Each year Inc. lists the 5000 fastest growing companies. Twelve on the list this year are from Montana.

Ascent Vision Technologies, Bozeman — Provides integrated services, imaging systems, and software development for the defense and aerospace industry.

LumenAd, Missoula — Creates media management programs to assist brands and agencies with growth and awareness strategies.

Stone Glacier, Bozeman— Fabricates high-end mountaineering equipment. Products include backpacks, tents, sleeping bags, and technical apparel.

 XY Planning Network, Bozeman- Provides tools, resources, and services to enable state-registered investment advisers to start, run, and grow their own fee-only financial planning practices.

Big Sky Health and Rehab, Helena— Offers hands-on manual therapy and specially designed exercise programs to better the lives of its patients. Its rehabilitation services are available through its clinic in Helena, Montana.

Foundant Technologies, Bozeman— Provides custom a software system for grant makers, another system for grant seekers, and a comprehensive financial service for community foundations.

commonFont, Bozeman— Helps leading companies connect with and learn from their customers. Provides the guidance and technical knowledge that enables its clients to collect, interpret, and act on customer feedback data.

Energy 1, Bozeman— Delivers construction engineering, contracting, operations, maintenance, and management services, focusing on sustainable energy systems designed to ensure comfort, protect the environment, and optimize cost efficiency.

Yellowstone Health and Rehab, Billings— Operates physical therapy clinics in Billings, Montana.

Golden Helix, Bozeman— Develops and sells a platform supporting the analysis of sequencing data and the creation of clinical reports for the bioinformatics industry.

Very, Bozeman- Provides expert product development, software engineering, and design services.

Dee-O-Gee, Bozeman— Provides healthy care options for dogs and cats in the United States through its network of pet food stores across the country.

Manufacturing production rebounded for the third straight month, rising by 3.4% in July. Despite progress over the past few months, output in the sector has fallen 7.7% year-over-year, with durable and nondurable goods output down 9.3% and 5.4%, respectively. Manufacturing capacity utilization rose 69.2% in July, although that is still down from 75.2% in February.

* There were 336,000 manufacturing job openings in June, up from 306,000 in May, which had been the slowest pace since October 2016. Overall, job postings have drifted significantly lower over the past year—a trend that began before the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, there were 486,000 and 360,000 job openings in the sector in June 2019 and December 2019, respectively.

* Consumer spending at retailers rose 1.2% in July, slowing from 18.3% and 8.4% gains seen in May and June, respectively. More importantly, it was the third straight monthly increase in consumer purchasing after stay-at-home orders sent sales plummeting in the spring. Excluding automobiles, retail sales rose 1.9% in July. Retail spending has risen by a modest 2.7% since July 2019.

Rosendale will keep our communities safe

It is the responsibility of our elected leaders to ensure the safety of the citizens they represent. However, in Democrat-led cities and states, misguided officials have ignored the safety of a majority of their constituents to follow a political agenda. We’ve all seen the results. 

 Matt Rosendale has shown strong leadership, stating unequivocally that he supports Montana law enforcement and that he will stand strong against misguided attempts to abolish or defund police, which would put the public at risk. 

Now more than ever, we need Matt Rosendale in Congress to stand up to radical Democrats who are playing politics with our gun rights, law enforcement—and the safety of all Montanans.

Barbara Anderson, Lavina, Montana

Rosendale is a Fantastic Choice for Montana

Even during unprecedented times, may we never lose sight of the incredible privilege it is to live in the greatest country on earth. Where else are we so free to live, think, speak, learn, work, dream and worship as we see fit? Yet in the words of former President Ronald Reagan “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction”; and we, American voters, now hold the baton. We must preserve our liberty and pass it on to future generations. Perhaps like never before, American values are under assault by extreme leftists who unashamedly hate our president, our nation, and all that America represents. This is being exemplified through destructive attempts to eradicate our history, defund our police, and socialize our nation.

