The Billings Chamber of Commerce has been awarded the designation of Five-Star Accreditation by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; the third time the Billings Chamber has been awarded this highest national designation. The U.S. Chamber awards accreditation to chambers for their sound policies, effective organizational procedures, and positive impact on their communities. Only 3% of chambers nationwide are accredited, and just 1% receive five-star accreditation. 

“This is a wonderful testament to the hard-working staff and thoughtful, visionary, volunteer leadership at the Billings Chamber,” said Billings Chamber President/CEO John Brewer. “Being selected as one of the top one percent of chambers of commerce in the country is reason to celebrate, and motivation to work harder to maintain this designation on behalf of all business in our community.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce specifically recognized the Billings Chamber’s work in talent attraction and retention; diversity, equity and inclusion; the “Safer Billings” initiative; candidate endorsements; public policy development; membership engagement; COVID-19 pandemic business support and its excellent communications plan. The Chamber achieved a perfect score in human resources, technology and facilities.

Chair of the Billings Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors Nichole Mehling said, “Receiving the 5-Star Accreditation from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a significant recognition of the thoughtful and progressive way our Billings Chamber of Commerce leads our local business and community efforts.”

SBA Montana sees Loan Volume double this year reaching 323 Businesses with over $186 Million

The Montana District of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) announced “non-COVID” loan data for fiscal year ended September 30, 2021, showing 323 Montana small businesses received over $186 million.  Of these loans, 277 for $158,922,700 were made through SBA’s 7(a) Guaranty Loan Program which provides short- or long-term financing for small business start-up or expansion needs.  46 loans totaling $27,669,000 were made through SBA’s 504 Certified Development Company program, providing long term fixed rates financing for land, buildings, and equipment. 

Yellowstone Bank was the leading SBA lender in Montana for FY21, with 52 loans totaling nearly $28.5 million followed closely by Glacier Bank with 46 loans.  Stockman Bank, Bank of Bridger, Capital Matrix, Dakota Business Lending, Wells Fargo, Three Rivers Bank, Big Sky Economic Development and Valley Bank of Ronan round out the top 10.

Restaurants (full service/limited service), Landscaping Services, and General Automotive Repair were among the most frequently financed businesses during Fiscal Year 2021; with the largest dollar volume of SBA loans financing going to restaurants (food/beverage services).  48 loans totaling $18,516,300 were made to women-owned businesses, 13 loans totaling $2,581,300 were made to veterans, and 22 loans totaling $6,271,400 were made to minority business owners.  101 loans for over $41 million were made to new businesses.

“Montana is not only one of the greatest places in the country to live, but also to start and run a small business.”  said Brent Donnelly, the SBA District Director for Montana. “With the grit and resiliency Montana business showed in pandemic 2020, coupled with the dedication of our Montana lenders, a doubling of SBA loan volume is no surprise.”

