By Evelyn Pyburn

The real issue about global warming is the conclusion that government has all the answers. Even if it is true (and it could be, it has been in the earth’s past), before we relinquish power over to government we should ask why. Why should we let government dictate how to deal with a catastrophe – any catastrophe.

How often is it that government has the right answers?

For an easier answer to that question, we could just look at recent headlines where, on one hand, Pres. Biden shuts down the XL Pipeline while giving Russia a nod of approval to move ahead with theirs. 

Why should a single American have to wear a single sweater because of having turned the thermostat down to curb CO2 emissions, when we have a president who so betrays his own citizens? And, what could better demonstrate that politics will always be at play, far more so than any real concerns about climate?

No one should be called on to sacrifice a single thing because of global warming, real or not. But of greater concern then that, is if we do face great peril because the planet warms (or cools) to some great extent, we would certainly be doomed if it were up to government to save us.

The best course of action is to trust to ourselves. Trust to the free market system, to the ingenuity of people and the unanticipated innovations that will surely come if this is truly a problem. Markets and freedom have worked and are continuing to work now.

Look at history. Look at what is happening right now.

Even without concerns of global warming and the threats of government, Americans have been annually reducing, on a per capita basis, our energy usage for over a century. Think about it. Whenever some aspect of business or the market makes a technological improvement or advancement that is what it is fundamentally all about. Every innovation and cost savings is about reducing the use of energy!!! And, the entire history of the US has been one of innovating, reducing costs and increasing efficiencies. Even when we weren’t thinking about it in those terms, we were doing it because it is what makes sense. It is what we do.

NO OTHER COUNTRY has curtailed their carbon emissions more than the US despite all the hysteria about the end of the world. It happens not because of the threats of the Progressives but because it is what a free people do because it makes ECONOMIC sense every bit as much as esthetic or spiritual sense.

Anyone truly concerned about global warming should be urging every country in the world to adopt freedom and free markets so that all countries can participate and be part of the solution. Government bureaucrats and politicians – neither ours nor theirs—will save us.

In fact, no matter what the universe throws at us, we will be able to deal with it better if we the people are free to deal with it. Can you truly envision President Biden saving the planet?

By Evelyn Pyburn

When it comes to housing affordability, Billings is in a better situation than many other areas of the state, but the plight of other areas still impacts Billings.

“It’s better to get ahead of the issue of housing affordability,” said Colten Bryant, in speaking at the Housing Strategy Summit in Billings. Bryant and Dave Dixon of Cushing Terrell presented data on a housing study of a five-county region in mid-southern Montana.

To get ahead of what has become a growing concern in Billings of escalating home prices was exactly the purpose of the housing summit which featured Dr. Pat Barkey of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research. Barkey said that “high prices matter” when it comes to encouraging economic development, and he attributed much of the problem to regulations, policies and laws that increase the cost of building. “These things impact where, how and whether builders build,” said Barkey.

When it comes to how much local communities regulate the development and construction of housing, Montana is relatively lightly regulated compared to other parts of the country. The degree to which regulations impose costs on housing development is termed “cost burdened,” and in an analysis of Montana cities, Barkey pointed out that western areas of the state are in the upper echelons of being cost burdened. “Yellowstone County is not burdened as much as other counties.”

While a number of factors impact the cost of building a house, “prices are higher than they should be,” in Billings, according to Barkey.

“Prices are pushed upward by bad policy and restrictions placed on ownership,” said Barkey, “and they reflect super charged federal policies that push demand.”

The federal government spends $200 billion annually on programs that subsidize housing, programs like FHA, VA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and 30 year mortgages with no prepayment penalties. They “spike demand,” said Barkey, while local policies tend to restrict supply.

When consumers have to spend more on housing they have less to spend on others things.

High priced housing “is a real impediment to wage workers.” It is difficult to get workers if they can’t afford housing.

“The economy is a story of movement. We move. It defines what America is…If people can’t move because they are locked out by prices you are affecting commerce.”

While it is commonly believed that out-of-state demand, coupled with cheap credit, is driving price growth in most areas of the state, the trend is too new to have much data. In an effort to answer the question of from where is the demand coming, Barkey analyzed “forwarding requests” through the US Postal Service. Although inexact, the data indicates that most of the demand is coming from people in the state moving to other areas in the state, but there are some indications that more in-migration has come from other states over the past year than over previous years.

Barkey also pointed out that residential construction has “cooled off” since 2013. “New home building has slowly declined.” Since 1999 through 2007, there were 7100 new housing units built in Billings. Housing units were being built at a ratio of .06 for each new job in the community – a ratio that has since declined to 1.7 units for each job.

What is the problem?

Barkey answers: high demand, land use policies, regulation and federal policies “that pour fuel on the fire.”

The study conducted by Cushing Terrell, which focused on Yellowstone, Carbon, Big Horn, Stillwater, and Sweet Grass Counties, as well as the Crow Reservation, revealed that most of the housing that is being built is upper end homes, said Bryant.

The study, which was conducted on behalf of Beartooth RC&D, revealed:

–Minimum lot size is a problem.

–The rental market is tight, with very little available for rent in mountainous areas.

–A  need for middle-range priced housing.     

–It is difficult to get workers when housing is so tight.

–There is a need for funding in grants for new housing.

–Wages are not keeping pace with housing prices, which is a national trend.

–It is important to consider housing costs in trying to be economically competitive.

Dixon said that basically the study showed that demand is not being met.

