Last week, Yellowstone County Commissioners gave a green light to Mike Mayott, a member of the MetraPark Advisory Board and chairman of its Finance Committee to proceed with updating a study on the economic impact that MetraPark has on the Billings community.

The study will be done with the assistance of Patrick Klugman of Big Sky Economic Development Authority (BSEDA) and it will be funded by NorthWestern Energy.

After 25 years with Stockman Bank, 15 of those years leading Stockman Bank’s Billings Market, Wayne Nelson is promoting Spencer Frederick to Billings Market President, effective January 1, 2023.

“It has been my honor and privilege to lead the Billings Market and help it prosper and grow into Stockman’s largest banking market. I am so proud of my team and all that we have accomplished over the years,” stated Nelson. Now, he says the time is right to make some changes. “This is really exciting for me. I hired Spencer in 2012 to help open Stockman’s Grand Avenue bank. Since then, Spencer has served as a branch manager at Grand and is currently in charge of our downtown Billings location. With his strong leadership skills and knowledge of our community, its businesses and economy, I know Spencer will achieve great success as our next Billings Market President.”

Frederick brings 16 years of banking experience to the position, 10 of those years with Stockman.  A Scobey native, Frederick earned his Bachelor of Science degree in business administration/  finance and marketing from the University of Montana. He was on UM’s national championship football team in 2001. He also played in the NFL for the New Orleans Saints before retiring due to injury. He is active in the community serving on the board of directors for the Big Sky EDA, Ronald McDonald House, and assisting with a number of his children’s sporting activities. “I am excited for the opportunity to further serve the community and build on the foundation that has been established in Billings,” comments Frederick.

Nelson has been promoted to Senior Banking Executive. He will continue to manage his existing and new clients and serve as an ongoing resource for Frederick and the entire Billings Market team, as well as serve on the company’s executive committee. Nelson will continue to work from his current location at Stockman’s King Avenue bank at 2700 King Avenue West.

As Billings Market President, Frederick will manage all bank offices, branch management and employees in Billings and Worden. He will continue to work from the downtown Billings location at 402 North Broadway

The American labor market has millions of opportunities every month. However, according to an analysis by, the number of job openings in America fell by 1 million in August 2022. July saw 11.17 million opportunities compared to 10.05 million openings in August.

Speaking on the report, MoneyTransfers CEO Jonathan Merry said: “The decline in job opportunities means that the vast labor gap in the US is shrinking. Besides, some sectors have adopted working with fewer employees, so they don’t list openings. And with inflation hitting them badly, some are resorting to cutting costs by halting employment.”

The health sector and social support sectors saw a massive drop in vacancies. They recorded a -236,000, the retail industry lost 143,000 jobs, and the “other services” sector lost 183,000.

The Federal Reserve has used rate hikes to limit the flow of money through the economy to bring the supply of workers closer to demand. Yet, the labor market has hardly reacted to the changes, with the unemployment rate remaining at 3.7%.

The Center Square

Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin are joining forces to create a regional clean hybrid hub that will compete with other hubs for federal dollars.

The Biden administration announced last week that it was accepting applications for the $7 billion program for regional hubs funded through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The money is part of a larger $8 billion hydrogen hub program, according to a news release from the Biden administration. 

The U.S Department of Energy will select six to ten hubs, according to a news release from Burgum. The four-state collaboration will be called the Heartland Hydrogen Hub. 

The Energy & Environmental Research Center at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks is leading the effort, which also includes the state’s tribes, according to Burgum’s office. The National Center for Hydrogen Technology is housed at the research center.

According to the memorandum of understanding, other states could join the hub in the future. 

“By bringing together our expertise in agriculture and energy production, we can create a world-class hydrogen hub and do even more as states to feed and fuel the nation and the world,” Burgum said. “We are grateful to these states and their governors for their participation, collaboration and shared interest in American energy production, U.S. energy security, job creation, economic development and environmental stewardship.”

Other states are collaborating on regional hydrogen hubs. Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Utah formed a regional hub in February. Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma announced a regional hub in March. 

The hydrogen hubs are part of the Biden administration’s plan for a net-zero carbon economy by 2050, according to the Department of Energy. 

After getting its feet on the ground and having had a couple years to organize, Substance Abuse Connect (SAC), is reporting to the community its success and impact as an oversight agency that facilitates communication, organization and collaboration among the law enforcement, health care agencies and schools in the county that deal with people struggling through drug addiction and mental health issues.

Behavioral health has in the past emerged as the community’s  No. 1  health problem, and it will again, proclaims SAC.

