Last week, President Joe Biden announced executive orders that mandate vaccinations for the COVID virus for what is estimated to be 100 million workers in both the public and private sector. 

The backlash has been swift and strong, with people from both sides of the isle claiming the President has no authority to impose such requirements, and with promises of lawsuits, and vows to quit jobs rather than acquiesce.

Absent from the mandates are similar requirements for members of Congress, federal judges, or their staffers.

The executive mandates would require vaccination for federal employees, the military, and government contractors, and they make clear that political force will be brought to bear against private sector companies with more than 100 employees to either require vaccination of their employees or be tested weekly for the virus.

All hospitals and other medical facilities accepting government payments for Medicare and Medicaid would have to force employees to comply or lose their status to get such payments.

And, all this at a time when, in Montana, most businesses are struggling to find the labor they need and to keep it. According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, approximately 72 percent of unvaccinated American workers said they would rather quit their jobs than be forced by the government (through their employer) to get the shot.

The President’s edict stands, in direct conflict with laws and policies in many states of which Governors are vowing to push back. Should the Governors attempt to do so, however, a spokesman for the President said “President Joe Biden is willing to ‘run over’ any Republican governors who attempt to fight back against federal vaccine mandates.”

Montana Governor Greg Gianforte issued a Twitter statement saying, “President Biden’s vaccination mandate is unlawful and un-American…We are committed to protecting Montanans’ freedoms and liberties against this gross federal overreach.”

It is being predicted that President Biden will face “an avalanche of lawsuits.”

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen said he will file suit as soon as the law is effective.  A surge of some 27 Republican governors, have indicated they will do likewise.

Nationally, media reports said, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, wrote in a Twitter post, “My legal team is standing by ready to file our lawsuit the minute Joe Biden files his unconstitutional rule. This gross example of federal intrusion will not stand.”

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, , wrote that his administration will “pursue every legal option available” in order to halt what he called a “blatantly unlawful overreach.”

The conclusion that the President lacks such authority is one with which even the President himself agreed just a few weeks ago, when his administration issued a statement saying, …issuing vaccine mandates is “not the role of the federal government.”

Convention of States Action released new polling shortly after the announcement that showed 58.6% of those surveyed “do not believe President Biden has the constitutional authority to force private businesses to require vaccine mandates for employees.”

In the same poll, 29.7% of voters said Biden does have the authority, and 11.7% are unsure. In addition, 55.5% of voters say the mandate “sets a precedent that could be abused by future presidents on other issues.”

According to U.S. Census data roughly 51%, 185,000, of Montanans work for businesses with less than 100 employees and won’t be affected by the order.

Montana Free Press reported that in its analysis of 2019 U.S. Census Bureau labor data, “there were 411 employers in Montana with more than 100 workers who would fall under the OSHA rule. Collectively, those employers had 99,564 Montanans on their payrolls.”

It is being assumed by many that the edict will push many more people into getting vaccinated. About 51 percent of Montanans have been vaccinated, at latest reports.

Predictions are that the virus is near peaking in Montana or will do so by mid-October.

To curb the spread of the virus is the reason for the mandate.  Although he said weeks ago he would not issue such a mandate, Biden has apparently changed his mind, amid constantly rising numbers of infections across the country.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) within the Department of Health and Human Services has determined that the best way to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to prevent infection by the Delta variant or other variants is to be vaccinated, and Biden said he is relying on “the best available data and science-based public health measures” to do so.

Apparently “government employees” does not include the 630,000 people who work for the Postal Service, a quasi-public entity. Biden specifically mentioned that the mandate does not apply to the Postal Service.

In July, The American Postal Workers Union (APWU) said, “It is not the role of the federal government to mandate vaccinations for the employees we represent.”

The federal agency, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will be used to enforce compliance with the mandate on the private companies.

Conversations about what has to happen to implement the President’s edict indicate that it isn’t anything that is going to happen quickly. Weeks and often months are mentioned as issues regarding regulatory processes and rule making requirements. While OSHA can skip part of the process required by that agency, if it is deemed an emergency, just writing the regulation can take weeks.

According to some reports OSHA’s “emergency temporary standards” policy allows for some immediate action from the agency, under “certain limited conditions.  According to OSHA’s website, “OSHA is authorized to set emergency temporary standards that take effect immediately and are in effect until superseded by a permanent standard.”

To issue such a temporary order, OSHA “must determine that workers are in grave danger” from toxic substances or other “physically harmful” agents. If OSHA complies with the request from the president, workers in mid-sized to large firms—with more than 100 employees—will be affected.

According to the Convention of States Action poll, the governors who are pushing back have Americans’ support. The survey found 56.1% of voters “support the efforts of state governors to oppose Biden’s nationwide vaccine mandate on private businesses.” That includes 46.3% who “strongly support,” and 9.8% who “support.”

Opinions on the mandate fall largely along party lines. Nearly 80% of Republicans support the governors standing up to Biden while about 30% of Democrats feel the same way.

