From the Editor: There are lots of opinions on states' top brands

2013-08-01T00:00:00Z From the Editor: There are lots of opinions on states' top brandsBy TOM HOWARD The Billings Gazette

Here’s something that Rand McNally probably never dreamed of putting into an atlas. The website has drawn up a map of the United States that features the top brands in all 50 states:

The map provides a colorful snapshot of where some of the nation’s iconic brands originated. It’s also highly subjective and leaves open plenty of opportunities for debate.

Some selections are obvious. With more than $20 billion in revenues, Athletic apparel maker Nike is Oregon’s most famous brand. Most people would be hard pressed to name another famous Oregon-based company. You say that you’ve never heard of Portland-based Precision Castparts? Neither have I. Nevertheless, it ranks No. 387 on the Fortune 500 list of U.S. companies.

No doubt Bill Gates would furrow his brow after learning that Microsoft was ignored and Starbucks was picked as the state of Washington's top brand.

Interestingly, Wisconsin’s top brand doesn’t have a direct relationship with cheese, beer or the Green Bay Packers. It’s Milwaukee-based Harley-Davidson.

It should surprise nobody that Tabasco ranks as Louisiana’s top brand. In Georgia, it’s Coca-Cola, of course.

General Motors no longer dominates the auto industry like it did through most of the 20th century. But GM left Ford and Chrysler in its dust and remains Michigan’s most famous brand.

The site’s selection of Montana’s top brand may surprise you. Personally, I would have picked Billings-based Kampgrounds of America Inc. Last year KOA celebrated 50 years in business as the nation’s leader in camping, with more than 450 franchisee-owned campgrounds and another two dozen company-owned properties.

The KOA brand is so ingrained in American culture that it appears frequently in crossword puzzles, with clues such as: “Where RVs gather.” Jim Rogers, KOA’s chief executive, boosted the company’s national exposure when he was featured recently on the CBS show “Undercover Boss.”

Instead, MarketingPilgrim picked Dillon-based Great Harvest Bread Co. Like KOA, Great Harvest is a Montana-born company with a compelling history that has relied on franchising for growth. Founded in the 1970s by Pete and Laura Wakeman, Great Harvest has expanded to more than 200 Great Harvest bakeries scattered throughout the nation.

In 2001 the Wakemans sold the business to chairman Nido Qubein, president Mike Ferretti and a group of investors.

Other Montana companies have done a good job of building their brands and deserve mention, even though there's space for only one company on the map. Bozeman-based Simms Flyfishing developed neoprene waders and is renowned by fishermen from throughout the world. Wheat Montana of Three Forks has developed a solid following because of its Montana-grown flour and baked goods. Likewise, a number of Montana gun manufacturers have a solid following in that industry.

No doubt, there are dozens of Montana companies that deserve recognition for building their brand. If you have any suggestions, feel free to drop me a line at

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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