Surprisingly, or perhaps not, Oregon and Washington D.C. started out the month with unemployment claims were worse than the same week last year.  

WalletHub reported on new unemployment claims comparing week-over-week on October 25, with many states, including Montana, 96 percent below the peak during the COVID-19 pandemic.

23 states had unemployment claims that were lower than before the pandemic: Arkansas, Virginia, North Dakota, West Virginia, South Carolina, Delaware, Montana, Vermont, Colorado, Arizona, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Wyoming, Kansas, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Washington, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Ohio, Maryland, and New Jersey.

Least recovered were Hawaii, Louisiana, Oregon, Alabama, California, Michigan, Tennessee, New Mexico, and Kentucky.

The Montana School Boards Association has voted to leave the National School Boards Association next summer, following the national organization’s collaboration with the Biden Administration and the FBI to target protesting parents at school board meetings.

According to the Montana School Boards Association Lance Melton their membership will expire without renewal in June 2022. Melton said the national organization has lost its focus in supporting local school boards offering professional development and advocating for quality education.

The MTBSA plans to work with other state associations to create a new national organization “to meet the federal advocacy and related needs of its member school boards” in a way that “values community ownership through school board governance” and engagement of students, families and community members.

Melton indicated there had been a growing dissatisfaction with the NSBA and the final straw was a letter written by the interim CEO and NSBA president in September asking President Joe Biden for federal law enforcement assistance to deal with threats of violence and intimidation over COVID-19 requirements at schools.

The letter was written without the knowledge of other NSBA officers, senior staff, its directors or state organizations.

Montana is one of some 25 state associations in 25 states that have dropped membership and affiliation with the national organization.

The Center Square

The costs of goods and services rose at above-normal rates again in October, as new federal economic data released, Nov. 9, show inflation continuing to impact the U.S. economy.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the producer price index, a figure that measures wholesale prices, grew another 0.6% in October, after increasing 0.7% in August and 0.5% in September. Overall, the figures show that inflation has grown 8.6% in the past 12 months ending in October, tying a record set earlier this year.

That rise in inflation means everyday goods and services are more expensive for Americans. BLS said gasoline and food helped drive this latest increase.

“One-third of the October advance in the index for final demand goods can be traced to prices for gasoline, which rose 6.7 percent,” BLS said. “The indexes for diesel fuel, fresh and dry vegetables, gas fuels, jet fuel, and plastic resins and materials also moved higher. In contrast, prices for beef and veal decreased 10.3 percent.”

Construction, in particular, became much more expensive.

“Over 60 percent of the October increase in the index for final demand can be traced to a 1.2-percent rise in prices for final demand goods,” BLS said. “The index for final demand services moved up 0.2 percent, and prices for final demand construction advanced 6.6 percent.”

The Biden administration has said the inflation is only temporary, but many economists have said it could continue well into 2023. The report came just days after promising jobs data. The Department of Labor reported that in the month of October, payroll employment increased by 531,000, surpassing expectations.

Republicans quickly laid the blame for the rising prices at the feet of President Joe Biden and pointed to inflation as a reason to stand up to Biden’s several trillion dollars in proposed new spending. Debt spending contributes to inflation since printed money helps fund federal debts.

The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index decreased one point in September to 99.1. Three of the 10 Index components improved, five declined, and two were unchanged.

“Small business owners are doing their best to meet the needs of customers, but are unable to hire workers or receive the needed supplies and inventories,” said NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg. “The outlook for economic policy is not encouraging to owners, as lawmakers shift to talks about tax increases and additional regulations.”

Key findings include:

* The NFIB Uncertainty Index increased five points to 74.

* Owners expecting better business conditions over the next six months decreased five points to a net negative 33%.

* Fifty-one percent of owners reported job openings that could not be filled, a 48-year record high for the third consecutive month.

* A net 42% of owners reported raising compensation, a 48-year record high.

As reported in NFIB’s monthly jobs report, a record 51% of small business owners (seasonally adjusted) reported job openings they could not fill in the current period, up one point from August. A net 42% of owners (seasonally adjusted) reported raising compensation, up one point from August and a 48-year record high reading.

A net 30% of owners plan to raise compensation in the next three months, up four points from August’s record high reading. Twelve percent of owners cited labor costs as their top business problem and 28% said that labor quality was their top business problem – both record high readings. 

Fifty-three percent of owners reported capital outlays in the next six months, down two points from August and historically a weak reading. Of those making expenditures, 37% reported spending on new equipment, 21% acquired vehicles, and 12% improved or expanded facilities. Six percent of owners acquired new buildings or land for expansion and 10% of owners spent money for new fixtures and furniture. Twenty-eight percent plan capital outlays in the next few months, down two points from August and one point below the 48-year average.