This poll comes on the heels of another poll released last week that showed a sharp drop in approval for Biden after the deadly withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

The Economist/ YouGov poll reported last week that Biden’s approval fell to an all-time low of his presidency, with 39% of Americans approving of his job performance and 49% disapproving.

“The drop in Biden’s approval rating is most severe among Democrats,” the poll reports. “Around nine in ten of them had approved of Biden’s performance for nearly all of his first year in office. This week, Biden’s approval rating among Democrats dropped nine points to 77% from 86% last week.”

By Alan Olson, Executive Director, Montana Petroleum Association

Last week as fuel prices continued to climb the White House released the following announcement: “President Biden has made clear that he wants Americans to have access to affordable and reliable energy, including at the pump. Although we are not a party to OPEC, the United States will always speak to international partners regarding issues of significance that affect our national economic and security affairs, in public and private. We are engaging with relevant OPEC+ members on the importance of competitive markets in setting prices. Competitive energy markets will ensure reliable and stable energy supplies, and OPEC+ must do more to support the recovery.”

As the Biden administration works toward driving the U. S. oil and gas industry out of existence it seems strange that President Biden would encourage foreign countries to make up the difference between the decline in American oil production and the needs affecting our national economic and security affairs.

Biden has a terrible track record when it comes to American energy security. By cancelling the Key Stone XL Pipeline, he removed 800,000 barrels of oil a day from American refineries propelling Russia into the second largest supplier of crude oil to American refineries. As exports of American natural gas to Europe were expanding, Biden removed the sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline giving the Russians the green light to push us out of European gas markets. At a time when Americans were, for all practical purposes, energy sufficient the Biden administration shuts down leasing of Federal oil and gas minerals even though less than 3% of Federal lands is under lease for oil and gas. As additional progressive liberal policies wind their way through this administration and congress it would appear the domestic petroleum industry will be sacrificed for political reasons while encouraging investment in foreign oil and gas production.

While Biden continues to hammer domestic oil and gas production how can he not understand the costs related to a declining domestic supply? How can he ask foreign producers to supply American needs while at the same time throwing American workers under the bus in the name of climate change? When have we ever seen an American President encouraging foreign companies, many of which are owned by foreign governments to compete with American companies by setting prices? Biden is right about one thing, “competitive energy markets will ensure reliable and stable energy supplies,” but let the competitive markets be domestic markets not by ham stringing American producers and then inviting foreign competition to manipulate the energy markets.

It’s Roasted, 2227 Golden Blvd, 59102, 831-272-1530, Cielo Marketing Solutions, restaurant

Northwest Counseling Center, 1597 D Ste 7, 59102, 259-6161, Sarah Burke, service

Hair by Chloe, 2406 Broadwater Ave, 59102, 860-3221, Chloe Johnson, cosmetology

Montana Freestone Construction LLC, 2210 Lyndale Ln, 59102, Kelly Riddle, general contractors

RAZ Enterprises LLC, 1110 Broadwater Ave, 534-1154, Robert Zarbok, retail sales

Robert Hammond, 4110 Phillip St, 59101, 200-3117, Robert Hammond, service

Flowing Floors, 2607 Burlington Ave, 59102, 208-9793, Larry Costalez, general contractors

Hometown Mechanical Inc, 3847 Heritage Dr, 59102, 970-3153, Dennis Rumsey, service

Just Rippin Drywall, 925 Yellowjackets Way, 59106, 690-9625, Justin Delaware, service

Body Wellness, 2619 St Johns Ave Ste F, 606-9324, Moriah Mills, solo practitiopner

Town & Country Foods, 1603 Grand Ave Unit 135, 59102, 717-6200, Wayde Anderson, retail sales

Advantage Window and Glass Replacement, 610 N 24th St, 59101, 702-688-2066, Timothy Males, service

Jackson Taylor Contractors LLC, 174 Tomlinson Dr, 440-290-0391, Ed Jasinski, general contractors

MK Consulting Group LLC, 812 Alderson Ave, 59101, 855-1926, Marco Kuemmerle, service

Magic City Painting & Const, 3000 Lake Elmo Dr, 59105, Michael Schmaing, general contractors

Journey to Nowhere, 206 13th St W, 59102, 850-2508, Jeremy Meyers, retail sale

Dustin Newhall, 341 Clough Ave, Columbus 59019, 620-4863, Dustin Newhall, retail sales

Le Macaron, 112 N 28th, 59101, 320-1888, Kalena Ochsner, restaurants

Stanley Building Experts, 3028 Golden Acres, 281-3026, Albert Medlinsky, general contractors

Archadia Lila, 1613 Kelby Dr #4, 59105, 671-8335, Valerie Quigley, service

Wildly Adorned, 1613 Kelby Dr #4, 59105, 671-8335, Valerie Quigley, service

Bachmann Group LLC, 414 N word St, 208-3523, Chad Bachmann, general contractors

Creative Solutions Carpentry, 729 Avenue D, 59102, 860-4845, Michael Glenn, general contractors   

