By Evelyn Pyburn

Quietly growing and expanding in a southwest corner of Billings is a homegrown, family-founded business that has made a giant foot print throughout the west. 2M Company is an amazing success story for our community as the kind of business that generates a rock solid foundation for the local economy.

In 1978, Hollis A. (Bill) Mills and Chester Majors pooled their resources and started the 2M Company, a water well wholesale supplier.

During their first year the two experienced salesmen had $1.5 million in total sales and paid wages of  $100,000. From 2000, company sales increased from $21 million with a payroll of $2 million to over $44 million and a payroll of $4.5 million in 2007.  Since then they have maintained a 15 percent annual growth rate and fully expect to see sales exceed $200 million within the next five years, predicts H. A. “Buzz” Mills, Bill Mill’s son, who is now the company’s president.

“We have quadrupled sales since 2008,” said Buzz, “and a lot of it is market share growth.”

2M has 8000 customers, most typically professional licensed contractors who interface with the end users of pumps, water wells, well monitoring equipment, sprinkler systems, pipeline designs, booster system, etc. for residential, municipal and industrial sewage systems including landscapers, manufacturers, mining companies, farmers, etc.

Buzz Mills believes that the success of the company rests upon the fundamental philosophy which was the impetus for the two M’s, his father and Majors, to start the business, which was to build a wholesale company around the principal that the customer always comes first. The philosophy and 2M’s dedication to it, has come to be recognized throughout the industry and dubbed “Legendary Service.”

Bill Mills had been the manager of a water well wholesale supplier, and Majors was a factory representative. Both men were tired of working for companies that only thought about the bottom line. They wanted to give back to the people who make a business successful, and to have fun doing it.

Strictly adhering to that philosophy has been the company’s every day commitment and it remains at the forefront, today, says Buzz Mills, proudly.

Much has changed since the company’s founding.  In 2017 it became part of Headwater Companies, a collective group of groundwater distributors owned by Franklin Electric. While 2M is no longer a family-owned business, Buzz Mills still manages the company.

At the time that Franklin Electric acquired 2M they also acquired Western Hydro Corporation, based in California, which now functions in tandem with 2M. Both 2M and Western Hydro are continuing operations with the same management style, history and culture that built them, however the financial and accounting administration of Western Hydro has been moved to the Billings office.

2M has 15 locations in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Washington, Texas, New Mexico, Oregon, including four locations in Montana. Western Hydro has 12 locations in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Kansas, Nevada and Utah.

Company wide, 2M and Western Hydro employ 237 full time people; forty of those are based in Billings, of which 30 are dedicated to the administration of the two companies.

To this day, 2M remains true to “Legendary Service” standards. Buzz explained that they have a dedicated training center in Billings and employ a full time training manager who works with the employees and their customers to pass along product knowledge, application and design, and to assure “Legendary Service” every time they encounter a customer. Given the rapid and dynamic technological advances over the years, their training has become all the more important.

Buzz grew up with the company. As a boy, he can clearly remember opening day, sitting at his father’s desk, observing the bustle of activity around him. It was at 2M that he gained his first job. And, he remembers walking through the brand new corporate facility with amazement in 2007, which is when he was named president and general manager, having spent 15 years working from the bottom up, and graduating college from MSU-Billings.

Chester Majors retired in 1993 and Bill Mills became sole owner.

While Bill Mills has retired, he remains an important advisor to the company.

Buzz is proud of his company’s employee retention rate. One of their employees “remembers me when I was eleven years old,” he said.

2M’s employees reflect the high caliber of workers in Montana. It was this high employee quality that influenced the decision to make Billings headquarters for all 27 locations of 2M and Western Hydro, said Buzz. 2M has two locations in Billings, a couple blocks apart, one the administration center and the other a warehouse, at 5249 Holiday Avenue and 1215 Cordova Street.

During its 40-plus years of operation, 2M has always been a leader in its industry which meant initiating many “firsts.” The “firsts” often reflect things that while being revolutionary in their day have become so common place that they hardly seem worth mentioning today – such as being the first to offer customer toll free numbers, a reminder that there was a time when almost any business phone call was an expensive proposition. All telephone services posed a significant barrier and cost for most businesses.

2M was the first wholesaler in the industry to provide delivery cargo vans, cash discounts, dealer meetings, and trip promotions. They were also the first to offer factory fly-ins, Saturday morning hours, emergency service 24/7, extended summer hours, a website, on –line ordering, and building programs.

Among its customers 2M remains noted for their many customer benefits and promotions, which includes trip promotions and an annual event which last year involved hosting 740 customers and their spouses on a 5-night trip to the Dominican Republic.

