by Evelyn Pyburn

In the coming decade there is much that is going to change about travel through the Billings I-90 corridor.  Interchanges will change, highways broadened and bridges reconstructed – all are projects in the planning stages, with some already underway.

While much has been heard about the improvements planned to the I-90/ Johnson Lane Interchange as part of the Billings Bypass project, there’s not as much awareness about the other improvements in the Lockwood area and along I-90 through Billings.

The projects emerged from a 2012 study about future needs for Billings’ traffic as it impacts I-90. The projects will accommodate increases in traffic and improve overall operation and safety.

The stretch of I-90 that is involved was built in the 1960s and last paved in 2000.

The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) plans to widen from two lanes to three lanes a stretch of I-90 from the Johnson Lane Interchange to the South 27th Street Interchange.

The first phase of widening the Interstate will be on the west end from the Lockwood Interchange to the 27th Street Interchange, which includes the reconstruction of the bridges across the Yellowstone River and the Talen Railroad Spur. Final plans for widening the interstate and building the bridges are to be completed by the end of March and bids may be let sometime this summer. HDR is the engineering firm designing the project.

The plan to add additional two lanes to I-90 avoids having to gain more rights-of-way by expanding into space that is currently the median. 

Following a recent public hearing the Lockwood Steering Committee began a petition to MDT objecting to the fact that the plans for the bridges are without accommodation for pedestrians or bicycles. They are asking MDT and HDR engineers to address the common vision of the community for the future of Billings and Lockwood by including pedestrian/bike access.

Public comment during the hearing also brought up the multi-modal issue and MDT officials and engineers said that the issue had not been overlooked but they had determined not to include the multi-modal access because of increases to the cost and the fact that it would require gaining additional rights-of-way extending the time frame, as well as the cost, and it could have possible flood plain impacts in providing trails to get to the crossings. A special public meeting may be held to further explore this public concern.

Currently construction of the bridges is scheduled to begin in fall 2021 and will be completed in phases. One bridge will remain open while the other is demolished and rebuilt to accommodate both lanes of traffic. The entire project is tentatively scheduled to be completed in 2024. Bridge reconstruction will comprise most of the construction effort and cost, which is projected at $60 million, total.

During construction, two-lane, two-way traffic will be maintained, except during the winter shut down period when the interstate will reopen to four lanes for safety reasons.

It’s been widely heralded that the reconstruction of the Johnson Lane Interchange is to be the first Diverging Diamond Interchange in Montana, but it was announced at a recent public hearing that the preferred alternative being considered for the Lockwood Interchange — where Highway 87 crosses over I-90 – will also be that of a Diverging Diamond. HDR is also the engineering firm designing this project.

A Diverging Diamond Interchange is one in which the two directions of traffic cross over to briefly drive on the opposite side of the road from what is customary, offering many safety benefits. (See video of a diverging diamond interchange here: tinyurl.com/JohnsonLaneDDI)

The Lockwood Interchange project also includes the widening of I-90 to three lanes to the Johnson Lane Interchange.

Also, plans for the Lockwood Interchange include improving safer access at the intersection of Hwy. 87 and Coburn Road, just south of the Interchange. Because of its proximity to the interchange safety features are needed, said engineers. While other options are being explored, the preferred alternative that is emerging would be to convert the Coburn intersection into a three-quarter access. This would allow right turn and left turn lanes from Hwy. 87, onto Coburn Road, but a left turn from Coburn Road onto Hwy. 87 would not be allowed. Left turning traffic onto Hwy. 87 would be required to take a right onto Rosebud and then take a left onto Lockview Lane to its intersection with Hwy. 87, where it would be safer to make a left turn onto Hwy. 87.

Public comment regarding all plans for all projects is encouraged by MDT. This is especially true for the Lockwood Interchange for which plans are in the earliest stages – about 30 percent complete. To see an interactive map for the project areas go to  https:// experience.arcgis.com/ experience/ffc303851 f784e23ab 411f6da b6e70ca

(Another project – First Avenue and Exposition Drive — currently in the design stage will reconfigure and rebuild Highway 87 as it rounds the perimeter of Metra Park to Exposition Drive which leads to the Heights’ Main Street.)

The Johnson Lane Diverging Diamond Interchange is part of the Billings Bypass project that will connect Highway 312 in Billings Heights to Johnson Lane in Lockwood, including a new bridge across the Yellowstone River that is already under construction. The Billings Bypass project, in all of its six phases, is being designed and overseen by DOWL.

Work was completed last year on the first phase of the Bypass, which involved the widening and reconstruction of Five Mile Road in the Heights. Work continues on the new bridge and the Johnson Lane Interchange.

