By Brad Cook, WIPFLI Agribusiness Practice Leader

From the Northern Ag Network

In 2021, agricultural producers took a double whammy: pandemic-related relief programs dried up, and about half of the contiguous U.S. experienced moderate to extreme drought. A lack of government relief programs in 2021 (compared to 2020), created uncertainty for growers and food processors.

Government programs, crop insurance and indemnity payments will help companies get through the year – but they’re not life-saving measures, and won’t provide big enough boosts for farmers to invest in technologies or processes that could make them more resilient to future challenges.

Labor is a common concern for the industry; it’s difficult to get enough workers every season. But this year, limitations on international travel intensified the issue, as did uncertainty surrounding immigration policy. A severe shortage of workers also drove wages.

Because of supply chain issues, pricing and availability are in flux for everything from feed to chemical treatments and machinery. Energy prices are also up, and inflation is squeezing margins. Agriculture companies are paying more for everything they need – which will eventually trickle down to the price tags in grocery stores.

So, what can agriculture companies do to stay afloat – or even get ahead?

Obviously, they can’t control the weather. But they can manage aspects of their business to help build resiliency. As we enter 2022, here are eight issues agriculture businesses should pay attention to:

—Consumer preferences 

Some food fads, like organic and gluten-free are likely to stick around for the long haul. Growers and producers who ignore trends – or buyer preferences in general – may be disadvantaged down the road. As shopping behavior shifts locally, farmers and producers need a better sense of what consumers want.

—“Smart” food production 

Blood, sweat and tears can’t solve all of today’s food production issues. Every farm and production company will need technology to produce food more efficiently, stay competitive and connect with potential buyers. For some farms, the first step is moving to a cloud-based system to manage financial information. Others can use farm information systems to accumulate data in the field, automate processes and decisions, or meet growing demands for food traceability and origin labeling.

—Adopting a business mindset

New tools can help producers understand their costs better, which leads to better decisions when they’re marketing and selling products. With more insight into the whole production cycle, producers can predict yields more accurately and see how different decisions affect their margins. Information allows growers and producers to look beyond the current growing season and create long-term, strategic plans for the business. If agriculture companies focus more time and money on planning now, they can build more stable and sustainable businesses overall.

—Cybersecurity

Farmers and producers are a big target in the cybersecurity “food chain.” In addition to keeping the world’s food safe from weather, insects and predatory animals, the industry now has to protect against cybercriminals. Agriculture companies have to employ data to overcome labor challenges and produce food more efficiently – but they have to protect their information systems, data and technology, too, which will require new partnerships and skills.

—Barriers to entry

Most farmers are nearing retirement age. Once they hang up their hats, they’ll leave an enormous talent gap in the career field. Land that’s needed to start farming is too expensive for most families or professionals. And it’s a demanding career. Family-run companies in particular need to create long-term and succession plans for the business to ensure continuity. The industry needs more programs and incentives to recruit younger generations. In the meantime, agriculture companies may need to diversify or try different business models to attract younger generations.

—Regulation, policy and advocacy

Agriculture and natural resource companies rely on the environment and bring an important perspective to conversations about climate, water usage, protected species – and other matters that are being decided on, sometimes without their input. Growers and producers need to advocate for the industry and become more involved at the local and national levels. Local farm bureaus and state programs can teach agriculture companies how to get involved, advocate for and influence policy. Staying on the sidelines is a huge potential risk for natural resource professionals. A number of proposed changes could affect agricultural operations and timing related to potential transfers of ownership. Many farmers don’t contemplate retirement as other professionals do, but they should be considering it or at the very least, how they will transfer ownership to the next generation or maximize value for a potential sale.

—Innovation

Farming may be an age-old profession, but that doesn’t mean it’s protected from change. Farmers and producers should pay attention to new farming and sustainability practices that could create alternative sources of income. From hemp to carbon offsets, hydroponics and aeroponics, there’s no telling what will take off. We do know the world’s population is increasing, and we need innovative ways to address food needs. Farmers and producers can influence how the world navigates potential food insecurities and eliminates food waste.

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Brad Cook is a partner at WIPFLI with experience in tax planning, tax compliance, and transition planning for family businesses primarily in the agriculture industry. He also serves as leader of the firm’s agriculture industry practice.

