Printing For Less, a large employer for Livingston and surrounding areas, will unveil its new production and warehouse space by mid-July. The addition will bring the total facility square footage to 101,000. The expansion is funded by a Goldman Sachs capital investment for $25 million. PFL has grown into being a print shop, marketing technology company and e-commerce provider.

McKenzie County, North Dakota has surpassed all other oil producing counties in the nation to take the No. 1 spot, with 17.88 million barrels of oil produced in January 2019. The amount pumped surpassed  the No. 2 producer, Lea County, New Mexico, which had 14.6 million barrels per month, and the No. 3, Weld County, Colorado, which had 13.7 million barrels per month. It also beat out Midland County, Texas, which produced 12.5 million barrels of oil per month in January 2019.

The operator of the Dakota Access Pipeline is planning to nearly double its capacity, to a point where it could transport nearly all of the daily oil production of the nation’s No. 2 producer. The plans include new pumping stations in three states. Energy Transfer Partners informed North Dakota regulators that it plans to expand the pipeline capacity from more than 500,000 barrels per day to as much as 1.1 million barrels. North Dakota produced 1.39 million barrels of oil per day in April. The record was 1.4 million barrels per day in January.

According to a nationwide report, 2019 Kids Count Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation — 63% of eighth-graders in Montana were not proficient in math in 2017 — a 7% jump from 2009 when 56% of the state’s eighth-graders fell below proficiency benchmarks. Montana did slightly better than the national average of 67% of students who didn’t meet eighth-grade math proficiency in 2017. According to the Montana Office of Public Instruction’s 2017-2018 state report card, about 59% of all students statewide are not proficient in math. The achievement gap is even greater for Native American students — 86% of whom are not proficient in math.

Triangle Communications will be expanding its wireless internet services in Havre, over the next several months. The expansion will provide additional capacity and increased speeds. The project is to be completed by fall.. Triangle provides services including broadband internet, local, long distance, and mobile telephone service to Montana residents. It has more than 17,000 subscribers in parts of 16 counties from the Canadian to the Wyoming border.

Sale prices were up in May for The Gallatin area real estate market according to statistics from the Gallatin Association of Realtors. Median sale prices were up in May 2019 compared to the same period last year, and sellers received over 98% of their list price in both the single family and condo/townhouse markets. The median sales price increased 3.1%, rising from $407,250 in May 2018 to $420,000 last month. The number of units sold increased from 154 in May 2018 to 176 this May, a 14.3% increase, and pending sales are up 26 percent, rising from 146 last May to 184 this year. The average number of days on market was 64, up from 51 last May, and the months supply of inventory decreased 20%, from 3.5 to 2.8. Sellers received 98.3% of their list price in May 2019, down from 99% in 2018.

Despite broad public opposition, Clenera LLC is set to build the largest solar plant in Montana near Dillon, which would generate 120 megawatts of power. The proposed $150 million solar involves a 1,306-acre solar farm, which got its lease with the Department of Natural Resource and Conservation or 1,306 approved by the state Land Board. Idaho-based Clenera LLC, is expected to generate $19 million in taxes over 35 years to Beaverhead County and $1.29 million to the state trust. The initial 15 years would create $480,000 a year in lease payments to the state trust. Additional steps in the process, include reaching a contractual agreement with NorthWestern Energy and getting permits.

In Bozeman, the Montana Raptor Conservation Center is preparing to open a brand new wing of its facility. The Mews Education Center is a newly built, 1,800 square-foot building that will house up to ten of the center’s educational birds. The new addition, which was funded by grants and community donations, will provide more up-close-and-personal experiences with the educational raptors who are permanently housed at the center.

Montana Manufacturing Extension Center’s Senior Business Advisor Bill Nicholson will be leaving MMEC after 14 years to join a MMEC client, Timberline Tool.  MMEC welcomes two new Business Advisors for Central and Eastern Montana, Doug Roberts, who will be based in Great Falls, and Sheri Bartz who will be based in Billings.

Lewistown’s Snowy Mountain Development Corporation will receive $400,000 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as part of the agency’s disbursement of $9.3 million in supplemental funding for 24 current Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) grantees. The supplemental funds are going to communities that have demonstrated success in using their RLF funds to clean up and redevelop brownfield sites. The funds will be used to continue their progress in reusing vacant and abandoned properties for development such as housing, recreation and open space, health facilities, etc. The recipients of the funding may offer low-interest loans and sub-grants to carry out cleanup activities at brownfields sites.