Among the numerous recommendations they made was the implementation of a number of various taxes to subsidize “workforce” housing projects, as well as tax investment financing, or implementation of resort tax, property tax abatements, housing trust funds, and infrastructure assistance, and using city/ county –owned land to make projects more feasible.

And, added Bryant, “enable the market to work.”

Comments came from other participants in the program:

Billings is “extremely well positioned” in terms of meeting future water needs according to Mark Elison, Deputy Director of Montana Department of Natural Resources, who is a hydrologist in the Billings Regional Office. He stated that the city has been very proactive in preparing for future needs, but he added that it is costly.

Deb Sokoloski, with Opportunity Mortgage of Opportunity Bank of Montana, said that access to credit and affordable programs “are there.” The problem is that “wages are not keeping up with the price of housing” and “nothing in the affordable price range is available to buy.” Also, sellers are not accepting offers from buyers who are financing through programs like VA or FHA, which pushes the buyers into conventional loans. For buyers to make 12 offers before getting the 13th accepted “is not out of the norm,” said Sokoloski.

Greg McCall of McCall Homes said that while his company has tried to design and build homes utilizing more efficient and affordable means and materials, their most serious problem is not having “the quantity of tradesman to use advanced technology.” He said that his company could easily use five additional crews. Also, given the undependability of getting building materials, they have returned to an era of ordering in advance and warehousing.

“We are seeing a fear based market,” said Bob Leach of Western Property Management. “Buyers are fearing not being able to afford a home.” In their anxiousness they are foregoing appraisals and inspections. The current average sales price is $343,000. The Billings housing inventory (number of properties listed for sale) is less than one month’s supply, while a more normal level would be a six or seven month supply. Leach noted that demand has been growing over the last 11 years.

The housing situation is such that more young people (ages 18-29) remain living with their parents than at any time in the last 120 years, said Leach. Even after the Great Depression, 48 percent of young people sill lived with their parents, while now the rate is 52 percent.

Leach said that most of the construction of homes is happening in the $300,000 to $400,000 price range. And, “there are more homes on the market over $500,000 than any other category.”

Leach went on to point out that of the 16,000 building permits issued in Yellowstone County over the past ten years, most are being built outside city limits. “We don’t have a lot of growth occurring in the city,” he said, adding, “Rental demand is the highest I have ever seen….vacancy rate is below one percent.”

While businesses need workers, “workers need to be able to afford housing.” He urged schools to “educate to skills rather than sending everyone off to college.”

Rod Lorenz of Montana Real Estate Brokers said that construction is being slowed by the long delays in getting building components and by increased costs, although costs have been coming down. A sheet of plywood that used to cost $10 rocketed to $75-$80, but it has now dropped to about $15. He also commented on the lack of tradesman. Framers are booked 4 to 6 months out. The situation is one that has most impacted the building of $115,000 to $120,000 homes.

Someone else commented that building costs while now dropping, could increase again.

The price of lots have “more than tripled”.

Jeff Junkert, a veteran home builder of the Billings area, underscored how much the cost of lot development has increased. There was a time that a typical lot cost around $15,000 but now costs between $70,000 to $100,000. Having previously built homes outside the city limits in the county, Junkert said, there is “quite a disparity” in cost between building in the city and the county.

Out-of-state developers are coming to Montana and Billings, reported Wayne Nelson, President of Stockman Bank. As a rule, there are not a lot of residential home developers in Billings, said Nelson, noting that it takes a great deal of wherewithal to be a developer. But, “in hot housing markets more people come out of the woodwork who think they can make it work.”

Nelson noted that the sudden increase in material costs caught a lot of builders with price increases on projects for which they had already made bids. “So their profits evaporated,” he said, “some builders took some hits.”

When someone rhetorically asked, “Does anyone here work for nothing?”

Only half jesting, one builder rose his hand and said, “I do.”

 Such are the risks that builders and developers face all the time; it is the reason that as a banker he looks for experience and consistent success records, explained Nelson

Nelson added, “I have never seen anything like this in 40 years of banking.”

Tom Hanel, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Floberg Real Estate, underscored that while most of the summit’s conversation had focused on negatives of the Billings real estate market, most of the people in attendance were making money in the current market. “While affordability of housing is a crisis,” he said, “a tremendous amount of people are prospering because of the market. We are very fortunate that Billings is still an affordable place to build compared to communities as close as Bozeman.”

By Evelyn Pyburn

Montana has seen a strong and quick rebound from the economic impacts of the COVID crisis, reported Dr. Pat Barkey, during a mid-year report on the state’s economy, sponsored by the Montana Chamber of Commerce.

Montana is actually rebounding stronger than the economic growth predicted by Barkey prior to the pandemic. It is an “economic consequence that no one anticipated,” said Barkey, who heads the UM Bureau of Business and Economic Research.  “You can hardly see the recession in the numbers.”

Montana’s gross domestic product declined 32.5% in the second quarter of 2020, only to bounce back even higher — by 33.44% — in the third quarter.

Montanans have seen personal income growth, year over year, of 20 percent.

“It is strange to see the economy growing this hard,” said Barkey, who predicted that it would continue to grow just as much throughout the rest of 2021. “We are looking at a big year,” he said, but beyond that it is uncertain. The two troublesome issues Montana faces are work force and housing prices.

In trying to explain what happened over the past year and a half, Barkey said, “We didn’t go through a recession, it was a public health crisis. No one anticipated how the federal government would come out swinging.”

The federal government put $8 billion into the Montana economy. “It was enormous,” said Barkey, who noted that transfer payments as a segment of the economic base,  usually retirement income paid by the federal government, was a record high.

“Government payments made 2020 a boom year.”

