Ostensibly, to help prevent financial crimes the US Department of the Treasury is demanding more information from thousands of businesses in the US.

As of January 1, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) is requiring more information about companies considered to be reporting companies or limited liability companies (LLCs), corporations, and businesses established through filings with the Secretary of State.   

Called the Corporate transparency Act (CTA) the new regulation claims the intention is to stop tax fraud, money laundering, and financing for terrorism by capturing more ownership information from US businesses and companies that operate in the US. Details that must be reported are business information, legal name, trademarks, and beneficial owner information.

Almost any kind of LLC will have to report, including farms and ranches organized as LLCs.

Existing companies have one year to file the report with FinCEN, and new companies are required to file within 90 days of creation or registration.  FinCEN has made a Small Entity Compliance Guide available to help small business navigate the reporting requirements. 

The IRS announced this fall that it is “staffing up” its enforcement operations. They are fast-tracking the hiring of more than 3,700 internal revenue agents across the country. It is the IRS’s second major hiring initiative under the Inflation Reduction Act, which gave the agency roughly $60 billion to rebuild its workforce and modernize over the next ten years.

This “staffing up” is a second one by the IRS, which launched one in early 2023, under authorization of the Inflation Reduction Act which approved the hiring of 80,000 IRS employees, and included funding to arm agents for the first time. About $45.6 billion of the $60 billion was earmarked for “enforcement.”

The IRS claims that the hiring will only replace some 52,000 employees expected to retire in the coming decade and will leave the agency with about the same number of employees (94,000) it had in 2010.

TDS Telecommunications LLC (TDS) has now launched broadband internet service in each Montana community where the company is building an all-fiber, high-speed internet network.

TDS has projects under construction in Billings, Butte, Great Falls, Helena, Helana Valley, and Missoula. Built in phases, customers can access TDS services as work is completed in their neighborhood.

The company recently celebrated the launch of service in Great Falls and has begun offering connections for residents in initial build areas in Butte and Missoula. TDS launched service in Billings, Helena, and Helana Valley earlier this year.

“We’re excited to mark another milestone in our efforts to bring Big Sky Country some of the fastest internet speeds in the country. As we enter 2024, we continue working to connect more Montana residents and businesses to high-quality services and gear up to serve our communities for years to come,” TDS Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs Drew Petersen said.

TDS, operating as TDS Metrocom LLC, is a family-owned company founded in 1969. The Montana network features a robust connection with speeds up to 8 Gig, which allows customers to download and upload files—regardless of size—nearly instantly.

In addition, TDS service includes a digital TV product (TDS TV+) and a variety of phone options. For businesses, the company offers dedicated connections up to 10 Gig.

The push is on in Montana for four –day school weeks as Montana schools struggle to find staff amid a teacher shortage in the state. School Districts are finding that four-day weeks relieve the stress on over-burdened teachers who are employed, reduces absents, and the need for emergency authorizations. Last year 222 Montana Schools went to a four-day week, about a fourth of the state’s schools. The length of each school day is extended to meet state requirements. Part of Montana’s teacher shortage is attributed to the wages paid to teachers.

The National Education Association rans Montana last in the country when it comes to average starting teaching salaries. The average teacher salaries are also near the bottom compared to what’s paid nationally. With four day weeks having been first adopted by some schools since 2017, data is available to gauge impacts.

Math and reading proficiency has been seen to decline, but graduation rates have increased.  Costs for schools have declined, but short weeks have pose problems for parents in finding care for children or transportation to take advantage of other services provided through the schools, such as free lunch programs.

Alex Schimke recently joined Stockman Bank as Ag Loan Officer for the Stockman Bank King Avenue location. His responsibilities include developing and servicing agricultural loans and assisting customers with their lending and credit needs.

Schimke brings an extensive background in agriculture and business, which will be an asset to Stockman Bank and the Billings community.

He has been active in the community, having served as a Board member for several organizations, and is currently Co-Chair of the Billings Chamber of Commerce Agriculture Committee.

Schimke is located at 2700 King Avenue in Billings.


Todd O’Hair, President/CEO

Montana Chamber of Commerce

Advancement in technology is rapidly changing the world we live in, the careers we pursue, and undoubtedly affecting nearly every aspect of our lives. Traditional “big iron” companies like John Deere and GM have become “technology companies”.

