Evergreen King’s Ace Hardware store is open at 1540 13th St West.

Over the past few months, the 34,000 square foot building has been the site of a massive half-million dollar remodel, converting it from the former IGA Grocery Store, to the largest King’s Ace Hardware store in the region. It will be the sixth store in the area, owned by Skip King who has been in the hardware business since he was a boy working alongside his father.

L-R Skip King, Owner Ace Hardware; Tyler Powers, Assistant Manager, Mike Albertson, Manager

If the interest in the neighborhood about what’s going on is any indication, the store will be a welcomed addition. In visiting with Skip King at the front door, people kept pulling off the street and into the parking lot to ask questions about the opening and what the plans are. That’s been going on all during construction, said King — people in the neighborhood wandering in and taking a look around and asking questions.

“I think the store is going to impress people when they walk in,” he said.

It’s not the first time that there has been a hardware store at this location in mid-town Billings. In the early 60s, the Odegaard family operated, quite successfully, a hardware store at the same location. King believes a need for a hardware store to serve that neighborhood still exists, and he spent a lot of time looking for the perfect site. When he heard the news that the IGA store was closing, he wasted no time in striking a deal for the property.

The store will employ about 30 people, most of whom are already in training at other King Ace Hardware stores. Its manager will be Mike Albertson, and assistant manager is Tyler Powers.

King’s Ace Hardware also engages many high school students with their stores, giving them exposure to the retail business and on-hands experience, a program for which they are being recognized by the National Hardware Association.

King is especially excited, not only for the size of the new store, and the wide variety of wares that it can carry, but it has a large enough parking lot to allow for many activities that he’s always wanted to be able to do at his stores. Things like grilling demonstrations or pet grooming workshops, both of which are extensive departments in the new store. They have space enough that they may also be able to provide a community room.

The store will be the location of employee training, not just for King’s Ace Hardware stores but for Ace Hardware stores throughout Eastern Montana from Bozeman to Malta – events which often draw as many as 300 people to Billings. Ace Hardware is a buying group that serves a membership of store owners.

“It’s going to be a fun place,” said King. Adding to that mix will be something distinctively new for a King’s Ace Hardware, a soup and sandwich shop. To be operated by the Hoefle family — Stu, Cydney and Mitch — the shop will open sometime later than the hardware store. It will comprise about 2300 square feet of the same corner of the building in which IGA had a luncheon area.

Evergreen King’s Ace Hardware will be similar to the Zimmerman Trail store – a full service hardware store, but also featuring a Hallmark gift store and a Montana-made boutique.

The store will also have a large garden center with four green houses, to be open just in time for the spring gardening season.

A large grilling and patio section will feature a full line of Traeger grills. The store is one of only two sanctioned Traeger dealers in the state.

They will also feature a full line of Benjamin Moore Paints and offer basic lumber and building supplies. They will have the largest selection of fasteners in town.

King’s Ace Hardware is also a Honda dealer for power equipment.

Customers may also order on-line from the Ace Hardware website and have items shipped to the store postage free.

By Evelyn Pyburn

Evelyn Pyburn
Evelyn Pyburn, Big Sky Business Journal

The coronavirus is a scary thing.

Not so much because of the threat of the disease but for the demonstration of how easily an entire population can be whipped into hysteria that far exceeds the reality of a threat.

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has called the panic “dumb.” And, it is.

It’s not that the coronavirus (CORVID-19) isn’t a serious issue that needs to be taken seriously but it isn’t a crisis that should make people terrified to come out of their houses.

We the people of this country deal with problems and issues of this magnitude — and in fact much greater magnitude — every day, folks!

Usually, we take for granted that we can deal with the problems. Perhaps we shouldn’t take so much for granted, but we do have a great track record and we should be far more confident than what the current panic would indicate.

Why is everyone freaking out?

For all the world it feels a great deal like political correctness gone amuck. Is it somehow cool to lose your cool? Leaders of businesses and organizations are making decisions and taking actions that seem more directed toward public perception than dealing with a real problem.

So far 39 people in the US have died of this virus. 39.

Of the thousands of people who come down with the regular flu every year, 57,000 people in this country die from it. And it’s not just the flu; a similar number die from tuberculosis each year. Why aren’t people hysterical about these health threats if it is health threats they are really concerned about? They could be in panic-mode every year.

Back in 1918 we had a real flu epidemic. A forerunner of COVID-19, the Spanish Flu, swept the planet killing between 20 million to 50 million people worldwide, including some 675,000 Americans. It happened during World War I and many US soldiers fighting on European battlefields were left wondering why they no longer heard from home, only to return home and discover all their family had died from the flu.

