A study conducted by the Montana Department of Commerce and Carroll College, projects that Missoula County will add 16,500 residents by the year 2035, for a total population of about 138,000. And, Gallatin County will add 42,000 in that same time. Montana’s population is expected to increase from 1,112,000 to 1,200,000 by 2035.

At the same time, a report from a Chapman economics professor shows that over the past two years California has lost 700,000 in population according to U.S. Census data from April 2020 to July 2022. Migration trends in California,  show that the net losses began in 2011 and the migration is gradually increasing.  The reasons given were high taxes, the tough business environment, and hefty environmental regulations.

by Samuel Stebbins, 24/7 Wall St

Roughly 1.3 million graduating high school students in 2022 – 36% of the total – sat down for the ACT exam. The ACT (formerly the American College Testing Program) assesses college readiness in English, math, science, and reading. Many colleges base admittance on a student’s ACT test results.

In recent years, an alarming trend has emerged, as ACT scores have steadily declined. According to ACT, Inc., the national average composite score decreased from 20.3 in 2021 to 19.8 in 2022 – the lowest average since 1991.

In a blog on the ACT website, CEO Janet Godwin noted that only 22% of the students who took the test met all four ACT benchmarks, or the levels at which the organization deems students stand a greater chance of success in higher education. Meanwhile, 42% did not achieve any of the benchmarks.

While ACT scores have declined nationwide in recent years, there is considerable variation in average ACT scores from state to state. In Montana, the average composite ACT score in 2022 was 19.3 out of a possible 36, the 16th lowest among states.

Of the four test components that go into the overall composite score, students in Montana scored best in the reading section, with an average score of 20.1. Meanwhile, the test category with the lowest average score in the state was English, at 18.0 points out of 36.

All data in this story is from Scholaroo, a global scholarship database.

It may well be that Elon Musk’s strike for free speech on Twitter was not well received by many highly recognizable business in the country. According to CNN, more than half of Twitter’s top 1,000 advertisers in September were no longer spending on the platform in the first weeks of January.

Some 625 of the top 1,000 Twitter advertisers, including major brands such as Coca-Cola, Unilever, Jeep, Wells Fargo and Merck, pulled their ad dollars as of January,  based on data running through January 25. Twitter had a $4.5 billion advertising business, according to CNN.

With his purchase of Twitter, Elon Musk pledged that going forward the company — noted for curtailing postings based on political agendas often at the urging of political figures — would cease such practices. He also laid off hundreds of staff. CNN said that “advertisers began to worry about the safety and stability of the platform,” with such transparency policies.

Historically known for being technologically challenged, America is seeing an unprecedented surge in tech adoption among seniors in 2023. This includes wearable devices to monitor vital signs, smart home technology to make aging in place easier, and computer literacy for online banking, shopping, and video calls with grandchildren. Despite these advances, seniors in certain states are further ahead than others.

Seniorly released a study on the States with the Most Tech-Savvy Seniors using the latest data from the Census Bureau, Bureau of Economic Analysis, and the Department of Health & Human Services.

Key findings in Montana show 10.0% of seniors do not own a computer, 83.3% have an Internet subscription, 17.7% work remotely, 25% use telehealth, and an average of $453 is spent annually on technology.

The five most tech-savvy places are D.C., California, Utah, Arizona, Washington. The five least tech-savvy are West Virginia, Mississippi, North Dakota, Louisiana, and Arkansas.

Nationally, a record percentage of seniors are texting (82%), using smart phones (65%), shopping (63%), banking (62%), using wearable technology (11%), taking classes (9%), and working remotely (9%).

Spitz, a Mediterranean restaurant, has been opened in downtown Billings by Jenna O’Brien. Located across from the Alberta Bair Theater on North Broadway, the restaurant, it is part of a six-state chain of restaurants. It features Turkish street fare, such as wraps, salads, bowls, Baklava etc. It is open seven days a week.

