The Great Northern Historical Trail will be undergoing “Tunnel Vision 2021” a project to bring in artists from the community to paint murals on the entrances to the three tunnels. The three tunnels are located in a public right of way, so Rails-to-Trails had to work with the city of Kalispell and the Montana Department of Transportation to get the approvals to put the artwork in place. The city of Kalispell and MDT will have final say in the artwork selections.

 A new bike ride has been announced for Whitefish on August 21, 2021. Called the “Last Best Ride” the ride offers two routes which will use the gravel roads around Whitefish. One route is 48 miles and the other is 78 miles.

Voters in the Missoula Urban Transportation District approved a 20 mill levy increase that will provide Mountain Line with $3 million per year to increase services. The bus system plans to increase frequency on heavily-used routes and plans to convert its fleet from diesel to all-electric. Mountain Line provides more than 1.5 million rides annually, and ridership has increased since the debut of zero-fare rides.

The sixth annual SnöFlinga Winter Festival is scheduled from January 21thru 24, in Butte. After communication between the board of directors of SnöFlinga and the Butte-Silver Bow Health Department, the popular winter festival will move forward with adjustments to stay within the protocol set for COVID-19 safety. SnöFlinga was founded by the Butte Community Fitness Foundation to highlight the everyday winter fitness opportunities in the Butte area. These activities include cross country skiing, ice skating, hockey, curling, fat bike riding and walking trails. There were 17 events and nearly 3,000 attendees in the 2020 festival.

Helena has a variety of new or soon to be open new businesses: Slim Chickens restaurant will open soon at 1450 Prospect Ave; the Floral Cottage will move from their current location at 1900 Last Chance Gulch to a new building between Cedar and Custer on Sanders Street. They hope to open the new location in January 2021; Mariposa Massage has opened at 1221 Echelon Place – Ste D; Sassy Nails has opened at 1005 Partridge Place – Ste 2.

District Court Judge Kathy Seeley has overturned a rule by the Montana Lottery which required any business that wished a have a sports betting license under the sports betting law to have a Montana State liquor license. The judge found that the legislature had not inserted any language to require a liquor license.

Bridger Bowl Ski Area has discontinued selling some season passes in a move meant to limit capacity and prevent the spread of coronavirus. The ski area will continue selling day lift tickets. Reservations are part of the ski area’s plans for the season amid the pandemic. Daily limits for the number skiers of allowed on the mountain will also apply.

The B. Sanderson Gas plant going up west of Williston has continued construction during the market downturn in North Dakota. The gas processing plant is now over 75% complete.

The Williston Basin Chapter of the American Petroleum Institute to has cancelled its 2020-21 awards banquet. The event had been scheduled for Jan. 8 at The Well at Williston State College. The awards banquet is usually held in early November, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the organization to postpone and to finally cancel the event.

Cannabis promoters are pointing out that for Montana and the other states which have legalized recreational use of the drug, there is potential for job growth. Each newly legal cannabis state will need to build a new supply chain – from seed to sale – due to the continued Schedule I designation that prohibits moving cannabis across state lines. As a result there “We can expect to see a massive expansion in the number of cannabis farms, manufacturing centers and retail stores. This means Montana (alongside Arizona, New Jersey and South Dakota) can anticipate tens of thousands of new jobs as licenses are granted and regulations are adopted.”

Oboz Footwear, the True to the Trail outdoor footwear company headquartered in Bozeman, has been named to Outside Magazine’s Best Places to Work in 2020. The list honors businesses and organizations that demonstrate a commitment to welcoming environments that prioritize work-life balance and employee engagement.

The Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport reports that their travel numbers are at about 70-75 percent. In April, at its worst point of the pandemic, the airport saw just 3-3.5% of its usual travel numbers.

