After what has been essentially decades of planning and designing and fundraising Montana State University Billings celebrated the ribbon cutting of the Yellowstone Science and Health building for the College of Health Professions and Science, last week. Completion of the state-of-the art, $17 million facility is historic and hundreds of people attended ceremonies marking the occasion on what could not have been a more idyllic day – and just one day before college classes started.

The impacts that the new facility will have “will be far reaching and long lasting,” proclaimed MSU-B Chancellor Stefani Hicswa.

“It’s a spectacular day. It’s a day of new beginnings,” added Montana State University President Waded Cruzado. “This building will be instrumental in the way we teach and educate.”

The building was a long time in coming and not without its struggles. It augments an original building built in 1947. A wide range of supporters, donors and benefactors were recognized as having collaboratively achieved the home-stretch of raising $5 million under the direction of the MSU-B Foundation as it was challenged to do by the Montana State Legislature in granting the balance of its funding.

The 30,000 square foot building includes 16 teaching labs, 11 research rooms and 19 virtually connected classrooms. It includes smart board technology in each classroom, a greenhouse, and cutting-edge labs and equipment. 

Building was done by T W Clark Construction.

By Evelyn Pyburn

With the fiasco of Afghanistan laid bare for the world to see, there has been a lot of public discussion and editorials and talking heads debating the worth of the US being engaged in “nation building.” One point that was made is that it seems not to work unless the grassroots citizens of a nation are willing to fight for their own freedom – only then will they value it enough to live it and insist upon retaining it.

 I agree that a people have to want freedom enough to fight for it, and they will have to fight for it always, because there are many who want to take it away.

We can see that in our own midst, where young people no longer value the freedom they have, which others fought and gained.  In a way that is understandable. Just because you want freedom doesn’t mean you automatically know what it takes to have freedom. Look again at our own citizenry – how many really know that the most important tenants that generate a free society are: the rule of law not whims of fleeting dictators, the right for individuals to own property, and a system that enforces private contractual agreements?

Even those who most avidly defend freedom may not understand what it is about the Constitution that makes it work, or how vital free markets and property rights are for individuals to have the means to be free.

The best way for the US to nation build – in the sense of encouraging freedom for other nations – is to hold and sustain freedom here. Our freedom is the biggest threat to tyranny around the world. That was the message of the “shot heard ‘round the world.” That is why tyrannical forces attack the US so deliberately and viciously, they understand what we seem not to understand: As long as we exist as a free country we demonstrate to people everywhere what is possible. No matter what else tyrants do to enslave their people, if their people see the vision of what is possible, they will not accept tyranny.

So from day-one, the world’s tyrants clearly understood, the US must be destroyed.

It is no accident that the US became an economic power house so quickly. It happened because of the freedom of individual citizens to produce, create, and innovate. The fact is, almost any country in the world, no matter how small, could become a dynamo power house simply by adopting freedom – but then the tyrants who now exercise control would not be tolerated.  So while the tyrants may want the kind of power and influence that the US holds, they are not willing to relinquish their political power and position to allow their own people the necessary freedom. Their personal avarice far exceeds any concerns for the wellbeing of commoners, so brute force must be the foundation of their government. We, too, have plenty of those types in the US, as do all “modern, sophisticated” countries. Such is the crux of all world struggles.

 We can do the most to advance the wellbeing of people of other nations by standing firmly for freedom here – by insisting the Constitution prevail, by fighting for the election of like-minded representatives in government, especially in local government. It should be the role of every citizen to understand what makes freedom work, which includes understanding what makes the Constitution such a brilliant structure and why it is that free markets are so powerful for the individual consumer/ citizen – and to be able to pass that knowledge on to the next generation, and not trusting to others or schools to teach it.

In fact, take the next generation out of government schools, and support and work towards a vibrant free market education system—one that is responsive to consumers and just as affordable as any other free market product. It is the teaching of ideas that is powerful. Once understood, the ideas of freedom  stand invincible. They are so powerful that those without ideas or haven’t better ideas, find it necessary to silence their adversaries by any and all means possible.

Our nation was built on an idea, if we fail to understand and sustain that idea, we will fail as a nation, no matter our armies.