But that has not happened since because, we the people, have done many things to mitigate such threats. From greater education about why it happened, to better hygiene, better medicine, better technology and medical facilities and smarter and more talented medical professionals. We took care of things, and so we will this time.

The problem with the panic is that it is creating other problems—really serious problems that are causing far greater harm than the disease. The panic is putting large companies into bankruptcy which creates far more job casualties. Jobs lost mean lost income, lost health insurance, leaving families unable to meet other health care needs.

Small businesses too are being pushed out of business, destroying the livelihoods of many others, not to mention the destruction of life-long investments. Lower returns on savings destroy the capital for future businesses or the viability of retirement funds for thousands or millions of people.

As distribution lines close and manufacturers shut down, all kinds of parts and components and materials needed to produce other important life-sustaining, business sustaining, job sustaining products are not available.

The impact of panic is immense and long –term and will never be fully measured.

It all makes so little sense, once one considers all that we have going for us.

And, have you talked to a little kid lately? All the crazy so-called adults are scaring them to death. Little kids shouldn’t be scared in such ridiculous ways.

Perhaps there is one positive thing that might emerge from all the extreme caution and health care prevention. Maybe fewer people will get the regular flu and fewer than 57,000 people will die this year. That would be one  every big positive.

American Chemet

Ash Grove Cement

Aspen Air

Barretts Minerals

Billings Clinic

Boeing of Helena

Calumet Montana Refining, LLC


City of Billings

City of Great Falls

Colstrip Energy Partnership

Community Medical Center


Express Pipeline LLC


GCC Three Forks

General Mills

Golden Sunlight Mines, Inc.

Grain Craft

Graymont Western USA Inc.

Hyperblock, LLC

Idaho Forest Group

Imerys Talc

America, Inc.

Judith Gap Energy LLC

Malteurop North America Inc.

Metra Park-Billings

Montana Dept. of Corrections

Montana Precision Products LLC

Montana Resources

Montana State


Montana State


Pasta Montana

Phillips 66 Pipeline

Phillips 66 Refinery

R Y Timber

REC Silicon

Rocky Mountain Power

Roseburg Forest Products

St. James Hospital

St. Patrick


St. Vincent Hospital

Stillwater Mining Company

Sun Mountain


Talen Montana LLC

Thompson River Lumber

United Materials Incorporated

United Properties Inc

University of


US Air Force

US Dept of Veterans Affairs

US Public Health Service

Vista Outdoor Sales

Western Sugar Cooperative

Westmoreland Resources Inc


Rosebud Mining LLC



By Evelyn Pyburn

If it seems that there have been fewer wildland fires in southeastern Montana, over the past few years, that is indeed the case. And, the reason could be the results of a new approach to firefighting that is being explored by the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC).  It’s an idea devised by Derek Yeager, DNRC Southern Area Fire Program Manager and Montana Fire Warden.

Formerly a member of “hot shot crews” himself, after the devastating fire season of 2012, Yeager started thinking “Something has to change. We have to do it better.”

2012 was a particularly bad fire year.  The Southern Area experienced over 1,000 wildland fires exceeding the 5-year average of 704 a year. The year was dry, with lots of ignition sources, and resources were slim. . Large fires burned homes, property, natural resources like pasture land, destroyed fences, and forced people to evacuate, and others lost all they had.

Said Yeager, “ We were dealing with 1,000+ acre fires literally every other day, sometimes daily.  Volunteers were on fires daily, sometimes for multiple days straight. The costs of fighting those fires was particularly troublesome to me. Being the local guy, I knew of fire departments who were engaging fires. I saw their efforts. I went out and lived it with them and gained an appreciation and respect and understanding of what they were experiencing. I also recognized the value in applying as much common sense to this situation as could be.

“The idea to redirect our focus and commit funding and time and energy into increasing the capacity of local fire departments to respond fast and heavy, to hit fires small, to keep them small was the product of simple common sense, and in recognition that the wildland fire system abroad, while purposeful and powerful in many ways, has a finite capacity for the number of large fires it can staff.”

In analyzing the situation and, most of all, in talking to all the factions involved –Yeager came up with an idea, which, as Southern Area Fire Program Manager with oversight of seven counties, he has been able to try out in a pilot program, beginning small in the fall of 2015 in Yellowstone County.

Calling the new strategy a really big deal, Yellowstone County Commissioner John Ostlund said that he is proud that Yellowstone County has been able to serve as its proving ground. The new approach in dealing with fires is going to have major impact across the country, believes Ostlund.