Acadia Montana in Butte has closed terminating more than a hundred jobs. It has been reported, however, that other companies are hiring those employees – companies like FCR or Montana Precision. FCR is an Oregon-based call center that will open July 12 in the former JC Penney store at the Butte Plaza Mall. FCR has already hired 120 employees and expects to hire more – eventually over 400 employees.

Leadership Montana announced the graduation of 44 community, business, education, healthcare, nonprofit and government leaders from across the state for the Class of 2019 of its flagship leadership program. Leadership Montana presents an annual seven session program of leadership development, education about issues facing Montana today, and opportunities for networking and collaboration.  This year’s class visited Big Sky, Phillipsburg, Butte, Hamilton, Missoula, Helena, White Sulphur Springs, Great Falls, Glasgow and Billings.

By Jenna McKinney, Montana Petroleum Association

 The Montana Petroleum Association (MPA) applauds the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel that recently ruled the injunction put in place last fall by U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris is no longer in effect. This decision comes shortly after the Trump administration issued a new Presidential Permit on March 29, 2019. The new permit supersedes the previous permit and allows TransCanada to now continue construction of the Keystone XL pipeline project.

The continued delays of the Keystone XL pipeline project have gone on since the first Presidential Permit was issued in 2008. In Montana the four year permitting process resulted in a Major Facilities Siting Act permit in 2012, seven years ago. The initial hold ups were due to standard protocols for Environmental Impact Studies (EIS) and determining the most advantageous route for the pipeline to go from Canada to Houston, TX. The subsequent delays and court appeals have become a battle ground for political gamesmanship and conflicting ideologies. The Keystone XL pipeline project is one example of how political posturing has harmed our economy by stifling employment and slowing reasonable access to markets. With a projected $3.4 billion added to the U.S. GDP, and the creation of tens of thousands of jobs, isn’t it time for the Keystone XL to be built?

Montana Petroleum Association Executive Director, Alan Olson responded to the news with, “Oil and gas development and industry growth means significant job opportunities for Montanans, it means energy independence for America, and provides responsible, safe, and efficient transportation for the oil and gas industry.  We appreciate the Trump Administration’s support of Keystone XL pipeline and the Oil and Gas industry.”

ROI Solutions, headquartered in Utah, has selected Billings as a location to expand their company. Roi is a professional call service that provides businesses with a range of services, tech support, customer service, 24-hour answering, telemarketing, and order-taking.

ROI Solutions has opened in the Petro-Lewis building which provides them the space they need to grow. 

Currently, they have 40 employees and expect to grow to 60 by the end of summer with the potential to hit 100 by fall. The company focuses on providing customer support for a variety of brands including Men’s Warehouse, Visa, and Briggs & Stratton.

Company CEO, Rob Schow said, “We were looking for a market that offered a quality workforce, that was easy for us to visit, and where one of our team leaders from Utah would want to live, and Billings made the short list.”

Since 2008, ROI has been owned and operated in the U.S., supporting hundreds of jobs.

“We have been very pleased with the workforce here in Billings and are finding the quality to exceed what we experience in Utah” said Jesse Ross, ROI’s Senior Management at the Billings location. The company’s two Utah locations employ a total of 600 people with another 300 employees in their Philippine location and two smaller locations in Central America and Europe which allow them to service companies in over 27 languages.

During his research on various communities, Schow contacted  Allison Corbyn, Director of New Business Recruitment at Big Sky Economic Development.

“Allison, with Big Sky Economic Development was great to work with.  She made it so much easier to evaluate Billings as a possible market for growing our business.  With the data and assistance they provided we quickly knew Billings was a location where we wanted to be.  We thank Allison, and her team for all they did.”

Corbyn said, “Talking with Rob, it was clear that this could be a great fit for ROI Solutions, and a win for our community. After visiting their Utah location, I got to see first-hand the great company culture and growth opportunities employees would have with this company here in Billings.”

St. Vincent Healthcare is proposing to open a clinic in Lockwood on the Lockwood School compound. They hope to be able to open at the same time as Lockwood’s new high school is opened, which would be the fall of 2020.

St. Vincent’s is considering building a $9 million, 12,000 square foot facility, on the Lockwood School compound that would provide walk-in services, multiple primary care physicians, and a pharmacy including drive-thru, according to Lockwood School Superintendent Tobin Novasio in reporting to school trustees.