George Warmer, CCIM, managing broker of Coldwell Banker Commercial CBS, Billings, has been named to the 2022-2024 Coldwell Banker Commercial Advisory Board. The board is comprised of a select group of CBC affiliate owners nationwide and was created to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas between CBC franchisees and the brand’s corporate leadership.

The CBC Advisory Board has proved to be a successful means of driving innovation and gaining critical insight into the evolving needs of overall CBC strategies. Each member of the Advisory Board serves as a liaison for their respective region, providing updates on the latest developments, policies, and services, as well as reporting and proposing actions to resolve any issues.

According to the Tax Foundation, the latest IRS income tax data shows reported income and taxes paid increased in tax year 2019, the second year of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and the last year before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The data demonstrates the U.S. individual income tax continues to be progressive, borne primarily by the highest income earners:

* In 2019, taxpayers filed 148.3 million tax returns, reported earning nearly $11.9 trillion in adjusted gross income, and paid $1.6 trillion in individual income taxes.

* The top 1 percent of taxpayers paid a 25.6 percent average individual income tax rate, which is more than seven times higher than taxpayers in the bottom 50 percent (3.5 percent).

* The share of reported income earned by the top 1 percent of taxpayers fell to 20.1 percent from 20.9 percent in 2018. The top 1 percent’s share of federal individual income taxes paid fell to 38.8 percent from 40.1 percent.

* The top 50 percent of all taxpayers paid 97 percent of all individual income taxes, while the bottom 50 percent paid the remaining 3 percent.

* The top 1 percent paid a greater share of individual income taxes (38.8 percent) than the bottom 90 percent combined (29.2 percent).

* The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act reduced average tax rates across income groups.

When Virginia’s legislators and Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin (R) were sworn into office on Jan. 12, the political dynamics of the country shifted even more to the right.

Now, 33.9 percent of Americans (112 million) live in a state with a Democratic trifecta, 41.8 percent (137 million) live in a state with a Republican trifecta, and 24.3 percent (78 million) live in a state with divided government.

A state government trifecta is a term to describe single-party government, when one political party holds the governorship and majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. At the start of 2022, there were 38 trifectas—15 Democratic and 23 Republican.

Governor Greg Gianforte and Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen announced that a record number of new businesses were created in Montana last year. More than 51,500 new businesses were registered with the Montana Secretary of State in 2021, surpassing the previous record set in 2020 by more than 12,000 businesses.

In Yellowstone County there were  838 new businesses registered in 2021.

 “Montana is open for business. In the last twelve months, we’ve seen a record low unemployment rate, a record number of Montanans working, and a record number of new businesses created in the state,” Gov. Gianforte said. “We’ll continue to foster a climate where businesses can thrive and create sustainable jobs and greater prosperity for more Montanans.”    

 “A key indicator for economic strength in Montana is the continued growth of new businesses,” said Montana Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen, “and the number of new businesses in Montana just continues to grow. Montana has been rated as one of the best states in the nation for business startups, including The Blueprint ranking Montana No. 1 in its Top 10 Best States to Start Your Small Business in 2021 report.” 

 The Secretary of State’s new Montana Business Economic Report revealed 51,508 new businesses registered in 2021, surpassing the 2020 total by more than 12,000. Nearly 30,000 Domestic Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) were registered in 2021. 

 Montana Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Todd O’Hair celebrated the news.  

 “The record growth in business registrations clearly points to a strong Montana economy and a vibrant entrepreneurial base. You can feel the optimism growing for Montana’s future in every business sector,”?O’Hair said.  

Through the Secretary of State’s modern, user-friendly Montana Business Economic Report, valuable data is provided about the health of the business economy in Montana. Per the report, March had the largest number of business registrations in 2021, with 5,161 new businesses registering with the Secretary of State’s Office.  

 In addition to new business registrations, business renewals and businesses in good standing in 2021.

The Montana Business Economic Report contains information about where, by zip code, new businesses are located. The 59901 zip code (Flathead County) had the highest increase in 2021, with more than 7,000 new businesses registered.  

There were also 178,601 renewal filings in 2021 and 267,900 businesses in good standing, both increases over the prior year. 

The Montana Business Economic Report can be found on the Secretary of State’s website.

The majority of Americans think the rise in inflation last year will only get worse in 2022, according to a new poll.