The Vibe, 2545 Central Ave Ste F, 59102, 289-0883, Jordan Stoltz, restaurants

Honomichl’s Moving Service LLC, 1042 Yale Ave, Michael Honomichl, service

Zooschool, 2100 Shiloh Rd, 59106, 670-4789, Marnie Emond, schools, 

All American handyman Services, 340 Nash Ln, 320-1325, Carl Hoffman, service

Level up Cheer and Tumbling, 2316 1st Ave N, 59101, 670-9210, Sara Baier, service

Dove’s Pilot Car, 262 Wicks Ln, 59105, 208-469-1456, Florian Kimball, service

1704 Event Planning, 4384 Poly Dr, 59106, 698-5508, Carrie Brewer, service

Thuy Huynh, 1690 Province Ln, 59102, 612-865-0918, Thuy Huynh, real estate rental

Sober Beginnings, 2042 green Terrace Dr, 59102, 839-7405, Kacy Keith, service

Jerry’s fly Foam, 644 Grand Ave Ste 1 East, 59101, 697-1225, Gerald Schmaing/Dyland Wiebe, retail sales

Mazabuka LLC, 310 N 13th St, 59101, 245-5847, Amanda Markel, general contractors

Northern Construction LLC, 3914 Lasso Ln, 860-2476, Kyle Kring, general contractors

No Limits Sanctuary, 4315 S Mountain View Rd, Molt 59057, 559-360-5744, Jill Fulkes, service

Elkhorn Home Services, 587 Chokecherry Pl, 59102, 670-3744, Jeffrey Hanson, service

Biomat USA Inc, 1310 Main St, 59105, 323-227-7287, David Clark, service

Miska Tonic, 2400 Saddleback Dr, Laurel 59044, 633-4156, Larry Roberts, retail sales

ZZEM Screw Inc, 2721 Enterprise Ave #2, 59102, 775-386-8867, Dean Dougherty, manufacturing

MT E-Bikes LLC dba Pedego Billings, 820 Shiloh Crossing Bllvd Ste 5, 59102, 248-1515, Mark & Tracy Rheaume, retail sales

Century Companies Inc, 510 1st Ave N, Lewistown 59457, 535-1200, Aaron Golik, general contractors 

Heal Haus, 5301 Patagonia Ct #1, 59101, 890-4553, Kalen Jongeling, retail sales

Inner Balance Massage, 2020 Grand Ave #4, 59102, 998-8748, Meggan Stensland, solo practitioner

Bag of Possibilities, 620 Lake Elmo Dr #12, 59105, 855-2618, Denise Nelson, service

CK Spray, 311 Wicks Ln, 366-9823, Cody Lee, service

Rick’s Delivery Service, 3840 S Tanager Ln, 59102, 459-8292, Rick Moran, service

 Bryant Contracting LLC, 1355 Pumori Cir, 59101, 850-4205, Robert  Bryant, general contractors

McCuen Construction & Trucking, 1212 Bench Blvd, 59105, 945-2426, general contractors

Billings Happy Hearts Concierge LLC, 5717 Twins Way,59101, 697-7272, Karla Herman, service

Royal Purple, 546 1/2 Burlington Ave, 59101, 590-8093, Yaakov Israel, service

The Cutting Edge Salon LLC, 1918 Grand Ave, 59102, 697-0622, Jessica brown, cosmetology

Clear Trails, 104 Merion Rd, 59101, 698-6609, Mick Phillips, service

Tightlines Plumbing Inc, 116 Pertise Ave, Huntley 59037, Arley Swanson, plumbing contractors

 Gigglin Grizzly Bead & Gift, 5165 Chief Brave Wolf, Laurel 59044, 855-5086, Elaine Greer, retail sales

The Drunkin Blacksmith, 5165 Chief Brave Wolf, Laurel 59044, Martin Greer, retail sales

Big Sky Arcs & Sparks Ornamental, 3507 Jene Helene Ave, 59101, 698-9077, Michael Lawrence, service

RPA Transport Solutions, 2725 Custer Ave, 59102, 281-2022, Randy Anderson, misc

Majic City Balloons, 1141 28th St W Apt 11, 59102, 818-0153, Donya Wimer/Jennider Eidson, service

Zipper Geo Associates LLC, 4221 Audubon Way, 59106, 697-7042, Michel Bullock, engineer

Ag Collective, 1702 1st Ave N, 59101, 534-1041, Tara Reiners, service

The Food Dude, 316 Laurmac Ln, Laurel 59044, 860-2686, Steven & April Dennis, restaurants

On The Clock Property inspection LLC, 5445 Rimrock Rd, 59106, 846-5580, JT Ross, service

406 Rollin Eyes, 80 Gold Pan Ln, 59106, 797-2020, Salicia Borges/Anycia Wipf, service

Without A Fuss Remodeling & Repair, 834 miles Ave, 60-5418, Tyson Betz, general contractors