The Montana Grain Growers Association (MGGA) announced that executive vice president Lola Raska will retire from the organization at the end of this calendar year. The organization also announced that Alison Vergeront has been hired as MGGA’s new executive vice president, effective January 1 Lola Raska has been on staff at MGGA for 21 years, serving as the organization’s farm policy associate and website manager before being hired as executive vice president in 2006. Alison Vergeront was raised on the family farm near Polson, that was homesteaded in 1910. She has served as agricultural liaison and field representative for U.S. Senator Steve Daines for the past six years, regularly meeting with producers and other stakeholders across the state.

Like so many other events, this year the Montana Economic Outlook will be different. The Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana has announced that, rather than a half day packed full of presentations, it will be a two –day on line event, that will include multiple networking and discussion opportunities with speakers, sponsors and fellow attendees.

The 46th Economic Seminar, to be held Feb. 1 and 2, will have the theme “The Path Forward – How COVID-19 has Reshaped the Economy.”

Edward Gleaser, Fred and Eleanor Glimp Professor of Economics at Harvard University, will be a featured speaker, as will Neel Kashkari, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

Edward Glaeser has been influential in advancing ideas on economic growth and has been a champion of cities as generators of ideas and wealth. The question of how COVID-19 has reshaped growth patterns in ways that might be felt in a state like ours is certain to receive his attention.

Neel Kashkari has a seat at the table in making the decisions that have stabilized and supported financial markets during this extraordinary time. His remarks will address the factors and issues that continue to shape the regional and national economic outlook.

BBER economists will present national, state and local economic forecasts for Montana’s largest communities and industry experts will give their outlook for the state’s important sectors, including tourism, health care, real estate and housing, agriculture, manufacturing, high-tech and forest products. V

For the first time, the seminary will be hosted online. The program will offer attendees the ability to attend the sessions of their choice, as well as connect in a variety of innovative ways via our interactive online platform. There will be options for live text messaging and/or video chats with other attendees, presenters and sponsors.

More information is available at

The Center Square

October 14, 2020, marks the 40th anniversary of the enactment of the Staggers Rail Act signed by former President Jimmy Carter. The bipartisan legislation primarily deregulated the freight rail sector, which was on the brink of collapse in the 1970s.

The rail industry’s success after 40 years of rail deregulation provides “an important case study on matters related to competition, markets, rate regulation and capitalism writ large,” the Association of American Railroads argues.

The Staggers Rail Act eliminated many of the regulations still in place since 1887, when Congress passed the Interstate Commerce Act. The act established the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to regulate monopolies controlling the railroads.

By the 1970s, the regulations had not changed. Combined with competition from other transportation sectors, major railroads were facing bankruptcy, the industry was facing ruin and rail infrastructure was so deficient that cars were falling off the tracks.

Deregulation enabled the rail industry to take a customer-focused and market-based approach. Since then, freight railroads have invested more than $710 billion of their own dollars back into the national rail network.

Since 1980, rail traffic has doubled but, because of deregulation, rail rates are down by more than 40 percent when adjusted for inflation. Customers can ship double the amount of goods for roughly the same price they could 40 years ago. And because of technological advancement, increased volume of heavy freight has been carried on rail lines instead of on congested or failing public roads making transportation safer.

Research from Towson University’s Regional Economic Studies Institute found that in 2017, Class I railroads’ operations and capital investment supported over 1.1 million jobs, $219.5 billion in economic output, and $71.3 billion in wages, while also creating nearly $26 billion in total tax revenue.

In a typical week, railroads deliver roughly 60,000 carloads of food and agricultural products. A single rail car moves enough wheat for 258,000 loaves of bread, enough corn for 480,000 bags of Fritos, or enough barley for 94,000 gallons of beer, AAR states.

Throughout the economic downturn due to statewide coronavirus shutdowns, the rail industry did not seek federal bailout money and continued to provide services. This has been possible because the U.S. Surface Transportation Board has avoided utility-style rate or earnings regulation in the sector.

Before the coronavirus shutdown, the agency was considering capping how much railroad companies could earn in a year, including imposing an across-the-board utility-style rate regulation.

“For railroads, the impact of imposing these regulations would have a devastating effect on liquidity,” Steve Pociask at RealClear Policy argues.