Top 7(a) Lenders by # Loans

Lender                 $          # Approved

Yellowstone Bank    $28,458,500          52

Glacier Bank           $14,677,700           46

Stockman Bank        $11,558,900          22

Bank Of Bridger,      $5,716,100           19

Wells Fargo Bank,    $4,277,300           14

Three Rivers Bank    $4,119,500           13

Valley Bank Ronan   $3,554300            12

First Interstate Bank  $2,186,600           11

U.S. Bank,                $ 731,700              8

Opportunity Bank     $1,882,000             6

Rocky Mountain Bank $11,183,100        6

Montana Community

   Development Corp. $ 678,000             5

Bank Of The Rockies $1,907,400           3

Berkshire Bank          $4,228,000           3

Freedom Bank           $ 913,500             3

First Home Bank   $1,195,000  3

The Bancorp Bank $706,000    3

Mountain America FCU $729,400       3

Manhattan Bank    $558,200    3

Newtek Small Business

   Finance, Inc. $4,364,000  3

Ascent Bank $1,275,200  3

First State Bank ,Forsyth     $547,400    2

Alaska Growth

    Capital Bidco, Inc. $3,100,000  2

Dogwood State Bank      $4,642,100  2

Fund-Ex Solutions Group $1,694,600  2

Farmers State Bank      $460,100    2

Altana FCU $900,000    2

First Community Bank    $2,230,000  2

Umpqua Bank $2,804,300  2

Live Oak Banking Co.    $8,025,000  2

The First National Bank

   Of Mcgregor D/B/A T $2,079,200  1

United Midwest

   Savings Bank, $1,710,000  1

First Federal Bank & Trust    $150,000    1

Pacific Western Bank    $617,000    1

United Community Bank $1,350,000          1

Readycap Lending, LLC   $1,165,000  1

The First State

   Bank, Shelby   $789,100    1

Keybank     $943,500    1

Colony Bank $5,000,000  1

Royal Business Bank     $1,770,000  1

First Bank Of The Lake  $1,450,000  1

Ameris Bank $449,000    1

First Montana Bank, Inc.      $2,058,000  1

Celtic Bank Corporation $3,606,000  1

Velocitysba, LLC  $512,000    1

Gulf Coast Bank And

   Trust Company  $455,000    1

1St Financial Bank USA  $5,000,000  1

Harvest Small Business

   Finance, LLC   $515,000    1

Grand Total $158,922,700      277

 Top 504 CDC’s by # of Loans

           $ Approved            #

Capital Matrix, Inc.    $5,343,000  16

Dakota Business

    Lending $14,494,000 15

Big Sky Economic

   Development Corp.    $6,683,000  12

High Plains

   Financial, Inc.      $1,149,000  3

Grand Total $27,669,000 46

Loan Approvals By County

                                    $ Approved         #

Yellowstone       $50,289,300 96

Gallatin    $42,574,900 50

Flathead    $27,811,400 41

Missoula    $12,920,800 35

Cascade     $8,198,400  13

Lewis And Clark   $7,725,600  13

Lake  $3,518,600  12

Carbon      $3,227,500  7

Park  $4,384,600  7

Valley       $ 490,200           4

Lincoln     $1,610,000         4

Custer       $1,139,800         4

Richland     $ 520,000         3

Deer Lodge $  679,500        3

Sanders      $ 765,400         3

Fergus         $ 327,000        3

Ravalli       $2,835,900       3

Teton       $1,597,900    2

Silver Bow $2,594,000       2

Phillips      $2,675,000        2

Jefferson    $1,579,000        2

Daniels      $1,071,000        2

Granite      $ 515,000           1

Blaine        $  10,000           1

Chouteau    $ 350,000          1

Powder River$237,000        1

Sheridan       $175,000         1

Big Horn    $2,400,000        1

Stillwater $416,200    1

Glacier     $789,100    1

Dawson      $350,000    1

Rosebud     $321,600    1

Madison     $1,709,000  1

Meagher     $783,000    1

Grand Total $186,591,700      323

Despite incredible headwinds the manufacturing industry in the US continues to produce and to set records.

Manufacturing employment jumped by 60,000 in October, and total employment in the sector has risen 298,000 year to date in 2021, putting it on track for the best annual job growth since 1997.

The average hourly earnings of production and nonsupervisory workers in manufacturing rose to $24.22 in October, with a 5.4% increase over the past year, the fastest wage growth since August 1982.

Nonfarm payroll employment increased by 531,000 in October, and the unemployment rate dropped to 4.6% 

Demand cooled somewhat but remained solid. Supply chain disruptions, logistics challenges, workforce shortages and soaring costs have dampened demand.

New orders for manufactured goods rose 0.2% to a record $515.9 billion in September, albeit at a slower pace. Excluding transportation equipment, manufacturing orders increased 0.7% in September. Overall, the manufacturing sector continues to expand strongly—despite significant challenges—with new orders soaring 10.2% year to date.

Private manufacturing construction spending declined 1.6% to $72.42 billion in September, falling to a five-month low. While construction activity in the manufacturing sector has risen 4.7% year-over-year, spending remains 4.9% below the $76.16 billion in activity recorded in February 2020.

The U.S. trade deficit rose from $72.81 billion in August to a record $80.93 billion in September. Goods exports fell sharply for the month, with goods imports rising. The volatility in the September data likely stemmed from ongoing supply chain difficulties, including the chip shortage. Growth in goods imports has outpaced the increase in goods exports year to date.

More positively, U.S.-manufactured goods exports totaled $831.87 billion through the first nine months of 2021, soaring 18.80% from $700.24 billion year to date in 2020.