Granite Construction/ LHC will be the construction manager/general contractor to build the interchange with construction anticipated to begin in 2022. Currently MDT is meeting with property owners and stakeholders as permits and right-of-way is acquired.

Another phase of the Billings Bypass project is well underway – the construction of a new bridge across the Yellowstone River which will ultimately provide motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians a connection between Lockwood and the Billings Heights.

As construction of the Billings Bypass Yellowstone River bridge moves forward MDT is providing a live webcam for the public to view real-time construction progress  (the webcam is available at https:// www. mdt.mt.gov/ pubinvolve/ billingsbypass/). Construction of bridge piers from the temporary work bridge is continuing in anticipation of beam placement.

Construction is being completed by Wadsworth Brothers Construction and is planned to be predominantly complete by the end of 2021.

Commercial

Florence LLC/Elevated Home Crafters Inc, 1321 Panners Pl, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $27,295 s

Florence LLC/Elevated Home Crafters Inc, 1321 Panners Pl, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $4,961  s

Florence LLC Elevated Home Crafters Inc, 1321 Panners Pl, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $4,059  s

Glacier Bank/Kirkness Exteriors, 2401 Grand Ave, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $33,000  r

Grifols Plasma Operations/ Ev Construction,  1310 Main St, Com Remodel, $1,700,000

Sisters Of Charity Of Leavenworth/Saunders Construction Inc, 1233 N 30th St, Com Remodel, $372,000

Hink, Gabriel C & Teresa A/Singh Contracting Inc, 1140 1st Ave N, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $19,000

American Lutheran Church/Commercial Roofing Montana  LLC, 5 Lewis Ave, Com Fence/Roof/Siding,             $88,960

Davis, Gary L & Marilyn & Etal/All Seasons Roofing, 1 Macarthur Ave, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $19,765  

JMS Properties LLC/JMS Properties LLC, 24 Orchard Ln, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $9,700

Centennial Park/Com New Other, 3302 Howard Ave, $66,169

SCL Health/Saunders Construction Inc, 2900 12th Ave N, Com New Other, $1,000

Aware Inc/Jackson Contractor Group Inc, 3242 Hesper Rd, Com Remodel, $200,000

G Rock Building  LLC/Scott Peterson Construction, 2244 Grand Ave, Com Remodel, $2,000

Oliver Building Development Ve/Van Arsdale, Duane Construction Inc, 2702 Montana Ave, Com Remodel – Change In Use, $35,000

Smith, Lawrence/Millennium Construction & Consulting Inc, 446 Grand Ave, Demolition Permit Commercial, $17,000

Blanco, David/Askin Construction  LLC, 320 Main St, Demolition Permit Commercial, $12,500

Residential

Stimpson, Clint/V.W.C. Inc., 2320 Meadowwood St, Res New Accessory Structure, $53,000

Infinity Home/Infinity Home LLC, 2419 Bonito Loop, Res New Single Family, $255,764

Infinity Home/Infinity Home LLC, 2410 Bonito Loop, Res New Single Family, $242,671

Ironwood Land LLC/Cougar Construction, 4211 Arrowwood Dr, Res New Single Family, $355,305

Oakland Built Homes Inc/Oakland Built Homes Inc, 808 Presidio Ln, Res New Single Family, $174,422

Oakland Built Homes Inc/Oakland Built Homes Inc, 816 Presidio Ln, Res New Single Family, $174,422

Mountain Range LLC/Formation Inc, 2522 Mountain Range Ct, Res New Single Family, $285,450

McCall Development Inc/McCall Development, 6121 Farmstead Ave, Res New Single Family,        $247,394

McCall Development Inc/McCall Development, 6109 Farmstead Ave, Res New Single Family,          $277,970

McCall Development Inc/McCall Development, 1620 Walter Creek Blvd, Res New Single Family,  $270,252

NA/Had Inc, 2241 Entrada Rd, Res New Single Family, $187,322

Oakland Built Homes Inc/Oakland Built Homes Inc, 3149 70th St W, Res New Single Family,           $186,708

The ATM LLC/ Billings Best Builders LLC, 6310 Absaloka Ln, Res New Two Family, $350,000

NA/InfinityHome  LLC, 2205 Entrada Rd, Res New Single Family, $254,457

InfinityHome/Infinity Home  LLC, 7020 Shiny Penny Way, Res New Single Family, $242,671

InfinityHome /Infinity  Home  LLC, 3128 Forbes Blvd, Res New Single Family, $200,348

Buscher Construction/Buscher Construction Ltd, 3139 Falcon Cir, Res New Single Family, $233,402

Copper Ridge West Inc/Bob Pentecost Construction, 3145 Forbes Blvd, Res New Single Family,   $377,000