“It has been enormously successful,” said Ostlund, “It is saving millions of dollar in firefighting costs, and saving in lost property, injuries and lives.”

At the base of Yeager’s idea is to get resources onto a fire as soon as possible. Instead of hours or even days, his goal is to have resources on a fire within minutes.

The approach seems to be working. After a number of years in which major fires would routinely rage through the region in late summer and early fall, filling skies with smoke and ash, and costing hundreds of millions of dollars to battle, Yellowstone County and surrounding areas haven’t seen a major fire in over three years. And, the fires that have occurred have been under a hundred acres.

Yeager emphasized that simply communicating – having discussions with the various factions involved with firefighting, has been key to developing and implementing the program. “There are so many different levels of government agencies involved, and while all have the same interest, they couldn’t come together in a way that kept fires small,” he said.

As a state agency, the DNRC maintains an operating agreement with the BLM, USFS, NPS, USFWS, BIA, and numerous other states, which allow them to trade and utilize each other’s resources, with each paying the costs associated with using the resource.

Simply by talking with all the many individuals and agencies, Yeager created “buy-in,” to “give it a try.” Continuing that process of getting “buy in” will be vital in advancing the approach. The program is in its “infancy” characterized Yeager, “but it is starting to get attention.”

According to Commissioner Ostlund, explaining how the program works will be part of the agenda of the next statewide meeting of the Montana Association of Counties, where “for the first time” he expects to get “buy-in” from most of the county commissioners “who are excited about being able to better protect landowners.”

Almost all of the area fire districts are participating in the program, although some districts are too small or face other barriers to participation.

 Last year, had the largest participation, involving 400 volunteer fire fighters at 31 of 54 fire departments throughout the seven counties, including those in Yellowstone County, such as Worden, Shepherd, Lockwood, etc.

According to Yellowstone County’s Disaster and Emergency Coordinator and Fire Warden, KC Williams, Yellowstone County’s fire chiefs are excited about the program. He added, that although Yellowstone County’s fire chiefs and agencies always worked well together – and although he hasn’t been long on the job – as the plan has been implemented he has witnessed even greater coordination and better communication among the local  factions.

Under the new program, no more waiting after a fire starts to see if it becomes large enough to justify greater assistance, which has been the strategy of the past. Now, resources are put into place in advance. The results have been that rather than taking days to get resources to a fire, they now are there in a matter of minutes, while it is still a small fire.

The approach has made all the difference in the world.

Not only is it more effective, it is less expensive and it is a boon to local fire departments. It supports the volunteer fire fighters, bearing in mind, says Yeager, volunteer fire fighters are at the core of success in all firefighting efforts.

The new plan serves to support local fire departments through an agreement between them and DNRC, which places DNRC fire fighters on duty at local fire stations under the supervision of local fire chiefs. The fire fighters are local volunteers, who become employed by DNRC, throughout the core fire season.

In the past, after a fire became large enough to be deemed qualifying, fire fighters and equipment from elsewhere in the country would be brought into the area to help fight it. Transporting them to the fire site would take critical hours and perhaps days – with the fire burning and expanding all the while. Once they arrived, the fire fighters invariably were unfamiliar with the area, with its culture and priorities, and with the local people with whom they had to work. The cost of transporting, housing and feeding fire fighters contributed greatly to the cost of firefighting.

Under the new program not only are local departments reinforced with the addition of the state-paid fire fighters, the fire fighters are local people, emotionally attached to the area’s well-being, familiar with the area and with the people and agencies with which they have to work.

The arrangement also helps local fire departments with the common dilemma of having to send their own fire fighters to fight wildland fires, elsewhere, for what is often a matter of days or even weeks – leaving little back up to provide protection for the local community.

While the DNRC fire fighters are on-duty they perform duties related to being successful in performing “rapid and aggressive initial attacks,” including  training, maintaining equipment, and checking out lightning strikes.

The wages the volunteers receive improves their ability to be available. Most  volunteers are usually dependent on other jobs, which they can’t afford to leave for extended periods to help fight fire, but being paid by DNRC not only makes that a greater possibility, but becomes an incentive for others to serve as volunteers.

The idea of sharing resources with local fire departments is not new for the DNRC. For some time now they have loaned local departments fire trucks in order to have the equipment available in locations with potential fire risk. Across the state DNRC has 75 fire trucks on loan to local stations under cooperative agreements – eight of those are located at fire districts in Yellowstone County.