As expected, the Federal Open Market Committee has decided to start tapering its asset purchases later this month. The Federal Reserve has been purchasing as much as $80 billion in Treasury securities and $40 billion in agency mortgage-backed securities each month since the beginning of the pandemic. It will start scaling that back by $15 billion in November, another $15 billion in December, and so on, likely ending these purchases entirely by mid-2022.

The FOMC kept the federal funds range of zero to 25 basis points, also as predicted. It is not likely to shift its interest rate policy until mid-2022, contingent on incoming economic data.

Dear Editor,

At the November 9, 2021 Commissioner’s meeting, we learned Commissioners Jones & Pitman are still trying to control the narrative on the privatization of MetraPark. Commissioner Jones opened the floor to public comment stating Commissioners would not answer questions or have any dialogue with speakers. Extra chairs were brought in to seat the capacity crowd. No one spoke in favor of privatizing MetraPark. After the meeting, Jones met with local media to answer their questions.

One local business owner said if Commissioners continued this push, he would start a recall petition on Commissioners voting ‘aye’. Another asked why are Commissioners comparing MetraPark, a multi-use facility (Entertainment, Ag, Fair, retail shows) to Casper, WY, entertainment only facility. A local business owner, who rents Metra for shows, provided a quick analysis of the Metra’s budget starting in 2016. He offered to share his analysis if Commissioners would share their analysis – silence.

Pitman, reading from scripted notes motioned to publish a ‘Request for Information and Qualifications’. Jones reading from scripted notes, 2nd the motion with changes. Commissioner Ostlund objected and received a standing ovation. Jones shouted for everyone to be quiet or he would clear the room. The motion passed, 2-1.

The MetraPark Master plan is nearing completion. It probably will have a multimillion dollar price tag to be funded via bond, voted on by taxpayers. Citizens will pay for a new, renovated facility which Pitman/ Jones wish to turn over to an out of state for profit corporation.

Mark Morse


County Commissioners seemed to be in general agreement to move forward with the County Auditor’s suggestion to consolidate or reduce the hours of his office.

About a month ago, County Auditor Scott Turner brought forward the idea of consolidating or reducing to part-time the office of County Auditor. As the year ends and since next year would be a re-election year for the position, the commissioners want to initiate the process of changing the position before candidates can begin filing for election to county offices.

Duties performed by the county auditor could be accomplished on a part time basis and reducing the office from a full-time elected position could save the county as much as $100,000, said Turner, who has served in the office since 2017.

Prior to that Turner was Yellowstone County’s Director of Finance for 26 year.

Turner suggests that a 1.5 FTE would be adequate to perform the duties of the office and provide back-up. There are only a couple of processes that would require some oversight of an elected official, he said, and suggested that could be either the County Attorney or the Clerk & Recorder.

Only 13 counties have a large enough population to be required constitutionally  to have an auditor in Montana, according to Turner. Of those, seven have consolidated the position. Turner said that a survey of other counties such as Cascade, Flathead and Lewis & Clark who have consolidated the position indicates that they have been satisfied with the decision.

The commissioners asked Chief In-House Counsel for Yellowstone County Jeana Lervick to investigate the legal process and provide the necessary documents to proceed with the process.

Banks continue to face the challenge of managing excess deposits while their customers are seeking fewer loans, reports the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

Commercial banks in the Ninth District of the Federal Reserve Bank, have experienced unprecedented deposit growth and reduced demand for loans since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.1 These two forces caused considerable changes in the composition of assets on bank balance sheets, driven by cautious spending by depositors as well as pandemic-related relief efforts. Montana is part of the Ninth District.

The growth in deposits at Ninth District commercial banks has significantly outpaced growth in loans since the beginning of 2020. Pandemic relief efforts starting in the second quarter of 2020 contributed to the excess deposits, while pandemic-mitigating efforts and cautious consumer behavior curbed economic activity and lowered loan demand.

Excluding PPP loans, median year-over-year loan volume throughout the pandemic was largely unchanged. The PPP loan program allowed commercial banks to originate forgivable loans for businesses during the pandemic. Banks deposited the PPP disbursements directly into customer accounts. This contributed to the large increases in excess deposits in the second quarter of 2020 and again in the first quarter of 2021, when Congress made additional PPP loan funds available.