Gallup released polling data showing that 79% of surveyed Americans “predict inflation will go up,” with 50% saying it will go up “a lot.” Those are the most pessimistic numbers on inflation ever recorded by Gallup, the pollster said.

Americans are split on economic growth, though, with 40% saying it will increase and 39% saying it will decrease.

“In the past, Americans have always been more likely to say inflation will increase rather than decrease, but the current expectation is higher than usual – in fact, it is the highest Gallup has measured in its trend,” Gallup said. “The prior high was 76% in September 2005. In recent years, from 2007 through 2020, roughly six in 10 Americans have expected inflation to increase.”

TK Elevator Corporation, 788 Circle 75 Parkway SE Ste 500, Atlanta GA 30339, G678-424-3691, Gust Lagerquist, repair & installation

Purcell Tire and Service Center, 2604 Belknap Ave, 59101, 573-438-2131, Gretta Hochstatter, retail sales

Blended 7 Contracting LLC, 3727 Bitterroot Dr, 59105, 860-8448, Chris Sargent, general contractor

Dutton Rental, 319 Tam O’Shanter Rd, 59105, 670-4196, Dellas and Kerrie Dutton, real estate rental

Simply Modern LLC, 3959 Fairmeadow Dr, 59102, 540-525-7002, Bradley Krupa, general contractor

Wilson Maintenance & Remodeling, 3540 Terry Ave, 59102, 698-5772, mike Wilson, general contractor

Lockwood Auto, 3941 Bobolink St, 59101, 699-1665, James Mocko, auto business

 J and R Tippy Cow, 279 E Airport Rd, 534-3599, Henry Criddle, restaurants, 59105

Dynamic Opportunities United, 1276 Topanga Ave, 59105, 850-8496, Kellen Kessler, service

Henry’s Kitchen, 304 N 19th, 59101, 601-1139, Mario Duggan, Pres., restaurants

All Phase Contracting, 742 Dunham Ave, 59102, 698-5546, Jay Guaraglia, general contractor

Mini Motorz, 5109 Jellison rd #C4, 59101, 321-1785, David Eves, service

Beloved Venture LLC, 1141 W Calle Concordia, Tucson AZ 85704, 520-519-9130, John Taylen, real estate rental

Big Sky Buckshot LLC, 1130 Princeton Ave, 59102, 860-2593, Juanita & Paul Rathburn,

real estate rental

Brownstein Consulting LLC, 1644 Hidden Cove Ln, 59101, 850-9915, Todd Brownstein, service

Phoenix Self Defense, 928 Broadwater Ave, 59102, 200-5328, Richard Shepard, service

Hillbilly Mall LLC, 14 1/2 S 27th St, 59101, 633-1707, Crystal Owens, retail sales

Angies Barbershop, 1911 King Ave Ste 12, 59102, 702-1753, Angie Hergenrider, barber

Siegel Flooring, 3302 1/2 3rd Ave N, 59101, 970-4568, service

Adaptive Performance Center, 1420 Broadwater Ave, 59102, 281-3848, Karen Pearson/Mitch Crouse, service

Maid In Montana Services, 1195 Siesta Ave, 59105, 850-1623, Azelyn Gorman, service

Montana Tablescapes, 1555 Province Lane, 59102, 855-1070, Michaela Martinson, service

Grizzly Glass LLC, 2270 Grant Rd, 59102, 384-7077, Catherine Bergman, service

Restorative Connections Counseling, 926 Main St Ste 8F, 59105, 213-3313, Brittany Garcia, service

Panda Cleaning Services LLC, 2050 Tanner Ln, 59102, 698-8250, Yingchun/Jefferey Jones, services

Al’s cleaning Services, 7933 Burlington Ave, 59106, 561-4146, Alisha Nishikawa, service

Desert Ridge Construction, 4416 March Madness Way #2, 59106, 690-2792, Tanner Marak-Heafner, general contractor

Bedroc Blasters, 310 Moore Lane, 59101, 927-9018, Rocci Lamantia, retail sales

Johnny’s Garage, 2018 Main St, 59105, 208-9178, Johnny Hisaw, auto business  

Out of the Wilderness, 2402 Brook Hollow Dr, 59105, 926-0076, Jeffrey Ferguson, service