Speaking of revolutionary changes, 2M started up as an enterprise at a time when doing business on a national scale from Montana was considered very challenging, fraught with many disadvantages. Technology and innovations have changed much of that. Computers, the internet and improvements in communications have to a large extent removed many barriers. About the only disadvantage that a Montana –based business struggles with today is the lack of air service, said Buzz. As someone who usually spends an average of 130 days a year in over-night traveling throughout the western United States, Buzz knows, of what he speaks.

Given the Coronavirus crisis, this year has been very different. Buzz has spent less than 30 days traveling, and much of that included a car trip through five states. Options for air travel have been even more limited, but the cost of lodging is greatly less, he pointed out.

There’s been an upside to the situation. Buzz explains, “I had a day-long meeting in Denver from a website sitting in my office. Everyone could see each other. It was a good meeting, and at the end of the day, I went home.”

Like so many other people during the crisis, Buzz has had more time on his hands, and like so many others he turned to doing home improvements, renewing landscaping and installing a new sprinkler system. Since many other people have done likewise it has meant increased business for 2M, despite the many other changes they have had to make.

Buzz says he sees many of the changes remaining in the future, such as meeting more virtually and traveling less. And there will be changes in how many other industries do business, who are 2M’s customers  – especially in the livestock and food industries. Being able to get water efficiently and economically is going to be even more important predicts, Buzz.

By Evelyn Pyburn

The people of Montana have “thrown down the gauntlet,” and have challenged Republicans to show what they can do, stated Republican Brad Tschida, who was 2019 House Majority Leader and recently re-elected to HD97 in Missoula. On Nov. 3, the Republicans swept all statewide offices and netted many new positions in both houses of the state legislature, achieving a rare “trifecta” in state political power.

The Republicans have been saying they can govern better and the voters of Montana have said, “prove you are in fact better to run the government,” surmised Tschida, regarding the fact that Republican Greg Gianforte won the governorship and Republicans won a veto-proof majority in both the House and the Senate.

“It’s the first time in 84 years that something like this has happened, “ said Tschida, “It doesn’t take much insight to know it is significant.”  But why it happened isn’t all that clear, Tschida puzzled, adding that it was probably a myriad of factors. Significant, however, was probably “seeing all the riots and lawlessness that was going on, and I think people think Republicans have a better grasp on supporting law enforcement and safety.”

This may be the first time in history that Republicans swept all the offices – including all the State Land Board Offices, as well as the Public Service Commission positions, said Jon Benion, a senior staff attorney for the Montana Attorney General’s office. Benion is something of an expert on the history of Montana politics having written the book, “Big Sky Politics.”

“I don’t know if we have ever had a time when Republicans controlled all Land Board offices,” said Benion, “The Democrats did in 2008, “when they swept all offices except for Dennis Rehberg’s  US Congressional seat.”

When looking at history, it becomes obvious that there is something of a 16- 20 year cycle regarding party control in Montana, said Benion.  “From 1988 to 2000 the Republican brand was strong, and then Democrats were golden from 2004 to 2008.”

Montana is typically known as a red state, said Benion, but that is mostly because the state predictably votes for Republican presidents. Clinton winning in 1992 was out of the norm, but that was because Ross Perot was a third party candidate. One has to go back to 1964 before Montana supported another Democrat presidential candidate as part of the Lyndon B. Johnson landslide.

Asked what he thought the Republican sweep would mean in the next state legislative session, Benion quipped, “It means a lot fewer vetoes.”

Tschida, too, cited that as one of the most significant aspects of the election wins. Having a Republican governor for the first time in 16 years, will undoubtedly more easily advance Republican policies. Even though Republicans have controlled both houses for the past couple of sessions, a lot of their measures were vetoed by Democrat Governor Steve Bullock and before him, by Democrat Governor Brian Schweitzer, who gained some notoriety for the number of his vetoes.

Going into the 2021 session, the Republican majority in the House will be sufficient to override a governor’s veto or to pass measures that require a two-thirds majority without winning Democratic votes.

With Republican Greg Gianforte winning the governorship, Republicans also picked up nine legislative seats in the Montana House and one in the Montana Senate — enough to expand their majorities to 67 of 100 House seats and 31 of 50 Senate seats. Cascade County Republicans made a total sweep of their legislature districts. Democrats didn’t win a single Republican-held legislative seat.

Tschida was not too certain what the priorities for the Republicans will be. There are a lot of things that need to be addressed and he quickly recited a long list starting with First and Second Amendment rights, water rights and protecting “the most vulnerable.”

Tschida wants to demonstrate that the Republicans do not just stand opposed to expanding government, “but that we want smart government.”

The rules and details of how the legislative session will be run and their leadership will be ironed out in caucuses of both parties on November 18 and 19 in Helena.

“We are going to see some good legislation that will save money and benefit Montanans….we will get business-friendly legislation passed, reduce the size of bureaucracies and the regulatory impact on businesses….We will have a legislative and executive branch that will create a positive environment to serve the needs of the population and not government.”