In November Montanans will vote to send a new representative to Washington D.C. to serve in Montana’s lone congressional seat. We have the exciting opportunity to send someone who loves Montana and America, someone who will support President Trump, back our law enforcement heroes, stand with our veterans, preserve our second amendment rights, protect our vulnerable citizens, work to lower health care costs, and bring fiscal responsibility to Washington D.C. This individual is Matt Rosendale, an honest, hardworking leader, whom President Trump describes as a “strong conservative fighter”.

America truly is great and exceptional. Patriotic Americans can keep it that way. Please vote for Matt Rosendale!

Hannah Dresser, Stevensville, MT

Mountain States Legal Foundation has been granted the right to intervene on behalf of besieged ranchers in Center for Biological Diversity v. Bernhardt, a case that could decide the future of livestock operations across significant swaths of Arizona and New Mexico. 

“Anti-ranching groups for years have been weaponizing the Endangered Species Act against livestock operators, in a bid to deny them their grazing rights and evict them from public lands,” said MSLF attorney Brian Gregg is response to the ruling. “The only difference here is that they’re using flawed, self-generated ‘science’ in support of the eviction order.”   

Anti-grazing groups understand that ranchers can’t survive without access to rivers, streams and other water sources. This explains a litany of lawsuits over the years claiming that this or that species is imperiled when livestock cross or otherwise use streambeds. An allegedly threatened jumping mouse is the latest species they want “saved” by fencing-off water sources that livestock growers can’t do without.  

MSLF in this case is representing longtime Arizona ranchers Doug Stacey and Bill and Barbara Marks, award  winning   conservationists who could lose access to critical water sources on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest if greater “protection” of “jumping mouse habitat” is allowed to negate their grazing rights,  water rights and property right. MSLF also represents the Arizona Cattle Growers Association, which recognizes the devastating statewide economic impact this case could have.    

The plaintiffs claim that the New Mexico Jumping Mouse could be harmed by these long-established ranching operations, based on non-peer-reviewed “science” of their own creation. MSLF argues that this case is not based on the best available science; that mouse and man can successfully share these areas; and that arbitrarily fencing-out livestock, based on self-serving agenda-driven science, would spell doom for ranchers who are good and conscientious caretakers of the land and water.  

MSLF believes that a conflict of interest arises when management decisions are made by “science” originating with interested parties – especially parties with a well-known anti-ranching bias. “The point of this and similar lawsuits isn’t to protect endangered species, but to use these allegedly endangered species as a pretext for regulating historic family ranches out of business,” said Brian Gregg, MSLF’s lead attorney on the case. “We’re intervening in this case in defense of ranchers who have a proven track record of good stewardship, but also against radical groups who are notorious for using dubious claims to wage an ideological war against grazing.”  

“The problem isn’t cattle running roughshod over streambeds, as alleged, but organized anti-ranching groups running roughshod over grazing rights, using unsubstantiated environmental threats as a pretext,” added Gregg.  

By Evelyn Pyburn

Things are changing because of the COVID crisis, and one of those changes — which could be good news for Montana— is the strengthening of small producers in the meat processing industry.

The unveiling of problems in the nation’s staid meat packing business, has given rise to questions and challenges regarding entrenched processes, regulations and norms. Dramatic swings in how consumers are buying meat are forcing changes which are creating pressure on politicians to adapt policies and regulations, and some of those anticipated changes will pose opportunities for the industry in Montana.

“I think we are going to have more packing plants in Montana,” says Dr. Marty Connell, who has been a participant of the industry all his life and has watched its changes over the past 55 years. Dr. Connell is a Veterinarian, an Agriculture and Financial Consultant and President of Kairos Properties LLC in Billings.

In a recent interview, Dr. Connell said that there will be changes to the industry and they will benefit Montana producers and consumers.