Much of what the future holds depends on what the Federal Reserve does. “What they do is really important,” said Barkey, adding, “I think what they are doing is wrong.”  He said he believes the Federal Reserve is paying too much attention to what is happening in the coastal states in terms of unemployment rates.

“The pandemic was a seismic event—a huge negative event, but look at how much people are making. You cannot see the recession in personal earnings. Those who were working were making more money,” said Barkey, while noting that there were those – mostly in the lower income categories –who were not making more and who were more negatively impacted.

There was a three percent decline in employment the last half of 2020, yet wage growth was “respectable.”

Job losses during the COVID shutdown through mid-2020 were seen in every industry category except for agriculture and government. For the whole year of 2020 job losses were experienced in all industry sectors except construction, manufacturing and government. During that same period, however, wages grew in every industry sector except for accommodations /food and mining, which declined substantially. Wages especially grew in the finance and healthcare categories.

Montana is coming out of the “public health crisis” with a high demand for labor, a demand that exceeds supply. But that is a situation that was developing in the state prior to the COVID crisis, pointed out Barkey. With an unemployment rate of 3.6 percent, Montana is for all practical purposes at full employment.

One disparity that has emerged in the after-COVID shutdown is the participation level of women in the labor market. “Those who were laid off the most were women,” said Barkey, and they are having a harder time getting back into the economy.  Prior to COVID-19, women made up about 20 percent of unemployment claims every month. Since the beginning of COVID, women have accounted for more than 50 percent of unemployment claims.

Some of the reasons for this remain a bit of a mystery, said Barkey.

Since February 2020, Montana has lead the nation in the number of job openings – increasing by almost 65 percent through July 2021.

An indicator that the market is good for labor is the level of voluntary “quits.” When workers voluntarily quit a job, it is because “they have a high degree of confidence” in being able to get another. Nationwide, there is an increasing number of “quits” as people move to different locations and find jobs that make more money. “Boomers” – the baby boom generation that is of retirement age – are quitting, “and taking their taking their pay with them”, which depresses the wage growth trend.

Wage growth has been “tilted” toward entry level jobs, which is a good thing.

Bioscience, technology and manufacturing are the three industry sectors shining the brightest in the state’s recovery.

Sharon Peterson, executive director of the Montana Bioscience Alliance, as part of a panel discussion, said “The bioscience industry in Montana has been a well-kept secret.” It poses great opportunity in Montana for the future in providing more jobs and economic growth.

The cost of housing is impacting the ability for businesses to hire in some areas of the state.

Such was the experience of Zoot Enterprises, a company represented during the Economic Seminar, by Tony Rosanova, President/CTO. Zoot, located near Bozeman with a facility in Billings, creates systems that process data that allow companies to make better decisions. While Zoot complied with the same COVID shutdowns, they experienced a rapid increase in demand for services after reopening as their clients sought to innovate more than ever before.

In hiring to meet that increased demand, Rosanova said it was difficult because people can’t afford housing in Gallatin County, because of that, the software company’s most recent expansion of 20 new employees was done through their Billings facility, where housing is more affordable.

Commodity prices for the state are strong, except for agriculture, which is a “sad story,” mostly because of the drought. “Government support payments will be a life line” for agriculture, said Barkey.

Bakken Oil production has dropped significantly. North Dakota is called the “sleeping giant of the energy industry,” said Barkey, “That’s not what we would have called it a few years ago.”

In 2019 California increased their importation of power by 20 percent and it is the largest net electricity importer of any state.

Montana was still a net exporter of power before the closure of Colstrips 1 & 2.

Barkey expressed grave concern about the situation of power supply for Montana, given that NorthWestern Energy is 645 megawatts short of being able to meet energy needs during peak use periods.

MDU expects to be “resource efficient”.

By Evelyn Pyburn

So how do you move a 148,000 pound dump truck with 9-foot tall tires from a mine site to the fairgrounds?

In pieces.

And, using other really big trucks and a crane.

The CAT 777F that Westmoreland Mining Company is bringing to Dig It Days at Montana Fair cannot just be driven down the highway. A vehicle that is 20 feet wide, 35 feet long and 17 feet tall is too big and heavy for even an interstate highway. And, even to be transported in pieces requires special permitting from the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT).

T&E crews will be breaking the CAT down and then loading it, using a crane from Hogan Corp Services, and then transported by a crew from Maxim Crane Works, 185 miles cross country, to be reassembled at Montana Fair in Billings, by the T &E crews.

Cody Calonge, Billings Operations Manager for Maxim Crane Works, explained that it will take two other really big trucks, one with 13 axles and with 100 ton capacity to haul the chasse, wheels and motor, and another truck with a 54-foot lowboy to haul the truck box.

In total the vehicles will be moving 215,000 pounds of machinery.

The CAT 777F alone weighs 148,000 pounds when it’s empty, and it weighs 360,000 pounds loaded. It has a bed capacity of 105 tons.

With the goal of being able move the truck on Monday, August 16, Calonge has been working closely with MDT, providing them with truck dimensions, weights and maps of possible routes, to get permitted. After long hours of ironing out the details, the route has been set from the mine at Colstrip to move along Highway 39 to Forsyth  and then to Old Highway 10, to Highway 12 through Roundup and down Highway 87 – right through Main Street in the Heights— to Metra Park.

Three pilot cars with drivers will be needed for each unit because of their size.

A trip that would be about a 3-hour drive for a normal vehicle will take between six and eight hours to move the CAT. Calonge said he hopes to be on the road by 6 am and arrive in Billings between 2 and 3 p.m.