Property taxes will undoubtedly be a big issue, given that the rapid rise in home values is pushing a lot of people out of their homes.

An obvious issue will be what Tschida called “over-reach by the outgoing administration regarding masking people up and shutting business down. If you look at what they did — not a single state, county or city job was deemed as non-essential.  Every one of them kept their jobs. The entire impact of COVID was born by the private sector. It caused businesses to shut down forever. “

The government failed to look at the broader impact of its actions in shutting down the economy and imposing other restrictions, according to Tschida. “By their actions they promoted more domestic violence, child abuse, an increase in the amount of drug and alcohol abuse… they didn’t look at the myriad of impacts that those decisions had on people.”

The next session of the Montana State Legislature is scheduled to begin on Jan. 4, 2021.

Prior to each legislative session, organizations of all sorts usually announce their legislative priorities – those issues, policies and proposals, for which they plan to lobby or support.

Yellowstone County’s economic development agency, Big Sky Economic Development (BSED) is among the many that have announced their list of priorities going into the next legislative session. The agency, which administers both Big Sky Economic Authority and Big Sky Economic Corporation, has identified a broad range of issues at both the state and local level that it considers important.

BSED’s legislative priorities at a local level parallels those at the state level, and includes the goal of Yellowstone County to change state law to allow more flexibility in establishing long-term leases of county properties, which might better encourage private business investment.

BSED’s goals include supporting the continued funding of Medicaid which will bolster local and regional healthcare providers.

They will also stand behind any proposed funding of Montana State University-Billings, including what has been identified as a need for investment in the health care and science professions.

BSED wants to Protect Tax Increment Financing, saying that “urban renewal and target economic development districts need to be supported as one of the few economic development tools available to support the redevelopment of our downtown core and to build infrastructure that supports the growth of value-added industry.”

BSED’s legislative priorities include endorsing the goals of the Montana Economic Development Authority and the Montana Chamber of Commerce’s “Next Generation of Community and Economic Development Tool Analysis,” which is essentially a number of funding proposals and laws that will empower agencies to develop programs and projects.

The priorities include reorganizing the state’s economic development programs and subsidies for job creation. They also advocate for a reorganization of the Department of Commerce and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

They want to fund incentives for recruiting and retaining workers in Montana and to encourage entrepreneurship.

The priorities include support for a statewide strategy to improve broadband accessibility, and revenue to support investment in 5G networks.

And they want the state legislature to explore funding sources to help advance economic development programs and projects to be created in future legislative sessions – laws which would enable government funding of “infrastructure and community development assets.”

To explore options for affordable daycare and programs supporting “workforce” housing, were other issues of interest that might come forward in the next state legislature, about which BSED would be supportive.

By Evelyn Pyburn

“We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” – Thomas Paine

Such is the case for Montana with the Republicans having gained control of the governorship and both legislative houses.  The situation poses a rare opportunity to set Montana on a strong economic foundation.

We know how to do it! And now, with the Party that is supposed to be the Party of sound fiscal policies in full charge — there should be no excuses – no barriers to begin the state’s economy over again.

It’s not as though there are no ideas about what works and what doesn’t. What makes for a good economic environment and for sound government has been studied to death over many decades and in 50 different laboratories, usually with much the same results.

Every year for 14 years, the American Legislative Exchange Council has issued the Rich States Poor States study of the economies of all the states. In great detail it identifies the policies and strategies that work in creating an environment in which business can thrive and governments can function soundly.

Is there any reason we shouldn’t be on top of this?

Of course there is. Not all of the leaders really meant it when they advocated for fiscal restraint and economic freedom. And, there are those who hold other ambitions, so their priority is to get along with the opposition more than solve problems. And, then as one pessimistic friend described, it is in the nature of Republicans to form a circle and just start shooting.

And there’s more. Some observers have explained that to solve problems is not the goal for many politicians of either political party. They are in lock step, while appearing to be on opposite sides, wrangling over familiar issues, in campaign after campaign. Their thinking is why solve problems that are guaranteed to successfully fund raise and garner votes, for the Right and the Left? Why do the hard work and take the slings and arrows that would surely come if they were to really try to solve the problem? Hence we have decades and decades of what seems to be unsolvable problems.

We all know of what I speak. There are all kinds of issues to which over the decades Republicans have given a lot of lip service during campaigns, only to become mysteriously silent once elected.  They are the promises we were commonly told were too difficult to get accomplished, or too complicated for us to understand. They are the changes that couldn’t happen, we were told, because they lacked the political power to get them passed.

It was essentially this non-performance that got Donald Trump elected president.

The most amazing, salient factor about President Trump is that he got it done! He demonstrated with almost the speed of light and with what appeared as astounding ease the nonsense of all the excuses.