It’s not that pressures on the meat industry were not already building and that some changes were not already happening, but the disruption of the supply chain because of the closure of a few plants due to COVID-19 infections, revealed exactly how vulnerable the industry is and that has prompted motivation to remove bottlenecks and open avenues to allow flexibility.

Generating some excitement is a bill in Congress that will open doors to allow local state-inspected packing plants to sell products across state lines – something currently prohibited by regulations.

Another development is the establishment of a new program at Miles Community College in Miles City to train students how to cut meat— and perhaps, eventually, another aspect of the program will teach how to manage a meat packing business. The program addresses a pent-up demand in the state for meat processing that was encumbered due to a lack of skilled meat cutters.

Consumer pressure for local products and “grown organic” has created new markets and opportunities for local processors.

The mandated closure of restaurants because of COVID has generated a new interest in cooking at home, pointed out Dr. Connell. So, grocery stores experienced increased demand for meat, while restaurant meat purchases dropped dramatically, and a situation emerged in which there were shortages in one supply line and surpluses in another. A rapid transition was slowed because of regulations.

Dr. Connell said that while home cooking may retain some of its new-found interest, he believes that as soon as they can, people will return to eating-out at restaurants because of its convenience. There will be other aspects of life that will also return to ways of the past as soon as people can do so, believes Dr. Connell, but some things will change because of the COVID crisis, and one of the biggest will be a decline in confidence in bureaucrats whose recent deeds have created a “lack of credibility” among on-lookers.

Dr. Connell graduated from Kansas State University with a degree in Veterinary Medicine in 1965 and became one of 102 veterinarians in Montana who also served as Deputy State Veterinarians who were qualified to conduct inspections of meat processing facilities in the state. Dr. Connell was practicing at Glasgow. At the time there were packing plants all over the state – -almost every town had one.

The Department of Livestock was the Livestock Sanitary Board.

Montana, as did many states, had its own state inspector and process for monitoring inspecting and regulating the meat packing businesses. And then, as now, processors were not allowed to sell meat across state lines.

In the late 1960s, the State Veterinarian and Livestock Sanitary Board decided that it would be better for local processors to meet federal standards so they could sell their products across state lines and expand their small market. “That was a false assumption lobbied by employees of the large meat packers.” 

The status of Montana’s industry at the time was that livestock growers didn’t supply enough inventory and Montana’s population wasn’t great enough to consume all that was processed – a status that hasn’t changed all that much.

The State Veterinarian’s desire for Federal Inspection finally won the day but as the federal regulations were imposed, one by one, the small packing plants blinked out of existence because they could not afford to meet the federal standards. Federal standards are only affordable if the facility is processing a large volume of animals.

So rather than expanding Montana’s beef industry, they destroyed it, as was the case across the country, and the number of packing plants dwindled to just one or two megalithic facilities.

Was there influence and manipulation of the politicians and federal regulations by the “big boys” to protect themselves and eliminate widespread competition?

 Dr. Connell said that he was sure there was some of that, but the driving factor in the market, then as now, is the consumer seeking the lowest price product. The reality is a one penny price difference makes a difference in what happens in the market. Small processors do not have a large enough market to spread out their costs per unit to a degree that they can compete with larger processors or imports from Australia.

Price will continue to be the major factor in markets, believes Dr. Connell, which is why he doesn’t see internet sales being particularly successful. The price on website vendors is often four times more than a butcher and the quality is not necessarily better. The competition of the future is a business like Costco, said Dr. Connell, where they keep their prices down but maintain a good product. Ranch House Meats is another operation that has impressed Dr. Connell in how they are competing.

Whatever changes come they will be addressing the industry as a whole, because noted Dr. Connell, Montana, with a population of less than a million, has miniscule influence in Washington DC. That is one reason why the effort to require labeling of meat products as to their origin has never gained much traction in Congress.