By Casey Harper, Center Square

President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Internal Revenue Service took a slew of tough questions from lawmakers on the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday as the agency he seeks to lead faces a series of controversies.

One of the biggest questions facing Biden’s nominee, Daniel Werfel, a former acting IRS commissioner, was how he plans to handle the $80 billion included in the Inflation Reduction Act. Biden made clear that money was meant to supercharge the agency’s auditing efforts by hiring about 87,000 agents who the president claims would more than pay for the investment with new revenue.

Werfel promised lawmakers the audits would target wealthier Americans.

“…the audit and compliance priorities will be focused on enhancing the IRS’ capabilities to ensure America’s highest earners comply with applicable tax laws,” Werfel said.

Critics have argued there are not enough wealthy Americans to audit to justify tens of billions of dollars for new auditors. The IRS recently seemed to contradict the spirit of Werfel’s comments by announcing a program to crack down on tip reporting from waiters and waitresses.

“Stop the presses. No need to raise the debt limit,” Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky, wrote on Twitter. “Biden is going after those billionaire waitresses’ tips,” he added, apparently referencing Biden’s call for a billionaires tax in the State of the Union.

But these aren’t the only issues for Werfel to tackle if he secures the position, which he is expected to do given the Democrats’ slim majority.

The IRS fell behind on tax returns in recent years in large part because it was saddled with distributing COVID-relief checks to millions of Americans. Then-Commissioner Charles Rettig raised concerns about the impact of this extra burden multiple times during his tenure.

Now, the IRS still has millions of suspended and backlogged returns to work through.

“Massive backlogs have left desperate families and small businesses waiting on much needed returns as they fight skyrocketing inflation,” U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said during the hearing.

The tax-collecting agency fell into the most significant controversy in years after news broke that the Biden administration was planning to have the IRS monitor bank transactions over $600. Bipartisan outrage followed, pausing but not altogether ending the plan.

The IRS announced in January it was delaying the need to report $600 transactions via services like Venmo for one year.

Other lingering issues are also plaguing the embattled agency.

Experts and lawmakers have also continued to push for answers after a Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration report from 2021 showed that the IRS destroyed roughly 30 million taxpayer documents, raising eyebrows.

So far, the agency has given little explanation for the destroyed files, which Americans may need for future audits.

“What specific documents were in the pile? Were any attempts made to contact affected Americans?” Americans for Tax Reform said in a statement. “Many Americans submitted forms only to be told by the IRS that they never did so. How will you compensate them for their lost time?”

Barrasso said all of these issues has diminished the credibility of the tax-collecting agency.

“Restoring the credibility of the agency is going to be a steep mountain to climb. When we visited I said this would be critical as part of your job,” Barrasso added. “The policies enacted by President Biden’s reckless tax and spending bill are really not going to be helpful in trying to regain the credibility of the American people for the agency.”

By T.A. DeFeo, The Center Square

While rail wrecks like the one in East Palestine, Ohio, garner the headlines and turn the national dialogue to regulations, federal data shows that such mishaps have declined over the past three decades.

Numbers from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics show that since 1990, rail incidents have accounted for about 5% of the more than 519,100 incidents involving hazardous materials. Most incidents (87.6%) were classified as “highway incidents.”

Between 2012 and 2021, the most recent numbers available, the BTS classified 5,432 incidents involving hazardous materials as rail incidents. That is down from 7,518 in the previous 10 years (2002-2011) and 10,786 in the previous 10 years (1992-2001).

“FRA data demonstrates declines in total train accidents for decades,” Benjamin Dierker, executive director at Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure, told The Center Square via email. FRA is an acronym for the Federal Railroad Administration.

“In the past 10 years,” he wrote, “hazardous materials have actually fared better than general rail movement, with the hazmat accident rate declining by around 55% while the general train accident rate declined by around 10%.