Bob Pentecost/Bob Pentecost Construction, 3021 Forbes Blvd, Res New Single Family, $346,900

Habitat For Humanity, Mid Yell/Habitat For Humanity, 1206 S Ping Cir, Res New Single Family,     $200,000

Bruechert Homes/Dirk Arnold Construction, 1361 Tania Cir, $223,130

CDH, LLC/CDH, LLC, 2207 Greenbriar Rd, Res New Single Family, $339,333

HLL  LLC/Montana Quality Contracting  LLC, 2706 Tulane Dr, Res New Single Family, $385,000

Trails West Homes  LLC/Trails West Homes  LLC, 821 Grouse Berry St, Res New Single Family,    $279,888

Trails West Homes LLC/Trails West Homes  LLC, 815 Grouse Berry St, Res New Single Family,  $227,838

NA/Trails West Homes  LLC, 902 Grouse Berry St, Res New Single Family, $247,732

Trails West Homes,  LLC/Trails West Homes  LLC, 905 Grouse Berry St, Res New Single Family, $224,480

Trails West Homes,  LLC/Trails West Homes  LLC, 909 Grouse Berry St, Res New Single Family, $279,888

NA/McCall Development, 1715 St George Blvd, Res New Single Family, $140,698

If the attitude of business people is any indicator about the future of our economy then things aren’t looking so good, according to the most recent survey of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB).

Owners expecting better business conditions over the next six months declined 7 points to a net negative 23 percent, the lowest level since November 2013.

In a survey of their membership (one must be a business owner in order to be a full-fledged NFIB member)their Optimism Index declined by 9 points.  Four of the 10 Index components declined, two improved, and four were unchanged.

The NFIB Uncertainty Index decreased 2 points to 80. The net percent of owners expecting better business conditions has fallen 55 points over the past four months. Sales expectations for the next three months declined 2 points to a net negative 6 percent. Earnings trends over the past three months declined 2 points to a net negative 16 percent reporting higher earnings compared to the prior period.

NFIB Research Center has collected Small Business Economic Trends Data with Quarterly surveys since 1973 and monthly surveys since 1986.

The declines are dramatically different from the results of surveys over the past four years when scores at times pushed record highs, except when the COVID virus business restrictions occurred. Even then the optimism jumped back up after the initial plunge.

In its commentary about survey results, NFIB stated, “January came in with a whimper as consumer spending tailed off sharply at the end of 2020, leaving spending 2.5% below levels at the start of the year. GDP did no better, ending up 3.5% below 2019 peak. Still, that represents a remarkable recovery from the plunge in GDP in 2020 Q2. Twenty million workers became unemployed, 10 million were “recovered,” and the other 10 million remain unemployed coming into 2021. Initial claims for unemployment benefits are falling, indicating workers are finding a job (or giving up). NFIB firms reported solid hiring.”

Small firms are trying to figure out how to operate in the “now,” adjusting operations to stay open, and seize upon any opportunities to grow. Hiring is good for those in less restricted industries and where consumer spending is strong. However, the “future” is not so rosy for many small firms, with expectations for business conditions and real sales in the tank. Important activities like capital spending remain depressed.

LABOR MARKETS

Job growth continued in January. Firms increased employment by 0.36 workers per firm on average over the past few months, up from 0.30 in December, a very strong 2-month performance. But the hiring is uneven geographically and by industry. Thirty-three percent (seasonally adjusted) of all owners reported job openings they could not fill. Twenty-eight percent have openings for skilled workers (up 1 point) and 12 percent have openings for unskilled labor (up 1 point).

CAPITAL SPENDING

Fifty-five percent reported capital outlays in the last six months, up 3 points from December. Of those making expenditures, 41 percent reported spending on new equipment (up 3 points), 27 percent acquired vehicles (up 7 points), and 15 percent improved or expanded facilities (up 4 points). Five percent acquired new buildings or land for expansion (unchanged), and 12 percent spent money for new fixtures and furniture (up 4 points). The increase is welcome, but leaves capital spending historically low, damaging growth prospects and future productivity gains. Twenty-two percent plan capital outlays in the next few months, unchanged from December, but low. This is consistent with the dismal view of future economic activity and sales levels held by small business owners. New capital is not needed if more production and sales don’t occur.

SALES AND INVENTORIES

A net negative 7 percent of all owners reported higher nominal sales in the past three months, down 5 points from December. The net percent of owners expecting higher real sales volumes decreased 2 points to a net negative 6 percent. The net percent of owners reporting inventory increases rose 2 points to a net negative 4 percent. Consumer spending did fade at the end of 2020.

COMPENSATION AND EARNINGS

Seasonally adjusted, a net 25 percent reported raising compensation (up 4 points) and a net 17 percent plan to do so in the coming months, up 3 points. Seven percent cited labor costs as their top business problem (up 1) and 21 percent said that labor quality was their top business problem.