Home Solutions Handyman, 4320 Marietal Dr #1, 435-359-6049, Richard La Perle, general contractors

Abundance properties LLC, 2501 Montana Ave #3, 59101, 671-4925, Lindsay Johnson, real estate rental,

JMY Investment Inc, 404 N 31st St 218, 59101, 298-5882, On Soon Kim, office only

Thrive Counseling LLC, 404 N 31st Ste 415, 59101, 617-765-2036, Corrina Hillman, service

Ashley Breit LMT, 1643 Lewis Ave Ste 2, 59102, 598-7528, Ashley Breit, solo practitioner

Gomez Cpnstruction LLC, 7543 Lewis Ave, 59106, 861-9462, Wendy Rivera, roofing contractors

JW Rent Car, 404 N 31st St, 59101, 298-5882, Ryan Jeong, office only

Jordan Hoerster Construction, 1721 Venus Cir, 59105, 591-9642, Jordan Hoerster, general contractors

Coinstar, 875 Main St, 59105, 425-943-8000, Kelly Shomler, service

White Velvet Aesthetics PLLC, 71 25th St W Unit 1, Anna Kamenieva, cosmetology

RJ Holdings LLC, 116 N 29th St Ste B, 839-1636, Jason Smith, service

Kryptonite Kutz, 1911 King Ave W Ste 12, 59102, 998-7002, Sandra Tinajero, cosmetology

Homestaed Custom Works, 1777 Birdie Ln, 59106, 850-4424, Austin Leep, general contractors

Monkey Around, 605 24th St W, 59102, 320-0273, Robert & Cassandra Mann/Ronnie & Wndy Wilshusen, service

Blackbird Solutions, 514 middle valley ddr, 59105, 850-8985, Timothy Ben Lich, service

Brenda’s Cleaning Services, 1235 Avenue F, 59102, 281-1936, Brenda Ligocky, service

Kraig Kinkaid Drywall, 3335 John O Groats Ct, 59101, 252-4969, Kraig Kincaid, service

Go Fish Gardening LLC, 1812 S mariposa Ln, 59102, 690-2646, Elizabeth Gage, service

Commercial

Donovan, Michael K/Exceptional Exteriors LLC, 304 Moore Ln, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $10,500

Mike White/RMSR Inc, 77 Lily Valley Cir, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $123,000

Mazabuka, LLC/Mazabuka LLC, 319 N 14th St, Com New Other, $7,500

Isle Development LLC, 1008 Shiloh Crossing Blvd, Com Remodel, $87,500

Defender Investments LLC/Maher Contracting, 17 Florine Ln, Com Remodel $1,250

Deaconess Medical Center Of Billings/Bauer Construction, 2950 10th Ave N, Com Remodel, $184,000

Fagg Family Properties LLC/Triangle Telephone, 222 N 32nd St, Com Remodel, $200

Spitzer, David C/Dave Spitzer Construction, 2215 Broadwater Ave, Com Remodel, $4,000

Square 106 LLC/Askin Construction LLC, 1736 Shiloh Rd, Demolition Permit Commercial, $28,039

Our Savior Evangelical/Lynnrich Inc., 1603 St Andrews Dr, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $38,184

Harvest Evangelical Church/Wegner Homes, 1235 W Wicks Ln, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $125,000

City Of Billings The/SP Services, 1600 21st St W, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $3,750

City Of Billings The/SP Services, 1600 21st St W, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $3,600

City Of Billings The/SP Services, 1600 21st St W, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $3,950

City Of Billings The/SP Services, 1600 21st St W, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $19,400

City Of Billings The/SP Services, 1600 21st St W, Com Fence/Roof/Siding,  $21,850

Jones Family Holdings LLC/Commercial Roofing Montana LLC, 127 Regal St, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $49,000

Community Leadership & Development Inc/Langlas & Assoc., Inc., 114 S 29th St, Com New 3+ (Multi Family), $268,049

Community Leadership & Development Inc/Langlas & Assoc., Inc., 116 S 29th St, Com New 3+ (Multi Family), $268,049

Pentex Restaurants Group/Hardy Construction Co., 1104 Shiloh Crossing Blvd, Com New Restaurant/Casino/Bar,  $1,050,000

Cori Lafever/T.W. Clark Construction LLC, 2824 1st Ave N, Com Remodel, $770,000

Rimrock II, LLC/Langlas & Assoc., Inc., 3045 King Ave W, Com Remodel, $150,000

Sisters Of Charity Of Leavenworth/Bauer Construction, 1144 N 28th St, Com Remodel, $50,000

Broadstone Wi Mt Nd LLC/Cucancic Construction Inc., 4077 Grand Ave, Com Remodel, $150,000

Single Family,

John Haman/HD Building Inc, 1369 Tania Cir, Res New Single Family, $253,967

Rachel Dehler/Bighorn Drywall, 1687 Norwood Ln, Res New Single Family, $190,531

Trails West Homes LLC/Trails West Homes LLC, 930 Grouse Berry St, Res New Single Family, $301,290