The Billings Food Bank is planning to expand its facilities. Sheryle Shandy, Executive Director of the Food Bank, presented their proposal to county commissioners in seeking their sponsorship for a grant to help fund the project, during a public hearing last week.

The organization, which has been providing food for the needy of Yellowstone County for the past 40 years, is requesting funds through the Department of Commerce’s Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). Since CDBG make funds available only through local government agencies, the application requires the commissioners’ approval. 

Shandy explained that they are completely remodeling, refurbishing and repurposing a building owned by the Billings Food Bank across the street from Shepherd Stainless Steel at North 16th and 3rd Avenue North, which suffered about a half million dollars in vandalism last November. It is located a few blocks away from the Food Bank’s primary facility at 2112 Fourth Avenue.

While the Billings Food Bank is readily recognized for providing food to the needy of all ages with no questions asked, they also provide a vital service to the business community in training prospective employees for the food industry. They also have resources and services that help entrepreneurs trying to get food products to market, and they have services for food trucks or anyone else who needs access to a commercial kitchen. Demands for all their services have escalated greatly over the past few years.

Shandy said that in dealing with the vandalized building, which had previously served primarily as a warehouse, they decided to completely redesign and remodel it to expand the Food Bank’s capacity. The project will cost a total of about $5.5 million and will be done in stages.

A portion of the first stage, costing just under a million dollars, is nearing completion. The fact that the Food Bank already owns the land and the building helps reduce the funding they need to complete the project.

The application for the CDBG grant describes their project, said Shandy, but it does not request a specific amount. Shandy said that they recognized that there are limited CDBG funds available with many demands upon on it, so they are just hoping for some award.

Completion of the project is uncertain because of issues involving the delivery of materials and components, said Shandy, but she hopes it can be completed by next March or April at which time the Billings Food Bank will celebrate its 40th anniversary.

According to Shandy, the proposed improvements will allow the Food Bank more kitchen facilities with which to provide more education and training. It will update equipment and expand capacity. The Food Bank prepares a lot of meals for the needy in the community, on holidays and other occasions.

They saw a great need for expanded meal service over the past year as many people who were shut- in because of COVID becoming depressed, said Shandy, and delivering them meals was something the Food Bank could do.

The new facility will provide a multi-purpose commercial kitchen and additional seating for 1,000, which would increase current capacity two and a half times over their Fourth Avenue building.

Most recently plans have changed to include a café in the remodeled building. Shandy said that other businesses located in the area encouraged them to include a café because they see a need for such a service in the neighborhood.

The expansion will also require the hiring of additional employees. They currently employ six people.

The Food Bank’s services that support business growth in Billings is largely unrecognized.

Except for last year, the Food Bank trains about 250 people annually to work in restaurants and other organizations that prepare and serve food. Their training gives students real world experience and includes learning the basics of food preparation including cutting skills, how to make basic sauces or serving food safely.

It’s not a chef’s school but the students leave the program ready for internships and further training from chefs, said Shandy, who added, “There has never been a time when people couldn’t get jobs.” Good, dependable employees have always been in demand.

Whether classes will resume this year remains uncertain. Shandy said that they are trying to develop protocols that will allow them to resume classes despite the re-emerging threat of COVID. It is certainly true that with the shortage of workers, their training program is needed more than ever.

People who have popular food products, such as salsa, tamales, or jams and jellies, etc. that they want to make available for sale as the basis of a new business, find valuable support through the Food Bank, as well as the use of a commercial kitchen that is necessary to meet the standards of the health department in manufacturing their products for market. The Food Bank’s resources serve as an economical means of launching a business before they can afford their own equipment or as they test their product’s viability in the market.

Shandy said that a number of these emerging entrepreneurs of the past have gone on to great success.

Many of the local food trucks utilize the Food Bank’s facilities for cleaning and sanitizing equipment.

Providing such services is unusual for a Food Bank. The Billings Food Bank has the means to do so, explained Shandy, because the building they bought for the Fourth Avenue location had formerly been an appliance distributorship and had a full commercial kitchen. “There must be some way to use this,” they thought. When they decided to lease it as a commercial kitchen for training and emerging businesses they were only the seventh such enterprise in the nation and the only one associated with a Food Bank.

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, 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.