Yeager’s program also has in place, in advance, many other processes, permissions and contractual arrangements required in dealing with firefighting, which before were not dealt with until a fire had grown large. Previously, a fire chief would call for help and then physically have to go through a required check list before anyone would give assistance. Getting through that check list could take from 24 to 72 hours, said Yeager. “That meant that meaningful help would not happen.”

The data shows that the new approach has a 8-1 benefit ratio, says Yeager. That means it costs about 1/8 of that of fighting a raging wildland fire.

While the number of reported fires has not changed – about 800 fires per year – “We don’t have any large fires,” said Yeager.

Although July through September is the core fire season, fires happen year round. They are more prevalent when there is no snow cover. For example last weekend, before it snowed, there were over a dozen wildland fires reported within a 48 hour period. So, the DNRC plans for fire occurrence during all 12 months of the year.

By Evelyn Pyburn

A few months ago, I encountered a news story about a recent court decision that was at once heartening and disheartening.

A federal judge ruled that children do not have a fundamental right to learn to read and write. A surprising ruling, given the state of our judicial system, but a wonderful ruling for freedom.

The ruling essentially addresses a claim that is also in the Montana Constitution – that everyone has a right to an education.

It’s an absurdity that this should be found in a document that ostensibly supports freedom, because government cannot promise something to one without obligating another – obligating them against their will – the antithesis of individual freedom.

Whether it is education, health care, food, housing, or a cell phone, to declare some “thing” as a “right” for some people is to immediately enslave others. Who is to be enslaved to provide the promised goods, by virtue of nothing more than the fact that they were born? Is there some group within our society that is undeserving of freedom, while another group, superior to them, is deserving of the unearned?

It is a lack of understanding about this issue that leads so many people down the road to socialism. With better understanding of what they are really asking for, they would know that freedom is not about free stuff, but about freedom of action, something that socialism sets out at the very beginning to quash.

A “right” is not a gift card. Rights, as set up in the Bill of Rights, are about being free to act. You don’t have a right to education, you have the right to try to obtain education. You don’t have a right to a job, you have a right to try to get a job, to earn a living, to earn the food and housing you need.

Rights are about being able to live as you choose. They are not without obligations. Your primary obligation is to negotiate and navigate through society in such a way as to gain what you need WITHOUT using FORCE against another person, as becomes necessary if one group is enslaved to provide for another.

(The only justifiable use of force is in self-defense, and that includes the purpose of the government of a free nation. And, this is a moral issue that is not suspended because government is conducting the theft on your behalf. For the government to force one group to provide free education to another, is just as immoral as a student mugging a businessman in a back alley.)

For individuals to function as they choose in a moral society, while most often means to act to earn the things you need, and to be free to barter and to make voluntary exchanges  . . . it also means being able to voluntarily help one another. To voluntarily donate to a cause that helps others, to form organizations that voluntarily provide support to those who need it, which would include supporting free education because they believe it to be vital to a strong economy and enjoyable society. They could also voluntarily fund research and exploration, and civic activities that improve society and advance civilization.

The disheartening thing about the report on this court decision is that it was immediately followed (in a not so objective way) by quotes from teachers denouncing it as outrageous.

“The message that it sends is that education is not important,” said the President of the Detroit Federation of Teachers.

This person – involved with the education of our children – does not see that the decision is underscoring the importance of freedom. What this teacher fails to understand is that without an environment that assures freedom, no true education is remotely possible. You end up with exactly what we see happening in our colleges today – where students are without the intellect to ponder differing points of view. . . where the only way they can dispute ideas with which they disagree is to silence those who present them, and to insulate themselves from the adversity of new ideas or people who are different.

It is disheartening that we have teachers, who are teaching our children — not about the profound underpinnings of the Bill of Rights — but to demand the unearned and to advance an enslaved society.

The court case was, of course, not quite as clear cut as this. Fundamentally, this case was about the fact that government is collecting people’s taxes with the commitment to provide their children an education. The case was brought on behalf of students who failed to get an education. Parents claimed that government was obligated to provide it – a claim that in a sense cannot be denied given government’s excuse for the process of seizing taxes.

Government makes commitments all the time that it fails to keep, but it seldom causes anyone to rethink their expectations. These parents were not arguing that they wanted to change that. They were not demanding the freedom to pursue their own educational choices.

And, while this judge declared that the children do not have a right to expect government to provide an education, he said nothing about the fraud perpetrated upon the parents and students by a government that failed to live up to the commitment it made. At least in the private sector, purchasing the education they wanted, the parents would have had a case.

