Altanta FCU has been named Employer of the Year and Devon Davidson of MARS of Billings has been named Business Person of the Year by the Billings Chamber of Commerce.

Other award winners are Virginia Mermel, Ph.D., CNS, of Backpack Meals and Teen Pantries recognized for Customer Service Excellence and Jaidyn Simmons, Treasure Realty Group has been recognized as NextGEN Exceptional Emerging Leader. Billings Clinic is the recipient of the “Inclusion Award.”

 The award recipients were nominated by the public as outstanding businesses and professionals, and the winners were selected by a volunteer scoring committee.

 Earlier this year, the Chamber honored Kris Carpenter as the Legacy Award honoree and Bill Dutcher was recognized for Agricultural Excellence.

Award recipients will be honored during the 2022 Billings Chamber Breakfast event at MetraPark featuring Tony Hawk and presented by KULR8 and Billings Clinic on April 7. The event will be held from 7 – 9 a.m. with doors opening at 6 a.m.

Altana Federal Credit Union has served Montana for over 70 years with innovation, integrity, and an unwavering commitment to redefining what others say banking should look like. It started with nine refinery workers pooling $5 each to create a lending channel not otherwise afforded to them through traditional banking. Today, Altana’s 90 employees serve community members across seven Montana counties. Altana team members continue to uphold the promise of those nine founders by creating financial opportunities for all. 

Jaidyn Simmons of Treasure Realty Group is a Montana native, growing up in Laurel. She attended Montana State University Bozeman where she earned a bachelor’s in business finance. Jaidyn embarked on her real estate career in college, knowing that she wanted to be an entrepreneur. After a successful few years, Jaidyn launched her own real estate brokerage, Treasure Realty Group, thinking she could grow her business while also sharing her success with other agents and fill a passion for teaching others. Today Jaidyn has eight agents as part of the brokerage. With her continuing drive to grow, Jaidyn and her husband, Robert, purchased Rimrock Property Management to add to their services. With Robert as the contractor and Jaidyn as a realtor, they offer great expertise and tools to the property management business. They have five employees at Rimrock who help them manage approximately 350 rental units.

Virginia Lee Mermel, Ph.D., CNS of Backpack Meals and Teen Pantries holds both an MS and PhD in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from the University of California, Davis, and is a board certified Human Nutrition Specialist (CNS).  Ginny spent the majority of her career working in health risk management. She has taught college nutrition courses and written college nutrition and wellness textbooks.  For the past 16 years she has focused on school nutrition. During this time, she chaired the School Health Advisory Committee for Billings Public Schools (BPS) for 4 years and worked part-time as a School Wellness Consultant for Montana Team Nutrition, a division of USDA for 6 years, in addition to her volunteer work to reduce food insecurity.

Ginny grew up in a food insecure home.  Since learning that 35%-40% of students in BPS have the same experience, she has volunteered several days each week addressing food insecurity issues in Yellowstone County and throughout Montana.  She believes, “Every child should be fed, fit and ready to learn so that they grow to be self-sufficient adults ready to earn.” 

To help this happen, Ginny started the BackPack Meals and Teen Pantry Programs for BPS in 2009 and 2011 respectively, with support from key members of the School Health Advisory Council and VISTA, Kendell Coombs and seed grants from Montana Food Bank Network.  In the ensuing years, Ginny has helped other communities across Montana and the Intermountain west do the same.  She has consulted with MSU Billings and other Montana colleges on the development of student staff pantries.

Ginny serves on the steering committee for the statewide nonprofit Montana Partnership to End Childhood Hunger and has served as the nutrition lead for both the Best Beginnings of Yellowstone County and Healthy By Design of Yellowstone County committees.  She is on the Family Promise of Yellowstone County Board. This organization provides emergency shelter and complex case management to some of the homeless families receiving out-of-school time meal support.