Another factor in the regulatory squeeze, explained Dr. Connell, is that it is the nature of bureaucracy to gradually ratchet up the standards, imposing additional costs on plants. That was a problem for Montana in the recent past as small plant operators were being required to comply with demands of federal regulators that were not regulations.

But, Dr. Connell stated that over time the regulation situation on Montana packing plants has eased.

Part of the reason is that compliance has become easier due to better technology. Technology always plays a role in market changes. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, technology was a factor in how beef got to market. The emergence of refrigerated box cars allowed for the shipment of beef carcasses which was less expensive than shipping live cattle to eastern markets.

In order to overcome regulatory costs and increase the economies of scale that was beyond the small processors, Pierce Packing was built in Billings in 1906. At the time it was the largest packing plant in the country. Midland Packing was also established in Billings. Interestingly, too, is that at that time production of swine was greater in Montana than beef production, and eventually Pierce processed only pork.

Today with over 2.6 million head of cattle, the beef industry in Montana far exceeds that of hogs, of which there are only about 210,000 head.

Montana has about 20 Federally inspected meat processing plants and 39 State-inspected meat processing plants.

Pierce Packing, located on the block of 15th Street and 1st Avenue North, closed in 1984 after struggling with market ups and downs, with the final blow coming because of a PCB transformer leak into their tankage product.

Dr. Connell’s company, Kairos Properties LLC has redeveloped the plant structure into a facility that today is home to manufacturing operations, warehouses , offices and thirteen high end residential condos.

The Billings Chamber of Commerce announced that Dr. Robert J. Wilmouth, President of Rocky Mountain College, is the 2020 Legacy Award honoree.

Dr. Wilmouth has served in multiple leadership capacities in Billings for almost 30 years, and will be honored during the 2020 Billings Chamber Annual Meeting presented by KULR8 and PayneWest Insurance on September 10, at the Babcock Theater.

Dr. Wilmouth is an incredible champion for our community,” noted Chamber President and CEO John Brewer. “As Rocky Mountain College’s leader, he has led efforts to grow our workforce and expand the college with the new science center, and so much more. He has a long history of giving his time and resources to projects that will help Billings to grow and develop. Dr. Wilmouth is a true Billings asset.”

Dr. Wilmouth has been the President of Rocky Mountain College (RMC) since January 2013. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Notre Dame in psychology and pre-professional studies. Following college, he worked as a marketing representative for the IBM Corporation in the financial branch in Chicago, Illinois.

During this time, he also served as a commissioned officer in the Army Reserves Medical Corps. After receiving his doctor of medicine degree from the University of Illinois, he was a surgical resident at the University of Colorado, followed by a two-year fellowship in cardiothoracic surgery at New York University. He moved to Billings in 1991 and joined Billings Clinic as a cardiothoracic and vascular surgeon, and then as Chief of Cardiac Services and Medical Director.

He was also the Program Director for the Master of Physician Assistant Studies program at RMC. According to one of his nominators, Tyler Wiltgen, Dr. Wilmouth “has taken RMC to the next level through his tireless pursuit of ‘getting better at everything we do.’”

Wiltgen credits Dr. Wilmouth with leading the charge to raise funds and construct the brand new Dr. Charles Morledge Science Center, outfitting Herb Klindt Field with lights and artificial turf, and as the champion of providing RMC students with the best possible educational experience.

“His leadership helped the College open it first ever doctorate program, in Occupational Therapy,” Wiltgen continued. “He has laid the groundwork for expansion of the College’s Physician Assistant Master’s program as well.” In his time at RMC, Wiltgen recognizes Dr. Wilmouth’s efforts in establishing the College as a true community partner, through his service on the Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch, Riverstone Health Foundation, Billings Symphony, and Big Sky Economic Development Boards.

Dr. Wilmouth holds certifications from the American College of Surgeons, the National Board of Medical Examiners, the American Heart Association, the American Board of Surgery, and the American Board of Thoracic Surgery.