By Evelyn Pyburn

One of the greatest travesties of political correctness is the degree to which it cripples productive efforts in addressing serious problems.

It stands in the way of truly and honestly dealing with the very real problems afflicting various minorities, or in dealing with some medical, religious or cultural conflicts, as well as in dealing with political and economic problems.

It is a fact that a problem cannot be addressed until it is accurately identified – no matter where that leads. The survivability of human beings has always been our ability to rationally analyze a situation and identify what needs to be adjusted. The degree to which we fail in that endeavor is to diminish our success at survival. At what point did we begin to sabotage ourselves in that process?

The bullying of politically correct thought is intended to short circuit reality – of being able to accurately identify reality – of zeroing in on the crux of problems.

If the source of a societal, economic or political policy problem stems from something pre-determined as not SUPPOSED to be true, then observers, leaders, academics, politicians, bureaucrats, etc. bend themselves into pretzels trying to avoid seeing it. What that boils down to is that the problem is never addressed and those who suffer from it are condemned to go on suffering so others don’t have to endure the discomfort of disagreeing with those whose admiration they seek – or worse, so they can perpetuate a problem that gives them some kind of political clout.

One of the most immediate examples that comes to mind is the fact that homelessness, unaffordable housing and all the social and economic problems that stem from that, are primarily the result of over regulation. That’s an indisputable fact, challenged by almost no one, and yet it influences absolutely no local or state solutions attempting to “solve” homelessness or the problem of high-cost housing.

For decades and decades, with ever mounting fervor, centralized planners, building coders, municipal administrators, and utopian visionaries have imposed arbitrary and relatively unnecessary costs on development and construction that prohibit lower-cost processes and products, innovations and market alternatives in the realm of housing, unlike almost any other realm of endeavor in our country, except for perhaps education.

Seldom ever has anyone stood to reject the conclusions of the economic studiess – they just ignore them.

For the past 50 years, the observations of analysts   have been promptly relegated to the backwaters of public discussion, academia, politics, and media. Thr evidence does not support the prevailing wisdom that only government – not markets – are capable of shaping the housing market, so the evidence has to be rejected because it does not advance the politically preferred policy of growing bureaucracies and government control.

Besides the availability and cost of housing, over regulation also results in empty storefronts in downtowns across the country, which is most especially true in Billings. This has been a fact made clear to city council and other civic leaders over the past few years, with absolutely no response. Every single over-reaching, arbitrary and capricious regulation imposes costs on maintaining and updating properties. At some point that cost exceeds what the market of a thriving business in the downtown can endure, forcing them to find a less costly location or to not open at all, which leaves no market for property owners to lease or sell. And, that leaves dark, looming empty shells of structures in downtown that only drag down further the value of adjacent properties, creating a downward spiral. Believe it or not, the processs is reversable.

But, so long as leaders and decision makers avert their gaze when it comes to looking at the reality, it will indeed continue to appear that there is no solution but to appeal to government. With market forces curtailed, there will be greater appeal for gargantuan projects, tax funded subsidies, giveaways, and faux economic solutions that in the end will fail.

 With the facts rejected and warnings unheeded, more and more mandates are piled on, crippling the market’s  ability to meet the true needs of consumers. The results are exactly what we see. No solution will be forthcoming until the problem is identified.

After work, tonight, take a walk – around your neighborhood or through a nearby park. It’s a simple way to claim your neighborhood and discourage mischief, vagrancy, and crime.

Unused neighborhoods can easily become targets for mischief makers. Vacated or empty areas that become overrun by criminals or vagrants can be reclaimed by citizens simply by using and caring for them. Such responsibility falls to everyone in a community, residential or business.

Some years ago there was a neighborhood park that had been taken over by hoodlums who hung out destroying property, threatening and even attacking lone wayfarers. By the time cops arrived the culprits were gone. Nothing seemed to be resolving the problem, until people in the neighborhood decided to make a statement. Large numbers of them just simply began walking around the park. They spent time visiting and getting acquainted, and in general disrupting the sense of anonymity or invisibility that the vagrants and trouble makers had come to count on. Suddenly it was not an empty unclaimed space, but a neighborhood park which was unconducive to criminal activity.

Such is essentially the bases of the strategy that city leaders are pursuing to improve the level of safety in Billings. It’s an approach that costs very little, if anything; and everyone can play a role.

As one businessman explained, at a public meeting that was hugely attended by concerned citizens, it has been easy and inexpensive for him to make a difference around his place of business – – a place that, at first, he thought was just fine. Taking a critical look at it at night and walking around himself, he realized improvements could be made. He has made changes and can already see a difference.  What he did amounted to little more than cleaning and sprucing up the perimeters and extensively improving lighting. If every property owner did the same, the difference would be dramatic.