Ginny’s husband Gary Mermel, MD, a retired anesthesiologist, is her chief supporter philosophically and financially.  Together, they decided her volunteerism was an important service to the community and adjusted their lifestyle to accommodate it.  Since the onset of Covid, Gary has been her only warehouse volunteer.  He has happily done the heavy lifting required to send weekend meals to over 250 elementary school students, as well as several hundred tweens and teens that use the middle and high school pantries each week.

Gary’s love of a good Cali-style burrito motivated him to return to his family’s food service roots and obtain the Qdoba Mexican Eats franchise for Billings in 2010.  The Mermels are now co-owners of three Qdoba franchises in Billings, Bozeman and Helena. 

They have two adult sons Matt and Kevin. 

Devon Davidson is originally from Froid, Montana. Devon is the owner of MARS of Billings. He is also the President of MARS Nation, the association of 19 individually owned MARS business across the United States. Devon has a bachelor’s of Business Administration from the University of North Dakota.

Devon’s professional goals include growing the business while offering the highest level of service to their customers. They strive to apply and install quality products from the best vendors in the industry, and want to help other MARS Nation affiliated grow their business as well. As for the team, they continue to cultivate a work culture and environment that is attractive and retains their great staff. The MARS of Billings mission says, “Fueled by our passion to help our customers enhance their vehicle, we go above and beyond to provide top-notch customer service, quality products, and expert craftsmanship.”

Devon is a highly motivated and driven individual. His leadership skills and business development background truly shape how he runs his business and empowers his team. His focus on relationships and his empathy for others helps to connect him with not only his staff members but also his customers. In 2019, Devon was named the Small Business Person of the Year for the state of Montana by the Small Business Administration.

Devon is married to his wife Kim Davidson of 25 years in June, and has two sets of twins: Bridger and Gentry who are 17 years old and Gavin and Paige at 15 years old.

Billings Job Service Employer’s Committee (JSEC) is offering Montana a chance for employers and seekers to shake hands and talk about career opportunities.

This event is held on March 16 at the MetraPark Pavilion in Billings, from 11:30 am to 6 pm with early entrance for Veteran’s, Guard, Reserve and their families starting at 11am.

There are thousands of employment opportunities in Montana and the Jobs Jamboree is the perfect hiring event. The Jobs Jamboree offers the chance to visit face to face with the employer and gain specifics on application processes, workplace cultures and employee benefits.  Interview over 100+ employers and discover their mission, professional growth opportunities, and their level of community involvement. Hiring opportunities represent nearly every industry across Montana to include entry-level, apprentice and internships to top career professionals.

The JSEC Jobs Jamboree has 29 years of connecting seekers with the right position and employer, for both current and future job openings!

* There is no cost for seekers to attend

* Whether you are currently employed or in transition, this is a perfect opportunity to find a career that fits your lifestyle and professional goals! 

* Discover your first job, next job, second job or part-time job

* Retirees, seasonal workers, high school/ college students, parents who want to get back in the workforce,.

* Come dressed to impress, ready to shake hands and wear a bright smile! Bring your resume or letter of interest.

* If you are an employer and did not get a chance to register this year, come down and see us.

* If you are a Veteran, in the Guard or Reserves or a family member of, the Mobile Vet bus will be onsite and available to visit with you.

* There are specialized presentations from area subject matter experts instructing on resume creation, interview techniques to include what to wear and social graces.

Call Billings Job Service for details 406-652-3080.

Together with the Department of Commerce, Governor Greg Gianforte announced the state has awarded $605,000 to Montana businesses and nonprofits for skills-based workforce training and apprenticeship programs. 

“When you couple the Montana work ethic with the tools folks need to thrive in the jobs of today and the future, the result is a highly qualified, highly skilled workforce that can only be found here in Montana,” Gov. Gianforte said. “With this investment, we’re ensuring more hardworking Montanans have the skills needed to thrive and succeed in good-paying Montana jobs.” 

In October, Gov. Gianforte announced the launch of the Workforce Training Grant Program (WTG) reimbursing businesses for costs associated with skill-based training for new and existing full-time workers. 