If rate caps were imposed, “it stands to reason that investment in the rail network would fall, and quite likely so would its dependability and efficiency – just as companies that ship over rail will need those qualities during the hard slog back to economic recovery,” he adds.

Compared to the heavily regulated transportation airline and mass transit industries that were reporting losses before the coronavirus ever hit, federal bailouts for the airlines, airports and mass transit totaled nearly $90 billion.

The next session of the Montana State Legislature is scheduled to begin on Jan. 4, 2021.

Prior to each legislative session, organizations of all sorts usually announce their legislative priorities – those issues, policies and proposals, for which they plan to lobby or support.

Yellowstone County’s economic development agency, Big Sky Economic Development (BSED) is among the many that have announced their list of priorities going into the next legislative session. The agency, which administers both Big Sky Economic Authority and Big Sky Economic Corporation, has identified a broad range of issues at both the state and local level that it considers important.

BSED’s legislative priorities at a local level parallels those at the state level, and includes the goal of Yellowstone County to change state law to allow more flexibility in establishing long-term leases of county properties, which might better encourage private business investment.

BSED’s goals include supporting the continued funding of Medicaid which will bolster local and regional healthcare providers.

They will also stand behind any proposed funding of Montana State University-Billings, including what has been identified as a need for investment in the health care and science professions.

BSED wants to Protect Tax Increment Financing, saying that “urban renewal and target economic development districts need to be supported as one of the few economic development tools available to support the redevelopment of our downtown core and to build infrastructure that supports the growth of value-added industry.”

BSED’s legislative priorities include endorsing the goals of the Montana Economic Development Authority and the Montana Chamber of Commerce’s “Next Generation of Community and Economic Development Tool Analysis,” which is essentially a number of funding proposals and laws that will empower agencies to develop programs and projects.

The priorities include reorganizing the state’s economic development programs and subsidies for job creation. They also advocate for a reorganization of the Department of Commerce and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

They want to fund incentives for recruiting and retaining workers in Montana and to encourage entrepreneurship.

The priorities include support for a statewide strategy to improve broadband accessibility, and revenue to support investment in 5G networks.

And they want the state legislature to explore funding sources to help advance economic development programs and projects to be created in future legislative sessions – laws which would enable government funding of “infrastructure and community development assets.”

To explore options for affordable daycare and programs supporting “workforce” housing, were other issues of interest that might come forward in the next state legislature, about which BSED would be supportive.

Thanks to help from state and local health and disaster officials, Billings Clinic has secured federal resources in the efforts to care of COVIC-19 patients. Through the efforts of Yellowstone County Disaster and Emergency Services Coordinator KC Williams and the State of Montana, the hospital has been given 15 new GE Healthcare CARESCAPE R860 ventilators, which aid critically ill patients in breathing. The government agencies, including the county health department, helped to  connect Billings Clinic with the U.S. Department of Health and Human (HHS), which provided the ventilators.

Billings Clinic has also received a $150,000 grant through the Montana Coronavirus Relief Grants Program, which provides federal CARES Act funding to businesses and organizations throughout the state. Billings Clinic will use these funds to help build a permanent Viral Triage Unit (VTU), which provides COVID-19 and respiratory illness testing. The permanent VTU will allow for continued testing in a convenient location next to Billings Clinic’s SameDay Care on the downtown Billings campus. It is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2020.

Also, a seven-person care team arrived in Billings to assist the hospital, thanks to the efforts of the federal HHS and the State of Montana and DPHHS. The team includes four nurses, a physician and support staff.  They are one of five such teams deployed this week to hospitals across Montana.

* The Institute for Supply Management® reported that the manufacturing sector expanded in October at the fastest pace since September 2018, with the sector continuing to rebound from COVID-19-related weaknesses in the spring. The data were buoyed by robust growth in new orders, which rose at rates not seen since January 2004. With that said, there are also hints at lingering supply chain disruptions in the ISM despite solid progress since April in these data.

