The Center Square

Airports throughout the West are experiencing a shortage of jet fuel complicated by supply chain issues and a need for firefighting aircraft to battle raging wildfires in several states.

State and federal lawmakers in Nevada say they are investigating a possible shortage of jet fuel that could greatly impact the Reno-Tahoe International Airport in the coming days, delaying cargo delivery and passenger travel.

The Reno-Tahoe airport, Nevada’s second-largest metro area, is slowing operations because a lack of jet fuel could potentially restrict the delivery of essential goods into the northern part of the state, a popular gambling and outdoors destination near Lake Tahoe.

On late Saturday, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, U.S. Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, and U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei issued a statement expressing their concern.

“To be clear, further failure to secure adequate fuel supplies is unacceptable,” they said. “We are currently speaking to all responsible parties to understand how this situation occurred and prevent future shortages, but our immediate focus is on ensuring resources to combat Western wildfires are not impacted and that there is as little disruption as possible for Nevadans and visitors who depend on reliable air service.”

The Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority said the airport’s jet fuel shortage was partially caused by not having enough tanker truck drivers to deliver fuel. A spokesperson said, “There’s just nobody available to drive the trucks of fuel in here,” adding that it was hard to predict how long the shortage would last.

Lack of fuel shortage is also complicated by construction at the airport. Because its longest runway also is under construction, planes are limited by how much extra fuel they can carry on inbound flights because the heavier the plane, the longer stopping distance it requires.

Other western states are feeling the pain as well.

Flight delays have already been reported at Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport in Montana, and at the Fresno Yosemite International Airport in California, popular tourist and vacation destinations.

In Wyoming, Gov. Mark Gordon authorized truck drivers to work longer hours to deliver fuel to help firefighting aircraft.

The Montana Department of Livestock is still concerned about feral swine entering the state. The department recently issued an alert that as the feral swine population continues to grow it is bringing a high risk to Montana.
The state isn’t seeing much activity right now but there has been an increase in sightings in surrounding areas and the Department is asking everyone to be aware.
Nationwide it is estimated that there is over six million feral swine, and Montana is seeing an uptick along the high-line, as Canadian officials are reporting expanded ranges of these swine just north of the border.
Feral swine carry diseases that can negatively impact livestock, people, and wildlife, which is why the MDOL is telling people to watch out for specific signs.
According to state law, feral swine includes any hog, boar, or pig that appears to be untamed or in a wild state.

Center Square

For the first time ever, California posted a population decline in 2020, and the United States as a whole didn’t fare much better. Its growth has decelerated to 0.35% year-over-year, the slowest growth rate since the Great Depression.
Population experts blame the slowing growth rate on three big trends: families across the country are aging and having fewer kids, legal immigration has declined, and economic hardships extending all the way back to the dot-com crash have shifted priorities away from marriage and families. While some contributing factors are down across the board, other social and economic factors have disproportionately impacted specific counties and states, exacerbating the problems for certain areas.
This latest decline in population growth at the national level is primarily the result of a lower birth rate and reduced immigration during the Trump administration. The U.S. birth rate has slowed for six years in a row to 11.4 births per 1,000 people in 2020—resulting in the fewest births since 1979, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). From 2019 to 2020, the rate slowed 4%, which was twice as fast as the average slowdown since 2014. It was spread across all age groups of women, though the birth rate for teenagers aged 15 to 19 slowed 8%.
Meanwhile, the growth in immigration peaked in 2015, plateaued in 2016 at 3.3 immigrants per thousand residents, and has slowed markedly in line with new federal immigration policies implemented in 2017. The 2020 rate was down to 1.5 immigrants per thousand.
Since 2010, the population totals of only six states declined, and of those only West Virginia (down 3.7%) and Illinois (down 2%) dropped by more than 1%. It’s a different story over the last five years, though. In addition to West Virginia and Illinois, states losing 1% or more of their population were New York, Hawaii, and Alaska.
In West Virginia, the struggle is primarily with an aging rural population. There are more deaths than births in the state, and rural counties are shrinking nearly three times as fast as urban counties, according to the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy. In Illinois, the population loss has accelerated for seven straight years, per Illinois Policy, due primarily to a lack of housing and employment opportunities, as well as high taxes.
Persistent population loss creates compounding economic, social, and political challenges for the residents who remain. West Virginia and Illinois are among just seven states that recently lost a congressional seat as a result of the 2020 Census population estimates. Other states losing a seat include New York, California, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan.
Zooming in on the county level, urban centers stand out for being hardest hit with population loss. CBRE Group research shows that urban centers were the only neighborhood type to see more people move out in 2020 than move in, and it underscores a trend that’s been a decade in the making.