The whole process of moving the CAT 777F calls upon the skills and knowledge of a lot of different roles in the construction industry.  It is a microcosm of the opportunities that exist in the industry for all kinds of jobs and careers, of which there are so many that most construction businesses in Montana have open positions that they have not been able to fill for months because of a shortage of job-seekers.

According to Calonge not just any heavy equipment operator can move something like a 13-axle load. You need truck drivers who specialize in moving over- sized equipment. It’s a specialty in which the operator has to have much expertise usually acquired by years of experience, starting out with driving smaller trucks, and graduating to operating larger and larger vehicles. A specialized truck driver can earn $30 to $35 an hour.

A crane like the one that will be used in placing the truck box on the trailer also requires a highly-trained and skilled worker. A crane is probably the most dangerous piece of equipment operated in the construction business, said Calonge. Cranes are becoming more and more sophisticated with computerized systems, that while making their operation versatile and easier, also require more knowledge and training than in the past.

The mechanics who tear down the CAT 777F must be extremely good mechanics and be very familiar with the truck, realizing that it too is a very sophisticated piece of equipment. The mechanics will have a lot of pieces to keep track of in moving the truck. They must know where each piece goes when it comes to reassembling, which will probably take four to five hours.

Even the pilot car drivers have to “have their wits about them,” said Calonge. The pilot car drivers are responsible for managing traffic, setting up road blocks to allow the trucks to use the entire width of bridges, warning on-coming traffic of a wide load, getting through intersections, etc.

The management, orchestration and oversight that Calonge brings to his job is another dimension of the construction business. Tending to details and scheduling the many teams involved is a daily challenge. Just getting the permitting was a challenging undertaking.

The possible routes are built on computers and researched as to potential problems and barriers that must be negotiated.  The utility companies, telecommunication companies and officials of the counties through which they travel must be notified and consulted regarding potential obstructions and problems that must be overcome.

And, there are a host of technicians related to the construction industry who are called upon to help them resolve problems. And still within the industry there are many less visible roles to be played in sales and management, human resources, legal and financial.

When one considers all that is involved in the project of getting the CAT 777F to Dig It Days, so that many people who have never had the opportunity to see such an amazing piece of equipment, it must be realized that this is indeed a great gift to the community being made by Westmoreland Mining and all the other companies involved .

By Evelyn Pyburn

Remember when some folks were resistant to the installation of “smart meters” that made monitoring electrical usage so easy? Remember their “paranoid” concerns about how smart meters might be eventually adopted to control people’s use of electricity? You know — Big Brother stepping in and declaring that you could only use so much electricity a day and if you consumed more they would be able to shut you off. Silly of those tin-hat people to think that government would do such a thing, right?

Despite the fact that Big Brother was already coercing manufactures of appliances into making more expensive, ostensibly more energy-efficient appliances, regardless of what consumers wanted, most people pointed to the nay-sayers and made fun of them as being paranoid conspiracy kooks.

That wasn’t very long ago.

One has to wonder how “off” the paranoia was given the most recent news about six states that have adopted restrictions prohibiting gamers from being able to use, or even purchasing, high-end games that use a lot of energy.  Hmmm, isn’t that what the tin-hat people were worried about— government regulating power consumption? Government controlling lives.

People looking to buy and ship to California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont or Washington, an Alienware Aurora Ryzen Edition R10 Gaming Desktop from Dell’s website are informed that their orders cannot be fulfilled, because those states will not permit its shipment. (Yes, we are talking about in the US, ostensibly a country of free minds, free choices and free markets.)

According to Dell, the restraints are being coerced by the implementation of laws like California’s “Energy Commission (CEC) Tier 2” mandatory energy efficiency standards for PCs—including desktops, AIOs, and mobile gaming systems.

The regulations require desktop computers and mobile gaming systems manufactured on or after July 1, 2021, to comply with so-called Tier 2 performance requirements, which limit annual energy consumption to no more than 75 kWh/year.

Does that mean if you use more energy than that, the power will be cut off from your home?  What if you use more energy than what is deemed acceptable for your size of household by some future edict of government? Will your power be shut off? How else can government expect to enforce such restrictions?

To be in compliance with the Tier 2 requirements, desktop computers with an ES of 250 or less must have an annual energy consumption of less than 50 kWh/year, while those with an ES score of between 250 and 425 have a cap of 60 kWh/year. How soon before other states adopt such restrictions?

In 2016, California became the first U.S. state to approve “energy efficiency standards for computers and monitors,” with claims it would save 2.3 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity per year and, of course, reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.  This is how this “scientific” scare is used to control the activities of citizens.

This is what the “global warming initiative” looks like. This is why they have such an abiding interest in this one aspect of “science.”

Being able to control people is the impetus of the Left’s interest in science as it pertains to climate change. Their attack on our use of energy would make one believe we are running out of energy. Nothing could be further from the truth. The only way we are running out of energy is because of political policies that prohibit and inhibit its production, distribution and use – and, yes, even innovation. It has nothing to do with the science of it all and potential impacts, it’s about being able to control you and me.

There is much science, good and bad, that has profound effects on our lives, about which there is almost no publicity  – in fact, most Left science zealots don’t even know about it. Most “science” is  not conducive as leverage to scare citizens into political compliance so there is no interest in it.

COVID-19 is a great example of what stimulates the scientific curiosity of the Left. There are other diseases and other issues of science that pose risks to human beings, but about which we hear not a word.

Sadly some advancing technology is becoming a handy tool to wield control.  “Smart meters” are a great tool. They are a wonderful innovation for efficiencies and cost savings, but these six states are blatantly demonstrating they are also a tool that if used perversely can intimidate and bully people for political causes about which we know not.