Seasonally adjusted, 3% of owners reported higher nominal sales in the past three months, up three points from August. The net percent of owners expecting higher real sales volumes improved by four points to a net 2%.

The net percent of owners reporting inventory increases rose five points to a net 3%, back into positive territory after two months of owners reporting more declines than gains. This is the highest reading since the pandemic started.

Over 35% of owners report supply chain disruptions have had a significant impact on their business. Another 32% report a moderate impact and 21% report a mild impact. Only 10% of owners report no impact from recent supply chain disruptions. A net 10% of owners viewed current inventory stocks as “too low” in September, down one point from August. A net 9% of owners plan inventory investment in the coming months, down two points from August but historically a very elevated reading.

The net percent of owners raising average selling prices decreased three points to a net 46% (seasonally adjusted). Unadjusted, 8% of owners reported lower average selling prices and 53% reported higher average prices. Price hikes were the most frequent in wholesale (75% higher, 0% lower), manufacturing (67% higher, 4% lower), and retail (71% higher, 2% lower). Seasonally adjusted, a net 46% of owners plan price hikes.

The frequency of positive profit trends increased one point to a net negative 14%. Among the owners reporting lower profits, 26% blamed the rise in the cost of materials, 23% blamed weaker sales, 19% cited labor costs, 10% cited the usual season change, 6% cited lower prices, and 6% cited higher taxes or regulatory costs. For those owners reporting higher profits, 57% credited sales volumes, 19% cited usual seasonal change, and 5% cited higher prices.

Two percent of owners reported that all their borrowing needs were not satisfied. Twenty percent reported all credit needs were met and 62% said they were not interested in a loan. A net 4% of owners reported their last loan was harder to get than in previous attempts. Zero percent reported that financing was their top business problem. A net 0% of owners reported paying a higher rate on their most recent loan.

The NFIB Research Center has collected Small Business Economic Trends data with quarterly surveys since the 4th quarter of 1973 and monthly surveys since 1986. Survey respondents are drawn from NFIB’s membership. The report is released on the second Tuesday of each month. This survey was conducted in September 2021.

By Chris Talgo, From Center Square

Several groups representing American truckers are pleading with the Biden administration to claw back its vaccine mandate and a new regulation that will make it more difficult to hire new drivers, which is scheduled to go into effect in early 2022.

According to a letter from the American Trucking Associations, Truckload Carriers Association, and others, “We are concerned a mandate will cripple an already strained supply chain.”

The letter goes on to state, “We estimate companies covered by the mandate could lose 37% of drivers at a time when the nation is already short 80,000 truck drivers. … We ask for flexibility for transportation and supply chain essential workers, particularly truck drivers who spend most of their time in their trucks and have minimal contact with colleagues and customers.”

The letter comes in response to the recent unveiling of President Biden’s federal vaccine mandate rule, released by OSHA. Per the rule, all private companies with more than 100 employees are required to have all employees vaccinated by Jan. 4, 2022. Under the rule, employers can be fined $14,000 per violation and a whopping $136,532 for those deemed “willful” violations.

Unfortunately, as the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) explains, “TCA repeatedly called on the Administration to heed our warnings regarding this mandate’s impact on the already constrained supply chain, yet they chose to proceed with a disastrous mandate which will undoubtedly ensure the trucking industry loses a substantial number of drivers.”

TCA also issued this ominous warning, “These are the drivers the country is relying upon to deliver food, fuel, and presents for the upcoming holiday season, yet our national leadership has decided these needs must go unmet.” Over the past 18 months, the U.S. supply chain has been upended by economic disruptions due to government-mandated shutdowns, persistent inflation, and policies that have made energy and fuel costs skyrocket

From Northern Ag Reporter

Due to increasing natural gas prices, nitrogen fertilizer prices are relatively high compared to recent years and are expected to remain high and possibly increase through next spring, says Dave Franzen, NDSU Extension soil science specialist.

“China has supplied about a third of the world’s phosphate, and it has essentially banned exports through 2022,” Franzen continues. “That puts the burden of supply on other countries, including the United States.”

According to Franzen, the U.S. is not in a great position for mine and production expansion due to serious environmental concerns. This means that phosphate prices, which are already high, will continue to increase at least through 2022.

Pack your patience! Airports and roads may be jam-packed this year as AAA predicts 53.4 million people will travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, up 13% from 2020. As restrictions continue to lift and consumer confidence builds, AAA urges travelers to be proactive when making their travel plans this holiday season.