. Among owners reporting lower profits, 43 percent blamed weaker sales, 17 percent cited the usual seasonal change, 6 percent cited a higher cost of materials, 6 percent cited labor costs, and 5 percent cited lower prices. For owners reporting higher profits, 60 percent credited sales volumes, 17 percent cited usual seasonal change, and 8 percent cited higher prices.

CREDIT MARKETS

Two percent of owners reported that all their borrowing needs were not satisfied (down 1 point). Twenty-four percent reported all credit needs met (down 2 points) and 61 percent said they were not interested in a loan (up 1 point). A net 1 percent reported their last loan was harder to get than in previous attempts (down 2 points). One percent reported that financing was their top business problem (unchanged).

INFLATION

The net percent of owners raising average selling prices increased 1 point to a net 17 percent, seasonally adjusted. Unadjusted, 11 percent (up 1 point) reported lower average selling prices and 27 percent (up 5 points) reported higher average prices. Price hikes were most frequent in wholesale (40 percent higher, 6 percent lower) and retail (27 percent higher, 10 percent lower)

By Billings Chamber of Commerce, Billings Chamber of Commerce

When we asked our membership last June about policy priorities for the 2021 Legislative Session, Public Safety was in the top 3. It was not a surprise. Anecdotally we hear from members tired of reading about another murder, wondering when we’ll get the meth epidemic under control, and avoiding downtown because of the transients. Unfortunately those concerns aren’t overblown.

Violent crime in Billings increased 115% in the last ten years. A report put together in 2019 for the Substance Abuse Connect (SAC) group, a partnership of providers, law enforcement, and businesses with the goal of addressing addiction issues in Yellowstone County, highlights some other sobering statistics:

—“Substance misuse and abuse are common in the Yellowstone County/ Billings community with more than 4,000 individuals aged 12 years or older dependent on or abusing illicit drugs.”

—”[M]ethamphetamine is the most common drug seized by law enforcement officials in the community.” 

Substance Abuse Connect has made significant progress since its inception to identify our needs and work toward the goals of the 2020 – 2023 Action Plan: (1) increasing our community’s collective impact; (2) improving diversion and treatment; and (3) increasing access to substance abuse prevention.

 In addition to the efforts of SAC, the Downtown Billings Alliance hired a Resource Outreach Coordinator (ROC) to work alongside the BPD Downtown Resource Officers and engage individuals living with substance abuse disorder. Recently, an allotment of beds at the jail were made available to re-institute a highly successful diversion and treatment program used in Billings know as Motivated Addiction Alternative Program. In short, the goal is to move people from addiction, into treatment, and ultimately onto recovery and transformation.

 While Billings has seen some great successes recently, we continue to face issues of capacity and funding. Additional resources are needed to fully combat the drug epidemic we face. Governor Gianforte’s focus on this matter, and his creation of the Healing and Ending Addiction through Recovery and Treatment (HEART) fund can help provide those resources. Using tax revenue from marijuana and tobacco tax settlement monies the governor’s budget invests $23.5 million/year to fund a complete continuum of prevention and treatment in Montana communities.

The Billings Chamber is grateful for Governor Gianforte’s prioritizing addiction issues. Billings has built a great model of cooperation and success. Additional resources from the state will help to fill the gaps we might not otherwise be able to plug. I’m hopeful that before the 2023 Legislative Session, we’ve done enough to combat the drug epidemic and improve public safety that our members no longer list public safety in their top 3 issues.      

House Bill 252, Tax credit for trades education and training, Rep. Llew Jones (R), Conrad

Billings Chamber Supports

One of the issues we hear from industry and trades businesses is a need to balance the emphasis of education between four-year colleges and careers in the trades. Providing a tax credit for businesses to offset the costs of trades education and training is a productive step toward addressing the workforce challenges our trades businesses face. This is incredibly important now, as we recover from a global pandemic that will forever impact our economy. Businesses have found new efficiencies and the evolution of new technologies necessitate continuous education and training across industries. On February 9th, the bill will be heard in House Tax.

House Bill 303, Business Investment Grows (BIG) Jobs Act, Rep. Joshua Kassmier (R), Ft. Benton

Billings Chamber Supports

One of the Billings Chamber’s priorities is to reduce the cost of doing business in Montana. The governor’s Business Investment Grows (BIG) Jobs Act accomplishes that goal. Current law allows a tax exemption on the first $100,000 of business equipment subject to the business equipment tax (BET). The BIG Jobs Act would double that exemption to $200,000, effectively eliminating payment of the BET by approximately 4,000 small business owners. With less spending on the BET, this means more spending in our local communities, benefiting businesses that may not even be subject to the BET. On February 9th, the bill will be heard in House Tax.