Novasio said that discussion is on-going and that St. Vincent’s Healthcare’s “commitment to Lockwood has been refreshing.”

Novasio said that preliminarily the school is considering leasing the land to a developer who would build to-suit for St. Vincent’s Healthcare, which would then lease the facility from the developer. Under state law the school is permitted to lease property.

Novasio said that they have met with Matt Robertson of NAI Business Properties and have asked him to develop a Request For Qualifications for interested developers.

St. Vincent’s has been operating a mobile facility on the Lockwood school grounds to provide services to school children as well as the community as a whole.

Technology costs will take their toll on budgets for Yellowstone County government in the coming fiscal year. Looking at expenditures for a wide range of technology needs, the total will reach between $750,000 and $900,000, projected Yellowstone County Director of Finance Kevan Bryan.

As department heads met with Yellowstone County Commissioners, last week, to review their budgets for FY 2019-20, almost all noted increased appropriations for updating technology. The needs range from new computers to networking capacity, cloud storage, and server hardware, as well as, cell phones, licensing Microsoft programs, and VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), and other program upgrades.

The jump in expenditures in the coming year is a one-time aberration for the budget with the aim of setting future needs on course to be a more steady and more predictable annual cost, which will keep the entire county current in its technology needs.  “We are playing a little bit of catch-up,” said Bryan. “It gets us caught up to maintain and systematically replace our technology.” In the future technology costs for the county should “smooth out and normalize.”

Bryan said that the IT Department has done a great job on a tight budget, but at times they seemed “slightly out of breath trying to catch up with some of the needs. Hopefully, in the future, they will be in a spot in which they won’t be using bailing wire and chewing gum.”

In the future, the cost of meeting technology needs for the county will even out to something closer to about $225,000 annually.

Updating some 500 computers – some more than ten years old —  is being done in phases so in the future, equipment replacement will be done by department, on a rotating basis. But, a new annual cost will be added to the budget every year, because Microsoft is shifting to selling their programs on a subscription basis, a license which must be renewed each year. That will add  $240 per computer in annual cost for an estimated total cost of $120,000 to the county’s budget.

In total, the county’s 2019-20 budget is expected to be about the same as last year’s, at about $116.6 million.

Bryan told county commissioners that he prepared the proposed budget assuming an overall increase in revenue projects of about 2.42 percent, which includes a rate of inflation allowance and projected growth in the county’s tax base.

Bryan said that with property valuations for the county still unknown, his projections conservatively anticipated no increase in property tax revenues. Valuations from the Department of Revenue are not due until August 5.

Growth in entitlement funding from the State of Montana increased slightly more than 3.75 percent.

The final budget must be adopted by the County Commissioners by the later, of the first Thursday following the first Tuesday in September or 30 days after the State of Montana provides certified taxable values.

Many aspects of the preliminary budget are not yet known, such as salary and benefit costs which are still in negotiations with the unions. With that unknown, Bryan said that he used estimations reflecting the rate of inflation in his projections.

Requests to increase staff have been made by several departments. The Sheriff’s Department submitted proposals to add four new detention officers, two additional patrol deputies; and a civil process server. The County Attorney’s office is requesting an additional supervisor in Justice Court. GIS is requesting the addition of one new technician and the Finance office is planning a reduction of a half position.

To account for property tax revenues that may not be received, primarily due to protested taxes, each department’s budget has been calculated in anticipation of receiving 4 percent less than revenue projections would anticipate. That safe-guard has been estimated substantially lower than last year’s estimate of 7.2 percent, primarily because of the CHS refinery’s agreement not to protest taxes in the coming year.

Projected budgets for some of the departments and funds are:

County Commissioners’ office, $515,569; Liability & Property, $974,409; Lockwood Pedestrian Safety District, $294,496; Predatory Animal Fund, $622; Blight Abatement, $66,000; Junk Vehicles, $214,600; Soil Conservation, $155,700; Elections, $544,000; Finance, $639,169; County Planning, $513,000; Laurel Planning, $84,000; Extension, $355,850; Veteran’s Cemetery, $161,183, Public Health, $2.7 million; Public Safety Mental Health, $1.2 million; Senior Citizens, $1.6 million; Permissive Medical Levy, $4.3 million; Clerk of District Court, $1.4 million; Justice Court, $1.75 million; and County Treasurer/Supt. of Schools, $1.48 million.

