative, but they have never gotten the chance because the wage base is so low.”

Tester said investing in a well-trained workforce is the best way to overcome the challenges of being so far removed from major populations.

“In Montana, we have a great workforce and a great quality of life. With creativity we can overcome a lot of challenges,” he said.
On 12-14-13, ICallB.S. commented....
I have never even met Mr. Byers, but believe he she be held up to the rest of American business owners as a loyalty-driven business owner. Most of the good paying jobs have left this valley permanently and to see someone keep jobs here is truly…
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