Senate Bill 159, Personal income tax relief, Sen. Greg Hertz (R),  Polson

Billings Chamber Supports

This bill reduces the top personal income tax rate from 6.9% to 6.75%, starting in tax year 2022 and applying to taxable income above $18,500. Relative to other western states, our current top income tax rate is one of the highest which can be a barrier for attracting the best and brightest workforce to Montana. While we know tax rates are only one of many factors affecting where people decide to live, our competition has similar outdoor opportunities and quality of life, making the difference in tax rates stand out. And with more money in their pockets, Montanans will spend more with our local businesses. On February 11th, the bill will be heard in Senate Tax. 

A Bozeman –based company is growing the market demand for a new technology it developed in response to COVID restraints. Alosant is real estate technology that allows better communication between a company and its clients.

The development of Alosant ResX Marketplace was partially funded through the COVID-19 Montana Innovation Grant, which the company received for its work on a branded app for the Cannery District in Bozeman. According to Cannery District Partner Barry Brown, “The Marketplace feature is a unique solution that has given our 60-plus businesses increased visibility and a direct line of communication to customers.” 

 While Alosant ResX has more than a 90 percent  adoption rate among 40-plus communities and successfully connects people with places,  the Marketplace feature takes engagement even further by digitally connecting local businesses directly with community residents through a dedicated page featuring a description of services, contact information, location details, images, links to websites and social pages and a “follow” button. 

CEO and co-founder April LaMon used her 25 years of C-suite experience to establish Alosant as a leader in the PropTech industry and says the “Alosant ResX Marketplace represents the ideal next step in our mission to create a unified residential experience, all in one place.”

Will adding to regulations for businesses who offer massage services help curb illegal human trafficking and prostitution?

The Billings City Council is moving forward with a proposal to impose  more regulations on businesses that provide massage therapy, including an additional business license.

The crackdown is hoped to weed out establishments that pose as legitimate massage therapists as cover for human trafficking and prostitution. The approach uses city code enforcement to stop criminal activity where criminal law enforcement has failed, leaving Billings as having the most incidents of human trafficking of any city in the state.

Discussion about the issue drug the Billings City Council into a long late-hour work session last week. In the end, after listening to dozens and dozens of phone calls, the council acted to place the matter on a formal agenda at some point in the future.

Many legitimate massage therapy businesses objected to being used in the strategy, and expressed as much during the virtual meeting, on phone calls for some two hours. Some of the calls were from massage therapists and others who supported the proposal out of concern about human trafficking.

The proposed regulations place much of the onus of trying to rein in human trafficking — which quite often includes prostitution rings – upon how massage therapy businesses will have to operate in order to avoid being penalized. They will also be required to purchase an additional business license beyond that which they get from the state.

The city will require an additional business license imposing a $55 fee, fingerprinting and background checks for business owners. There are also stipulations regarding how the businesses should function including the requirements for dress, of keeping doors unlocked, keeping regular business hours, having interiors well lighted and high visibility through windows. Violations of these practices impose stiff fines and imprisonment.

Despite many of the callers objecting to the city’s approach, no one disputed the fact that Billings faces a very serious problem because of human trafficking. An FBI Special Agent, Brandon Walter, spoke to the council, saying that about half of Billings’ human trafficking problems stem from perpetrators fronting as massage therapists. Billings has more of a problem with human trafficking more than any other Montana city, and the city has generated a reputation, that extends far beyond the region, as being lax in regard to enforcement, which tends to attract more criminals.

There were many calls from supporters of the heightened regulations saying that they believe what was being required of massage therapists isn’t so onerous and well worth the effort to save the victims of human trafficking.

Many of the massage therapists, however, said they believe the issue is a bigger one for the city and should be addressed on a broader scale rather than focusing on their industry. Many were indignant for having been told by some city officials that they just needed to “take one for the team.”

It’s a matter for law enforcement, not for code enforcement, it was stated.

Enforcement of the regulations will be complaint -driven with code enforcement officers responding to calls. The city lacks the staffing to initiate investigations.

It was stated that the hope is that enforcing the codes will “tip over” into criminal charges.

A couple of callers said that reports from massage therapists in other communities who have followed a similar approach say that it didn’t work to curb the criminal activity. The task force that has worked on developing the new regulation reported just the opposite from the cities they said they had contacted.

City Administrator Chris Kukulski pointed out that the benefit of making it a code enforcement issue that relies upon complaints from citizens is a low cost approach for the city, which struggles with having enough funding to hire the needed law enforcement.