“Travel volumes have recovered within 5% of pre-pandemic levels, and air travel has almost entirely recovered from its dramatic decline during, up 80% over last year,” said Aldo Vazquez, spokesperson for AAA Montana. “Those traveling this Thanksgiving can expect to face more crowded roads and airports than they’ve seen in some time.” 

With 6.4 million more people traveling this Thanksgiving coupled with the recent opening of the U.S. borders to fully vaccinated international travelers—people should prepare for roads and airports to be noticeably more crowded

On November 5, 2021 a Montana woman became the first National Guard Soldier to graduate from the U.S. Army Sniper Course. The woman, a Montana native who has not been publicly identified, began the U.S. Army Sniper Course in September of this year 2021. This seven-week course trains individuals assigned to sniper positions in the skills necessary to deliver long-range precision fire and the collection of battlefield information.

Whitefish City Council denied a proposed hotel project by Rimrock company on U.S. 93 South. At the same meeting the Commission approved a 40- suite boutique hotel planned for 38 Central downtown. The Central Ave project will be developed by Averill Hospitality. The developer plans to donate $500,000 to the Whitefish Housing Authority for workforce housing.

The Idaho State Liquor Division last month announced new rules involving rare but highly sought after bourbons, whiskeys and other small-batch liquor offerings. Instances of hoarding, illegal reselling and bad behavior by customers have caused the state agency that sells alcohol in Idaho to change how it distributes rare spirits. The new rules mean the agency will allocate rare products across its retail outlets in a sporadic manner.

Great Falls city commissioners have voted to accept a $20,472,200 bid from Swank Enterprises, Inc. of Valier to build a new public recreation and aquatics center at Lion’s Park. With an anticipated completion date of sometime in 2023, the new aquatics center is set to include both a lap pool and a leisure pool with a slide.An indoor gym complete with an overhead running track, a multi-purpose room for gatherings and parties, men’s and women’s locker rooms, plus a child care center.

Credova Financial, a buy now, pay later company, from Nevada is a company that offers the ability for consumers to make a purchase and pay it off later, has moved its headquarters to Bozeman. Credova’s financing system is available across several online retailers, such as Hinterland Outfitters or, as well as some brick-and-mortar stores. The program is not available at any Montana stores. Credova’s headquarters will be in the 68,000-square-foot Aspen Crossing building at 515 W. Aspen St.

A7 Cycles, from Whitefish, is named for Alpine Trail No. 7, a rugged 50-mile route across the ridgeline of the Swan Mountains. The new bike repair shop embodies the backcountry character of its founder’s, Travis Coleman, favorite trail. Travis, and his partner Lynn Foster work on bikes in a garage near Whitefish. A7 CYCLES offers the standard suite of bike tune-ups and maintenance for both private individuals and outfitter bike fleets.

Company officials told investors in its third-quarter earnings call that Continental’s $3.2 billion entry into the Permian Basin does not reflect a lack of horsepower in the Bakken. According to Continental’s President and Chief Operating Officer Jack Stark the Bakken continues to consistently deliver some of the company’s best wells. Those kinds of results are why Continental has chosen to build a dominant position in the Bakken, and expects to remain active there for years to come.

CEO, Chris Wright has been chosen the keynote speaker for the annual Williston Basin Petroleum Awards Banquet, set for November 19, 2021 at Williston State College. Those attending the awards banquet will get to hear a lot more about Wright’s vision of the oil and gas industry’s future. He believes the industry not only will, but, in fact, must, continue to play a vital role when it comes to the environment, social, and governance factors. As Wright sees it, there are really three big energy challenges today. They are energy poverty, affordable energy, and climate change.

Hatlen and Brian Jones, recently started Valley Wide Restaurant Supply in Kalispell. Valley Wide Restaurant Supply sells everything needed in a restaurant. Valley Wide Restaurant Supply is located at 2 Ninth Ave. W., Kalispell.

KLJ Engineering LLC has received the 2022 Engineering Excellence Award from the Montana Chapter of the American Council of Engineering Companies for its work on the Kalispell Core and Rail Redevelopment project. This project converted a reclaimed gravel pit (brownfield) into the new Glacier Rail Park, a rail-served industrial park. The second phase of the project is replacement of the old tracks running through the city with a 1.6-mile linear park and trail along with a new north-south street.

Flathead County Fair Board Chairman Sam Nunnally has been hired as the new manager of the county fairgrounds. Current manager Mark Campbell retired as of November 29. Nunnally comes to the position with in-depth knowledge about the management and operations of the fairgrounds, as he has served on the Fair Board since 2011. The venue has 500 event days and 200,000 visitors annually.