Weed Control Fund, $395,000 – Joe Lockwood who heads the department proposed spending $100,000 to build a 40×40 foot addition to house equipment, which would better protect it and save money in the long-term.

Metra Park, $4.9 million which includes $1.9 million in tax revenues and $5.4 million in revenue from other sources. Revenues to Metra are expected to strengthen some due to capturing all of the revenues from naming rights and signs. Metra Park also has a capital improvement fund which is projected to be almost $5 million, including tax revenues, other revenue and reserves. In discussions about the budget for Metra Park in the coming year, the emphasis was on needing to tackle infrastructure needs as identified in a recent study, for power, water, waste water and data, to the tune of $2 million to $4 million. Much of the need stands largely unfunded at the time. However, stated Bryan, “ignoring them will just cost more down the road….and, it would require needing additional help from taxpayers which we don’t want to do.”

County Attorney, $5.2 million. Passage of the public safety levy a year ago “bought a lot of time,” but in two to three years the demands on the County Attorney’s office will require a return to diverting general fund revenue to the department. At mid-year the department plans to add one attorney.

Clerk and Recorder/Surveyor Department, $633,000. Clerk and Recorder Jeff Martin said that he added this year a budget item to replace some furniture which hasn’t been replaced in 10-20 years. The county procurement officer located 500 chairs at 50 percent off and he plans to replace them all. Martin noted that “records preservation” is moving away from micro-filming and relying increasingly on digitizing documents.  He also noted that the cost of death certificates, which is set by the state, dropped to $3 each after having been $5; and birth certificates have increased from $5 to $8. The County department gets a portion of each sale.

Auditor’s Office — $226,477. Auditor Scott Turner noted that his telephone and technology budget will “basically triple, because of network changes, licensing and Mircrosoft.” “It’s an increase of almost $5000 for something I can’t control.”

Museums, $717,130 — $172,283 to Yellowstone Art Museum; $206,739 to Western Heritage Museum; $165,491 to Yellowstone County Museum; and $82,696 to the Huntley Project Museum. Commissioner John Ostlund urged strong consideration from the other commissioners to accept an offer from the Yellowstone County Museum Board to help fund the building of a secure storage building in which to store the museum’s artifacts, which are the property of the county. Ostlund pointed out that that museum is owned by the County, as are the artifacts; while the county owns the Western Heritage building the artifacts are a private collection; and the YAM is not a county museum nor is the art work.

The Sheriff’s Department has several divisions to its budget of $23.7 million. Administration is $585,500; Coroner is $515,000; Detectives, $1.4 million; Patrol, $5 million; Civil $400,000; Records, $650,000; and miscellaneous categories including dispatch, capital replacement and reserves, $2.77 million.

Youth Services, $2.9 million. It’s been a “rough year for Youth Services,” said Director Valerie Weber – up until the last three months, when admissions picked up and has been running almost at full capacity. Her department depends largely upon revenue from per diem payments from agencies placing youth as they wait for the outcome of various processes having to do with protective services, legal proceedings, etc. The shelter is in need of major refurbishing, agreed the county commissioners. They seemed in agreement that proceeds generated with the sale of the house on Neptune Street (Horizon Home) that the county owns, which previously served the Tumbleweed program, would be well spent on refurbishing Youth Services.

Part of Public Works — Road Fund, $11.4 million; Bridge, $1.9 million. Public Works Director Tim Miller noted that over time the bridge fund should experience less demand because the materials being used in replacing bridges and culverts has life-spans of a hundred years rather than just 20-30 years.

Chairman Brad Johnson (R-Dist. 5), Montana Public Service Commission

While California may have a population nearly forty times greater than Montana, utility consumers are still subject to the same vulnerabilities. With current technology, the best way to protect utility customers from an energy shortage is through an increase in available, reliable, baseload power.

Out-of-state and foreign interests are applying increased pressure on lawmakers, and consumers, to replace base load power with wind, solar, and geothermal sources. Demands from outside interest groups for an almost irreversible change in how utilities provide power are accompanied by accelerated timetables to implement such substantial change. I share the concern with many that shifting away from reliable base load power will eventually lead to brown outs – and they may come in the not so distant future – unless we begin to prepare now.

There seems to be a precarious hostility toward flexibility in the course of this approach. To have a decipherable path toward a sustainable energy future, we need to appreciate the business concept of scale. If we cannot scale, we will fail. It would be a grave mistake for anyone to accept that a policy or judicial mandate somehow ensures that success is a foregone conclusion.