Trails West Homes LLC/Trails West Homes LLC, 926 Grouse Berry St, Res New Single Family, $247,732

Trails West Homes LLC/Trails West Homes LLC, 922 Grouse Berry St, Res New Single Family, $214,338

Infinity Home/Infinity Home LLC, 3042 Forbes Blvd, Res New Single Family, $241,855

Infinity Homes/Infinity Home LLC, 1027 Matador Ave, Res New Single Family, $202,152

Trent Parks/1651 Kanga Way, Res New Townhome, $0.0

Williams Homes , 2103 Morocco Dr, Res New Single Family,  $199,696

Williams Homes/WH High Sierra 50 LLC (Williams Homes), 2107 Morocco Dr, Res New Single Family, $211,316

Williams Homes/WH High Sierra 50 LLC (Williams Homes), 2123 Morocco Dr, Res New Single Family, $211,316

WH High Sierra 50 LLC (Williams Homes), 2111 Morocco Dr, Williams Homes, Res New Single Family, $186,708

Williams Homes/WH High Sierra 50 LLC (Williams Homes), 2115 Morocco Dr, Res New Single Family,  $211,316

Williams Homes/WH High Sierra 50 LLC (Williams Homes), 2119 Morocco Dr, Res New Single Family, $199,696

High Sierra II Inc/WH High Sierra 50 LLC (Williams Homes), 2127 Morocco Dr, Res New Single Family, $186,708

Green Jeans LLC, 1402 Jean Ave, Res New Single Family, $265,294

William Thompson/Green Jeans LLC, 1341 Tania Cir, Res New Single Family, $340,000

Infinity Homes LLC/Infinity Home LLC, 2220 Entrada Rd, Res New Single Family, $237,896

McCall Homes/McCall Development, 1896 St George Blvd, Res New Single Family, $277,553

J & M Development LLC/J & M Development, 1825 Sartorie Rd, Res New Single Family, $219,404

Steve Goutanis Homes Inc/Steve Gountanis Homes Inc, 945 Vineyard Cir, Res New Single Family, $405,000

MJ Construction/MJ Construction, Inc., 6326 Absaloka Ln, Res New Two Family, $310,168

Trent Parks/Billings Best Builders LLC, 1651 Kanga Way, Res New Two Family, $390,540

Trent Parks/Billings Best Builders LLC, 1639 Kanga Way, Res New Two Family, $390,540

Trent Parks/Billings Best Builders LLC, 1657 Kanga Way, Res New Two Family $390,540

Trent Parks Billings Best Builders LLC, 1663 Kanga Way, Res New Two Family $390,540

Trent Parks/Billings Best Builders LLC, 1633 Kanga Way, Res New Two Family, $390,540

Trent Parks/Billings Best Builders LLC, 1627 Kanga Way, Res New Two Family, $390,540

KLJ Engineering LLC (KLJ) announced that Government Relations Specialist Becky Bey has completed all required coursework to become a Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) certified professional through the National Institute of Crime Prevention (NICP). She is one of only six professionals with this certification in the state of Montana. 

CPTED is a crime prevention strategy utilizing design elements in neighborhoods or public spaces to deter criminal activity and provide safer communities. With this designation, Bey can assist in urban and architectural designs for cities and assess existing areas such as schools, businesses, rest areas, parks, churches, and streetscapes to increase safety.

Design elements Bey may consider when assessing an urban area may include the placement of walkways, fences, lighting, entrance to buildings or natural landscape features.

The CPTED certification is a multi-disciplinary approach to crime prevention. Certified professionals use designs and the management of environments to reduce victimization, deter offender decisions that precede criminal acts, and build a sense of community among inhabitants. These strategies are utilized to gain territorial control of areas, reduce crime, and minimize fear.

Some of the funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) are being directed to strengthening Montana’s workforce and providing job training to Montanans.

Governor Greg Gianforte approved directing $6 million for job training programs, particularly to individuals with disabilities and those who have become unemployed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Helping Montanans acquire the in-demand skills needed to fill good-paying jobs is a top priority,” Gov. Gianforte said. “These investments will help more Montana workers access skills training programs, helping them enter or reenter the workforce or boost their careers to the next level while alleviating our workforce shortage in critical industries.”

Two million dollars of ARPA will be directed to fund the Individuals with Disabilities Employment Engagement Program, which augments the Department of Public Health and Human Services’ (DPHHS) Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) services.

DPPHS VR provides services to individuals with disabilities to obtain, regain, maintain, and advance in employment. The funding approved will supplement existing VR staff by temporarily adding 10 additional full-time rehabilitation counselors, opening the door to approximately 1,000 additional individuals with disabilities to participate in the program. Approximately 1,300 individuals are on the program’s waitlist.