 Since the program’s launch, eligible businesses have been able to apply to the program and receive up to $3,000 per eligible employee, with a maximum allocation of $210,000. Each eligible employee must make a wage that meets or exceeds 170 percent of Montana’s current minimum wage, which today is $15.64 per hour. 

 “The growth of any business can only happen through trained and capable employees,” Montana Department of Commerce Director Scott Osterman said. “Workforce training grants are adaptable to evolving industry and market needs. The Montana Department of Commerce is excited to help businesses connect with grant dollars that will provide a real return on investment in terms of future growth and productivity.” 

 The first round of award recipients of the ARPA Workforce Training Grant Program are as follows: 

 Bozeman’s Acela, Inc. will receive $72,000 to train five new full-time and 19 existing full-time WTG-eligible jobs within one year. 

 Missoula’s Big Sky Life Support will receive $87,000 to train 25 new full-time and four existing full-time WTG-eligible jobs within one year. 

 Kalispell’s Code Girls United will receive $12,000 to train two new full-time and two existing full-time WTG-eligible jobs within one year. 

Bozeman’s Harvest Solar MT, LLC will receive $11,000 to train seven existing full-time WTG-eligible jobs within one year. 

Butte’s Montana Craft Malt Company will receive $36,000 to train 12 existing full-time WTG-eligible jobs within one year. 

Kalispell’s Tricon Commercial Construction, LLC will receive $117,000 to train 17 new full-time and 22 existing full-time WTG-eligible jobs within one year. 

Bozeman’s Williams Plumbing & Heating, Inc. will receive $210,000 to train 30 new full-time and 40 existing full-time WTG-eligible jobs within one year. 

The governor also announced the following ARPA Apprenticeship Training Grant Program recipient: 

 Helena’s Laborers AGC Apprenticeship, Training, and Work Preparedness Trust for Montana will receive $60,000 to provide construction-related apprenticeship training for 20 new positions and add more training staff.  

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

 The Workforce Training Grant Program and Apprenticeship Training Grant Program build upon Gov. Gianforte’s success in expanding workforce development, a central element of his Montana Comeback Plan. 

In April 2021, Gov. Gianforte signed into law the Montana Trades Education Credit, or M-TEC. M-TEC provides $1 million per year in 50-percent credits to businesses for their employees to learn a trade. M-TEC will support as many as 1,000 scholarships annually. Under the program, employers and employees can decide on training that is best for the business and the employee. Representative Llew Jones (R-Conrad) sponsored House Bill 252, which creates M-TEC. 

 Last week, the governor announced a $6 milliongrant to Accelerate Montana, a collaborative partnership led by the University of Montana to establish a series of rapid retraining and upskilling programs. The programs will train up to 5,000 Montanans in sectors such as construction, health care, manufacturing, and infrastructure.

Yellowstone County and Billings’ tax abatement programs encouraged $410.8 million of investment in the community in 2020, involving eleven different businesses, supporting $126.7 million in payrolls and granting $3.3 million in tax savings, reports Steve Simonson, Senior Project Manager for Big Sky Economic Development.

Those totals include abatements granted to Phillips 66 and CHS. Simonson pointed out that the refineries account for two-thirds of all manufacturing that happens in Yellowstone County. Deducting refinery abatements, the total capital invested by other businesses came to $34.3 million who have total payrolls of $26.6 million. Their total tax savings was $154,679.

Simonson highlighted one company’s abatement program that concluded in 2019. Motor Power Equipment invested $2,530,000 in their business increasing its market value from $1,900,000 to $5,400,400, creating an increase of $3,500,400 of new wealth in Yellowstone County. The company’s beginning general tax bill was $42,555 and ended $75,319, an increase in taxes for the county of $32,764.

Other companies with on-going tax abatement programs in the county, extending as far back as 2011, also include Aspen Air, Billings Flying Service, Home 2 Suites by Hilton, Subaru of Billings, Montana Peterbilt, Northwest Scientific and Summit Resource International. In total the companies made capital investments totaling $445 million from 2011 through 2018 and generated 95 jobs from 2019-20.