But it is more than just business owners. Residents in their neighborhoods can and should do much the same.

Walk around your property during the day and at night, asking yourself what could be done to make it look like someone is aware and what would make it is safer.

Remove any trash, and as much as possible items that create clutter or that seem to say, “no one cares about this place.” And, understand that it isn’t just your property that makes a difference, but that of the entire neighborhood, so pick up the trash at the corner of the block, too.

Keep windows clean and uncluttered  to improve visibility.

Keep weeds cut down, trim shrubbery along fences and around buildings. Remove weeds from planters and perhaps (here’s a novel idea) plant planters with plants. Remember, unattended planters outside of a business, and weeds in boulevards or in corners, convey a message to customers, as well as mischief makers. What message does the exterior of your property convey not just to villains, but maybe prospective customers, as well?

Replace burned out bulbs and if necessary increase outdoor lighting to discourage people seeking an opportunity to obscure themselves, and to allow good visibility for passersby and yourself.

Walk frequently throughout your neighborhood to get acquainted with what is normal, so as to be able to easily spot something that is out-of-place or suspicious.

Get acquainted with your neighbors. Explain to them what you are doing and why. It may encourage others to do the same.

Who knows it may all become an enjoyable experience, and for businesses, it might even improve business.

Take advantage of the Chamber’s offer to have a free Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) assessment done of your property.

There may be more to be achieved by this kind of community engagement than just crime prevention.

Even though they hoped it might have been less, about 50 percent of respondents who participated in the Billings Chamber of Commerce’s survey said they have been impacted by the presence and activities of street people, said Daniel Brooks at a townhall style meeting about public safety at the Northern Hotel on Oct. 2. Ten percent said that they have been impacted “a lot,” said Brooks, who is the Chamber’s Business Advocacy Manager.

That so many people believe the problem is impacting their lives and businesses, was undoubtedly the reason that so many attended what was billed as a public safety meeting, sponsored by the Chamber and several downtown businesses, such as Buchanan Capital and the Northern Hotel. Easily some 200 people were in attendance – almost as many as attended a November 2018 meeting, which first broached the issue.

Stories abound throughout the city from citizens about encounters they have had with homeless people, panhandlers, and vagrants on city streets. Some are just “party goers” who see Billings as their “Las Vegas,” pointed out Chief of Police Rich St. John – they are not homeless. But, encounters with them, often leave shoppers and employees and visitors feeling uneasy and vulnerable.

As a case in point, a few days after the townhall meeting, a discussion among department heads in county government unveiled concerns from county employees about being accosted by people on the streets. It most commonly happens during the hours that employees are coming to work or going home, said Justice of the Peace David Carter, in asking county commissioners what could be done about it.

After finding out that most of the incidents are not reported, Sheriff Mike Linder, who was also present, said that that was the most important thing they could do. They need to report each incident to law enforcement.

Discussion continued about placing video cameras at the county’s parking lot.

Knowing that they are being videoed in any given area does discourage vagrants from loitering, said a business man, but there are a lot of other – usually less expensive things that property owners and business people can do that help. Pursuing those things is the primary focus of the strategy of civic leaders in Billings.

Simple things like cleaning up litter, cutting weeds and trimming bushes, cleaning windows and improving lighting are first-line defense that is part of what is called Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED).

Attending the December meeting was a representative of Vantage Point, a Bozeman –based firm, that offers CPTED consulting services.

A number of Billings’ citizens are volunteering to get the training needed to assist property and business owners to assess their sites and develop a plan on what improvements are needed to reduce the risk of crime. Brooks said that he is going to take the training, and others in law enforcement and leadership are doing likewise.

Those in attendance at the town hall meeting were encouraged to seek the help of the trained consultants, which will to be made available at no charge through the Downtown Billings Alliance (DBA).

It was also announced that a $25,000 fund is being established to help property owners to make improvements that will improve customer and employee safety, on a one-to-one match basis, up to $3000.

Sean Lynch, owner of Pub Station, who served on a discussion panel during the public safety meeting, related his experience in improving his property. “First thing you should do is wake up at 2 or 3 am and take a look at your business at that hour. I think you will be surprised.”

Thinking his property was in pretty good shape, Lynch said he was surprised with what he found at that hour. He found things that needed to be improved and having made those relatively inexpensive improvements has made a big difference in pedestrian traffic for his business.