From Day One, in the cancelling of a hugely over-priced order for a new presidential airplane, to the building of the wall, to neutralizing the saber-rattling of Iran, North Korea and Russia, to bringing peace to the Middle East, to ending terrorist activity, to unleashing the productivity of the American people, increasing for the first time in decades real income growth, regaining our energy independence, reversing the loss of our manufacturing industry, reinstituting Constitutional law. Almost single handedly he was doing all these things that so many had said were impossible. That’s why there were Republicans who stood opposed to Trump, he unmasked the lie of the duplicity of political compromise and the languor of expediency.

Montana has hundreds of issues big and small that should and could be addressed. Take away the political gamesmanship and the road is clear.

If during the next legislative session the Republicans do not act to strengthen our civil liberties, encourage economic freedom, curb the oppressive regulation of our industry, businesses and entrepreneurs, solve the growing debt of the public employees’ pension fund, unleash educational freedom, eliminate the remnants of business equipment taxes, penalize  the promulgators of frivolous lawsuits, and diminish the power and size of our bureaucracy  — all those things Republicans have always said they wanted to do are now doable.

Of course, part of the reason many of those things don’t happen is because legislators don’t hear from their constituents. So to all those who voted in this red wave: it’s no time to sit back and wait. Every voter needs to be up front -and -center about the issues – with Republicans and Democrats. Be assured there are many very organized and well-funded lobbying groups, who in your absence will be making their case.

By Evelyn Pyburn

It is unspeakable, the assault on Montana’s small business owners that the Governor is perpetrating in what has to be the most disrespectful attack on citizens ever seen in this state.

For going on nine months now, small business owners of every size and industry have been struggling mightily to keep their heads above water, given the extreme restrictions that they have been working under, with claims that their sacrifices and the loss of their businesses are necessary to end the impacts of COVID-19.

Despite wide-spread compliance to the protocols that included months of closures, as well as social distancing, lines on floors, masks, plastic shielding, hand washing stations, constant cleaning, consumers staying home, quarantining  and cancelling of events, the virus has continued to spread. Concluding that the solution must be more of the same, Montana government and Governor Steve Bullock have doubled down and turned on the most vital of our citizens – those who provide the goods and services, jobs and income – and tax revenues —that sustain everyone.

It’s not that our business people don’t have enough pressure on them keeping up with the protocols, responding to divisive snitching, working 24-7, losing money, exhausting their savings and watching their businesses go down the drain – now they have to deal with a specially -designed force of secret police stalking their businesses and lives, who will force them into re-education programs with the threat of criminal charges if they don’t adjust their attitudes. (The enforcers are being called “liaisons,” an attempted slight-of-language that says they fully understand the nature of what they do and want to avoid clearly identifying it.)

As dire as the consequences of the disease, the consequences of governments such as this are far greater. The lack of individual liberty kills just as surely as any lethal virus.

The attack on businesses in Yellowstone County is all the more baseless given that the only rational excuse offered is that they want to reduce pressure on medical facilities that are at capacity, with no consideration given to the fact that more than half of the patients are from outside the county. People are coming to Billings, as they always have for medical care, from throughout dozens and dozens of counties, Wyoming, North Dakota. How is it effective or justifiable to penalize local business people for hospitalizations of people from other areas?

The question deserves an answer.

But more importantly our business people deserve to be treated with more respect. The citizens of the state are autonomous individuals, not vassals of  bureaucrats and political agendas and ambitions.

By Dan Nordberg and Loretta Solon Greene

As the White House Proclamation stated earlier this month, “On National Manufacturing Day, we celebrate our dedicated American workers who carry on this legacy, recognizing that manufacturing is a cornerstone of our economic prosperity and national security.” Manufacturing businesses are essential contributors to our economic health and wellbeing, infusing $2.38 trillion annually into the national economy.

Manufacturing is especially important in rural America, where manufacturing plants and businesses can thrive due to generally lower property taxes, more reasonable land prices, and a unique quality of life. During a time when the coronavirus pandemic has created many challenges, rural economies are looking for new industry options, expanded manufacturing, and enhanced exporting avenues.  New policies implemented by President Trump’s Administration combined with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) resources may provide rural America a boost for what it needs to regain revenues and support communities.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, rural communities experienced an economic surge as manufacturing increased, creating new jobs and attracting top talent. The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) that President Trump signed into law earlier this year further bolstered their ability to export across North America. Throughout the negotiations, SBA had a seat at the table, giving small businesses an amplified voice in crafting the policy that will drive continental trade for decades to come.

With manufacturing infusing new life into rural areas, streamlined export processes and SBA’s program resources, rural small businesses may now more easily act on their exporting goals. SBA has made a concerted effort to increase trade opportunities, ensuring small businesses access to international markets and the vitality of American manufacturing exports.