Over 18% of the total manufacturing earnings in Montana during 2018 came from petroleum and coal products. With regulatory changes, a shift in the manufacturing industry is inevitable. Recent data shows growth coming in pharmaceutical; dairy; aerospace; beverage; and other wood products sectors to name a few.
This year’s Economic Update Series will bring expert panelists highlighting Montana’s ‘Centers of Opportunity’, including manufacturing, high-tech, and bioscience,- industries critical to Montana’s economic recovery.
Dr. Pat Barkey from University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research will also present his state and local post-pandemic economic projections.
The Economic Update Series takes place in 4 cities across Montana.
*July 29- Kalispell (Hilton Garden Inn)
*August 17 – Bozeman (GranTree)

  • August 18 – Billings (Northern Hotel)
  • August 19 – Helena (Delta Marriott)

Hoping to recoup billions of dollars in investments, the Canadian company that wanted to build the XL Pipeline is considering suing US taxpayers for compensation.
The government of Alberta had also invested $1.3 billion in the project. After more than a decade and a half of struggling with US federal regulators and politicians, TC Energy abandoned the project, part of which would have passed through Montana.
The lawsuit has been filed against President Biden for allegedly breaching the NAFTA agreement, when he cancelled the project on his first day in office. The Biden administration also faces another lawsuit regarding the Keystone that was filed in March by 21 states, including Montana, which argues the permit for construction of the pipeline should be determined by Congress and not the president.

Another goal is close to realization in Lockwood with the ground breaking last week by St. Vincent Healthcare (SCL) and Corning Companies to build a new $2.6 million primary care clinic on the Lockwood School campus.
Establishing the facility meets with the mission of St. Vincent Healthcare to deliver comprehensive healthcare when and where it is most needed,” said Michael Skehan Interim President of SCL Health, who was joined in the ceremony by Tom Moser, Vice President of Operations for SCL Health, Pam Ask, vice chair of the Lockwood School Board, and Steve Corning, President of Corning Companies.
Development of the clinic is unique in its partnership with Lockwood School. Ask explained that in surveys of the Lockwood community, the school district realized years ago that there was a desire to see healthcare services in Lockwood. Since being able to provide students with quality health care in an efficient and convenient manner was also a goal of the school district it remained an important part of the planning for the new Lockwood high school, which resulted in making space available on campus or the 7,874 square foot facility.
The School District will lease the land to Corning Companies, which is building the facility and leasing it to St. Vincent Healthcare.
“We couldn’t ask for a better partner to pair with to focus on the physical and mental health services or our students, staff and community,” said Tobin Novasio, Superintendent, Lockwood Schools. The collaborative effort is the first of its kind in the state and the first time that SCL Health has partnered with a school.
The clinic is expected to be completed by mid-2022. It will employ 12 full-time employees, two physicians and two advanced practice providers as it serves the Lockwood community of some 8000 citizens. It will be open five days a week with walk-in services available seven days from 7 am to 7 pm.

The Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council (SBE Council) reacted to the news that Consumer Price Index inflation ran at 0.9 percent in June, and 5.4 percent over the past year.
 SBE Council chief economist Raymond J. Keating said, “Inflation went from running hot to red hot. If annualized, during the first six months of 2021, inflation has been running at better than 7 percent. Over the past four months, the annualized inflation rate ran at better than 8.5 percent.”
 He continued, “What often gets overlooked on inflation are constraints on or disincentives for undertaking productive economic activity. With a pandemic shutdown, much of our economy obviously has faced production constraints, which clearly are driving up prices. And it is taking time – longer than some expected – to work through these constraints. Thankfully, market prices are serving as guides as to where investment and production are needed. But the process can be – and in this case, is – painful.”
Keating noted the impact of policymaking, and what lies ahead that could worsen inflation:
 “While working through pandemic constraints will likely keep inflation running hot at least for a few more months, public policies threaten to make this inflation situation even worse. The unprecedented loose money the Fed has been running for nearly 13 years now stands as a serious uncertainty when it comes to where inflation might be headed.
“Meanwhile, the Biden administration and Congress are working to impose constraints on entrepreneurs, businesses, investors and workers via increased tax and regulatory burdens; industrial policies whereby politicians and bureaucrats make resource allocation decisions; the maintenance of protectionist trade measures; and government subsidies for not working. It seems like just when the private sector works through pandemic constraints, President Biden and Congress will be ready with further governmental costs and restraints.”
 Keating concluded, “The right policy mix for strong growth and low inflation is monetary policy focused on price stability, and incentivizing the supply-side of the economy via tax and regulatory relief, more global trade opportunities, and restrained government spending. Right now, however, the policy mix is pointed in the wrong direction.”