The tools could still be used and the threat of losing control of our lives because of them could be mostly mitigated if citizens (consumers) were allowed the choice of whether they want them. Most people would opt in, but just the possibility of saying no to them – even in the future – would mitigate Big Brother’s power.

Just as no one should be forced to wear a mask, take a vaccine, keep silent, go to church or not go to church, eat beef or not eat beef – no one should be coerced into whether they want a tool attached to their home that could be used by government or anyone else to monitor their use of energy or to curb their use of energy if the powers- that -be deem it.

Billings Top Housing Market according to WSJ

Billings is at the top of the Wall Street Journal’s list of Emerging Housing Markets. Bolstered by affordability, low unemployment, low commute time, ability to work at home, affordable taxes, and a “booming housing market,” according to the Wall Street Journal article, people are discovering Billings and it has become the top destination for people seeking to relocate.

Among reasons people are seeking smaller communities in which to live is safety and security concerns, amid the restraints and lockdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic in larger metropolitan areas.

About 65% of page views of Billings property listings came from outside the area in the second quarter, up from about 57% from a year earlier, according to Realtor.com, which is operated by News Corp, parent company of the Wall Street Journal.

People are coming to Billings from coastal states like California and Washington, as well as from Kentucky and Texas, according to Billings’ Deb Parker, broker owner of Parker & Co. Real Estate Service, who is quoted in the WSJ article. “I believe Montana’s truly been discovered,” Ms. Parker said. “I’ve never seen so much cash in our market.”

The article went on to say, about Billings, “The average single-family home-sale price in Billings and the surrounding area was $376,248 in June, up 32% from a year earlier, according to the Billings Association of Realtors.”

“As in many markets around the country, the number of homes for sale is very low. There were 392 single-family listings in the Billings area in June, down from 433 a year earlier, the association said.”

Also topping the Emerging Housing Markets Index, are Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Rapid City, S.D.; and Raleigh, N.C.

Study Counters Claim of Out-of-State Buyers

Everywhere, everywhere, everyone is claiming that Montana is being flooded with out- of- staters escaping to Montana from crowded and convoluted metropolitan areas and pushing up Montana housing prices – but then, maybe not.

While it’s too soon to get the kind of data that would tell the most accurate story, there’s one source that says that is not what’s happening. The data comes from address change requests from the US Postal Service and the United States Commercial Real Estate Services (CBRE), a national real estate research firm that publishes data on people moving from one location to another for each Metropolitan Statistical Area (of which there are only three in Montana, Missoula, Billings and Great Falls.) 

After evaluating the data, Dr. Pat Barkey, Director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana says, “….there appears to be no major shift in address changes between the pre-COVID year 2019 and the pandemic year of 2020 – this may be a slightly positive trend favoring in-migration. Glancing at the figures, there appear to be minor increases of those moving to Missoula and small decreases of those moving out.”

In an article in Montana Business Quarterly, Barky explained the data is incomplete, so there is a possibility that the conclusions are not accurate but the 2020 data is comparable to that of 2019.

Some of the data gaps result from the fact that there are only three Metropolitan Statistical Areas in Montana, also some data from small sources is redacted so as to preserve confidentiality, also there is no way to know how many people are involved in an address change.

Barkey discovered that “the number of address changes in-state dwarfs those for out-of-state locations. For example, the 11,455 address changes to Missoula from elsewhere in Montana was roughly 45 times larger than the next largest number of 486 for Washington.” The data also confirms that migration paths are a two-way street. States that are major sources of in-migrants are also major destinations for out-migrants.

The data also shows that for Missoula, in the western part of the state, Washington is the largest source-destination. Billings has a more Midwest view, with Wyoming as the largest source-destination. Finally, Great Falls looks more Southwest, with migration from California and Arizona.

Barkey explained, “Large numbers of people moving in and moving out do not mean significant changes in population. Again looking at Missoula and Washington, hundreds of people moved in and moved out, but the net changes were relatively small…”

The numbers show that “incomers is matched by a significant out migration with little net change. The number of movers, even for the largest cities, is relatively small. Most of the figures being in the tens or hundreds, even for the largest cities.”

“These city tabulations directly address the issue of whether there has been a flight from cities associated with COVID-19. The short answer is probably not, or at least not very much. There was no shift in mobility patterns and source-destination cities remained in the same rank in both 2019 and 2020. The data … may show a slight tendency toward increased net in-migration, but we really don’t know because of the large number of redactions.”

Barkey’s report follows  that of a study done by Realtors in Missoula a couple months ago, which came to similar conclusions.

In an examination of where customers of Missoula mortgage lenders are coming from indicated that much of the home buying is going on because of Montanans moving to different communities. Only about 13 – 19% of the borrowers were coming from out- of- state.

Interestingly in monitoring “home searches” by people who were looking for a new home, two percent of those exploring Missoula’s market came from Bozeman. Most were from Seattle, followed by Salt Lake City, New York, Los Angeles and Dallas.

Nationally Housing Market Drops

A reversal in the escalating market of home sales nationally poses a question of what that might mean locally.

This past week the news was filled with headlines that announced that sales of new U.S. single-family homes tumbled to a 14-month low in June and sales in the prior month were weaker than initially estimated.

June marked the third straight month of decline with a drop of 6.6 percent — to the lowest level in more than a year, while the median new house price fell by 5 percent month-over-month.  The drop was concentrated in the South, the Northeast and West.

A common reason cited was the cost of lumber and shortages of other building materials.