Some may consider the reality that electricity is not something that occurs naturally in the environment to be an inconvenient truth, but it is still reality. There are those out there who would insist we make an absolute choice between base load power and a renewable-heavy portfolio. However, the market, and science, suggest renewable energy and reliable base load power sources are natural partners. They can, and should, coexist. 

Classic doom and gloom scenarios exist on the fringes of both sides of the energy debate. If we are going to maintain a safe, reliable power grid for years to come, we have to focus by pruning distractions from self-anointed experts on all sides. 

We must address the potential manmade energy shortage that can be caused as a result of mandating utility providers phase out the only backup for wind and solar energy. If we fail to do this, brown outs will not only prevent lights from turning on at night, and heaters warming homes during the winter. During brown outs, medical devices such as respiratory aids, artificial pancreas devices, and breast pumps can be unavailable to those dependent on them.

Though the market share of electric vehicles (EV) in Montana is still barely measureable in Montana, EV sales grew nearly 92% in our state over the last two years. With our urban areas experiencing the most growth, and more people moving here from other states, trends like this will continue to put stress on our power grid.

Increasing Montana’s available supply of base load power is an investment in the potential of clean, renewable energy – and will keep consumer prices low. We are already one of the 10 largest consumers of renewable energy, and we can maintain this momentum with an increasingly secure base load. Montanans cannot afford to go down the path of California, which is racing to eliminate reliable base load power. They lead the nation in power outages and has some of the most expensive electricity rates in the country.

Power providers are not like a Silicon Valley dotcom companies. When one fails, there are not thousands of backups to turn to. Base load power is not like a sponge. When it dries up, you cannot just add water. 

Alter Ego will be the headline entertainment at the Billings Clinic Foundation’s Street Party on Broadway Ave. for the 2019 Billings Clinic Classic, Saturday, Aug. 24. The theme of this year is Urban Classic, playing on the street party setting and classic downtown Billings elements. Proceeds benefit the Sustainable Fund for the Psychiatric Services Residency Program at Billings Clinic, Montana’s first and only psychiatry residency program. Alter Ego, from Montreal, Canada, is North America’s top party band.  Kicking off the evening will be Arterial Drive, a six-member band from Billings, who will perform during a festive cocktail pre-party. The 2019 Classic will be held outside on Broadway Ave., between 3rd Avenue North and 4th Avenue North. Billings Clinic Classic tickets range in price from $100-$200.

The Montana Chamber Foundation’s 2019 Governors’ Cup Golf Tournament and Sandbaggers Reception will be held in the Flathead Valley on Aug. 1-3. The reception is on Aug. 1 at the Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell. On Aug. 2 and 3, the Chamber will host the tournament at Eagle Bend golf course in Big Fork, Meadow Lake in Columbia Falls, Whitefish Lake (south). Started as the Centennial Golf Classic during the 100th celebration of Montana’s statehood in 1989, the Montana Chamber Foundation annually hosts more than 400 business and government leaders, representing over 100 businesses from across Montana, the entire U.S., and even around the world through the Governors’ Cup Golf Tournament. The event is specifically organized for networking and to promote the state’s growing opportunities for business and investment, as well as a charitable fundraiser for our various programs. Register at www. event-registration/ 2019-sandbaggers- reception-and-bbq/

Wilbur-Ellis Company LLC, a recognized leader in precision agriculture technology and the distribution and marketing of plant protection, seed and nutritional products, recently announced the acquisitions of the assets of two Montana-based companies, Frontier Aviation based in Chester and Ag Air based in Rudyard. With these acquisitions, the Company strengthens its presence and expands its capabilities in seed, plant nutrition and aerial application in the market. 

“These acquisitions expand our presence along the northern tier of the Golden Triangle in north central Montana,” said Wilbur-Ellis Area Manager Keith Knutson. “This expansion allows us to have a larger footprint in this high production cropping area and to continue to provide high-quality Wilbur-Ellis products to the growers in that area.”

 These acquisitions are the continuation of a long-standing partnership. Both Frontier Aviation and Ag Air have been Wilbur-Ellis’ alliance partners since 2003. As alliance partners, Wilbur-Ellis is already very familiar with these well-run businesses, allowing for a smooth transition for both Frontier Aviation’s and Ag Air’s loyal customers. Jim and Julie Briden, as well as Kristie Pulst, will join the Wilbur-Ellis team, further ensuring an efficient changeover of ownership.