Assist Consulting, 7742 Pinto Dr, Shepherd 59079, 671-9510, Sheila Dockter, service

Ecoclean, 911 Blonco Circle, 59101, 698-3677, Micah Richardson, service

Creative Corner Greetings, 5437 Frontier Dr #1, 59101, 855-5681, Kristi Love-Tsukada, retail sales

Sievertsen Contracting, 4244 Bruce Ave, 59101, 661-7883, Mathew Sievertsen, general contractor

Kolbey Andersen Siding, 23 Walnut Dr, 59102, 876-3674, Kolbey Andersen, general contractor

DLB Construction, 3809 King Ave E, 59101, 591-0734, David Barnard, general contractor

Macleod Booking & Consulting Services, 2811 Lyndale Ln, 59102, 200-2216, Katrina Macleod, service

Advantage Media Group, 1118 23rd St W, 59102, 647-4496, Mikel Wolf, service

Time to Eat!, 2139 Alderson Ave Apt #4, 59102, 698-1278, Lucas Hoover, restaurants

CEC Facilities Group LLC, 5505 Abby Rd, 817-734-0040, Brad Smith, general contractor

Simplified Solutions LLC, 41 Adams St, 59101, 690-8014, Katherine Purcel, service

Mirror Mountain Creations, 3548 Kingswood Dr, 59101, 731-613-5245, Amy Mills, retail sales

Uselman Enterprises LLC, 2621 Holman Ave, 59102, 690-1502, Ben Uselman, service

A’s Auto Detailing, 1140 1st Ave N, 59101, 661-3581, Conner Albright, service

ABC Filipino Food, 4703 Rebecca Pl, 59101, 561-8858, Alma Cabillan, retail sales

A Albrecht Construction, 3642 S 56th St W, 59106, 860-2378, Alen Albrecht, general contractor

Jackz of All Trades, 922 Yellowstone River Rd #H8,59105, 697-8660, Kyle Singer, general contractor

Loopdeloo, 7742 Pinto Dr, Shepherd 59079, 671-9510, Sheila Dockter, retail sales

Heights Petlantis, 2204 Bench Blvd, 59105, 702-2580, Kendra Wold/Andrea Norwood, service

Wilson’s Iron Barn Gym, 1105 1st Ave N, 59101, 794-1131, Ron Wilson, service

Relaxful Retreat Massage Studio, 2619 St John’s Ste F, 59102, 794-6429, Russell Tolman, solo practitioner

J&S Handyman Service, 4611 Lux Ave, 59101, 618-367-2253, Jamie & Steven Rasberry, service

JB’s Concepts, 2315 Hoover Ave, 59102, 672-4158, Justin Birkle, general contractor

Carrie Lynn MHP, LLC, 10 Jackie Ln, 59102, 245-2201, Ben Smith, mobile homes courts   

The Center Square

Town Pump’s new location in the west end of Billings will have a charging station for electric vehicles thanks to a subsidy through the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

In fact, Montanans and visitors driving electric vehicles will start finding more places to charge up across the state as gas station operators and power companies install fast-charging stations with help from such state grants. 

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) used its share of the Volkswagen settlement funds to match private investments in electric vehicle fast-charging stations. That will bring the total number of stations across the state to 21 and add key corridors with access to sites such as Glacier and Yellowstone national parks.

“Our most recent funding opportunity for electric vehicle charging infrastructure will fund 14 fast charging stations. Each of those station locations will also have a level two charger, a slower charger as a backup measure,” Ben Brouwer, supervisor of the Energy Planning Section of the DEQ’s Energy Bureau, told The Center Square. 

“It’s only a start. And we’ve so far, we focused on key travel corridors – I-15. I-90, U.S. Hwy. 93 and U.S. Hwy. 2,” he said. 

The electric vehicle fast charging stations are important for the flexibility they give electric vehicle owners to travel the state of Montana, Bill McGladdery, director of corporation communications for Town Pump, told The Center Square.

Additional investment from gas station operators will add more charging stations. Two of the four recipients of the Fast Charger Ride Grant awards were to gas station operators, with 13 of the 14 fast charging stations in this funding round located at gas stations. 

Town Pump, in a partnership with Northwestern Energy, will install nine new charging stations, matching the grant award to fund them. They will go into service by Fall 2023.