The Commerce Department reported the third straight monthly decline in sales, following the previous week’s report that permits for future homebuilding dropped to a nine-month low in June “while home resales rebounded modestly.” Higher production costs are forcing builders to scale back, keeping supply tight and boosting home prices to the detriment of first-time buyers, said the report.

David Berson, chief economist at Nationwide in Columbus, Ohio said, “Until builder costs and supply-chain problems become less of an impediment, it is hard to see new sales picking up significantly in the near term.”

The 6.6 percent decline in new home sales amounts to 676,000 units. May’s sales pace was revised down to 724,000 units from the previously reported 769,000 units.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast new home sales, which account for a small share of U.S. home sales, increasing 3 percent — or 800,000 units in June.

Instead, sales plunged 19.4% on a year-on-year basis in June, the first annual decrease since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Massive fiscal policy – ie. the disbursement of billions of dollars to citizens — and historically low mortgage rates are driving demand for housing, which was further boosted by the pandemic as millions of Americans worked from home and took online classes, said one report.

But supply has lagged behind, with builders constrained by soaring lumber prices as well as shortages of other building materials, household appliances, land and labor.

Though lumber prices have dropped sharply from May’s record highs, that is being tempered by wildfires in the Western United States and British Columbia in Canada. The backlog of single-family homes approved for construction but yet to be started surged in June to the highest level since October 2006.

Another report stated that while the housing market was one of the economy’s star performers during the pandemic, that streak will likely came to an end in the second quarter.

The rate of inflation – GDP growth – is expected to show an annualized rate of 8.6 percent with the net quarterly report — an acceleration from the first quarter’s 6.4% pace. The anticipated growth pace would be the fastest since 1983 and a peak in the current cycle.

By Evelyn Pyburn

I must admit that I marvel at the emergence of garage sales in our society. They are a blend of a unique social and culture experience, an economical means of saving and bartering, a manifestation of recycling, a form of entertainment and learning, and they developed as a spontaneous system which has no written rules, but which everyone understands. Garage sales are a marvelous invention which no one invented. They are an amazing improvisation of people imbued with an understanding of the market place and who believe in creating their own opportunities. They are a marvelous American manifestation.

The hours to expect to see garage sales has commonly become accepted as Friday and Saturday. Seldom are Garage Sales evident on any other days. That is just the way it is and everyone just knows it.

Bartering is usually expected and accepted as part of the process. Just as cash is the preferred means of exchange, although some rare individuals will accept checks. All that just is, because it is what makes the most sense.

While garage sales – sometimes referred to as yard sales – are most often an eclectic array of used –and sometimes very used goods, such as antiques — household goods, tools, clothes, books and sports equipment or other domestic items – one is not surprised to sometimes find new goods, as well as sales of arts and crafts, baked goods, plants or the products of someone’s hobby.

Going to Garage Sales in the neighborhood is a great way to spend a relaxing morning, or to find adventure in an afternoon. To find just the perfect thing you need at an incredible bargain, is better than winning the lottery. Or to find something you never knew you needed but which adds a new measure of joy in your life, makes for great fun.

Now having said all that, I have to ask why so many Garage Sale producers do not know they have to make the address on the signs they post BIG. Really big! Even the professional signs which are sold to Garage Salers seem not to get the fact that the address has to be big enough to be easily read from across the street traveling at 25 mph. The manufactured signs usually have the words “Garage Sale” plenty big enough to read but the space left to write the address limits the size to such that one has to get out of the vehicle and get within a couple feet of it to read it, or to travel with binoculars as part of the required equipment to go Garage Saling.

The fact of the matter is the words “Garage Sale” are unnecessary. All one needs is the address. Part of the amazing thing about Garage Sales is that just seeing a sign taped to a street post with just an address says all that needs to be said. For some amazing reason everyone knows it is directions to a Garage Sale. In fact just an occasional arrow pointing the way is often enough.

The last point, that a few people – very few  — need to be told is to take down your signs when done – for a number of reasons – the most important of course is the courtesy of not allowing it to become litter in the neighborhood. But also one needs to make room for the next Garage Sale to put up signs and to avoid confusion. Another reason which underscores the most amazing thing about Garage Sales, is that if everyone failed to take down old signs the first thing you know city officials would find an excuse to regulate the whole process or worse to outlaw Garage Sales – something they would be inclined to do simply because so many people enjoy them.

Think about that. What can you do within city limits that doesn’t have some kind of regulations imposed on it. Garage Saling is one if not the only thing that has escaped the attention of those who want to govern everyone’s life. That in itself is absolutely astounding!

According to the Tax Foundation: The combined state and federal capital gains tax rate in California would rise from the current 37.1 percent to 56.7 percent under President Biden’s American Families Plan. Nationwide, the combined average capital gains tax rate would amount to an estimated 48.4 percent under the president’s proposal, with the top federal tax rate increasing to 43.4 percent. That compares to the current combined average rate of about 29 percent.