Many of those calling into the virtual meeting voiced indignation at being lumped in with the activities of criminals. They object to being categorized as “adult entertainment” or called “parlors” rather than a health care service or provider, which is how the industry sees itself.

By Evelyn Pyburn

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Montana has been declining since November 11, especially over the past two weeks while testing numbers have remained steady. But for closed and partially closed businesses there seems to be no winning, the decline in case numbers, just like the increase, has resulted in the extension of restrictions on business.

Last week, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock attributed the decline in case numbers to restrictions that went into place Nov. 20, which expanded the existing mask mandate to the entire state and required bars and casinos to close by 10 p.m. – a mandate that county health officer, John Felton then extended to all businesses through December, and which now, last Thursday, he extended again through January 31.

Confirmed cases of COVID are down 36% since Nov. 20, said the Governor, advocating that the restraints are working and should continue.

The state’s COVID website shows that daily confirmed cases peaked about Nov. 11 and averaged 1103 daily confirmed cases throughout the rest of the month. The average number of daily cases identified for the first 12 days of December has been 849.

While the number of hospitalized individuals remains relatively high — with 488 individuals reportedly hospitalized with the virus on Thursday (dropping to 365 by Sunday) — Bullock said he expected the number to drop after local data is reconciled with the state’s reporting system. The number of deaths reported statewide as of Sunday was 818 with 3,080 total hospitalizations.

The World Health Organization said in March that the fatality rate of COVID-19 was roughly three percent – meaning three out of a hundred people contracting the disease would die – today it is being estimated that a more accurate fatality rate is 0.2 or 0.3 percent. The reason for the change is researchers believe now that there were far more cases of COVID than has been realized and that the disease actually began in December rather than February and March 2020.

One researcher, Jay Bhattacharya, a Professor of Medicine, with a Ph.d. in Economics, at Stanford University, reported that in testing for antibodies, (which indicate that someone has had the disease) in San Diego County, CA, where about 1000 COVID cases had been identified, antibody tests indicated that 50,000 people had actually been infected. So the case numbers were off 50 fold.

Because of the controversy those findings, 82 similar studies have been conducted with the same extraordinary results, confirming that the average fatality rate is not three in one hundred, but two in one thousand.

Other research confirms that there is about a thousand-fold difference between the mortality rate in older people (70 and up) and that of children. For children COVID-19 is less dangerous than the seasonal flu, according to Bhattacharya. Two to three times more children die annually from the common flu than from COVID. For older people, however, COVID is much more deadly than the flu. About four in one hundred of those over 70 die from the disease.

Bhattacharya pointed out that the use of lockdowns have never before been used to control the spread of a disease. They were devised to slow the infection rate in order to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed, a strategy with minimal results.

The lockdowns on businesses, however, are “turning out to have deadly effects.”

While many believe economic impacts are minor compared to health impacts, the reality is that more people will probably die of the economic impacts throughout the world than because of virus infections. The UN has estimated that 130 million additional people will starve this year as a result of the economic damage resulting from the lockdowns – a devastating reversal of the past 20 years during which a billion people have been lifted out of poverty.

Bhattacharya points out that deaths will also occur because other health treatments, including the immunization against other diseases, have not been pursued because people have had more fear of COVID than of the risks from other diseases. Deaths are expected to increase due to cancer and diabetes because of economic shutdowns. And, because of social isolation, suicide rates are already on the rise, especially true for youths, ages 18 through 24, who actually have little risk of death from the virus.

“Widespread lockdown policy has been a devastating public health mistake,” concludes Bhattacharya, who urges, “Our goal should therefore be to minimize mortality and social harm until we reach herd immunity.” He explained that herd immunity is not a strategy but a “biological fact that applies to most infectious diseases… The vaccine will help, but herd immunity is what will bring it to an end.”

Policies should be to allow those at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally, while better protecting those at highest risk.

The first 9,750 doses of the vaccine were delivered slated to be delivered to Montana ollowing its authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.

The first doses were  delivered to 10 major hospitals in the state’s seven largest communities. Doses delivered to the state in subsequent weeks will be reserved for rural health care workers and staff and residents of nursing facilities.

Bullock said 284 contracted health care workers are currently deployed in the state to assist in hospitals seeing a large number of COVID-19 patients. Close to 200 health care workers in the state are in isolation or quarantine due to exposure to the virus.

More than 73,303 people across Montana have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since March.

Yellowstone County has experienced the highest number of cases at 12,722, with 2,469 active cases as of Sunday. Total deaths in the county is 144.

So far 3,080 people have been hospitalized.

The latest federal employment report revealed yet another month of recovery for the American workforce. Members of the Project 21  black leadership network credited the Trump Administration for policies that have brought back jobs – particularly in black communities – after businesses were devastated earlier this year by COVID-19 lockdowns.