Created intentionally to assist small business exporters, SBA’s Office of International Trade offers financial assistance to businesses looking to expand trade opportunities. Through a suite of finance programs, including revolving lines of credit and loans that can be used for working capital, fixed assets, and debt refinancing, these programs are geared toward helping businesses increase their profits, reduce market dependence, and stabilize seasonal sales. Small businesses looking to export can apply for these products by contacting a local SBA Export Finance Manager<https://www.sba.gov/article/2017/nov/01/list-useacs-sba-staff>.

The State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) is another way the SBA assists small businesses. Through STEP, small businesses looking to export goods and products can use the grant funds to participate in foreign trade missions, develop and design international marketing campaigns, translate marketing materials into other languages, and more. Since its creation in 2010 as part of the Small Business Jobs Act, STEP has recorded over $3.8 billion in exports and awarded approximately $157 million in grants to fund export opportunities, increasing the footprint of American small businesses in countries worldwide.

Furthermore, the SBA’s Office of International Trade can help any small business that faces barriers in accessing international markets. The office publicizes the small business benefits of U.S. trade agreements and helps protect the rights of small businesses under these agreements. Small business manufacturers and other rural businesses looking for information and assistance on how to connect with more international customers can explore resources from SBA OIT and its partners at sba.gov/tradetools <http://www.sba.gov/tradetools>.

The SBA has worked diligently to direct financial support to manufacturing businesses critical to rural America throughout the COVID-19 pandemic response. Through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), manufacturing businesses received $54 billion, assisting more than 238,000 small businesses and retaining countless jobs. The impact of this aid was clear in September’s jobs report, which reported growth of 66,000 manufacturing jobs. The industry is bouncing back and driving job creation.

With 95 percent of the world’s consumers living outside our borders, American products have more potential than ever before when businesses venture into international markets. Now is the time for community leaders to further invest in manufacturing and small businesses to tap into the exporting resources to grow hometown businesses and communities. To talk with someone about your exporting potential or manufacturing idea, visit sba.gov/oit<http://www.sba.gov/oit>, or to find more resources available for small businesses in rural America, visit sba.gov/rural<http://www.sba.gov/rural>.

(Dan Nordberg serves as SBA’s National Director for Rural Affairs and Region 8 Administrator based in Denver. He oversees the agency’s programs and services in Colorado, Montana, Utah, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.  Loretta Solon Greene is the Associate Administrator for the SBA’s Office of International Trade.)

By Evelyn Pyburn

It’s been rumored for some time now that Billings School District 2 officials are interested in exploring the possibility of building a new stadium at Metra Park.

Although mentioned with some frequency at Metra Park Advisory Board meetings and presented as a possibility in the master planning process, Manager Bill Dutcher reported that both his staff and SD2 officials are now digging into the details and exploring the pros and cons of the idea.

SD2 Superintendent Greg Upham assured that SD2 board members are serious about exploring the possibility, adding that “the motivation is to look for a win-win.” He said, “We are not looking for someone to pay our bill.”

During the Metra Park monthly advisory board meeting on Tuesday, one board member, Mike Mayott stated that he believes other options should be explored because he doesn’t think that a stadium belongs at Metra Park. It gives up too much in other opportunities for Metra Park.

Mayott suggested that SD2 take a hard look at the possibility of locating on city-owned land adjacent to Amend Park, a non-profit soccer complex administered by the Amend Park Development Council (APDC), about which Mayott conceded he has a conflict of interest since he serves as manager of Amend Park.

“We should look at that before settling on Metra,” he said.

One advantage he pointed out is that the area is within the South Billings Boulevard Urban Renewal District (SBBURD), which has funds and bonding authority which could possibly remove the need for a stadium project to have to go out for county-wide bond approval.

Also, at the MP meeting was Jim Tevlin, SBBURD Controller, who explained to the board that the tax increment district has $24 million and it is part of their capital improvement plan to develop a recreation center, which could include the “the possibility of a combined football stadium and a gymnasium of sorts.”

Upham said that while he had some brief conversations about that possibility, he has not had an opportunity to explore it with the SD2 board or others. He said that being a public entity they would be open to exploring all possibilities.

MP Advisory Board Chairman Charlie Loveridge said that it is something to be explored in planning for Metra Park, which is still developing proposals as part of the master plan. “Hopefully we can figure out the stadium and the rest will fall into place,” he said, emphasizing that they want to have community discussions. “We want what the community thinks is awesome.”

Metra Park staff has been asked to stake out a possible area for the stadium on the Metra Park grounds to give everyone an idea of what a stadium might look like on the campus. It was noted, however, in discussions with county commissioners last week that where facilities will be located at Metra Park must await the finalization of plans of the Montana Department of Transportation which is in the process of designing a new intersection at 1st Avenue North, Exhibition Drive and Highway 87. The design is expected to provide a gate into Metra Park while closing two other gates. The new intersection is expected to have some overlap with Metra Park.