Electric vehicles, medical devices, military innovation, energy production and storage, are a small sampling of how technology is inextricably woven into our lives. This is the new frontier, with businesses and our nation investing massive sums in advancing technology to reclaim global leadership, improve national competitiveness, and secure our supply chains. There is a direct link to the role of Critical Materials and Minerals and improvements in our lives.

Unlocking our economic potential and protecting our freedoms hinges on our ability to domestically produce more of the metals and materials that are necessary, including copper, platinum, palladium, zinc, and rare earth elements (REEs) like neodymium and praseodymium. These natural resources – the majority of which are abundant in Montana — are vital to technological advancements and our transition to cleaner energy production and delivery.

A full-scale, global transition will require massive leaps in improved technology production. It is impossible without a corresponding investment and extraction of minerals including copper and rare earth minerals. For example, a wind turbine has 4 tons of copper in every turbine. Additionally, on the security front, guided missile systems, submarine sonar and F35 fighter jets require shockingly large quantities of REEs. In fact, the F35 fighter jet requires more than 920 pounds of REEs alone.

The global race to secure these minerals and develop the processes to extract and refine them is on. And the United States is woefully behind and terribly exposed. With 85 percent of processing and 92 percent of magnet production, China dominates the supply chains that transform ore into sensors and powerful magnets, necessary in renewable energy production. According to the Copper Development Association Inc, China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea, now account for approximately half of all non-U.S. global refined copper production. Limited smelter capacity in North America requires sending raw materials into the market and then barging refined products back across the oceans – not good for stabilizing our supply chain or the environment. It’s a fact: we simply do things cleaner in America, and Montana has some of the most stringent environmental standards for mining anywhere on Earth.

Sandfire’s Black Butte Copper near White Sulphur Springs is permitted and is now weaving through the legal juggernaut. Montana Resources in Butte continues to be a significant supplier of copper and molybdenum and has the potential to provide REEs from the Berkeley Pit. The Sheep Creek exploration is examining rare earth elements in the Bitterroot and Sibyane-Stillwater is a leader in the production and processing of palladium and platinum.

The U.S. Federal Government is also recognizing the importance of Montana’s natural resources to our national competitiveness and securing our critical minerals supply chain. Many of the technological advancements needed rely upon smart photonic sensors, where we are global leaders. The U.S. Economic Development Agency validated this with Montana’s recent designation as a regional technology hub under the CHIPs and Science Act.

The indisputable facts are that the supply and demand for critical minerals such as copper and rare earth elements make the Treasure State vital for our country’s energy transition, economic future, and national security. Montana’s past and current copper resources are well known. Our rare earth elements are less known, but worth exploring. Montana is positioned to meet this challenge. As Montanans we should be supportive of our successes and open-minded to the opportunities.

* In 2021, Montana passed Senate Bill 399 which made several changes to the state’s tax code effective in 2024. The law consolidated the state’s seven tax brackets for individual income into two and reduced the top marginal rate from 6.75 percent to 6.5 percent. In 2023, the legislature further reduced this rate to 5.9 percent. Additionally, individual taxpayers will be required to use the same filing status on both federal and state returns.

* Montana will also begin taxing capital gains income at lower rates than ordinary income. Capital gains will now be taxed at rates of either 3 percent or 4.1 percent.

Montana manufacturing continues to be one-fifth of the state’s total economic base, according to a new report released by the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center at Montana State University.

The 2023 Montana Manufacturing Report provides a wide variety of data about manufacturing, shows the results of surveys given to manufacturers and displays how MMEC’s services provided help the industry. The Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana conducts the annual economic analysis and develops the report. This report marks the 27th year of collaboration between MMEC and BBER.

The report covers the year 2022. According to the report:

* Manufacturing makes up 21% of Montana’s economic base.

* Careers in manufacturing pay about $57,180 in earnings, which is above the state average.

* Over 4,400 manufacturing firms are in operation in Montana, including sole proprietors

* Manufacturing employs more than 22,500 employees

*Manufacturing accounted for 5.5% of total state earnings at $1.95 billion.

* Manufacturing made up 6.6% of the gross state product at $3.3 billion.

* Employs 4.4% of Montana’s nonfarm workforce, with about 22,700 employees.

* Produced 6.6% of Montana’s inflation adjusted output with a value of $3.3 billion;

* Montana manufacturing employment and output growth was a little under double the national average in 2022.