There are two versions of the abatement program which the Montana Legislature has allowed to cities and counties, both of which strongly focus on job creation.

A five year program reduces tax on remodeling, reconstruction, and/ or expansion of existing real property when the cost of improvements exceeds $500,000.Tax relief comes with only an incremental increase in taxable value on the new value generated by the improvements or additions. The Remodeling, Reconstruction or Expansion Tax Incentive Program allows a reduction of taxes by 100 percent for the first five years after completion of the project. After the fifth year, the property is returned to its full taxable value.

The ten year program, called the New & Expanding Industry Tax Incentive Program, allows tax reductions on the taxable value of the real property up to 50 percent in the first five years, but only for businesses that generate at least 50 percent of their revenues from out of state. The abatement decreases ten percent a year from year six to ten, to the full 100 percent of tax liability in year ten.

In 2017 the state legislature allowed governing bodies the discretion to choose an abatement of either 50 percent or 75 percent in years one to five, and then decrease it 15 percent a year in years six to ten.

Are you ready to accelerate your company’s journey towards Operational Excellence? Do you have high potential employees motivated to learn and prepare for Lean certification?

The Montana Manufacturing Extension Center has just added a new session of its Operational Excellence course, which has been updated to reflect the latest core material and test requirements for the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) Bronze Certificate.  The 6-week, in-person course will be offered at MMEC’s main offices in Bozeman, from March 28 to May 10.  It will combine interactive activities, real-world problem solving, and classroom instruction, offering participants solid preparation for certification testing as well as proven strategies that can be immediately applied at work. Participants will:

* Learn essential elements of Lean, Theory of Constraints, and Six Sigma

* Gain professional mentoring and earn professional credentials

* Become engaged leaders in improving company performance

As a manufacturer, your company can benefit from the return on investment from the projects implemented by employees trained in OpEx tools, and expand your efforts toward company-wide, transformational change. For details contact MMEC Business Advisor and OpEx Instructor Alistair Stewart at Alistair. stewart@

By Denis Pitman, Yellowstone County Commissioner

The question on many people’s minds, and an important topic for our community.  I would like to offer some answers, clarify what is going on, and hopefully put much of this into context. 

Within the past five years we have seen significant deterioration of the property and buildings at MetraPark.  Things were becoming dangerous, and the possibility of people getting hurt were increasing. 

We began by doing an assessment of the property and cost of saving barns and the grandstands.  It was determined that cost of just maintenance and stopping the hazards from getting worse were more of a liability than just removing them. That would lead to conversations about what should or could the entire 189 acres look like with this new foot print?  What did people want to use the property for within the next several generations? 

At the same time, the general manager would indicate that he was going to be retiring.

Then we were hit with a global pandemic that would change everything. While it has been claimed that things were done without transparency, that is not accurate, and in fact things have been delayed and extended to make sure that people were aware of what was being discussed throughout the process. With that, the Board of County Commissioners, the MetraPark Advisory board began a process of examining every aspect of how the property runs, and what the vision for the future might look like. 

We have been going out to the community, we have been sharing everything with the public.  We have been bringing the policies and procedures current and consistent with Montana law, and we have been exploring many different options and ideas.  One aspect of that conversation was what type of management did we want going forward?  It has been managed by a governing board, and recently by the Board of County Commissioners. 

MetraPark is an enterprise department of Yellowstone County, and so it has a separate mission than departments like Road and Bridge.  They have the potential to generate funds, and excel at providing services beyond just what is generated in taxes and fees.  What we are doing right now is simply exploring what all the options are, and who can best provide that professional and productive path forward. 

Everyone agrees that things must change, and as we move forward. Accountability and productivity as well as return on investment must be part of that discussion as well as legacy groups and their contributions to our community. 