“This funding is going to have a tremendous impact on the people our agency serves,” DPHHS Director Adam Meier said. “The opportunity to add additional rehabilitation counselors will allow us to work with our clients who are currently on the waiting list. These individuals are ready and willing to work, and just need the opportunity. We’re excited to increase these efforts across the state to connect our clients with training, assisted technology and other tools that will help set them up to successfully enter the work force.”

The governor also approved an additional $4 million in ARPA funds for the Department of Labor & Industry (DLI) to provide “rapid retraining” services and enroll Montanans in workforce training programs.

The funds will allow the department to utilize an existing state network of contracted workforce program providers to provide critical training, primarily for those who lost their jobs during the pandemic and need new skills to reenter the workforce. The funds will be used to conduct and support short-term skills training for Montanans including displaced workers such as those in Colstrip or St. Regis.

“This funding will enable the department to strengthen our already-robust network of workforce service providers and help more Montanans benefit from the training programs they provide. The end result will be more Montana workers with the skills they need to succeed,” DLI Commissioner Laurie Esau said.

The governor accepted the $6 million funding recommendations from the ARPA Economic Transformation and Stabilization and Workforce Development Programs and Advisory Commission. ARPA advisory commissions comprise state legislators, agency leaders, and administration officials. More information about the advisory commissions may be found at arpa.mt.gov.

The Idaho Conservation League and the Endangered Species Coalition have asked federal officials to do a status review that could lead to relisting wolves under the Endangered Species Act in Montana and Idaho. Both states’ management of wolves has been under federal oversight for five years after wolves were delisted a decade ago. The groups claim that oversight needs to be reinstated because the previous five-year monitoring period has been demonstrated to be inadequate. The groups said the changes in wolf hunting laws pose such a serious threat to wolf populations that they trigger a status review requirement as outlined in a 2009 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Dorio’s, an Italian restaurant, has opened on California Avenue in Libby. They are currently serving lunch with plans to begin dinner service soon. Phone is 406-200-3193

Montana’s state parks have recorded more than 1.57 million visitors thru June 2021. This is an  11% increase over the same period last year and a 44% increase over the same period in 2019, according to the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Twenty-seven of the 45 state parks that were open from the start of January through the end of June reported increases in visitation over the same period in 2020. More than half of all visitations occurred in Region 1, headquartered in Kalispell, and Region 4, headquartered in Great Falls.

U.S. Minerals, Inc., admitted recently to violating the Clean Air Act, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. U.S. Minerals has agreed to settle a related civil case regarding violations brought by the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). U.S. Minerals pleaded guilty to one count of negligent endangerment, a misdemeanor, under the Clean Air Act. Under the terms of a plea agreement in the criminal case, the government and U.S. Minerals will recommend to the Court that the company be placed on probation for five years and pay a $393,200 fine.

 According to data from the 2020 Census, Montana is changing demographically. Overall the state’s population grew about 10% with 38 counties showing some growth over the past decade. Gallatin County added the most new residents with 29,447 or 33%. Rosebud County lost the most residents with 904 fewer residents than in the 2010 Census. Percentage wise, Liberty County showed the steepest drop in population with a loss of 16% over 10 years. The percentage of white people dropped one percent to 91% of the state’s population. American Indian/Alaskan Native is the largest minority at 9%. The number of Hispanic residents grew by one percent moving up from 3% to 4%.

Sweet Retreat Creamery has opened in Columbia Falls at 734 Ninth St. W. Sweet Retreat is open from noon to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.

Starbucks coffee shop has opened at the Glacier Basecamp Lodge in Columbia Falls. The new Starbucks will be in the front of the lodge close to the intersection of U.S. 2 and Montana 206. The lodge is a 7-acre property with lodging options there include kitchenettes, family suites and recreational vehicle sites.

At the end of 2020, the average home sale was $352,234 in the Helena market. There were 1,050 homes sold in 2020 with the average days on market being 10. In July of 2019, there were 204 homes for sale in the Helena market – in July of 2021, there were 67 homes for sale.

Aug. 16, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks announced new fishing closures along the Big Hole River in the areas between Dickie Bridge and North Fork. These closures, related to the low volume of waterflow, will remain in effect until Oct. 31, or until FWP says otherwise

The Montana Community Foundation (MCF) announced the addition of two key staff members located in Billings and Havre. Heather Ohs and Jim Bennett join MCF as Philanthropy Officers. They will work with donors and professional advisors to achieve their charitable goals through estate giving and planned giving. Ohs lives in Billings and has more than 20 years of experience in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. Bennett lives in Havre and has extensive knowledge of relationship management, fund development, and donor stewardship. Jim was most recently the Relationship Manager at Northwest Farm Credit Services.

Volunteers of America Northern Rockies (VOA) and Peak Wellness Center (PWC) have officially joined forces through a merger. The combined organization served more than 15,000 individuals across Wyoming, Montana and Western South Dakota last year.  On September 8, from 12- 1:30 pm Volunteers of America will host a luncheon to celebrate the merger. The Honorable Mark Gordon, Governor of Wyoming, will deliver the keynote address and other speakers will include Jeff Holsinger, CEO of Volunteers of America Northern Rockies and Mike King, National CEO of Volunteers of America Inc.  