His mid-night visit revealed that three lights were out. After engaging some artists to help spruce up the alley, he realized that there actually needed to be more lighting. “Now,” he said, “people can walk in the alley and feel comfortable.”

The grassroots strategy requires citizens to pursue solutions themselves rather than expecting someone else to “take care of it.” That is in essence the approach the community is taking in pursuing the ideas of CPTED – rather than expecting city or county government or someone else to solve the problem.

As part of individuals assuming more responsibility, Chief St. John pointed out that there are taverns and bars that “over serve.” He warned that it is the server’s responsibility to know when to stop serving an individual.

Lynch supported the Chief’s comments saying, “Every business owner can do better.” He suggested that employees need more training.

Continued St. John, “We need to stop enabling people. It is a very complex problem, but we can manage the problem; we can’t cure it.”

That does not mean however that the city and county aren’t focused on what can be done to improve the situation.

Despite having added 100 beds to the jail, the facility is already over-crowded and more additions will have to be considered in the future, said Sheriff Linder, but he emphatically added that it is not true that people who should be in jail are not being incarcerated. “If they need to be there we will find a place for them,” he said.

Linder compared Billings to Boise, Idaho which added to its jail, “same as we did.” While Billings is generally pushing an inmate population of over 500, Boise typically has over a thousand. “This isn’t Mayberry anymore,” said Linder, “One day we will be the Boise of Montana.”

The City of Billings is closely examining the prospects of putting another safety mill levy before voters in order to increase the number of police officers. For its population Billings is 28 policemen short compared to other cities of the same size, said Chief St. John.

“Enforcement is robust here,” said St. John, “but added resources allows us to do much more.” Just a police presence makes all the difference. “When you make it uncomfortable and undesirable to be in a place, they are going to move on.”

City Administrator Chris Kukulski pointed out that in comparison to other cities, “Billings residents pay the least for services and that is showing up as being the least- safe community. It will cost more money to get us out of the place we are in.”

“We can’t afford to be the least -safe community,” he added.

October 1 is Manufacturing Day!

It’s a day that should bring pause to every community in the state, because almost every community has some kind of manufacturing and manufacturing is a pillar of every economy.

According to three reports recently released by the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center at Montana State University, the state’s manufacturing sector is strong and MMEC is helping manufacturers succeed.

The 2019 State of Montana Manufacturing report, along with survey results of Montana manufacturers, were prepared by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana.

“Manufacturing is doing quite well in Montana right now,” said Paddy Fleming, MMEC’s executive director.

The report analyzes a variety of data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and other sources to give a comprehensive overview of trends in the state’s manufacturing sector. Highlights from the 2019 report include:

  • Manufacturing accounted for 16.9% of total statewide earnings in 2018, on par with tourism and ahead of mining and farming. The largest share of that, 17.1%, was from the petroleum and coal sector, followed by wood products at 13.2%.
  • There were a total of 1,643 Montana manufacturing establishments last year. Metal fabricators were the largest category at 256. Miscellaneous ranked second with 184, followed by food with 174.
  • Manufacturing supports 25,100 jobs in Montana, or 3.7% of the state’s total. That’s up from 3.2% in 2010. The wood products sector accounted for the most jobs, 3,193 in 2017, a decline of 35.6% since 2007.
  • Roughly 2/3 of Montana manufacturers were small businesses with fewer than five employees.
  • The fastest growing sector over the past decade has been beverages and tobacco, which includes breweries. The number of establishments in that sector has more than doubled, to 132, and breweries alone employed 979 people in 2018.
  • Sectors losing firms include wood, petroleum and oil, paper and primary metal.
  • Montana’s largest export market for manufactured goods is Canada, with $516 million in 2018 exports, followed by China at $90 million.

A second report summarizes the results of the 2019 Montana Manufacturers Survey, which BBER has conducted annually since 1999 to gauge manufacturers’ perspective on their economic performance and their outlook for the following year. Highlights include:

  • 51% of respondents said their gross sales increased over the past year; 30 percent said they were unchanged.
  • 54% said production increased at their business; 26% reported no change.
  • Half of respondents said their profits increased; 27% reported no change.
  • 32% said their number of employees increased; 56% reported no change.
  • 61% said they expected their production to increase during the next year; 33% expected no change.
  • 65% said that they expected their gross sales to increase during the next year; 28 percent expected no change.

The survey also invites Montana manufacturers to rank the issues most affecting their operations. The top-ranking issue, listed by 67% of respondents, was availability of qualified workers, followed by health insurance costs, at 60%.