All of the members of the board agreed that we must move forward in asking these questions, seeking answers, and keeping the best interests of the property owners, ie, the tax payers as a priority. 

That is the commitment we have made, and now, openly and transparently, we are asking a lot of questions, and seeking as much advice as possible.  From there, we will make decisions about the future of the entire campus, and then put before the voters a cost of construction if they want to invest in additional development of the property.  It is an exciting time for Yellowstone County, and the future of MetraPark.   Ask questions, listen to what we are learning, point out concerns, tell us what you like and don’t like, and stay active in the process. Together we will make this project a premier facility that will serve everyone for generations to come.

Denis Pitman

Yellowstone County Commissioner

Watch for changes in RMDs

By Michael Vondra

If you’re a certain age, you’ll need to withdraw money from some of your retirement accounts each year. But in 2022, the amount you must take out may be changing more than in other years – and that could affect your retirement income strategy.

      Here’s some background: Once you turn 72, you generally must start taking withdrawals, called required minimum distributions, or RMDs, from some of your retirement accounts, such as your traditional IRA and your 401(k) or similar employer-sponsored plan. Each year, your RMDs are determined by your age and account balances. This year, the life expectancy tables used by the IRSare being updated to reflect longer lifespans. This may result in lower annual RMDsthan you’d have to take if this adjustment hadn’t been made.

      If you’ve started taking RMDs, what does this change mean to you? It can be a positive development, for a few reasons:

      • Potentially lower taxes – Your RMDs are generally taxable at your personal income tax rate, so the lower your RMDs, the lower your tax bill might be.

      • Possibly longer “lifespan” for retirement accounts – Because your RMDs will be lower, the accounts from which they’re issued – including your traditional IRA and 401(k) – may be able to last longer without becoming depleted. The longer these accounts can stay intact and remain an asset, the better for you.

      • More flexibility in planning for retirement income – The word “required” in the phrase “required minimum distributions” means exactly what it sounds like – you must take at least that amount. If you withdraw less than your RMD, the amount not withdrawn will be taxed at 50%. So, in one sense, your RMDs take away some of your freedom in managing your retirement income. But now, with the lower RMDs in place, you may regain some of this flexibility. (And keep in mind that you’re always free to withdraw more than the RMDs.)

      Of course, if you don’t really need all the money from RMDs, even the lower amount may be an issue for you – as mentioned above, RMDs are generally taxable. However, if you’re 70½ or older, you can transfer up to $100,000 per year from a traditional IRA directly to a qualified charitable organization, and some, or perhaps all, of this money may come from your RMDs. By making this move, you can exclude the RMDs from your taxable income. Before taking this action, though, you’ll want to consult with your tax advisor.

Here are a couple of final points to keep in mind. First, not all your retirement accounts are subject to RMDs – you cangenerally keep your Roth IRA intact for as long as you want. However, your Roth 401(k) is generally subject to RMDs.If you’re still working past 72, though, you may be able to avoid taking RMDs from your current employer’s 401(k) or similar plan, though you’ll still have to take them from your traditional IRA.

Changes to the RMD rules don’t happen too often. By being aware of how these new, lower RMDs can benefit you, and becoming familiar with all aspects of RMDs, you may be able to strengthen your overall retirement income situation.

Michael A Vondra

Certified Financial Planner Practitioner

Edward Jones

Big Sky Economic Development’s (BSED) workforce development program, BillingsWorks will be implementing the Summer Jobs Program in Yellowstone County this upcoming summer. The Yellowstone County Summer Jobs Program matches participants with a job or paid internship, provides a paid foundational work skills training, and connects students with an adult mentor for the summer. SJP participants are high school students and recent graduates eager to develop their work skills and explore their career options. Participating area businesses (in all industries) and community organizations help strengthen the local economy by connecting youth to meaningful work experiences.

“We are excited to support our partners in Yellowstone County as they implement the Summer Jobs Program. We have seen success with this community-driven program in Helena, and we are eager to expand the program so more youth can access earn-and-learn opportunities,” Gabrielle Ekund Rowley, Executive Director of American Jobs for America’s Youth Montana.