By Evelyn Pyburn


The prolonged search by Commissioners for a solution to meet Yellowstone County’s space needs for future growth will be resolved with the purchase of the Miller Building in downtown Billings. County Commissioners voted two to one, to proceed with purchasing the building following months of due diligence and an appraisal that came in less than expected.
The decision ends considerations of both city and county officials of jointly developing the Stillwater Building into some kind of arrangement for a centralized local governmental facility.
Commissioner Denis Pitman voted against the purchase saying he wanted to continue exploring the possibility of the county remaining in the Stillwater Building and finding a way the county could partner with the city.
The prospects of pursuing a joint tenancy in the Stillwater Building seemed to strengthen with the news from City Administrator Chris Kukulski that the city had a “handshake” agreement on a price for the Stillwater Building of $17 million with owner Joe Holden of WC Commercial. The County currently has a lease agreement for offices on the third floor of the Stillwater Building, which has four years remaining.
County Commissioner John Ostlund pointed out that the $17 million agreement on the Stillwater Building could not be accepted by the county since state law prohibits the county from making a purchase in excess of appraised value, and the appraisal on the Stillwater building was $13.5 million.
Ostlund urged action on the Miller Building because their Memorandum of Understanding for first right of refusal on the property ends July 1, 2021.
On March 2, 2021, the commissioners offered a non-refundable $33,750 to owner, Miller Trois, LLC (Norman Miller) to take the property off the market until July 1, in a vote that Pitman also opposed. Last fall, the Board approved on the consent agent a contract with Cushing Terrell to analyze the suitability of the property for the County’s future needs. The property inspection found that the property would be sufficient to meet the county’s needs.
An appraisal ordered by the county placed a value of $4,375,000 on the Miller Building on May 21, 2021 – – $125,000 less than the county’s offer in the MOU to pay $4.5 million or the appraised value, which ever was less. Ostlund voiced concern about losing the opportunity to purchase the Miller Building which he believes would greatly diminish their options going forward. He said that the building is in very good condition, with new elevators, parking and more than sufficient space to house all county departments, excluding the courts, which would remain in the Courthouse. The inspections and assessments of the building unveiled no issues that would result in uncertainties or contingencies in the proposed purchase.
Pitman urged that the county work with the city and do what is best for the community. “We have other options,” he said, citing the possibility of building next to the jail or near MetraPark or other spaces in the community not necessarily downtown. He said “we could continue to rent or condo or purchase other property. “We need to have an open discussion on what a partnership would look like.” He noted that there are other costs associated with acquiring the Miller Building, such as hiring more maintenance staff. And, with the county purchasing the Miller Building and if the City purchases the Stillwater building that would be taking two buildings off the tax rolls rather than just one, Pitman pointed out.
Commissioner Don Jones said that the county has spent considerable time – since 2018 when they launched their search for more space – exploring all kinds of options, and this is the point to which it has led. Jones also said that he preferred the Miller Building as opposed to the much larger space available with the Stillwater option, since government has a tendency to grow to fill the space it has and he is opposed to unnecessary growth in government. He likened it to “build it and they will come.. but, we will grow.”
He also pointed out that with either option it will be awhile before the county would be needing the space and with the Stillwater that would mean holding an empty shell of a structure while the Miller Building is occupied with renters who would continue paying rent to the county and in essence helping to defray the cost of acquiring the building.
The County’s Finance Director, Kevan Bryan reported that the County has the capability to completely remodel the building for its use as existing leases term out in the Miller Building. He said that the expansion can be accomplished with no tax increase or need for debt on the County’s part.
Bryan said he would advise the commissioners to look at the numbers over the issue of cooperating with the City. He said, “…we respectfully disagree that the decision here boils down to whether we want to share a physical facility with the City of Billings, or that this shows taxpayers that we in local government can work together. Who can oppose us working together?” Both the city and the county seek the same things, he explained, “efficiencies of operations, common purpose and the wise spending of tax dollars. While the thought of a combined administrative facility on the surface has promise, it’s not necessarily a guarantee of any advantage to either governmental entity, or the taxpayers themselves.”
Bryan reminded that the county’s needs are for long-term space for the inevitable growth of the district and justice courts and the departments that work with the courts. The goal is to keep those services located in one building while moving most other county functions other than the Sheriff’s department to a “Yellowstone County Administration Building.”
The Miller Building presents a “very, very long-term solution for the County,” said Bryan. He said the county tried to work out the possibility of purchasing two floors of the Stillwater building, but its owner sought a selling price “well above market value,” which the county “would not and could not entertain.”
In discussions between city officials and county officials, Kukulski urged the county to postpone their decision and to explore the Stillwater option further. Without the county’s interest in partnering in some manner with the city the potential of the Stillwater deal isn’t as promising, pointed out Kukulski and Mayor Bill Cole, both of whom noted that the final decision is up to the City Council. Kukulski said that the matter would be on the City Council agenda on July 12.
In response to a comment that the city ownership would somehow impact the county’s lease, Kukulski said that the city wanted the county to remain. He said that he was sure the city and county could come to some acceptable arrangement in either leasing or condo-ing the floors of the five story building. He did note that the city has its own due- diligence to do on the Stillwater Building in making sure they understand what would be needed to remodel it for city offices, including using the basement for the City Police.
Ostlund said that the county had been attempting to negotiate with Holden for what has come to be years without success and he didn’t want to delay the matter any longer. He further questioned how it would be beneficial to the city to pay more for space than what they would later lease or sell it to the county.
The Miller Building is a six-story, plus basement building, located on 3rd Avenue between 28th and 29th Streets, downtown. It was the former Security Trust & Savings Bank Building.
The Stillwater Building, located at 316 N. 26th, in downtown Billings, is the former James F. Battin Federal Building, which stood vacant for several years until it was purchased for $3.2 million in 2017 by Holden, who has removed asbestos and prepared it to remodel on a build-to-suit basis for future tenants, the first of which was the county two years ago. Holden also built an adjacent parking garage.