Several of the community leaders who serve on its Board spoke about its achievements over the past year at a recent press conference.  County Commissioner Don Jones commented that “SAC has been doing a great job.” The program is helping the county to know how effectively the county’s $1.2 million mill levy is being spent and how it is impacting the community and the jail. A primary purpose of the mill levy was to reduce recidivism in the jail. “It is important to have the data,” said Jones, “This is the first report and they will continue to build on that report.”

The county contributes part of the mill levy revenues to help support SAC. A SAC written report states, “Our financial investment in the backbone of Substance Abuse Connect has yielded us a 20x return on our investment and resulted in multiple successful pilot projects that have decreased re-arrests and moved frequent utilizers of behavioral health services to stability.”

SAC’s efforts include education campaigns, revamping the behavioral health crisis system, establishment of a Crisis Line (988), a Mobile Crisis Response Team, treatment for jail inmates.

Police Chief Rich St. John talked about the Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) saying it has had a great impact on the number of homeless people in Billings. Team members ride with officers so that when they encounter a situation in which a homeless person is in need of assistance they can hand them off to the team which can direct the individual to the appropriate needed services.

St. John said that 170 clients have been assisted by HOT of which 71 percent have received recovery housing. “That was not happening a year ago,” he said.

The Community Crisis Prevention has helped decrease administrative time at the jail and at the hospital and for the criminal justice system, and over 1000 cases have been diverted from jail.

Tracy Neary, Vice President Human Resources & Mission Integration at St. Vincent Healthcare, explained that they have been able to give behavioral support for clients in a more timely way, rather than having to struggle to provide care in an emergency situation in which people “too often end up in a critical health situation.”

The call center mobile crisis unit provides support when crisis stabilization is needed. She said they have diverted 2300 people from hospitalization and into more appropriate care.

School District 2 Superintendent Greg Upham said that the issues that Substance Abuse Connect deals with “is not a police issue but a community issue.” It’s not necessary to stay in situations the community currently finds itself, said Upham, adding, “We have to say it out loud, we are in a war.” He said that in his 36 years in education he has never seen such “normalization of being altered.” “There is always a pressure to be like someone else….a middle schooler trying to say ‘no’ – they need our support. We have to continue to do what we are doing. We need to do a better job.” He said that he believes that parents and grandparents, etc. do not fully appreciate the impacts of social media on youngsters.

Another spokesperson said that Substance Abuse Connect is important “but it is going to take the whole community.”

SAC has helped facilitate a community wide education program among youth, parents, coaches, and medical providers, to raise awareness about increased opioid addition. It’s involved a social media campaign with RiverStone Health that highlights protective factors and heathy alternatives to alcohol and drug use.

SAC organized a live Facebook virtual “ask a therapist” program in partnership with Suicide Prevention Coalition, RiverStone, Billings School District and the Mental Health Center through which, in three events, they reached 227 attendees.

Another similar partnership established the School Based and Clinical Program, which also focused on the classroom and children.

Still, another program aimed at expectant and new parents, called Healthy Spark, in collaboration with St. Vincent Healthcare, Midwifery Clinic, RiverStone Health, Rimrock and GOMO Health, provides informational resources and support connections and has had 282 enrollees.

A program aimed at providing probationer and parole clients with behavioral health support that reduces recidivism at the jail has resulted in no re-arrests for 81 percent of the 160 individuals referred to the program, and 20 percent reduction in unemployment. More than half of the clients had primary addiction to meth.

Another drug-related re-arrest reduction program, Recovery Pathways had 362 enrollments also increased employment and decreased re-arrests.

By Casey Harper, The Center Square

Nearly three out of four Americans are becoming more concerned about rising prices, according to a new poll.

BMO Financial Group released survey data on the economy and inflation that showed that 74% of Americans say they are becoming increasingly worried about rising costs due to inflation.

“More than 70% feel their financial momentum is threatened by higher grocery bills (78%) and the rising cost of gas (76%),” the group said. “In order to prepare for a potential recession, 76% of Americans said they are making lifestyle changes such as delaying large purchases on a house or car, paying down debt, and cutting back on holiday spending.”

The poll, conducted with Ipsos, also found that “significantly fewer U.S. consumers feel confident about their financial situation compared to last quarter.”

That concern varies by age group.

“Older Americans report feeling more concerned than younger generations,” BMO said. “Between ages 55-64, 82% said their concerns about inflation have increased over the last three months, compared to 62% of those between ages 18-24 and 70% of those aged 25-34.”

The survey comes as the latest federal inflation data shows prices have continued to rise on a range of goods and service. The overall inflation rate has dipped in the past several weeks, but that is in part due to a decrease from record-high gas prices in June. After dipping for a couple of months, gas prices are now on the rise again.

Americans are also concerned about the impact of a recession.