“We have a lot of things to talk about,” said County Commissioner John Ostlund.

For example: How a stadium will be financed and what will be the structure of the use agreement between Metra Park and SD2. Whatever agreement they have it will undoubtedly be very different than any other that Metra Park has with other users.

Ostlund emphasized that however it is built it will remain in county ownership.

Ostlund commented that an important financing concern is how it will impact other county taxpayers, most especially those in Lockwood. “Lockwood just built a new facility, and we have heard some concern that they would have to be paying taxes on two facilities.”

County Finance Director Kevan Bryan pointed out that the school district and Metra Park might encounter conflicts with having two mill levies on the ballot at the same time. Coordinating that would be an important part of the planning.

“Are you talking about the school district building it?” questioned Commissioner Don Jones, to which the answer seemed to be “maybe” – that’s among the things that have to be ironed out.

SD2 Athletic Director (AD) Mark Wall said, “We want this to work for everybody.” He reminded how well it worked out for all schools in the South Central area when track and field events were held at Metra Park.  “We believe that a stadium and a track can bring all kinds of benefits to our community….There are all kinds of ways to use the field.”

Wall said he has had discussions with South Central Montana AD’s and “with the exception of Lockwood everyone is well behind this.” He noted that Huntley Project and Shepherd could also use the facility, and expressed confidence something would be workable to accommodate Lockwood’s situation.

Wall suggested that the school district “would be responsible for track repair. It would be our obligation …  we would have to do that any way no matter where it is located.”

One of the biggest benefits of having the stadium at Metra Park would be the availability of parking.

Other issues that must be ironed out are events with conflicting schedules. Metra Park does not want to lose any of its long-standing users or events. A high school’s sport schedule is very busy and intense.

The school would probably be responsible for managing the scheduling of events.

Ostlund emphasized that Metra Park would also be just as adamant as ever about collecting capital improvement fees (CIP) fees as a part of ticket sales or compensated for in some manner. “We charge those for capital repair,” he said, “We have come a long ways and I don’t want to slide back,” referring to Metra Park’s ongoing maintenance program.

Wall explained that the CIP conflict that Metra Park has had in the past has been with the Montana High School Association and their events. It would not be an issue with SD2 and their ticket sales. Capital improvement costs has always been important to the SD2, too, he said and the manner in which SD2 has dealt with MHSA could be applied at Metra Park.

“Our activities are mostly funded by ticket fees and activity fees,” explained Wall. Each school makes about $40,000 a year they use for equipment, etc. 

Jones urged SD2 officials to talk to other school districts in the county to “get their buy in.” He said, “I want to make sure we aren’t undercutting ourselves within the community and we could all work together.”

Charlie Loveridge spoke to other issues that must also be discussed and agreements reached upon such as sharing sponsorships, maintenance fees, ticket sales, concession sales. About concession sales, Loveridge pointed out that having the regular attendance that the stadium would bring, could result in a great opportunity to greatly enhance concessions in a way that “would make it amazing,” generating more revenue and more ticket sales for events.

A “myriad” of issues involving unions and contracts and other legal issues must also be dealt with, reminded Ostlund.

NorthWestern Energy awarded the City of Billings $90,000 in E+Business Partners Energy Efficiency incentives for the installation of energy efficient equipment last week, underscoring the opportunities available for any commercial, or even residential, energy projects to recapture some of their investment costs.

The City of Billings’ adoption of the technology and working in partnership with Northwestern Energy, over the past three years, in building a $75 million upgrade to its Wastewater Reclamation Facility, not only saved the city money but demonstrates the opportunities available in almost any energy project.

The upgrades result in Billings producing even higher quality water that returns to the Yellowstone River. Part of the upgrade included constructing a state-of-the-art aeration system that maximizes energy efficiency. Aeration is the most energy intensive process required in wastewater treatment, accounting for approximately half of the electrical load used.

It’s not the first project that the city has done in cooperation with NorthWestern Energy. The City and NorthWestern have worked in partnership for years to improve the energy efficiencies in city facilities and to reduce energy consumption while reducing operating costs.

“The City of Billings has been a leader in energy management, by looking for opportunities to make strategic investments in energy saving projects and participating in the utility’s energy efficiency incentive programs. This $90,000 E+Business Partners incentive awarded to the water reclamation facility is one of the largest incentives we have awarded in recent years,” said NorthWestern Energy Senior Key Account and Economic Development Specialist, Deborah Singer.

The Billings aeration system upgrades are estimated to save about 743,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, resulting in about $57,300 in annual electric cost savings based on today’s electric costs. 

The aeration system uses turbo blowers, much like a turbo charger in a sports car, that rotate at speeds of over 30,000 rpm. These high speeds allow the rotating shaft to literally levitate in air creating very little friction resistance. This results in lower energy requirements. And, all this means less energy required to produce high quality water for the Yellowstone River.