* New orders for manufactured goods rose 1.1% in September, increasing for the fifth straight month. Despite recent progress, new factory orders have fallen 3.9% year-over-year, due largely to severe COVID-19 disruptions in March and April. More encouragingly, core capital goods spending—a proxy for capital spending in the U.S. economy—rose 1.0% in September, with 4.5% growth over the past 12 months.

* Manufacturing added 38,000 workers in October, rising for the sixth straight month. Despite recent gains, the labor market for the sector remains well below its pre-COVID-19 pace, with manufacturing employment down by 621,000 in October relative to the level in February. The current outlook is for 12,300,000 employees in the manufacturing sector at year’s end, with continued growth next year, up from 12,231,000 in October.

* Overall, nonfarm payroll employment in the United States increased by 638,000 in October, also expanding for the sixth consecutive month but down by 10,090,000 since February. The unemployment rate fell from 7.9% in September to 6.9% in October.

* Private manufacturing construction spending fell 2.1% in September, with a 10.0% decrease year-over-year. Total private nonresidential spending declined 1.5% in September and 6.0% over the past 12 months. Private residential construction was a bright spot in the September data, once again boosted by historically low mortgage rates (which hit another record low last week).

* The U.S. trade deficit pulled back from the highest level since August 2006, decreasing from $67.04 billion in August to $63.86 billion in September, with growth in goods exports outpacing the increase in goods imports for the month.

* According to the latest update from TradeStats Express, U.S.-manufactured goods exports totaled $857.65 billion through the first three quarters of 2020, using seasonally adjusted data, dropping 16.32% from $1,024.86 billion year to date in 2019 and the slowest pace since 2010.

* The Federal Open Market Committee left interest rates unchanged, as expected, and will continue to have a highly accommodative monetary policy to support more economic growth. The Federal Reserve notes progress in the economy since the spring but acknowledges uncertainties in the outlook will persist as long as COVID-19 is an ongoing challenge.

The Department of the Interior announced it has removed the gray wolf from the endangered species list, signaling a successful recovery under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The gray wolf spent more than four decades on the endangered species list. The population is now thriving in the lower 48 states.

“This should be heralded as a success story of the Endangered Species Act,” noted Montana Farm Bureau Executive Vice President John Youngberg. “The gray wolf in Montana has already been delisted and state and tribal management is working well. When the numbers required by a scientific study are reached, it’s time to delist that species. In the case of the gray wolf, those states where they have already been delisted are managing the species well, limiting conflict with livestock and keeping a check on the reduction of wildlife numbers—yet still have the species thrive.”

State and tribal wildlife management agencies will now be responsible for the management and protection of the gray wolf.

“This is an Endangered Species Act success story,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall. “The gray wolf joins more than 50 other animals, including the bald eagle, as an example of how careful management and partnerships between federal and state agencies can result in the successful recovery of a once-threatened species. The gray wolf population is now thriving so it is appropriate to turn management over to the states, which can oversee the species in a way that is most appropriate for each region.”

Over 1,600 species remain on the federal threatened and endangered list. Delisting the gray wolf allows the Department of the Interior to focus resources on other species in need of recovery.

The Billings Chamber has announced its “Keep the Cheer Here” campaign to encourage shopping locally. The campaign extends from Nov. 16 through Dec. 21. Shop Small Saturday is Nov. 28. The event features a board game for shoppers and many local small businesses will have special sales and prizes on Shop Small Saturday.

Have you heard of Plaid Friday?

Wearing plaid on Friday after Thanksgiving is another way to show support for our local economy. Plaid Friday celebrates the diversity and creativity of local and independent businesses. “It’s a fun and enjoyable alternative to the big box store ‘Black Friday’ consumer frenzy,” say its founders in Oakland, California, who created the concept “to bring back the times when shopping for friends and family was a pleasurable leisurely activity.”

Plaid Friday is celebrated throughout the nation as part of the Shop Indie Local Campaign. They encourage stores owners to participate by wearing plaid and taking pictures of customers who wear plaid and posting them, by making plaid –themed displays, and using plaid ribbon and wrapping paper or bags.

