Pasta Montana opens $6.5 million processing line in Great Falls

Pasta Montana opened a new $6.5 million processing line this week and marked it’s 20th anniversary in Great Falls.

The 91,000 square-foot facility employs 115 people and will increase production capacity from 55 to 80 million pounds of pasta annually, according to the company.

“Our new production line will move 4,850 pounds of pasta per hour, and operate 24 hours each day, enabling us to continue to grow our staff,” said Randy Gilbertson, chief operating officer of Pasta Montana. 

Pasta Montana was founded in 1997 with the goal to create the world’s finest pasta using a blend of wheat, water and technology. In the spring of 2000, Nippon Flour Mills, Japan’s oldest industrial flour miller and a leading producer of flour-related products, purchased Pasta Montana to help the company go global.

“Japanese ownership strengthens our commitment to quality. We benefit from having the strong financial backing of a solid, established, publicly-traded Japanese company,” Gilbertson said.

CEO of Pasta Montana, Miharu Kobayashi, and CEO of Nippon, Hiroshi Sawada, along with Japanese representatives for the consul general of Japan and U.S. relations attended an event on Monday recognizing Pasta Montana’s 20 years of pasta production in Great Falls.

“We are appreciative of the great nature and nice people from the state of Montana. We are happy with the success of our business in Great Falls,” Sawada said.

The Great Falls region is home to four Japanese-owned companies: Pasta Montana, Columbia Grain, Montana Specialty Mills and Helena Chemical.

“Japanese companies are investing and trading in Great Falls because the Japanese consumer insists on the highest quality ingredients, and the agriculture we produce here is among the world’s best,” said Brett Doney, president and CEO of Great Falls Montana Development Authority. “The high-quality ingredients plus low manufacturing costs, supply chain partnerships, skilled workers, and numerous other benefits give food manufacturers an advantage locating here.”

Pasta MT paid local contractors $1.46 million for the custom fabrication, expansion and installation of the facility, according to Jolene Schalper with GFDA. Farmers will also net more revenue because there is a local market for their wheat and it will add new jobs with starting pay at $13.62, she said.

The expansion will also mean an expanded city tax base and generate more revenue for the city. Currently, Pasta MT pays $392,000 in annual taxes, Schalper said.

“Typically agriprocessors and manufacturing provide that type of triple win for Great Falls, which is why we focus our business attraction on those industries,” Schalper said.

Pasta MT was GFDA’s first loan 20 years ago, but the agency did not provide any financial assistance in this project.

Collin Watters, executive vice president of the Montana Wheat and Barley Committee said that Pasta MT sources the vast majority of their durum wheat from Montana and much of it comes from the Golden Triangle. 

The processing expansion is good for farmers since it increases a stable demand for their crops since Pasta MT will need a consistent supply of high quality grain.

Watters said durum is specialty crop for many farmers and the quality parameters are especially important so growers have to take special care in production. Knowing there’s a buyer makes that extra work worthwhile versus what might be a bit of a gamble in other situations, Watters said.

Pasta MT contracts directly with farmers for that crop allowing producers and manufacturer to develop a long term relationship that reduces risk on both sides, he said.

Expanding processing is good for the community, Watters said, because it adds job and tax dollars when a pasta manufacturer in Japan could just buy durum direct from a Montana farmer.

“It really is exciting,” Watters said. “Every grower that I’ve spoken with who has worked with pasta MT has enjoyed working with them.” 

GFDA was recently named a Food and Ag Development Center by the Montana Department of Agriculture. The distinction opens new resources and opportunities to provide additional services to value added food and agriculture processing businesses as well as farm derived renewable energy.

“Our region has naturally emerged as an agriculture processing center. The distinction bestowed by the state will channel additional resources that we can leverage to help companies expand,” Doney said. “Our primary role is to act as concierge for these businesses whether they are international corporate expansions or entrepreneurial start-ups.”