“The lack of workforce is really concerning,” Fleming said. “We know companies are turning down business because they can’t find people to get the work done.”

That’s one area where Fleming said he hopes more businesses will take advantage of MMEC’s services. “We have a whole program to help companies attract, retain and develop workers,” he said, noting that MMEC business advisers can work with companies to develop worker training modules, craft promotional materials and identify a variety of other workforce solutions.

The third report provides an overview of how manufacturers and the state benefitted from MMEC’s services in 2018. The findings summarize 59 MMEC clients’ responses to a standardized questionnaire. Highlights include:

  • In 2018, MMEC’s work with manufacturers resulted in 421 new and retained jobs, $71.8 million in new and retained sales, $106 million in additional business investment, $8.9 million in avoided cost savings and $2.4 million in additional Montana income tax revenue.
  • Roughly 57 percent of the respondents said they relied exclusively on MMEC as a business service provider.
  • Clients’ return on investment for MMEC service fees was 9.8 to 1.
  • The state’s return on investment for tax dollars supporting MMEC was 7.9 to 1.

by Evelyn Pyburn

Someone must come to the defense of business following what is but a veiled attack upon decades of how business has been successfully conducted.

It was recently reported that Business Roundtable, a lobbying group composed of people like  Apple’s Tim Cook and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, is changing the definition of the “purpose of a corporation.” Rather than just making a profit for shareholders, they believe a company or corporation or business must be involved in making social change and environmental activism and community improvements.

They state, that the “standard for corporate responsibility…. has changed — and now demands that companies benefit ‘all stakeholders,’ including customers, employees, suppliers, and communities.”

The group of 181 chief executives announced that it has redefined their “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation” to include the promotion of “an economy that serves all Americans.”

There is surely a bit of elitism and hubris in this group, to imply that they are the ultimate authorities in defining business and setting acceptable standards, even as they seem to have no understanding or appreciation of the history of business and the long-standing dynamics of business.

Almost all businesses do serve everyone in their realm. That’s the little understood fact about capitalism – about the role of a business in a community. Big or small — selling magazines or automobiles or lending money — like ripples in a pond, in the process of just tending to business, the activities of a business support and improve its community.

Anyone looking at investing in a business that is making decisions based upon wanting to impact community welfare or environmental activism should give such a business a wide berth. The business is almost certain to eventually fail. Not that community and environmental impacts don’t play some role in how a good business functions, but when a business establishes as its goals the changing of society or agitating for environmental goals, those activities defray business resources, as well as diverting the attention of administrators from making a profit. All of which will eventually spell the demise of the business.

A business is a process that functions very much like a machine. It is not meant to have a heart, soul, personality, social conscious, or spiritual calling. Those are human attributes.  A business is a machine structured to function in a very specific way to achieve very specific outcomes. How well it functions to that end is measured in terms of profit.

There are many other mechanisms and organizational structures that have been devised and can be used to pursue societal or environmental goals, which are exactly what many, many businesses and corporations have utilized in the past. They set up foundations or donate to non-profit organizations  that pursue philanthropic goals the company sees as worthwhile. In doing so, the company owner or stockholders do not compromise the process of making a profit, by keep separate the decisions about how they choose to use those profits.

To give them some credit, these business sages do seem to recognize that doing the “right thing” can be the “best thing” for a business.  They state, “Major employers are investing in their workers and communities because they know it is the only way to be successful over the long term.” 

That is true for all businesses, not just “major employers.”

If paying employees well, training them and making them happy working for the business, keeps good employees, then business managers are paying attention to business, and they are doing the “right thing” for the business, and they are more likely to succeed. Just as, to the degree the company functions in an ethical and responsible manner, it will be respected and trusted by their consumers, which again will contribute to the bottom line.

A business almost can’t avoid doing the “right thing” if they hope to be successful, and in so doing they can’t avoid benefiting the community.

So, it is not that these issues do not play a role in the operation of a business, but they must not be the goal of the business. Such expenditures and attention must be justified by how much they benefit the business – you know, how much they contribute to that horrible thing called “making a profit.”

Despite their narrow mission, every well-run business – of any size – delivers many very positive side benefits to the community.  Besides the obvious jobs and livelihoods and products and services they provide, and the taxes they pay and the contributions they give to civic causes – it is through businesses that all new wealth is created, and that advancements in the standard of living are generated.  And,  most amazing, all of these great benefits happen incidentally to the operation of the business.

We do not need to redefine corporations.

The reality is there is nothing that serves human beings, the environment or society more than people tending to business.  They have always been “serving all Americans.”