“Accidents like the one in East Palestine are very rare, in part because releasing and burning a hazmat payload is incredibly rare. Over the past two decades, fewer than 1% of all train accidents have resulted in a release of hazardous materials.”

Montana consumers reported losing $17,004,601 to scams last year

The Federal Trade Commission received 5,683 fraud reports from consumers in Montana in 2022, according to newly released data.

Montana consumers reported losing a total of $17,004,601 to fraud, with a median loss of $575.

The FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network is a database that receives reports directly from consumers, as well as from federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, the Better Business Bureau, industry members, and non-profit organizations. Reports from around the country about consumer protection issues—including identity theft, fraud, and other categories—are a key resource for FTC investigations that stop illegal activities and, when possible, provide refunds to consumers.

Across all types of reports, the FTC received a total of 9,197 reports from consumers in Montana in 2022.

The top category of reports received from consumers in Montana was Imposter Scams; followed by Identity Theft; Online Shopping and Negative Reviews; Prizes, Sweepstakes and Lotteries; and Banks and Lenders.

Nationally, consumers reported losing nearly $8.8 billion to fraud in 2022, up from $5.8 billion in 2021. Consumers reported losing more money to investment scams—more than $3.8 billion—than any other category in 2022. That amount more than doubles the amount reported lost in 2021. The second highest reported loss amount came from imposter scams, with losses of $2.6 billion reported, up from $2.3 billion in 2021.

The FTC received fraud reports from 2.4 million consumers last year, with the most commonly reported being imposter scams, followed by online shopping scams. Prizes, sweepstakes, and lotteries; investment related reports; and business and job opportunities rounded out the top five fraud categories.

Sentinel received more than 5.1 million reports overall in 2022. Of these, more than 1.1 million were identity theft reports received through the FTC’s IdentityTheft.gov website.

The FTC uses the reports it receives through Sentinel as the starting point for many of its law enforcement investigations, and the agency also shares these reports with approximately 2,800 federal, state, local, and international law enforcement professionals. While the FTC does not intervene in individual complaints, Sentinel reports are a vital part of the agency’s law enforcement mission.

A full breakdown of reports received in 2022 is now available on the FTC’s data analysis site at https:// ftc.gov/ exploredata.

Kampgrounds of America Inc.’s (KOA) Kim Wootteon has been promoted to vice president of commercial strategy. In this newly established role, Wootteon will lead local marketing, revenue management and franchise business development, areas critical to the ongoing, accelerated growth the company has been experiencing for the last decade.

Previously serving as senior director of marketing and revenue management for the Owned and Operated Assets of KOA (OAK), Wootteon’s work leading a talented team of marketers and revenue managers is expanded in her new role to encompass local strategy and initiatives across the organization. Wootteon and her team’s areas of focus include evaluating market opportunities, analyzing local competitive landscapes and reviewing historical market data and revenue trends to optimize activities and growth.  “Kim has a disciplined approach that has brought impressive results to our owned portfolio,” said Darin Uselman, chief operating officer of Kampgrounds of America, Inc. “She has helped build proven processes we are eager to implement and continue developing for the greater KOA brand. We’re growing quickly, and Kim’s new holistic focus on commercial strategy will continue that growth.”  Prior to her work at KOA, Wootteon brings many years of revenue management and marketing experience within the campground and hotel industries with Blue Water Development Corp and The Grand Hotel and Spa..  Kim strives to leverage proven hospitality concepts and innovative tactics to maximize profitability locally and across the KOA brand.Wootteon holds a degree in business management from Globe University.

Manufacturing & International Trade Day recognizes titans of industry – manufacturers and exporters. This biennial event invites organizations to showcase their business and products at the Trade Show. Solution oriented seminars, tailored to specific manufacturing and trade issues, take place during the day.  Held during the legislative session, lawmakers are invited to an evening reception with vendors and seminar attendees.

The event is March 16, 12 pm to 7 pm, in Helena at the Delta Hotel by Marriott Helena Colonial, 2301 Colonial Dr.