“The news just keeps getting better. The free-market policies of President Trump have lowered the unemployment rate at the fastest level in history! The jobless rate dropping from nearly 15% to under 7% in less than a year is stunning,” said Project 21 Co-Chairman Horace Cooper. “Incredibly, the unemployment rate is now lower than it was during Obama’s entire first term. Notably, black Americans lead the employment gains – the exact opposite of the experience of the Obama years.” 

The American workforce added 245,000 new jobs in November – making it the seventh  straight month of declining unemployment since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. The overall unemployment rate dropped two-tenths of a percentage point to 6.7%, according to a report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Prior to the lockdowns, unemployment rates posted record lows. 

“Unemployment continues to decline fastest for those who need jobs the most right now – black Americans, Hispanics and other minorities. These positive jobs numbers represent another example of the Trump Administration’s commitment to the black community,” said Project 21 member Donna Jackson. “Even in the face of ill-advised lockdowns, I’m grateful that the White House continues to deliver for all Americans – especially black Americans like me.”

In the black community, total unemployment fell once again by half a percentage point to 10.3%. Approximately 136,000 blacks entered the workforce in November, and black participation in the workforce increased for the third straight month. More than half of black Americans who were forced out of work by the lockdowns are employed again – far outpacing the progress of the Obama Administration after the 2008 recession. Additionally, the U-4 alternative unemployment measure that includes discouraged workers who leave the workforce – often considered the true unemployment indicator – also fell to just 7.1%. That figure has dropped 4.3% since June. 

“The cause of the earlier collapse – and what’s preventing the economy from returning to pre-pandemic levels – has been the destructive and punitive response to COVID-19. Job gains in November showed the economy remains resilient despite the addiction of liberal state governments to socioeconomic lockdowns,” noted Project 21 member Derryck Green. “In my opinion, the employment rate would be much lower, and the labor force participation rate much higher, if business owners were allowed to decide which safety protocols were in the best interests of their employees and customers. The gains we see today will almost certainly be undone – and jobs won’t return – if more states follow California in forcing business owners to shut their doors and ‘temporarily’ lay people off. on.                                                                     

Founded in 1982, the National Center for Public Policy Research is a non-partisan, free-market, independent conservative think-tank. Ninety-four percent of its support comes from some 60,000 individuals, less than four percent from foundations and less than two percent from corporations.

By Bethany Blankley, The Centre Square

The number of individuals who filed for unemployment benefits last week increased to 742,000, the first increase in five weeks, according to new data published by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The number of people who filed for state unemployment benefits in the week ending Nov. 13 grew by 31,000 from the previous week’s revised level of 711,000, according to the Nov. 19 report.

In October, the U.S. gained 638,000 jobs and the national unemployment rate fell to 6.9 percent compared to the near historic high of a 14.7 percent at the peak during state lockdowns, when weekly jobless claims hit a record 6.9 million in March.

he previous week’s unemployment level was revised up by 2,000 from 709,000 to 711,000. The four-week moving average was 742,000, a decrease of 13,750 from the previous week’s revised average, the department stated in a news release accompanying the data. The previous week’s average was revised up by 500 from 755,250 to 755,750.

The unemployment rate drop “can be attributed in part to the fact that a lot more businesses are open now than were a few months ago, as states have gradually loosened restrictions,” Adam McCann, financial writer at WalletHub, says. “In addition, many people who became unemployed during the COVID-19 crisis were temporarily laid off, and either have already been rehired by their former employers or expect to be eventually.”

According to an analysis of unemployment data by the personal finance website, some state’s employment rates have bounced back more than others.

WalletHub compared all 50 states and the District of Columbia across four key metrics. It reviewed the change in each state’s unemployment for the month of October and compared it to data from October 2019 and January 2020. The analysis also compared continued claims in October 2020 to October 2019 and each state’s overall unemployment rate.

States in which employment rates bounced back the most were Iowa, Nebraska, Vermont, Missouri, South Dakota, Montana, Utah, Minnesota, Alaska and South Carolina.

States whose unemployment numbers were still suffering were Arizona, Maryland, Massachusetts, the District of Columbia, New Mexico, New York, California, Louisiana, Nevada and Hawaii.

According to the Department of Labor, the highest insured unemployment rates in the week ending Oct. 31 were in California (8.3), Hawaii (8.3), New Mexico (8.0), Nevada (7.6), Georgia (6.5), Pennsylvania (6.4), Alaska (6.2), Massachusetts (6.2), District of Columbia (6.0), and Illinois (5.7).

The largest increases in initial claims for the week ending Nov. 7 were in Washington (+7,683), California (+5,293), Massachusetts (+3,383), Alabama (+1,704), and Louisiana (+1,626).