Regardless of growth in PPP loans, deposit growth since the fourth quarter of 2019 is significant across most banks. The median deposit growth rate continues to rise across different PPP proportions even as PPP loan volume has declined significantly. Besides PPP loans, other pandemic-related relief efforts and more cautious spending habits contributed to deposit growth.

The rate of deposit growth is more pronounced at banks with a higher percentage of PPP loans to total loans. Banks with a ratio of PPP loans to total loans that is greater than 10 percent report a median growth rate of 37 percent in total deposits since the fourth quarter of 2019, compared with 23 percent growth at banks with a ratio of PPP loans to total loans of 5 percent or less.

The rate of deposit growth moderated in the second quarter of 2021 for all PPP loan proportions because the program ended in the second quarter and the volume of PPP loans declined from approximately $30 billion to $19 billion quarter over quarter in the Ninth District (approximately $400 billion to $300 billion nationwide).4

The combination of relief efforts, shifts in spending by consumers and businesses, and the search for profitability in a low-interest-rate environment has led to significant changes in bank balance sheets in the district.

As expected, given deposit growth from bank customers, the amount of cash held by banks has grown significantly; recently, however, the trend has shifted to an increase in purchases of investment securities and a decrease in other borrowings. Banks have fewer options for deploying cash, given the limited demand for loans by their customers, so they have opted to increase securities and rely less on borrowings.

To fund loans during the pandemic, Ninth District commercial banks used more liquid sources—such as excess cash—while reducing borrowings. Shifting cash into securities improved revenue, and lowered borrowings reduced expenses. While the shift in assets and liabilities has improved liquidity risk at these banks, the more liquid assets are less profitable than loans.

Surprisingly, or perhaps not, Oregon and Washington D.C. started out the month with unemployment claims were worse than the same week last year.  

WalletHub reported on new unemployment claims comparing week-over-week on October 25, with many states, including Montana, 96 percent below the peak during the COVID-19 pandemic.

23 states had unemployment claims that were lower than before the pandemic: Arkansas, Virginia, North Dakota, West Virginia, South Carolina, Delaware, Montana, Vermont, Colorado, Arizona, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Wyoming, Kansas, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Washington, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Ohio, Maryland, and New Jersey.

Least recovered were Hawaii, Louisiana, Oregon, Alabama, California, Michigan, Tennessee, New Mexico, and Kentucky.

The Montana School Boards Association has voted to leave the National School Boards Association next summer, following the national organization’s collaboration with the Biden Administration and the FBI to target protesting parents at school board meetings.

According to the Montana School Boards Association Lance Melton their membership will expire without renewal in June 2022. Melton said the national organization has lost its focus in supporting local school boards offering professional development and advocating for quality education.

The MTBSA plans to work with other state associations to create a new national organization “to meet the federal advocacy and related needs of its member school boards” in a way that “values community ownership through school board governance” and engagement of students, families and community members.

Melton indicated there had been a growing dissatisfaction with the NSBA and the final straw was a letter written by the interim CEO and NSBA president in September asking President Joe Biden for federal law enforcement assistance to deal with threats of violence and intimidation over COVID-19 requirements at schools.

The letter was written without the knowledge of other NSBA officers, senior staff, its directors or state organizations.

Montana is one of some 25 state associations in 25 states that have dropped membership and affiliation with the national organization.

The Center Square

The costs of goods and services rose at above-normal rates again in October, as new federal economic data released, Nov. 9, show inflation continuing to impact the U.S. economy.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the producer price index, a figure that measures wholesale prices, grew another 0.6% in October, after increasing 0.7% in August and 0.5% in September. Overall, the figures show that inflation has grown 8.6% in the past 12 months ending in October, tying a record set earlier this year.

That rise in inflation means everyday goods and services are more expensive for Americans. BLS said gasoline and food helped drive this latest increase.

“One-third of the October advance in the index for final demand goods can be traced to prices for gasoline, which rose 6.7 percent,” BLS said. “The indexes for diesel fuel, fresh and dry vegetables, gas fuels, jet fuel, and plastic resins and materials also moved higher. In contrast, prices for beef and veal decreased 10.3 percent.”

Construction, in particular, became much more expensive.

