Nov 20, 2012 12:48 PM by Dennis Bragg
Montana has more than three times as many specialty license plates as other states in the region, and new technology is allowing the state and local groups to realize a profit.
While there are 56 numerically-coded county license plates, there are scores and scores of distinct specialty plates.
Yellowstone County treasurer Max Lenington noted, "Today we have 132 different, distinct specialty plates...each bearing a little different motif."
Plenty of Montana drivers are more than happy with basic blue, but for a growing number of car owners, selecting a specialty license plate is a big deal, giving them a chance to show affinity with an organization or show their support for a cause.
There are dozens of choices, ranging from teams to parks to wildlife organizations.
Brenda Nordlund of the Motor Vehicle Division of the MT Department of Justice noted, "I think people enjoy having the artistic license plate. And I think it's just a great revenue stream for organizations. You know it's a pretty tempting proposition for an organization to think, 'How can I get a share of this market?'"
How much market? Montana shared almost $1 million with the non-profits in 2012, up $300,000 from 2011. Nordlund said the plate sponsors choose what they'll charge.
In Deer Lodge, at Montana Correctional Enterprises, the license shop uses the same software and hardware as commercial printers, converting the submitted plate designs into approved plates. The system is more advanced than many used by states with larger populations.
"Artists will call me or come in, whatever, get the CDs and that's the best way to go. We can do an awful lot, a lot more you could ever do in the past, that's for sure," said Wesley Harr who works for Montana Correctional Enterprises.
Once the designs are set, plates can be printed in small quantities, with the laminates applied to huge rolls of aluminum, and then stamped and shipped out. The shop produces up to 500,000 plates per year, both regular and specialty tags.
"It really is an art form and I'm really happy with the people that are working here," Harr said. "And they do their best."
Because the process uses a workflow similar to commercial printing, the inmates are learning future job skills.
"It's just really cool that I'm able to learn that kind of stuff here," said Brian Maston, a license shop inmate. "That I'm going to get out with a new career and a new outlook on life. So it's awesome."
Click here to see all available plates and learn more about prices and fees.