As Continental Resources brings more of its Williston Basin wells back on line, it was surprised to learn that production had sharply increased in Montana after two months of wells being shut in, reported Oil Patch Hotline.

“We turned it back on and the production was double of what it was before we shut it in,” said CEO William Berry. The company said it would bring most of the curtailed Bakken wells back on line by the end of this month. Continental led the early exploration of the Elm Coulee Field in eastern Montana in 2008 and now holds leases on 1.1 million acres there.

“This is a very low permeability reservoir, and you give it time to shut-in, you start seeing it— the reservoir basically recharged the stimulated rock volume area we’ve got around the wells” said President Jack Stark. “And so the fact is, there’s a lot of oil out here.”

Stark and other industry representatives say they expect North Dakota oil production is expected to return to record levels this summer, but they say the resurgence will be slow and steady.

Technology advancements are driving the increase in activity rather than the price of oil, Jack Stark is reported as saying in the Bismarck Tribune.

“This year, there’s no doubt that the Bakken is performing better than ever,” he said. “The rock hasn’t changed. It’s all happened through technology.”

Continental, North Dakota’s top oil producer, only recovered about 3 to 5 percent of the oil early in its Bakken operations. Now, said Stark the company recovers 15 to 20 percent of the oil, with efforts underway to continue increasing that.

As the re-charging of Montana wells indicate, “We’re leaving a lot down there,” said Thomas Nusz, chairman and CEO of Oasis Petroleum.

Erec Isaacson, vice president of Rockies Business Unit for ConocoPhillips, said $65 oil is the new $100 oil, thanks to innovations the industry developed during the downturn.

The best place to own a home in Montana is in Jefferson County, east of Butte, when comparing the cost of rent to the cost of a mortgage, according to smartasset.com. It takes 3.5 years in Jefferson County to break even, with the cost of rent.

The average monthly mortgage payment is $2,001 while monthly rent is $1,244 and the average home price is $465,243. Yellowstone County is considered the fifth best city in Montana to own rather than rent, with a payback period of 4.1 years.

The average monthly mortgage payment is $1,440 while average monthly rent is $1,332. The averge price of a home in Yellowstone County is $334,775. Other counties in the top ten in Montana were Lincoln, Golden Valley, Lewis and Clark, and Gallatin.

To provide more convenience for customers, Beartooth Bank, a division of American Bank Center, is adding a second bank located at 123 N. Broadway Ave. in downtown Billings. This 7,000-square-foot facility is expected to open in 2021. Beartooth currently has one location at 4130 King Ave. W., Billings.

In addition to offering personal banking services, this new downtown location will focus on providing effective and efficient banking solutions for businesses.

It will feature American’s Branch of Tomorrow concept, which includes industry-leading technology and a model of service that provides more convenience for customers.

Customers will have one point of contact for all their banking needs. Services offered downtown include commercial lending, ag banking, retail, e-banking, consumer lending and home mortgage. There will be an opportunity for future expansion to also meet customers’ trust and insurance needs.

“We are excited to serve our customers in this new location where we will continue to offer the high-quality service and local decision-making they have come to expect from us,” said Sheri Nicholson, Beartooth Bank president. Nicholson plans to retire later this fall and Allen McCormick will be the new market president. A lifelong resident of Montana and originally from Lindsay, he has 40 years of experience in the banking industry.

The following Montana Bank Board appointments have been announced.

* Bill Davies, Billings. Qualification: Active officer of a national bank doing business in Montana. Davies is the Regional President for the Montana Northwest Wyoming Region for U.S. Bank.

* Tony Ennenga, Bozeman. Qualification: Member of the public who is not an officer, director or shareholder of a bank. Ennenga is a Certified Public Accountant in private practice.

* Tom Swenson, Missoula. Qualification: Active officer in state bank of Montana. Swenson is the Founder, Director and CEO of Bank of Montana and Bancorp of Montana Holding Company.