The Center Square

As the country continues to climb back from more than a year of an economic downward spiral during the COVID-19 pandemic, cities in states with Republican-led governors that imposed fewer restrictions are experiencing a faster and more robust comeback. Billings Montana is listed among the top ten cities with the stronger growth.
A study by WalletHub ranked the top 180 cities in the country to determine where economic recovery is occurring.
The financial analytics firm used four key metrics to find out where workers have been the least and most impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. They looked at the change in each city’s unemployment rate for May, which is the last month available, then compared that to May 2019, January 2020 and May 2020.
The differences between the top and bottom 10 primarily come down to policy decisions.
The top 10 cities are all in states led by Republican governors, where lockdown restrictions during the pandemic were less extreme and not as lengthy. The bottom 10 cities are in states led by Democratic governors where lockdowns tended to be severe and lengthy, with the exception of one.
The top 10 cities with the best post-pandemic unemployment rates are:

  • Manchester, New Hampshire: 1.6%
  • Nashua, New Hampshire: 1.7%
    *Burlington, Vermont: 1.3%
  • South Burlington, Vermont: 1.2%
  • Lincoln, Nebraska: 2.2%
    *Huntsville, Alabama: 2.4%
  • Omaha, Nebraska: 2.8%
  • Salt Lake City, Utah: 2.7%
  • Sioux Falls, South Dakota: 2.7%
  • Billings, Montana: 3%
    While the two Vermont towns had lower unemployment rates in May compared to the two New Hampshire cities, Manchester and Nashua scored better when all of the metrics were taken into account.
    Comparing May 2019 to May of this year, for example, Manchester’s unemployment rate is 41.5% lower and nearly 50% lower compared to January of 2020.
    South Burlington, meanwhile, while having the lowest unemployment in the country for May, saw its rate drop nearly 22% compared to May 2019 and 35% compared to January 2020.
    The bottom 10 cities with the worst unemployment rates post-pandemic are:
    Hialeah, Florida: 8%
    New Orleans, Louisiana: 11%
    Long Beach, California: 10.6%
    Glendale, California: 10.4%
    Newark, New Jersey: 11.6%
    New York City, New York: 9.8%
    Los Angeles, California: 10.1%
    San Bernardino, California: 9.6%
    Chicago, Illinois: 9.3%
    North Las Vegas, Nevada: 9.9%
    Despite not having the highest unemployment rate in May, Hialeah ranked last due to the metrics. Its May unemployment is nearly 200% higher than May of 2019 and is 336% higher compared to January of 2020.
    Some 26 states, also mostly led by Republican governors, have said they would opt out of the federal government’s $300 weekly unemployment benefit ahead of the Sept. 6 deadline, saying the additional money on top of state aid has been a disincentive for people to find work.

Marya Pennington has been promoted to Billings Chamber Communications and Marketing Manager. Pennington has been with the Billings Chamber for over two years, and has a strong background in public relations and communications. Her responsibilities will include overseeing all communications, public relations, and marketing, while generating a positive local awareness of the Billings Chamber and promoting the Chamber’s brand.
Pennington was born and raised in Billings and is a graduate of Billings West High and Montana State University Billings, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in public relations. She began her work at the Billings Chamber with Visit Billings to bring the Travel Blog Exchange (TBEX) conference to Billings. In 2021, she led the Billings Chamber’s most recent rebranding campaign, resulting in the Western Association of Chamber Executives’ highest award for the western Unites States in communications.

Governor Greg Gianforte has urged the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to provide Montanans with sufficient opportunity for in-person, public comment on the BLM’s Environmental Assessment of the American Prairie Reserve’s bison grazing proposal.
Despite the impact of the BLM’s proposal on Montanans, the BLM announced it would hold one, remotely conducted public hearing on the proposal. Further, the BLM’s announced public comment period coincides with haying and harvest season, making it more difficult for local farmers and ranchers to participate fully.
“This simply does not constitute an adequate opportunity for public comment and participation,” Governor Gianforte wrote to BLM officials. In the letter, the governor formally requests the BLM hold in-person public hearings in, at a minimum, each of the affected counties – Phillips, Chouteau, Fergus, Petroleum, and Valley. The governor also requests a 45-day extension of the public comment period.
“The Montanans most affected by this proposal spend their days in the field, far from a computer, and in many instances, far from reliable internet service,” the governor wrote. “These Montanans are currently in midst of an unprecedented drought.”
“I ask that the BLM recognize these compounding factors and take action to facilitate comment and public participation in a comprehensive and meaningful manner. As this process moves forward, it is critical for BLM officials to come out from behind their computers and meet in person, face-to-face, with Montanans,” the governor concluded.