“Nearly 8 in 10 Americans (76%) said they plan to adjust their lifestyles in response to recession concerns,” the survey said, with 34% “delaying major purchases, like buying a new home or car,” as well as 28% cutting down holiday spending, and 24% putting more money in savings.

“Americans who report being ‘more’ financially secure decreased to 39% from 50% a year ago and 47% last quarter,” BMO said. “Americans who said they feel ‘less’ financially secure, rose to 27% from 16% in the same quarter a year ago. The number of Americans who said they are making financial progress decreased to 54% from 62% a year ago. More than 40% of Americans under age 35 do not have enough savings to cover an emergency.”

October is manufacturing month. Manufacturing is the backbone of every economy. Manufacturing is how new wealth is generated.

With significant growth in the number of companies as well as in wages and production output, Montana manufacturing has bounced back after the deep economic drop caused by COVID-19, according to a new report released by the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center at Montana State University.

The 2022 Montana Manufacturing Report provides an overview of manufacturing in Montana within a national context, analyzes results of a survey of Montana manufacturers, and assesses the impact of MMEC’s state-wide services that support manufacturers in a variety of ways. The report covers the year 2021 for the economic analysis and reports the results of the survey about MMEC’s impact conducted during the first quarter of 2022.

According to the report, which was conducted for MMEC by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana, challenges lingering from the pandemic include roughly 61% of firms reporting supply chain challenges in 2021 and 70% of durable goods manufacturers reporting difficulties finding employees. But the overall economic picture for manufacturing remains strong, and between 2020 and 2021, according to the report:

* The number of manufacturing companies in Montana grew from roughly 3,900 to 4,100 firms, an increase of 5%.

* The average earnings for manufacturing jobs in Montana climbed from $52,000 to $57,000, an increase of 10%.

* Montana manufacturing employment and output growth was more than double the national average for the second year in a row.

* More than half of Montana manufacturing firms saw an increase in total sales and profits over the previous year.

“Montana manufacturers have shown tremendous resilience over the last two years,” said MMEC Director Paddy Fleming. “They not only survived the pandemic, but many of them found innovative ways to grow and prosper. Manufacturing represents a significant and growing contributor to Montana’s economy.”

According to the report, in 2021 manufacturing in Montana:

* Accounted for 6.4% of total private state earnings, totaling $1.6 billion.

* Employed 4.3% of Montana’s workforce, with about 21,400 employees.

* Produced 7.8%, or $3.8 billion, of Montana’s economic output, defined as the market value of goods produced.

The manufacturing sector that has grown the most over the past decade in terms of the number of companies is beverage and tobacco products, with a 10.8% increase in the number of companies, primarily new breweries, wineries and distilleries, according to the report. The largest sectors in terms of earnings remain petroleum and wood products, with 2021 earnings of $170 million and $133 million, respectively.

MMEC, which is housed in MSU’s Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering, works with manufacturing companies to help them improve their business operations. Manufacturing specialists offer one-on-one assistance with projects to assess companies’ production processes, develop their workforce and make use of emerging technologies.

“MMEC is pleased to play a role in supporting manufacturers and value-added agriculture in developing long-term solutions that will keep the Montana economy diversified and growing,” Fleming said.

The 2022 report analyzes input from 90 companies who worked with MMEC during the previous year. Most, 66%, said they relied exclusively on MMEC to recommend improvements to their operations, and the vast majority, approximately 90%, said they were highly likely to positively recommend MMEC to other companies. Staff expertise was named the top reason for choosing MMEC.

The report notes that manufacturers’ average return on investment with MMEC was 43 to 1, meaning that a dollar paid in fees to MMEC returned, on average, $43 for the company. MMEC’s work in 2021 had a return on investment for Montana residents’ tax dollars of 7.4 to 1.

According to the report, since 2000, MMEC’s work has resulted in 6,878 new or retained jobs, $1.46 billion in retained or increased sales, and $178 million in cost savings for manufacturers.

The quarterly gas report released recently that Europe faces “unprecedented risks” to its natural gas supplies this winter after Russia cut off most pipeline shipments. European Union countries would need to reduce use by 13% over the winter in case of a complete Russian cutoff. Much of that cutback would have to come from consumer behavior such as turning down thermostats by 1 degree and adjusting boiler temperatures

Last week Gov. Greg Gianforte laid out his plan to push for tax relief targeting Montana businesses. Gianforte signed a new law, last year that increased the business equipment tax exemption from $100,000 to $300,000. It was estimated by the Montana Department of Revenue that the measure would impact some 4,000 businesses in the state.