Williston ND was invited to a Workhorse Aerospace demonstration on November 9, at the former Sloulin Field International Airport hangar, to witness demonstrations of package deliveries by Horsefly a product of Workhorse Aerospace, a division of Workhorse Technologies in Loveland, Ohio. Workhorse is being designed and working towards FAA type certification of HorseFly, a small Unmanned Aerial System (sUAS). The primary mission for the HorseFly UAS is small package delivery, focusing on the market for 10 lbs. delivered up to 10-miles. The demonstration delivered various packages, dropping them at a nearby location and returning to the launch point.

Nick Bennett of Manhattan, recently won the 2021 National Auctioneers Association International Auctioneer Championship. Bennett is the CEO of Ascent Auction Services in Manhattan, selling agricultural and construction equipment, real estate and business assets across Montana. He has also served as President of the Western College of Auctioneering since 2013 and is a Board Member for the Montana Auctioneers Association.

The Montana Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF) Young Farmers and Ranchers (YF&R) Committee presented a check for $5500 to the Montana Food Bank Network on November 9 in Billings. The luncheon was part of the 102nd MFBF Annual Convention being held November 8-11. The donation came from proceeds raised during the virtual YF&R Hoofin’ it for Hunger race October 9 and from donations by county Farm Bureaus from across the state.

North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven dropped in on the construction progress for WBI Energy’s North Bakken Expansion pipeline, which has been underway since July. The pipeline will transport up to 250 million cubic feet per day of natural gas from the Bakken. It’s a $260 million project that includes 63 miles of 24-inch pipeline and 30 miles of 12-inch, along with a compressor station and associated infrastructure.

North Dakota’s eight commercial service airports posted almost 75,000 airline passenger boardings during the month of September 2021. This is a 90% increase from September 2020 but is still 16% below September 2019’s pre-pandemic airline boarding counts. While enplanements are rising, known challenges exist such as an inability to add additional flights due to staff shortages and the sluggish business and government travel due to persisting COVID-19 concerns.

The North Dakota Development Fund has approved initial support for Cerilon Inc. to develop a major gas-to-liquids (GTL) complex in North Dakota, with the initial phase estimated at $2.8 billion. Cerilon GTL is building a gas to liquids plant in Trenton. The Development Fund Board approved $3 million in initial developmental capital to Cerilon GTL Inc., a subsidiary of Calgary, Albert-based Cerilon Inc., for the GTL complex, with further financial support anticipated. 

Federal mandates that federal contractors require their workers to be vaccinated violates Montana law and is therefore unenforceable.

President Biden has directed new or renewed federal contracts to require COVID-19 vaccination for contractor or subcontractor employees, to which Gov. Gianforte has responded that it violates Montana law prohibiting discrimination based on a person’s vaccination status.

Recognizing that the mandate has created confusion for Montana employers and employees, the Governor issued guidance to Montanans regarding compliance and recommended reasonable accommodations for health care facilities and special rules for licensed nursing homes and long-term care and assisted living facilities.

Issued September 9, Pres. Biden’s Executive Order 14042 directs new or renewed federal contracts to require COVID-19 vaccination for contractor or subcontractor employees.

The governor wrote, “As outlined in concurrent guidance from my administration, President Biden’s executive order violates Montana law. COVID-19 vaccine mandates, including as a condition of employment, are illegal in Montana, and state law makes clear that contract terms that violate Montana public policy are unenforceable. As such, President Biden’s order is unenforceable.”

The governor also wrote, “While I encourage Montanans to consult with their health care provider and get vaccinated, doing so is voluntary and no individual should face discrimination based on their vaccination status.”

The governor’s guidance clarifies to whom the president’s executive order applies, as well as the effect of the executive order on new or renewed contracts.

Larry Johns has joined Stockman Wealth Management as President. He will oversee and manage the daily operations, along with helping establish the long-term strategic initiatives of Stockman Wealth Management. His responsibilities include project management, employee supervision and daily involvement in the decisions impacting selected investments.

 Johns brings over 25 years of investment management experience to the position, which includes portfolio management, analysis, and business development. He is a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) charterholder as well.

Johns earned his Bachelor of Science degree in finance from Montana State University in Bozeman in 1995 and his Master of Business Administration from the University of Montana in 2004. He also served in the United States Army in an Artillery Unit. Johns is active in the community serving as a member of the board of directors and chair of the Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch Foundation Investment Committee.

 He is located at 402 North Broadway.