“With both of us being based in Butte, we just, run into people from Northwestern Energy all the time and interact with them, and they work with us on our energy conservation projects. So, this was just kind of a natural extension of the ongoing long-term relationship that we’ve had with Northwestern Energy,” McGladdery said. 

Town Pump will have electric vehicle charging stations at 15 locations, as the company is independently installing charging stations in Whitefish, Boulder and a new Town Pump under construction in Billings. 

McGladdery said Town Pump has been discussing travel routes for EV drivers.

“We’ve talked to the Montana Office of Tourism, and they’re actually going to be developing routes for travelers who are traveling back and forth between the two national parks,” he said.

“It’s only a start. And we’ve so far, we focused on key travel corridors – I-15. I-90, U.S. Hwy. 93 and U.S. Hwy. 2,” he said. 

“I think with the introduction of all electric pickup trucks from Ford, Rivian and others it’s going to be a game changer in Montana. And we’ll see more interest in electric vehicles as new models keep being introduced,” Brouwer said.

DEQ awarded funding for 16 Level 2 charging stations and three fast-charging stations using Volkswagen settlement funds in 2020, DEQ said. The Level 2 chargers funded were installed in key downtown or destination locations. Though charging times are longer with Level 2 stations, they encourage electric vehicle drivers to explore the surrounding area which helps drive customers to local businesses. 

The DEQ sees these grant awards matching private investments by power companies and gas station operators for electric vehicle infrastructure as a boon for the state.

“That’s an opportunity to ensure that Montana doesn’t lose out on new transportation options or the tourism dollars that out of state EV drivers are bringing to Montana businesses,” Brouwer said.

By Bob Pepalis, The Center Square

Montana’s manufacturers quickly bounced back from the pandemic after a short period of layoffs and curtailing of operations, according to the director of the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center.

Manufacturing accounts for approximately 16% of Montana’s economic base, with more than 3,900 manufacturers operating in the state, the center’s 2021 Montana Manufacturing Report said.

“The Montana manufacturers were fortunate to be in situations where they could pivot,” Montana Manufacturing Extension Center Director Paddy Fleming told The Center Square. “So food manufacturers that maybe were dependent upon the food service products industry switched to retail products.”

The one manufacturing industry that did get hurt was suppliers for the travel industry. Other than that, most manufacturers saw an increase in business.

The outdoor products industries experienced increased demand due to the pandemic because everyone wanted to be outside, he said.

“I think they’re coming back nicely, back to probably close to normal demand. I don’t think we saw a single manufacturer in Montana go out of business,” Fleming said.

The Bureau of Business and Economic Research (BBER) at the University of Montana conducted the analysis and prepared the report for the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center.

A year ago, it predicted nondurable manufacturing would return to pre-COVID levels within a year. Employment in manufacturing returned to its pre-pandemic levels in early 2021, the report said. Durable manufacturing is falling in line with predictions from a year ago and is forecasted to return to the long-run trend in another year.

Problems with the supply chain have caused many state manufacturers to look for alternative supply chains, he said, including onshore sources. But it’s also caused them to be late with deliveries and is a constant concern.

Despite the pandemic, the gross state product out of Montana’s manufacturers grew, as did the number of manufacturers, Fleming said.

“We are seeing an influx of people to Montana due to the pandemic I believe and some of them are bringing their manufacturing businesses,” he said.

The top manufacturers now are fabricated metal and food and beverage. The state also has a significant sector in photonics. Employees have also seen some gains with higher wages.

“In Montana, manufacturing wages average about 15 to 20% higher than the average wage,” he said.

Manufacturing jobs paid approximately $52,111 in earnings while the state average for all jobs was $46,743.Manufacturing accounts for 5.1% of total private state income equaling $1.1 billion, the report said. Its approximately 20,400 employees make up 4.3% of Montana’s non-farm workforce.

Those workers helped produce $3.1 billion of the state’s output, equal to 6.1%.

As a result, manufacturing grew more than double the national average in employment, income and output, the report said. 

Under Big Sky Music Festival will return to the Big Mountain Ranch in Whitefish on July 16 and 17. The festival’s capacity will be limited to 20,000 daily.  For further information, visit www.underthebigskyfest.com

More than 7,000 new businesses registered in the 59901 Zip code for Flathead County in 2021.  This was the largest number in the state. Statewide more than 51,000 new business registered with the secretary of States Office.

