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A news report from Montana last week examines how well a new manufacturing venture at the Golden Valley Hutterite Colony in Ryegate, Montana, is doing. Golden Valley started fabricating steel roofs and steel siding for the new buildings construction industry a year ago. The news story last week indicates that the new firm, Valley Steel, is making adjustments in some of its ways and doing some things differently from other manufacturers, but otherwise it seems to be doing well.

Young Hutterite women hanging out on a Winnipeg street

Young Hutterite women hanging out on a Winnipeg street (Photo by Dave Shaver on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

One of the adjustments the colony has had to make is to provide access to the internet, which previously it had avoided. Colony leaders realized a year ago that the business world operates electronically—placing orders, obtaining supplies, relating to customers—so Golden Valley had to install access to the internet at their colony as well. The colony has a long tradition of maintaining careful control over contacts by its members with the outside world. They solved the issue last year by installing a computer in the main business office of the new manufacturing building and keeping the room securely locked most of the time.

However, the updating report last week said that the colony has changed its mind and has decided to make a computer available to all of its members. The leaders of the colony, in order to insure accountability, placed it in a room with a door that has no lock and some windows. The colony placed filters on the machine to strictly limit what members could access; the leaders also monitor the uses that the people make of the machine.

A group of boys and girls at the Milford Hutterite Colony in Montana

A group of boys and girls at the Milford Hutterite Colony in Montana (Photo by Roger W on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

For its telephone contacts with the outside world, the colony has relied on a satellite phone but unfortunately it sometimes goes down due to bad weather. To solve that issue, managers are bringing a fiber cable into the colony. A successful business must have reliable communications with its suppliers and its customers.

Managers of the business have had to learn a lot quickly. They learned that it is often difficult to anticipate demands for products, and the effective responses of Valley Steel to the needs of its customers depends on them having more inventory of steel on hand than they had anticipated. Sometimes the steel, which is shipped as long sheets in giant spools, arrives damaged, requiring the operation to adjust its production schedules.

During its first year of operation, the company has overcome its many difficulties and built up a group of firms that enthusiastically buys its products. The recent news report quoted Jeff Davis from the Jeff Davis Construction business in Billings. Mr. Davis admits to the reporter that he’s a fan of Valley Steel. He finds that their prices are competitive, they almost always fill his orders quickly, and they are willing to work with him despite the size of his construction company. “They’re not too big for their britches, like other companies I won’t name,” he says.