Texas Roadhouse is planning to build in Bozeman. Site plans for the restaurant are out for public comment until Oct. 14. According to development documents, the restaurant company plans to build an 8,000 square foot location in the Bozeman Gateway development.

Natural gas prices for the upcoming winter heating season are expected to be higher than what MDU customers paid last winter. Montana-Dakota customers typically use 70 dekatherms of natural gas over the heating season. The expected increase in natural gas costs is about $150 over the five months for an average residential customer, or $30 per month.

The third largest railroad union recently rejected its deal with freight railroads Monday. This action renewed the possibility of a strike. Both sides will return to the bargaining table soon. Four other railroad unions have approved their agreements with the freight railroads that include BNSF, Union Pacific, Kansas City Southern, CSX and Norfolk Southern.

In answer to the nation’s ongoing shortage of commercial truck drivers, this was made worse by the pandemic. In 2021 alone, trucking companies faced a deficit of 80,000 drivers according to the trade organization American Trucking Associations. Estimates are the industry shortage could top 160,000 drivers by 2030. The University of Montana’s Missoula College heavy equipment operation and commercial driver’s license program is trying to meet this challenge.

A small-business advocacy group, named Job Creators Network Foundation, has filed a new lawsuit seeking to block the Biden administration’s efforts to forgive student loan debt for tens of millions of Americans. This is the latest legal challenge to the program.

Cavanaugh’s County Celtic will close on October 14, 2022 at 131 W. Park St. The store is Butte’s premier Irish store.

Serina Kringen has purchased the Yellowstone Building in Sidney. She plans to bring back the original brick walls and wood floors, returning the building to its historic décor. Kringen graduated from Sidney High School and attended college at UND and then moved back home. The first business will be the opening of a coffee shop, “Yellowstone Perc”, which will feature sandwiches, breakfast items soups and salads.  She has hired M&S Builders, Sidney, Tony Hanson and Jory Bright, to help in remodeling. Phase 2 will be a party area.

The City of Billings and Yellowstone County are scrutinizing a proposed lending option for businesses which many believe would be a boost to economic development. Called C-Pace, the program would allow businesses to borrow money from lenders and make repayment as a part of their property tax bill. The loan would be attached to the property rather than the borrower – something like a lien.

Overseeing the program is a Great Falls-based non-profit organization connected to the Montana Department of Commerce called the Montana Facility Finance Authority (MFFA). MFFA has traditionally specialized in serving the medical care industry to finance energy and water-saving measures in the process of remodeling or building new buildings. MFFA aids companies in processing taxes, loans and grants for health care.

MFFA wants to extend their services to other businesses and to utilize the property tax collection system to facilitate repayment of the loans. MFFA would serve as the facilitator that handles the disbursement of the money collected through tax bills to the appropriate financial institution or bank. Delinquencies would be dealt with as part of the total tax bill and in the same way as delinquent taxes.

Implementing C-Pace would necessitate a hearing process and approval of a resolution by county commissioners, but before moving forward the county commissioners are asking their legal advisors to check the fine print to make sure that the county can in no way be held responsible for any defaults.

City of Billings officials are interested in the concept, but are waiting to see if the county moves forward in adopting the program, since the city would be part of any county-wide application.

County Treasurer Sherry Long expressed concern about the idea and has a lot of questions that she believes must be answered before the county adopts it.

During a discussion meeting, a number of people spoke about the potential economic development benefits and encouraged county commissioners to join seven other counties that have already adopted the financing option. They urged the county commissioners to act quickly since there are projects already pending, they said.

Dear Editor

Gary Buchanan says he is running as an independent, but Montanans should not be duped.  The Democrats have a very weak candidate (Ronning) running against Rosendale, so many prominent Democrats have shown support for Buchanan.  Regardless of Buchanan’s ability, ideology, or intentions, his candidacy is a losing proposition for Montana.

A member of the US House of Representatives is only one of 435, with almost no influence.  The single most important vote, by far, that any Representative will make is the first vote which determines which party will be in leadership, and consequently the Washington agenda.  Leadership determines the entire agenda, with the minority having very little power.  And when one Party controls the House, the Senate and the Presidency, there is little need for compromise.

The choice is simple and clear, will Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats continue to have total power (including the Presidency and Senate) or will our country return to a balance of power.  The false hope that Buchanan projects will be much better achieved, if the US House of Representatives is controlled by the Republicans.   If the Democrats continue to have total control of Washington they will continue to push an agenda that attacks Montana interests… anti-coal and oil, anti-agriculture, anti 2nd amendment, anti family values, pro inflation, and more government control of our lives.

…the average voter may not understand that by voting for Buchanan, eastern Montana will lose its influence on the single most important vote in the US House of Representatives. 

Ernie Dutton