The Mountain Line in Missoula is seeking 6 to 8 acres  of land in central Missoula to build a new headquarters. The organization has outgrown it’s current Northside location. The current location is on 2.2-acre which houses 90 employees. They house up to 20 buses now but need a location which can handle 35 buses. There is also a lack of bus drivers.

Gov. Greg Gianforte has presented the Spirit of Montana award to employees at Anaconda Foundry Fabrication Company for their role in fixing the Hebgen Dam malfunction. NorthWestern Energy contacted AFFCO following the Nov. 30, 2021 malfunction of Hebgen dam. The team worked around-the-clock to manufacture a part to fix the dam.

The State Energy and Telecommunications Interim Committee has been investigating nuclear power. The conversation was to study the possibility of using small modular reactors in Montana. Some of the discussion centered on the Colstrip coal-fired power plant. Talen Energy and Puget Sound Energy have shut down units 1 and 2. Units 3 and 4 remain in operation, but four of the power plant’s owners face coal power bans in Washington and Oregon beginning in the coming years. A representatiuve of the Nuclear Energy Institute discussed the transition from a coal to a nuclear plant.

Our Redeemer Lutheran Church is proposing to sell about nine acres to the city of Helena for a housing project. A land trust administered by Trust Montana for the construction of Helena Area Habitat for Humanity homes will use a portion of the land. Another portion of the land will be designated for the development of low-income apartment units. The remaing portion of the land will be used for more long-term sheltering of YWCA Helena clients.

Hardin Generating Station, owned by Beowulf Energy, was theatened with closure in 2014 due to econimic conditions. At that time there were 60 emplyees. In 2018, Marathon Digital Holdings, a leading Bitcoin miner, modernized the plant and created over 100 new jobs.

TC Energy’s decision to cancel the Keystone XL project in June has mooted a lawsuit challenging the Biden Administration’s decision to revoke the pipeline’s border crossing permit, a Texas federal court has ruled.

The Three Rivers Bank will be hosting a grand opeing at the new Whitefish location, 3631 U.S. 93 South, from 5 to 7 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 5.

Registration for the Columbia Falls Job Fair is open until Feb. 11. The 2022 Columbia Falls Job Fair will take place on Feb. 15 at the Colombia High School. To register, go to www.columbiafallschamber.org.

Big Sandy Organics is building a new 19,000 square foot facility and adding two new production lines. This expansion will allow them to increase their processing from 20,000 lbs/year to 720,000 lbs/year and grow their workforce from four to 16 employees. Big Sandy Organics produces snack foods from ancient grains.

Northwest Farm Credit Services contributed $50,000 to the facility expansion and improvement project at Montana State University Western Ag Research Center. The 2021 Montana State Legislature approved $1.2 million in funding to build a new office, lab and education facility to replace the current buildings that are outdated, unsafe and undersized. MSU has pledged to raise $300,000 in donations from individuals and industry to support the new facilities.

Plastic Design & Manufacturing (PDM), an injection molder and tooling company in Manhattan, recently announced the successful transfer of ownership from founder Mike Groff to the company’s existing executive team.  Randy Scheid (President and CFO), James Smith (VP of Operations and Engineering), and Darrell Witham (VP of Sales and Marketing) have acquired the business, with Sam Lazcano – VP of PDM MX Operations rounding out the Executive Team.  Groff will retain a seat on the Board. PDM was founded in 1998 and operates two facilities: the Montana plant with 65 employees and the Juarez, Mexico plant with 94 employees.  Several local services provided support to plan and facilitate the transition, including MMEC, Tom Walker of On the Rise Consulting, and Rocky Mountain Bank.

In Montana, there are more job postings than there are people unemployed in the state, reports KPAX-8 in Missoula, where the unemployment rate is 1.9 percent.

In Butte the addition of a $8 million dollar rail system has been four years in the making before finally seeing completion last month. The additions made to the rail system will allow sites in the Montana Connections Business Development Park to bring in and send out goods directly via freight. It will benefit businesses such as the industrial park’s calling card for bringing in new business, such as Montana Craft Malt and Ergon Asphalt.