“Over 60 percent of the October increase in the index for final demand can be traced to a 1.2-percent rise in prices for final demand goods,” BLS said. “The index for final demand services moved up 0.2 percent, and prices for final demand construction advanced 6.6 percent.”

The Biden administration has said the inflation is only temporary, but many economists have said it could continue well into 2023. The report came just days after promising jobs data. The Department of Labor reported that in the month of October, payroll employment increased by 531,000, surpassing expectations.

Republicans quickly laid the blame for the rising prices at the feet of President Joe Biden and pointed to inflation as a reason to stand up to Biden’s several trillion dollars in proposed new spending. Debt spending contributes to inflation since printed money helps fund federal debts.

The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index decreased one point in September to 99.1. Three of the 10 Index components improved, five declined, and two were unchanged.

“Small business owners are doing their best to meet the needs of customers, but are unable to hire workers or receive the needed supplies and inventories,” said NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg. “The outlook for economic policy is not encouraging to owners, as lawmakers shift to talks about tax increases and additional regulations.”

Key findings include:

* The NFIB Uncertainty Index increased five points to 74.

* Owners expecting better business conditions over the next six months decreased five points to a net negative 33%.

* Fifty-one percent of owners reported job openings that could not be filled, a 48-year record high for the third consecutive month.

* A net 42% of owners reported raising compensation, a 48-year record high.

As reported in NFIB’s monthly jobs report, a record 51% of small business owners (seasonally adjusted) reported job openings they could not fill in the current period, up one point from August. A net 42% of owners (seasonally adjusted) reported raising compensation, up one point from August and a 48-year record high reading.

A net 30% of owners plan to raise compensation in the next three months, up four points from August’s record high reading. Twelve percent of owners cited labor costs as their top business problem and 28% said that labor quality was their top business problem – both record high readings. 

Fifty-three percent of owners reported capital outlays in the next six months, down two points from August and historically a weak reading. Of those making expenditures, 37% reported spending on new equipment, 21% acquired vehicles, and 12% improved or expanded facilities. Six percent of owners acquired new buildings or land for expansion and 10% of owners spent money for new fixtures and furniture. Twenty-eight percent plan capital outlays in the next few months, down two points from August and one point below the 48-year average.

Seasonally adjusted, 3% of owners reported higher nominal sales in the past three months, up three points from August. The net percent of owners expecting higher real sales volumes improved by four points to a net 2%.

The net percent of owners reporting inventory increases rose five points to a net 3%, back into positive territory after two months of owners reporting more declines than gains. This is the highest reading since the pandemic started.

Over 35% of owners report supply chain disruptions have had a significant impact on their business. Another 32% report a moderate impact and 21% report a mild impact. Only 10% of owners report no impact from recent supply chain disruptions. A net 10% of owners viewed current inventory stocks as “too low” in September, down one point from August. A net 9% of owners plan inventory investment in the coming months, down two points from August but historically a very elevated reading.

The net percent of owners raising average selling prices decreased three points to a net 46% (seasonally adjusted). Unadjusted, 8% of owners reported lower average selling prices and 53% reported higher average prices. Price hikes were the most frequent in wholesale (75% higher, 0% lower), manufacturing (67% higher, 4% lower), and retail (71% higher, 2% lower). Seasonally adjusted, a net 46% of owners plan price hikes.

The frequency of positive profit trends increased one point to a net negative 14%. Among the owners reporting lower profits, 26% blamed the rise in the cost of materials, 23% blamed weaker sales, 19% cited labor costs, 10% cited the usual season change, 6% cited lower prices, and 6% cited higher taxes or regulatory costs. For those owners reporting higher profits, 57% credited sales volumes, 19% cited usual seasonal change, and 5% cited higher prices.

Two percent of owners reported that all their borrowing needs were not satisfied. Twenty percent reported all credit needs were met and 62% said they were not interested in a loan. A net 4% of owners reported their last loan was harder to get than in previous attempts. Zero percent reported that financing was their top business problem. A net 0% of owners reported paying a higher rate on their most recent loan.

The NFIB Research Center has collected Small Business Economic Trends data with quarterly surveys since the 4th quarter of 1973 and monthly surveys since 1986. Survey respondents are drawn from NFIB’s membership. The report is released on the second Tuesday of each month. This survey was conducted in September 2021.