Rimrock Mall will host curbside pickup. “Curbside pick-up options for retail and dining is a great way to shop/order from your favorite locations and we want to make it easier and more comfortable for shoppers to enjoy their favorite stores and restaurants,” said Devin Hartley, General Manager of Rimrock Mall.  Also at Rimrock Mall, Nov. 29 is “Merry Little Kick Off Event” featuring the awarding of a free gift bag loaded with goodies to the first 250 guests that spend $50 or more at mall stores.

From Northern Ag Network

Montana Farmers Union has received a $150,000 Montana Meat Processing Infrastructure Grant (MMPIG) from federal CARES Act relief funds to purchase a mobile harvest unit. Montana FU, in partnership with FU groups in four other states who will also contribute to the purchase, will operate the facility as a cooperative to expand meat processing capacity. The other states include North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Wisconsin and Farmers Union Enterprise (FUE).

The cooperative will benefit Montana producers and butchers by providing the ability to harvest livestock that will be USDA inspected and for sale. Montana livestock harvest facilities are being over-run and are booked well into 2021, forcing producers to hold onto livestock or ship out-of-state to a corporate monopoly. The bottleneck in the production process became evident during the Coronavirus shut down when consumers discovered meat shortages in grocery stores and consumers started seeking other sources.

Montana Farmers Union is also working with Montana State University-Northern to develop a meat processing curriculum utilizing the Mobile Harvest Unit. The program will be the first ever meat processing curriculum in the country that teaches meat processing from harvest to retail. MSU Northern students who enroll in the program will earn anywhere from a one-year certificate to a bachelor’s degree with a focus on business management and marketing.

These courses will provide opportunities for students to join the meat processing industry as butchers, managers or inspectors. MFU hopes to have the MHU operational by early next spring. MSUN plans to have a curriculum in place by fall semester 2021.

Mountain States Legal Foundation announced the creation of a new center of legal excellence within the firm focused exclusively on fighting for Americans’ besieged Second Amendment protected rights. 

On October 14, MSLF announced a fundraising drive to help establish the new Center to Keep and Bear Arms, buoyed by an anonymous California benefactor who promised to match every donation, dollar-for-dollar, up to $75,000. The announcement of officially launching the center,  signaled success of the fundraiser.  

“The grassroots response to the challenge has been so strong that we’re prepared to announce the Center’s launch today, even though donations continue to arrive on a daily basis,” said MSLF Attorney Cody J. Wisniewski, who will spearhead the effort. “This was all planned long before Election Day, given the unprecedented threats to gun rights emerging at the state and local level. But there’s no question that the prospect of a Biden-Harris administration has heightened the sense of urgency among gun owners, given the Democratic Party platform’s clear and avowed hostility toward gun rights.” 

MSLF has a history of taking major gun rights cases, in keeping with its longstanding mission in support of constitutionally protected rights and individual freedoms. The creation of the Center to Keep and Bear Arms signals an increased commitment to protecting the rights of firearms owners. 

“This will be the only in-house, litigation-only Second Amendment operation in the United States,” explained Wisniewski. It will build on current cases like Caldara v. Boulder and past MSLF successes, including in Nesbitt v. Army Corp of Engineers. and Aragon v. Grisham.“As the name makes explicit, the Center will focus on challenging unconstitutional gun laws on behalf of Americans on three fronts: your right to keep firearms, your right to bear them on your person, and your right to choose which arms you need in order to defend yourself.” 

MSLF President and CEO Cristen Wohlgemuth remarked that the founding of the Center is in response to the recognition that gun rights today face unprecedented threats.  “The threat to the Second Amendment has never been more palpable than it is today,” said Wohlgemuth. “Attacks that used to be incremental and implicit now have become brazenly explicit, making it clear that gun confiscation and not just ‘gun control is part of the progressive-left’s agenda.That makes this the right time to create a specialty litigation Center, under the MSLF umbrella, in order to focus the in-house expertise we have on this issue.”