“This year’s report confirms that manufacturing is a robust sector within the Montana economy,” said MMEC Director Paddy Fleming. “We continue to see strong increases in employment and earnings for Montana workers. Moreover, manufacturers are optimistic about starting new businesses here, with the total number of manufacturing firms growing to more than 4,400. In particular, there is large growth among companies that produce food and beverages, transportation equipment and advanced technologies such as photonics.”

The report states, “Montana’s manufacturers face different challenges than the nation as a whole because the composition of manufacturing production is different and is primarily concentrated in non-durable production – the Bureau of Economic Analysis defines nondurable goods as goods that have an average life of less than three years. The two largest manufacturing sectors in Montana, petroleum and coal, and wood product manufacturing, are not among the seven largest sectors nationally, demonstrating how the Montana manufacturing sector differs substantially from the experience of the country.”

In the aftermath of the 2020 COVID-19 recession, Montana manufacturing employment, particularly durable manufacturing, bounced back relatively quickly from the deep economic drop in the second quarter of 2020. Last year, we predicted that durable manufacturing would be higher than pre-COVID levels within a year or so. Employment in this sector returned to pre-pandemic levels in 2021.

Montana manufacturers are active in global markets as well. The three largest export sectors for Montana in 2022 were: chemicals, machinery and transportation equipment. Food, beverages and tobacco fell out of second place during the pandemic. By far the largest export market is Canada, accounting for almost 30% of Montana’s manufactured exports. In 2022, the remaining large export markets were: China (2), South Korea (3), Mexico (4), and  Belgium (5).

Manufacturing in Montana remains predominantly driven by small businesses. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Montana houses 1,415 manufacturing firms with employees, and a significant 68% of Montana manufacturers employ less than ten individuals. There are no manufacturers with 300 or more workers in the state.

In 2022, about 48% of manufacturers saw increased sales and production, though profits declined, with 33% of durable and 42% of nondurable manufacturers reporting lower profits than a year ago.

A year ago, 55% of nondurable manufacturers increased their capital expenditures. In contrast, in 2022, this proportion decreased to 42%. Durable manufacturing, on the other hand, saw no significant decrease in capital investment.

Two-thirds of firms had a stable workforce size compared to 2021. Less than half, particularly 49% of nondurable firms, reported worker shortages in 2022.

A growing number of Montana-based manufacturers are adopting a more optimistic outlook despite facing challenging economic conditions. Specifically, 32% expect improvements in their supply chains in 2023, which is a notable increase from the 8% who ssexpressed the same sentiment last year.

By Diana Setterberg, MSU News Service

Microbes and bacteria and biofilms – oh my! Though most of us go about our daily business without thinking much of the invisible lifeforms that exist all around us, Montana State University assistant professor Chelsea Heveran is looking for ways to use them to meet sustainability challenges in the building industry.

The journal Matter recently published a paper by Heveran, who teaches in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering in MSU’s Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering. She is the lead author of “Make engineered living materials carry their weight,” which she calls a “perspective piece” exploring the concept of incorporating engineered living materials, or ELMs, into building materials to significantly reduce carbon emissions and environmental costs during manufacture of things like concrete and cement.

The multi-disciplinary team has been awarded a $3 million Future Research Manufacturing Research grant from the National Science Foundation

“We want to use the functionalities of living cells to help make building materials more sustainable,” Heveran said. The article states that manufacturing the materials used in structures accounts for more than 25% of global carbon emissions, and that one way to reduce the impact is to replace some of their traditional components with materials made by, or including, microbes. Already, one Colorado company is manufacturing light-duty cinder blocks with a mineral formed from photosynthetic algae through a method requiring far less carbon than traditional processes, Heveran said.

So far, though, engineers have not figured out how to keep cells alive for the long term in structures capable of bearing heavy loads. Heveran’s paper suggests that engineers could learn much by studying how living bone functions.

“Bones, which both maintain living cells for decades and support structural loads, often provide mechanical function for an entire lifetime without undergoing mechanical failure. Such a long service life is almost unheard of in engineered devices such as vehicles and machines,” Heveran said. “Bone is able to maintain excellent material properties for much longer than most engineering materials because of the coordinated repair and replacement activities performed by resident bone cells.”

Could engineers design ELMs to function similarly?

“We could get closer to meeting the sustainability potential of engineered living building materials if we can surmount the twin challenges of keeping cells alive longer and generating materials to be stronger,” Heveran said. “Right now, the stiffest engineered living materials that we have can only be used for relatively low-load applications.”

