Powr-Grip stands tall under the Big Sky

Exporter of the Year knows value of Montana’s business resources

Wood’s Powr-Grip (WPG), a company with a list of accolades and accomplishments that reaches back decades, lifted its latest honor with home-state pride.
The vacuum lifting equipment manufacturer was named 2021 Exporter of the Year by the Montana District Export Council (DEC). Montana Governor Greg Gianforte presented the award to Barry Wood, the company’s VP of Marketing and Commercial Development, on May 4 in Missoula, MT.
“Very few Montana companies have made more of an impact in our state than Wood’s Powr-Grip,” DEC Chair Dianna Kegel said in an April 29 press release. “Born in 1963 in a tiny space in Wolf Point (Montana), this family-owned company’s products have been used in virtually every major metropolitan city in the world.”
The award presentation was part of the Montana World Trade Center’s International Trade & Investment Day. Featured speakers at the daylong event on the University of Montana campus included Consul Generals from Canada, Korea and France, executives from BNSF and the Washington Companies, and others.
“It recognizes the hard work of our sales staff and our shipping department and their success in overcoming hurdles involved with getting our product from our dock and into the hand of individuals on the other side of the world,” Barry Wood said in an interview prior to the May 4 event. “This is a tricky process that requires patience and perseverance to do successfully.”
A past winner of the award, Wood’s Powr-Grip is no newcomer to the challenges of expanding into international markets.
“WPG has been exporting since the early 1970s, at least,” said Barry Wood, who cited a conversation between his father Keith Wood and Glastechnik founder Holger Kramp as a key moment in WPG’s decision to first ship products overseas. “Getting to where we are now has been a slow, steady climb.”
And Barry Wood’s advice to would-be exporters? “Don’t be afraid. If selling internationally is something you want to do, there are resources out there to help” he said, citing Montana’s Office of Trade and International Relations as a particularly proactive resource.

Group efforts

The office is just one of the state-based resource groups benefitting WPG and other Montana businesses. While a group like the Montana Chamber of Commerce may be more focused on advocacy, the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center (MMEC) helps businesses meet more specific or immediate goals.
“Our longtime vendor for circuit boards was forced out of business by a fire. We wanted to buy circuit boards from a domestic source. MMEC helped put us in touch with Wave Length out of Bozeman, which has proven to be a quality, cost-competitive source,” said Bryan Wood, WPG’s President and CEO.
WPG recognizes the value of these groups and, in turn, steps up for them. In past years Bryan Wood has served on the MMEC’s advisory board, while Barry Wood is a past chairman of the Montana District Export Council.
“We have advocated for continued funding for MMEC on several occasions, so that they have the resources they need to help Montana manufacturers become more efficient and stay competitive,” Bryan Wood said.

Lights, camera, action

A crew from the extension center, which is based out of Montana State University in Bozeman, arrived at WPG’s facilities in Laurel, MT, last autumn to shoot video for its showcase series “Celebrating 25 Years of Manufacturing Excellence in Montana.”
During the shoot the crew took particular note of WPG’s implementation of 5S methodology, said Kazz Siewing, Lean Process Engineer.
“MMEC recognized our 5S program as very robust and for the extra steps we took with electronic forms and data analysis,” said Siewing, who was one of several WPG employees interviewed on camera.
Siewing added that MMEC had helped WPG process engineers adopt fresh ways of thinking: “Value stream mapping and Lean concepts drove our decision process in how to eliminate waste and continually improve.”
By MMEC’s design, all of the commentary in the video is by WPG employees. Not surprisingly, they express pride throughout: Pride in the quality of the products they make, pride in the working culture that comes with being part of a family-run business, pride in setting an example of what manufacturing in small-town America should be.
“There are good people everywhere,” said Bryan Wood. “But small-town people may be unique in they feel like they are all part of the same community and because of that they have a sense of neighborly compassion for those they work with.”

Photo credit: Cole Plichta of Clickta
Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, left, and Barry Wood, of Wood’s Powr-Grip®, speak during the Montana World Trade Center’s International Trade & Investment Day on May 4 in Missoula, MT. Prior to the event WPG was named Exporter of the Year by the Montana District Export Council, and Wood received the award on the company’s behalf from Gianforte during the May 4 lunch program.

Photo credit: Lee Ann Wood/Wood’s Powr-Grip
From right, Dianna Kegel, Montana District Export Council chair, presents the council’s Exporter of the Year Award to Wood’s Powr-Grip’s Barry Wood, Bryan Wood and Brad Wood during a May 26 ceremony at WPG’s headquarters in Laurel, MT.

Photo credit: Montana Manufacturing Extension Center
Wood’s Powr-Grip® production technician Holly Schwarm assembles a pair of WPG’s iconic hand cups in this screen capture from a video produced by the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center. A crew from the MMEC shot the video at WPG’s facilities in Laurel, MT, as part of a series celebrating excellence in manufacturing among Montana businesses.