On average, single family homes in Gallatin County sold in less than a month during July. Last month also marked the fifth consecutive month in which sellers received more than 100% of their list price in both the single family and condo/townhome markets. The number of new listings decreased 6.4% in July compared to last year, from 219 to 205. Pending sales decreased 27.2%, from 243 to 177. The number of closed sales decreased 37.7%, from 231 to 144. The average days on market decreased 46.8%, from 47 to 25. The median sales price increased 42.1%, from $489,000 to $695,000. Sellers received 100.9% of their list price, up from 99.2% last July. The inventory of available homes decreased 28.6%, from 318 to 227, while the months’ supply of inventory dropped 30.4%, from 2.3 to 1.6.  

Montana Public Radio has been awarded a $300,000 grant from the Otto Bremer Trust to expand news coverage across western and central Montana over the next two years. MTPR will soon add news reporters in Butte and Great Falls.

The USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) announced the appointment of Ryan Lankford to serve on the FSA state committee in Montana which oversees the delivery of FSA federal farm programs to the state’s agricultural producers. Members of the FSA state committee are appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture and are responsible for the oversight of farm programs and county committee operations. Lankford, of Chinook, produces conventional and certified organic small grain, pulse and seed crops. 

Northern Ag Network reports: The Rosebud County Cattlewomen have established an account for cash donations to be given to ranchers affected by the Richard Spring, Rough Draw and Slough Grass fires. In one of the worst fire years on record for Montana, over 2,000 fires have burned more than half a million acres and continue to burn. The Richard Spring fire in Rosebud County has burned 170,000 acres as of this writing).

American Prairie, an organization that is acquiring and collaboratively-managing prairie lands in Montana to establish an ecosystem for wildlife, has increased its enrollment of thousands of acres in the in the Block Management hunter access program managed by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. The organization claims that the move boosts property open to hunters.20 people have drawn a bison permits for a bison hunt and 18 drew permits or elk on the Blue Ridge property. Landowners enrolling in the Block Management program receive limited liability protection, livestock loss reimbursement, and compensation (up to $25,000) to offset potential public hunting impacts.

 Big Sky Care Connect (BSCC), a health information exchange (HIE), is partnering with Health Catalyst Inc. (HCAT), a provider of data and analytics technology and services to healthcare organizations, to provide clinicians throughout Montana access to Health Catalyst’s technology and services to advance data-informed healthcare improvement throughout the state. Before the go-live launch of BSCC in 2020, Montana was just one of two states in the U.S. without a state-designated HIE, a system for improving patient health through sophisticated information technology. BSCC feeds data from healthcare providers across the state into a centralized digital network which serves as a real-time information portal for participating providers, patients and payors in Montana. Healthcare organizations of all types throughout Montana can participate in the network.

US consumer confidence has plunged to its lowest point in over a decade according to the University of Michigan confidence survey. Americans are worried about personal finances, unemployment and inflation.

The decline is attributed to a combination of things including the resurgence of the virus but most especially rising inflation rates. The spike in prices for consumers in July were 5.4 percent higher than in June and the highest 12-month spike since 2008. But rising costs for producers are even more dramatic.  The inflation rate increase of production costs is the biggest on record, at 7.8 percent, year over year.

The survey released on August 13 showed that the consumer index was down from July’s reading of 81.2 to 70.2, a level not seen since 2011. The 13 percent slide was one of the sharpest in the past 50 years, exceeded only by an 18.1 percent drop in 2008 and a 19.4 percent fall in April 2020, when economic constraints imposed because of the virus threw the economy into a tailspin.

The decline in confidence was broad and impacted almost every aspect of the population (age, income, education) and in all regions, according to survey director, Richard Curtin.

A concern of economists is that the consumers’ lack of confidence could mean a drop in how much they spend. Consumer spending is considered by some as a major driver of the economy.

Policies that are flooding the economy with extra cash is in large part the reason for inflation and it has thwarted what had been an unprecedented economic recovery, erasing increased benefits and wages for workers. Inflation is putting pressure on the federal government but the response has been to increase the flood of easy money, with the belief of officials that “the current bout of inflation is transitory” and will improve once the labor market has recovered and become more solid.

As many people have moved into Montana from other parts of the country, and also, given the ease of banking on-line, JPMorgan Chase already has an established client base in Montana with whom they want to maintain close ties. To do that the bank has opened their first branch in Montana in Billings Heights at 904 Main Street, Ste. 5.

The plan is to open four branches in the state, according to Claudius Duncan, Chase’s Market Director of Banking for the region. Their second location will also be in Billings and is already under construction near Rimrock Mall. It is projected to open near the end of September.

A third location will be in Helena at North Montana and East Custer, to open in early November.