Heveran says that cells used in bone-inspired engineered living materials do not need to be bone cells – common soil microbes that are associated with biomineral production in nature, such as calcite and vaterite, could perform the desirable functions in engineered living materials. Instead, bone can serve as an inspiration for how vascular-like networks can help keep cells alive in rigid materials for a long time so that they can perform desirable functions, like sensing and repairing cracks.

Jann Parker of Billings Livestock Commission Horse Sales has been selected as the Billings Chamber of Commerce’s 2023 recipient of the Award for Agriculture Excellence.

Parker is a champion for agriculture and Billings — billing it as the first-choice destination in the nation for purchasing a horse, whether for roping, riding, ranching or recreating. She is the epitome of the award which is presented by Stockman Bank. The award recognizes an individual, business or organization that has made outstanding contributions to the Billings agricultural community with a nod to their demonstrated excellence in their involvement in agriculture, leadership ability, and participation in civic, service and community organizations.

The recipient is nominated by their peers and selected by the Billings Chamber Ag Committee and Board of Directors. “Jann and her late husband, Bill Parker, started BLS Horse Sale in 1998 and to date have held over 280 sales with over 180,000 horses sold to customers in the U.S. and in Canada,” shares her nominator. “Billings is the longest standing monthly horse sale in the nation and Jann is a big proponent of the western and cowboy lifestyle, and Billings in general with a far-reaching name and reputation.”

Parker has continued the legacy of being a premier horse sale, instilling confidence in consignors to get top dollar for their horses and providing the right horses to a variety of customers, the majority of whom attend the sales from outside Yellowstone County, which serves as an economic driver for the local economy.

Her continued industry success can be attributed to fostering relationships, coupled with her keen marketing skills and staying on the cutting edge of technology. This motivated and outgoing ag industry advocate gives back through mentorship, supporting area youth rodeos, 4-H programs, and partnerships with those looking to get started in the horse business.

Parker will be honored during the 2024 Billings Chamber Ag Celebration Banquet on January 26, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the MetraPark Pavilion. Tickets for this event can be purchased at BillingsChamber.com.

Epoch Times reports that increasingly – as public schools continue to lose enrollment to homeschools —homeschooling is coming under attack by government.

A recent case of alleged child abuse has prompted the State of Michigan to call for more regulation of homeschools. A Democrat legislator in Michigan said that not being regulated by government, “abusive parents are taking advantage of that to avoid being found out.  . . Michigan cannot allow this loophole to continue.”

Given government schools’ loss of enrollment, it was only a matter of time before coercive policies were to be proposed.

Homeschooling parents claim a single case of abuse shouldn’t diminish parents’ freedom to educate their children in the way they deem most appropriate. Jen Garrison Stuber, Advocacy Chair for the Washington Homeschool Organization was quoted, “”The allegations in this matter are heinous and egregious.” She said that homeschooling parents are increasingly under attack by authorities, often aligned with the public education system, who often use a broad brush in an attempt to smear an entire group.

“No one would argue that abuse isn’t terrible, but we should acknowledge that abused kids also go to public school and, sometimes, even at public schools teachers don’t notice,” said Stuber. “This discussion shouldn’t be about homeschooling—but about child abuse.”

The Michigan case of abuse involved  two families who the state allowed to take on the care of 30 foster children, who they were homeschooling. The state’s decision to allow the families so many foster children is what should be questioned, claim the homeschool advocates.

Homeschooling increased across the nation 11.1 percent in 2020 and government school enrollment fell 3 percent between 2019 and 2020.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, as schools re-opened post-pandemic, public school enrollment did not rebound but remained flat in the 2021-2022 school year. The trend has continued causing some schools to cut staff.

A 2023 study by Thomas S. Dee of Stanford showed that the switch to homeschooling accounted for 26 percent of the 1.2 million decline in student enrollment at public schools nationwide for the 2021-2022 school year.

Florida saw an increase of 37,000 students in the 2021–22 school year, larger than the previous 10 years of growth combined. Data from the Texas Education Agency showed 29,765 students withdrew from public or private schools in the 2021–22 school year and switched to homeschooling.

Epoch Times stated, “Parents’ perceptions of public schools changed dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to school closures, health officials forcing children to wear masks, and parents discovering agenda-driven curricula not aligned with their values have all been reasons cited for the downturn.”

Stuber stated, “If the public schools want to retain students, they should focus less on smearing homeschooling parents and focus more on reforms that would make their schools more attractive options to parents.”