Despite a remodeling bid that was $1 million over projections, Big Sky Economic Development (BSED) is moving forward in renovating the former Montana Bank Building in downtown Billings, under Sky Point, to become their headquarters and for the new home of Rock 31 Entrepreneur Center.
Budding entrepreneurs of local start-up businesses and members of BSED leadership took turns last week demolishing an interior wall of the bank building with sledge hammers as part of the “ground breaking” ceremony that marks the end of a three-plus year planning process and the beginning of a new era for the community’s economic development agency.
The $3 –plus million project has been enabled to move forward because of some value engineering recommendations from the architectural firm, Cushing Terrell, and the contractor who won the bid, TW Clark Construction, who whittled away about a half million dollars in cost savings. Most of the balance of the over-bid is expected to be funded through fund raising campaign, directed by Becky Rogers, BSED Director of Operations, who has overseen the unfolding of the project since its inception. The goal is to raise $275,000 between now through May 2022. Rogers said they have already raised $48,000 from various local companies.
Rogers expressed gratitude to Cushing Terrell and TW Clark Construction for concessions that both companies made in helping to reduce costs. She also pitched those assembled inside the former Montana Bank Building to help support the project by making contributions.
While EDA developed a budget for what was expected to cost about $3 million, the bid they received from TW Clark Construction was $4,075,000. TW Clark is a Spokane-based company with Billings’ offices at 609 Charles Street.
Besides providing administrative offices for BSED and its numerous programs and affiliated agencies, upon the completion of the project, which is expected in ten months, it will be home base for start-up businesses and a training center for entrepreneurs. The facility will have training rooms and media, as well as space for production efforts and to facilitate networking opportunities. There will also be office space for lease to start-ups.
Kevan Scharfe, Rock 31 Director of Entrepreneurship, spoke to say, “Our main goal is to make it feel like home for entrepreneurs, and to help them find counseling and a mentor,” as well as easy access to all the different programs available through EDA.
Chairman of the EDA Board of Directors, Paul Neutgens, said “It is so exciting to see the resources the community is bringing to Billings.”
BSED Executive Director Steve Arveschoug underscored the purpose of Rock 31, saying that “we have to feed our strength and one of our strengths is home grown businesses with their passion and dreams.”
Arveschoug also thanked Chris and Mike Nelson, from whom BSED purchased the building, for donating a significant portion of the value of the building and their continued support throughout the project.
The project received a $2.1 million federal grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration in 2019 for the purchase of the building and renovation.

By Evelyn Pyburn


I was pretty young when I first heard the axiom that you cannot legislate morality, which is to say that you cannot force people to believe in something about which they are not intellectually convinced. I have never encountered anything to make me consider that to be untrue.
So it makes sense that the best way to convince people about a preferred approach to life is to persuade them. It is to understand that using force brings about only a façade of change that really achieves nothing except to generate smoldering resentment and the certainty of future violence.
So, why are so many people trying to FORCE others to accept specific ideas and beliefs? What are they thinking? Just because they have a club – most often the force of government — to make others act as though they agree, do they honestly believe they have changed minds? Do they really think they are achieving a societal improvement?
Using force is but to concede that one lacks the ability to address the mind, and more disturbingly it is an admission that they are without moral compunction about using force against others.
Our forefathers believed that it is unjust, barbaric and uncivilized to force individuals against their will. With the insight that force is an injustice that leads to conflict, violence and wars, they crafted a Constitution that established, not just the sovereignty of a nation, but the sovereignty of the individual citizen.
At its core this is what the founding was all about: to advance a process and a means of civil conduct based upon persuasion and recognizing the individual citizen as supreme to any group. It is to understand that a group is but an illusion. It does not exist without its individual constituents, each of which are distinct and unique, and each with a mind as their basic means of survival. To address the mind and abandon the use of force against the innocent individual — that is the aim of the Constitution.
That had never happened before nor since. If it is lost in the United States we may never be able to reclaim such liberty again.
When they speak of the “shot heard round the world,” it was this idea that so rocked the world and continues to do so. And, it is “the very idea of it” that aggravates the would-be tyrants of the day who attempt to utilize every form of deceit, bullying and violence to coerce others to relinquish this liberty – to relinquish their minds.
To the opposition’s everlasting chagrin, they dare not admit that it is still this idea which at core draws so many people to our gates. People from around the world want the individual liberty promised in our Constitution. While it is true that when they get here, they often stand with the progressives’ goal to eliminate individual choice, that is but a bizarre paradox that comes of the deceit of its adversaries – and truth be told it may not be as pervasive as many believe.
The adversaries cannot admit that freedom of choice is what immigrants want, nor dare they admit its amazing triumph in building the most successful country in the world. And, they do not even attempt to dissuade by manner of reason its preference, because it is undeniable that no country or body of people will treat each other with respect and civility unless it comes from the hearts and minds of each. However could one dispute that?
But further, how stupid is it to think that you can physically force someone to change their mind? Think about that! Maybe you can keep them from talking about what is on their minds by physical restraints. Maybe you can put them in prison for writing about it, or acting upon what they think. Yes, there are all kinds of shackles and clubs you can use to coerce other human beings … but you cannot change their minds by employing force. The only way to change a mind is by appealing to it with reason, new ideas or perhaps even emotional appeals. The only alternative is to use a club or the point of a gun to coerce their actions.
Because it is so reasonable, ”the very idea” holds strong, despite full- out assaults from a hundred different fronts.
So in recognizing Independence Day, understand that at its core, this is what it is all about – your personal freedom. And while so many other beneficiaries of this most precious right shun recognition of this holiday in preference to celebrations aimed at dividing our citizens and to further advance misinformation about the true nature of the “very idea”, know that the freedom it holds is a fragile gift which requires above all else that you understand and celebrate it.