A fourth branch is planned for Bozeman, upon which construction will begin soon with the goal of opening in the spring.

“We look forward to establishing our roots in Montana, where we’ve been serving credit card and corporate customers for more than a decade,” said Duncan. Montana has seen tremendous growth from employment to housing,” noted Duncan.

The Heights employs 10 employees, of which two are former Montanans who are returning to home ground. Duncan said that there are several employees who will be transferred to Montana to the new locations who are pleased about being able to return to their roots, but most of their employees will be hired locally. Duncan, in fact, emphasized the opportunity they offer for meaningful careers, noting that entry level positions begin at $18 an hour, which include bankers, branch managers, business bankers and financial advisors

Sean Paulauskis will be branch manager in the Heights. “We’re so proud to be able to open our branch doors here and meet the people of Billings,” said Paulauskis. “This expansion is about new relationships, new financial journeys, and better access to our products, services and people in the community, which is going through an important revitalization.” 

The new 3,289 square foot branch in the Heights will provide a full range of services, including checking and savings accounts, business banking, mortgages, investment products and advisors. This expansion adds to the firm’s current base of more than 164,000 consumers and nearly 10,000 business clients in the state of Montana. The bank has been doing business in the state for years serving clients through its auto, credit card and mortgage business.

“When we come to a market, we bring the full force of JPMorgan Chase, our first-class customer service and our commitment to community,” said Duncan.

The Billings branch features innovative technology and a state-of-the-art layout to serve individuals and businesses, creating an inviting environment that will provide a seamless customer experience.

Self-service transaction areas are available including a digital access bar and one interior ATM, one drive-through ATM and one in the exterior of the branch, accessible by debit card afterhours. The branch also features Chase Private Client offices, teller services, a night depository, and free Wi-Fi.

The branch will be open 9-5 Monday through Friday and 9-2 on Saturdays. An ATM in the vestibule and a drive-up ATM will be available 24 hours a day. The branch phone number is 406.371.2613.

In addition to the walk-up options, customers can enroll in online banking at Chase.com, and download the award-winning Chase mobile app to enjoy the anytime/anywhere convenience of digital banking.

By Michael Vondra

Bitcoin: Investing or speculating?

Many people have decided that bitcoin is the next big thing – and they are backing up their enthusiasm with dollars. Should you, too, consider putting money into bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies?

First of all, keep in mind an essential piece of financial advice: Don’t invest in something you don’t understand. And bitcoin is not easily understandable. There’s no physical bitcoin, nor is it backed by a bank or government. It’s a digital currency, used for transactions on a decentralized network of computers. The market’s demand for bitcoin largely determines its price, though other factors are also involved.

And this price can vary widely. Since bitcoin was introduced in 2009, it has gone through periods of enormous gains and precipitous declines. Its short history has reminded market watchers of the bursting of the “dot.com” bubble in 2000 and the housing market bubble in 2007. These results have raised the following question about purchasing bitcoin: Is it investing or speculating?

There’s a big difference between the two. Speculators engage in risky transactions with the hope of profiting from short-term price fluctuations in various financial vehicles. Investors, on the other hand, stick with these practices:

• They follow a long-term strategy. Real investors follow a long-term strategy based on their goals, risk tolerance and time horizon. Generally speaking, long-term investors don’t do a lot of buying and selling, saving on fees and potential taxes. But this “buy and hold” approach doesn’t mean investors put their portfolios on autopilot. Instead, they review their portfolios at least once a year to make sure their investment mix is still appropriate for their needs.

• They focus on quality. Long-term investors stay away from the flashier – and riskier – financial instruments. Instead, these investors seek quality. When they’re considering stocks, for example, they look for companies with solid fundamentals, including strong management teams, competitive products and services and business plans that bode well for the future. When they buy bonds, they seek those with high credit ratings issued by the independent rating agencies. Focusing on quality doesn’t yield quick results, but it can instill confidence in one’s investment choices.

• They diversify their holdings. If a downturn in the financial markets affects one type of asset particularly hard, and your portfolio contains a high concentration of that asset, your financial strategy could be jeopardized. Long-term investors reduce this risk by owning a variety of investments. While diversification can’t guarantee profits or protect against all losses, it can help reduce the impact of market volatility on your portfolio.

And here’s one more difference between investors and speculators: track record. Investors put their money into companies that provide tangible goods and services, and these companies have historically grown with the overall economy. Stocks and bonds are established investment vehicles with well-defined and regulated markets. Consequently, investors can assume a certain degree of predictability, though, of course, stock prices will always fluctuate in the short term and there are no guarantees against loss of principal. Cryptocurrencies, on the other hand, are relatively new, largely unpredictable and will likely face increased regulation in the future, with the ultimate risk being an outright ban by some governments.

You work hard for your money – so think carefully about how you can best put it to use to help you reach your lifetime goals.

Michael A Vondra

Certified Financial Planner Practitioner

Edward Jones