The project was initiated by a team composed of City of Billings staff, NorthWestern Energy  representatives and consultants working together to identify energy savings opportunities for the City of Billings.. 

During the last 10 years the City of Billings implemented 62 energy efficiency projects; qualifying for $967,050 in energy efficiency incentives from NorthWestern Energy.  These projects resulted in an estimated 5.82 million kWhs saved per year, equating to about $455,000 in annual electric cost savings.

In addition, the City of Billings has received $612,257 in Large Customer Universal Systems Benefit funding for 14 energy efficiency projects. These projects resulted in an estimated 1.37 million kWhs saved per year, equating to about $104,500 in annual electric cost savings.

The City of Billings has also been awarded $171,823 in NorthWestern Energy E+ Renewable Energy incentives funded by Universal Systems Benefit credits for the installation of solar photovoltaic systems at Fire Stations 3 & 6, the Billings Parks & Recreation Community Center, the downtown MET Transit Center, and the new library. 

For more details about E+ Energy Efficiency programs go to E+Programs@northwestern.com or (800) 823-5995.

By Evelyn Pyburn

Due in part to the impact of COVID-19 on the meat processing business, there is a shifting going on in the industry. Business people and investors are looking with new interest at Montana’s beef industry. Where it’s leading is uncertain but that there will be changes is certain.

Because the COVID crisis squeezed a narrow distribution system that left meat counters empty, it lifted the veil on an already troubled industry that had been undermined by regulations and protectionism for decades. It has prompted a transformation which will hopefully benefit Montana.

Local processing plants are changing ownership, others are expanding, and investors are proposing new plants. What the future prospects are for the industry might best be understood by looking at the past and understanding the problems, and asking “why?” suggests Taylor Brown, who experienced a very “expensive” lesson regarding the industry some years ago.

Taylor Brown, a very prominent figure in Montana agriculture and owner of Northern Ag Network, was one of nine investors in Meats of Montana, which opened in the fall of 1990. It was a venture aimed at rejuvenating the meat packing business in Montana, after the closing of Pierce Packing and Midland Packing in Billings, and after a period of closures of smaller operations throughout the state.

The company invested substantial sums to refurbish the Midland Packing plant, “the last big packing plant in Montana.” The plant “was a good facility” — still very useable once it was updated and re-equipped.

Meats of Montana entered the business as a medium-size operation, not as large as Midland or Pierce which might have drawn attention from the larger players like Iowa Beef Processors (now Tyson Foods), but it was larger than the small-town processors who serve local consumers and livestock growers. They planned to process about 250 head a day purchased locally in the region.

Whether that is the size of plant that can be successful in serving the market now is yet to be seen, but there are investors actively exploring the possibilities of starting such operations in Montana.  There is a difference in what is required of the different size facilities and the challenges that each must face.

In comparison to the rest of the country, Brown emphasized that “the amount of beef we process in Montana is tiny, tiny.”

The segment of the industry that has felt a huge demand in Montana is the local small processing plants that are scattered about the state.  The demand for their services has been exceeding capacity for quite some time, but it was exacerbated during the meat shortages brought on by the impacts of the virus. When consumers turned to local retail meat stores and the slaughter plants in their hometowns they were surprised to confront long wait periods. Some were booked out for a year or more.

While the local plants, usually family-owned businesses, were striving to expand they reported that one of their biggest stumbling blocks was finding the labor they need. It’s quite likely that most of them received quite a boost in their expansion efforts, a few weeks ago, when they received grants from Coronavirus Relief Funds. A total of some $7.5 million was awarded through the Montana Department of Agriculture, to dozens of plants throughout the state. Awards typically ranged from about $50,000 to $150,000 for each business. More recently it was announced that more funds are available for applicants.

Brown believes that growth will be seen in the state in the operations of the small plants, as they respond to a changing market in which consumers are more focused on locally produced products, custom products, and seem willing to pay for quality. It will likely be these producers coming with new ideas and taking advantage of new technology who will grow and reshape the future of the industry for Montana.

 Larger operations will face greater hurdles and risks. Brown worries about them. He points out that “very smart”, knowledgeable people have tried to launch a number of meat processing ventures in various locations in the state and they failed. “Why haven’t they been successful?” ponders Brown, believing that the future success of such enterprises could very well lie in answering that question.

Brown said that the investors in Meats of Montana were experienced, and thought they had done their homework and thought that they were adequately capitalized, but neither assumption proved true. The industry is far more complicated than it appears on the surface and to do a large volume of production takes a lot of money – [italics] a lot of money, emphasized Brown. And, an operation needs very good money management, because the process of buying and selling in large quantities every day, means that money moves “at the speed of light,” explained Brown.