Through the program, students gain skills, experience, and professional networks that prepare them for success in future endeavors. The work skills our students learn and practice serve them well both in and out of the workforce.

Bo Bruinsma, Career Outreach Director at School District Two stated, “Billings Public Schools is excited our students will have the opportunity to participate in the Yellowstone County Summer Jobs Program. Students will have the opportunity to be introduced to careers and industries they are interested in, gain valuable employability skills and experience, and network with professionals in our community. We’re confident this program can help students make more informed decisions about their future and show them all the great career opportunities available here in Yellowstone County.”

“BillingsWorks is proud to have the opportunity to collaborate with community partners to implement the SJP here in Yellowstone County in efforts to address local workforce challenges and expose students to potential career pathways.”- Marcell Bruski, Director of Marketing & BillingsWorks

The execution of this effort will be done in conjunction with the Yellowstone County Summer Jobs Program (SJP) Committee made up of BSED, the Billings Chamber of Commerce, School District 2, Reach Higher Montana, City College at MSUB, Billings Association of Realtors and with the support of American Jobs for American Youth (AJAY) Montana. The goal of this pilot year is to serve at least 30 Yellowstone County youth (ages 16-19), matching them with local employers and local mentors.

From Northern Ag Network

Recently, the effort regarding the reintroduction of wolves in Colorado has generated national attention and has started a conversation between Montana producers recalling our state’s own reintroduction over two decades ago and the significant impacts that came with it. This month, leaders from Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSGA) discussed this issue and the challenges Colorado livestock producers will face as wolves continue to be reintroduced to their state.

MSGA’s Board of directors decided to be proactive on this issue and state the Association’s opposition to using Montana wolves in the reintroduction in Colorado.

In a letter sent to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), MSGA shared concerns for Colorado livestock producers who have no available tools in place to allow for the protections and programs for their livestock that Montana producers currently have.

“Giving Colorado wolves from Montana isn’t going to solve the wolf issues in our state, but it will significantly impact livestock producers in Colorado,” said Jim Steinbeisser, MSGA President. “MSGA represents ranching families throughout the state, and we have experienced first-hand the impacts this apex predator has on our family ranches.”

From the initial reintroduction into the state, Montana has continued to put in place, through policy and legislation, management tools for the livestock industry to help protect livestock. While producers still face significant predation from wolf activity, there are measures in place to lessen those losses.

It is critically important livestock producers do not shoulder the burden and costs of these types of reintroduction efforts, especially with no management tools in place to protect their property, livelihoods, and resources ranchers so carefully manage.

For these reasons, the MSGA Board of Directors is in strong opposition to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks considering any request from the state of Colorado to provide Montana wolves for reintroduction into Colorado.

Governor Greg Gianforte has announced Montana entrepreneurs have a new tool to grow their businesses. Approved by the governor in December, the Montana Down Payment Assistance Program is a public-private partnership between the State of Montana and Montana’s banks, credit unions, and economic development agencies. 

 “Montana entrepreneurs and job creators now have another tool in their toolbox to invest and grow their business, create more good-paying jobs, and meet increasing consumer demands,” Gov. Gianforte said. “I appreciate the private sector leaders who are partnering with the state in this first of its kind program.” 

 The Montana Down Payment Assistance Program will help finance the acquisition of equipment, purchase of real estate or buildings with improvements, and new construction for existing Montana businesses. Loans have a low fixed interest rate for ten years and range in size from $250,000 to $3,000,000. 

 The Governor’s Office of Budget and Program Planning and the Montana Board of Investments developed the program and presented the proposal to the ARPA Economic Transformation and Stabilization and Workforce Development Advisory Commission in December. With the commission’s unanimous, bipartisan recommendation, Gov. Gianforte allocated $37 million for the program to the Montana Board of Investments. 

Program details are available at https:// Loan-Programs/ Programs-