The largest decreases were in Georgia (-13,426), Illinois (-6,357), Kentucky (-4,830), Texas (-3,934), and New Jersey (-3,725).

When it comes to having a booming thriving economy nothing is more important than ideas. Innovation leads economic success.

Production levels, efficiencies, etc. only matter once there is an idea of what to produce or how to produce it. New ideas and innovation are critical to keep ahead of competitors —and protecting those ideas in the market place are patents. Not only must individuals have the freedom to create, being able to guarantee ownership of the idea incentivizes the effort, and that is what patents do.

A total of 1,914  patents were filed and granted in Montana between 1975 and 2019, according to a new study recently released by CommercialCafé which drew upon data from the US Patents & Trademark Office,  exploring the importance of US innovation over four decades.

Montana is among the states with the fewest patents awarded. California is the highest.

Most of Montana’s patents were in Chemistry & Metallurgy, totaling 555, most of which were filed by Dr. Lloyd Berg, who holds the most patents in the state. The late Dr. Berg was formerly head of Montana State University’s Chemical Engineering Department.

The most innovative CPC class in Montana was Technical Subjects Covered By Former Uspc, followed by Basic Electric Elements with 430 and 356 patents, respectively.

Textiles & Paper was the least innovative section in the state, with a patent count of 11.

Nationally, the data for the past 44 years shows that highest patent applications falls under Physics, with 1.1 million patents, followed closely by Electricity, with 900,000 patents.

It used to be that most patents in the US were granted by individual inventors or entrepreneurs, but now more are being granted to large companies.

CommercialCafe also looked at patent applicability, which is different than a true count of distinct patents, in that it counts one patent multiple times, one time for each application across a different field of innovation. Fields of innovation refer to what are called “sections” in the cooperative patent classification (CPC) scheme. There are nine CPC sections, each including several “classes.” It is often the case that one patent claims an invention that applies across multiple sections or multiple classes within one section, or combinations of both.

The study states, “Historically, small U.S. businesses and widespread entrepreneurship have driven American innovation. And, over time, the infrastructure of U.S. innovation itself has undergone several stages of progress and adaptation. For instance, during the ‘Golden Age’ of invention — between the late 1800s and mid-1900s when the U.S. led the world’s industrial revolution — innovative activity happened largely outside of the corporate frame. At that time, world-changing ideas were given physical form by individual creators with financial backing from various investors. As the Harvard Business Review noted in a comprehensive 2017 study, the modern corporation research and development model had outweighed individual inventor patents by the middle of the 20th century. Then, by the year 2000, corporate assignees accounted for 80% of patents.”

The five most innovative U.S. corporations to date are IBM, General Electric, Intel, Hewlett Packard and Microsoft. Among the top ten innovators in 2020 are Micron, Texas Instruments, Xerox, etc. It is interesting to track how dramatically corporations leading the pack have changed over a 45 year period, reflecting how dynamic free markets really are. In 1975 only IBM and GE were in the top ten. Others who have come and gone include Westinghouse, US Phillips, DuPont, RCA Corp, Caterpillar, Ciba-Geigy, Dow, Bell Labs, Motorola, Kodak, Qualcomm.

The five most innovative states to date are California, New York, Texas, Illinois and New Jersey. In particular, a total of 731,705 U.S.-based assignee patents were filed and granted in California between 1975 and 2019, which puts the Golden State in the lead for patenting activity.

Patent activity in the US peaked in 2013, when 144,072 patents were granted — the most in a single year.

About 51% of patents that were granted in the U.S., between 1975 and 2019, have U.S.-based assignees, amounting to 3,331,802 claimed inventions.

The highest patent applicability to date falls under physics (1.1 million patents). Within this field, innovation in computing and information storage has contributed significantly to increases in patent activity in recent years.

Regardless of the originator innovation has had a positive influence on economic growth. The study unveils “a strong positive correlation between patenting activity and gross domestic product per capita at the state level.”

That means, states the study document, “securing economic growth depends on investing in dreams of progress. As such, it’s reasonable to assume that the best way to invest in the dream is to support the dreamers. But, because humanity has yet to invent a way to predict ideas and inventors, the safest bet on securing long-term growth is to invest in education and innovation across the board.”

Nationwide, “patent applicability distribution” shows how innovation in different fields has progressed and concentrated differently in different regions.

The fact that California leads the nation for invention, points to the need for an area to be socially and economically open to the disruption that comes with new concepts. Innovation is most strong in populated areas with strong capital markets that can finance invention.

California stands out with the highest patent applicability for six of the nine main patent classification sections: human necessities; performing operations and transporting; chemistry and metallurgy; physics; electricity; emerging cross-sectional technologies.