It didn’t take long for Meats of Montana’s weaknesses to become evident – the venture only lasted for about two months. But, that is not to say that they didn’t have a lot of good things going for them. “We had an available work force of trained and experienced people, and we put out a quality product. We had good production management – smart guys who knew how to do it.. And, we had more cooperation than I expected from USDA.” USDA (US Department of Agriculture) oversees the federal inspection of meat processing plants that ship product across state lines.

They slaughtered about 5200 head of cull cows and bulls, processing about 43 car loads of lean beef – about $2.5 million worth in large box containers that were shipped “all over the west coast, and into the upper midwest.”

There were advisers who said that they should have planned to operate on a bigger scale, “and maybe we should have,” said Brown, “but that would have taken a whole lot more capital.” And, a larger scale packing plant in Montana would encounter the problem of not having enough local supply of finished cattle. While Montana raises a lot of cattle, there aren’t a lot of finished cattle because the feed – corn — is not available here. The big feed lots and big packing plants are located in the mid-west and the high plains because that’s where the corn grows.

“At larger scales, it is a really complicated business,” said Brown. “Just finding the amount of skilled labor you need. And, timing the supply so you have it when you need it. If you are going to sell rib-eyes and t-bones, where are you going to get a dependable supply of finished cattle? At a competitive price? And, do you have a reliable market?”

“Timing is important. You have a perishable product, which is especially critical at times when the market is working against you,” he continued.

Brown feels that people sometimes overestimate the added price that consumers will consistently pay,  in order to have a product that is “Made in Montana”.   He says Montana Beef is a great niche, but it’s hard to find the scale that is profitable enough to be economically sustainable. 

One of the biggest issues that must be dealt with is what to do with the “offal” or byproducts, including organ meats and the hide. The sale of these materials often represents the company’s profit, which reflects how tight the profit margin is in the business. Finding a market for these products can be challenging, especially if located in a low population state like Montana.

For example, Brown said that they discovered there was a big demand for tripe (stomach meat) in Korea, and buyers liked the Meats of Montana product.  However, “It’s surprising how much tripe you have to store up, to accumulate enough to fill a shipment.”

A lot of things have changed since 1990 and there will be even bigger changes in the future, so Brown says the experiences of their group might not be quite as applicable today; though similar concerns likely still confront those who wish to ratchet up the industry in Montana.

“With the right scale, and enough capital and industry expertise, someone could successfully expand and revolutionize Montana’s meat processing industry”, says Brown, “but like many things, it is a lot harder than it looks.”

A Mexican –based company, Grupo Cementos de Chihuahua (GCC), has filed a plan with the Billings Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management to explore the extent of a gypsum deposit in the foothills of the Pryor Mountains south of Gyp Springs Road and west of its intersection with Crooked Creek Road.

The environmental assessment is available for public comment until November 5.

The project proposes to drill 10 holes about 70 feet deep on 10 claims, which are on public domain land in southern Carbon County. BLM must approve the proposal and determine any mitigating requirements, as well as approve the plan of operation as meeting performance standards.

GCC is a multinational company, with plants in South Dakota and Colorado, but also owns another plant in Montana. GCC purchased the cement plant at Trident, Montana in 2018.. In total the company operates eight plants in the US and Mexico producing about 5.8 million tons annually.

Gypsum is a soft sulfate mineral composed of calcium sulfate dihydrate, which is widely mined and is used as a fertilizer and in manufacturing cement and is the main component in many forms of plaster, blackboard/ sidewalk chalk, drywall, etc.

The plan that BLM is considering would require that a paleontology consultant monitor any ground disturbance to mitigate potential damage to fossil resources that have been identified in the area. A botanist would also have to be onsite to oversee the protection of some rare plants that have been identified in the area, which BLM designated as of critical environmental concern and a natural area.

No drilling is proposed during the grouse’s mating and nesting season since the sage grouse is known to use the region.

The anticipated area that will be disturbed by the drilling is small – less than seven acres total, so the BLM is not proposing that any further impact study be required.

In June 2018, Grupo Cementos de Chihuahua received regulatory approval for the purchase of the cement plant from CRH in Trident, a gypsum mining operation near the headwaters of the Missouri River, which was started in 1908 by Don Morrison and a group of investors.

 Known then as the Three Forks Portland Cement Co., its production was used in many regional construction projects, including Holter Dam, Morony Dam, the Heart Mountain project in Wyoming, Fort Peck Dam, Grand Coulee Dam, and Polson Dam.

On Jan. 1, 1948, the Three Forks Portland Cement Company was consolidated into the nationwide Ideal Cement Co. In the 80s, Ideal Cement Co. sold the plant to a Swiss based cement company. In 1990, the plant at Trident was renamed Holnam, short for Holderbank North America. In 2002, the facility was again renamed, Holcim Trident Plant

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