In Sidney, Big Sky Cookie Co. has opened, selling fresh baked and custom-decorated cookies. The store specializes in custom-decorated sugar cookies, large gourmet flavored cookies, bags of mini cookies, and minimally decorated sugar cookies. Owner, Lisa Harrel, and husband, Ryan, had an opportunity to take a superintendent job in Sidney, so they moved from Oregon, and Lisa, launched her dream of a business in which she can pursue her passion of cookie decorating.

FEMA Region 8 welcomed its new Regional Administrator, Nancy Dragani, following her appointment by President Biden. Dragani was sworn in by FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell. The Regional Administrator will lead and coordinate all activities in support of FEMA’s mission with the states of Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming, as well as the 29 federally recognized tribes within the region

Final numbers show that Yellowstone National Park had its busiest year on record, with 4,860,537 visitors. The final number shows a wide gulf between 2021 and the next busiest year. The total count for 2021 is more than 600,000 visits higher than 2016, which had a little more than 4.25 million visits. July was the busiest month ever, with more than 1 million visits recorded. Officials saw an increase in the number of cars coming in multiple times, which is attributed to a 20 percent  decrease in overnight stays in the park. Some campsites and hotel rooms were closed in 2021 because of construction projects and COVID-19. A new shuttle system moved over 10,000 people last summer.

New real estate listings decreased 6 percent in December in Gallatin County, compared to last year, from 67 to 63. Pending sales increased 1.2 percent, from 82 to 83. The number of closed sales fell 13.4 percent, from 134 to 116. Average days on market decreased 33.9 percent, from 62 to 41. The median sales price increased 2.9 percent, from $704,500 to $725,000. Sellers received 98.9 percent of their list price, down slightly from 99.2 percent last December. The inventory of available homes dropped 29.4 percent, from 143 to 101, while the months’ supply of inventory fell 11.1 percent, from 0.9 to 0.8.

Santokh Grill has joined the region’s organ procurement organization with more than 25 years of healthcare, organ transplantation, and senior leadership experience, most recently serving as Vice President of Patient Care Services at Virginia Mason Medical Center. Gill holds a Master’s in Health Administration and a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology and Immunology from the University of Washington. 

PrintingForLess.com – now known as PFL —  founder and CEO, Andrew Field, is retiring. Field founded the business in Bozeman in 1996. The business grew into a marketing technology software business. The business expanded to offices in Livingston and Indianapolis. Field will step down from his current role on February 4, 2022 and will be succeeded by Nick Runyon, the company’s former President.

The board of directors of ONEOK, Inc. declared a quarterly dividend of 93.5 cents per share, unchanged from the previous quarter, resulting in an annualized dividend of $3.74 per share. ONEOK, Inc. is a leading midstream service provider and owner of one of the nation’s premier natural gas liquids (NGL) systems.

According to Butte Local Development Corp. Director Joe Willauer. Headwaters RC&D received about $26,000 in 2020 for a feasibility study to build a meat processing plant in the Jefferson County Industrial Park off Interstate 90 between Whitehall and Cardwell.

Volunteers of America Northern Rockies (VOA) held a ribbon cutting in Butte to celebrate the opening of their newest Veteran Services office in Montana.  This office is VOA’s seventh in Montana, joining locations in Billings, Bozeman, Great Falls, Helena, Missoula and Kalispell, along with seven offices in Wyoming and one in western South Dakota. 

Morton Buildings, Inc., a post-frame manufacturing and construction business, has opened a new construction center serving Bozeman, and the surrounding area. Morton Buildings previously serviced building needs in the Bozeman area from its construction center in Idaho Falls, Idaho. The new permanent center is located at 669 Jetway Drive in Belgrade. Sean Cain, president of Morton Buildings, said the Bozeman construction center offers a local centralized location for the sales, support and construction of customer projects.

Simms Fishing Products, preeminent manufacturer of waders, outerwear, footwear, and technical apparel in fishing, announces the acquisition of longtime Bozeman based specialty retailer, Simms at The River’s Edge Fly Shop. Established in 1983, The River’s Edge has been the headquarters for Montana fly fishing since its inception. With two locations in Bozeman, often described as the trout fishing capital of the United States, The River’s Edge offers a full-service experience – from guided Montana fly fishing trips, to fly tying and casting instruction, to expert product and fishing advice.