Big Sky EDC has been awarded a $1.8 million grant from the U.S. Federal Economic Development Administration (EDA). Combined with $200,000 contributed by Big Sky EDC, the total $2 million will capitalize a $2 million Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) to be administered by Big Sky EDC for eligible small businesses located in Yellowstone County.

This new EDA RLF will provide a financing niche not only for those businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, but also contribute to Big Sky ED’s continued effort to diversify the local economy. The funds will help stabilize and diversity the local economy by targeting lending to new start-up, recovering, or expanding businesses as well as stabilizing existing businesses.

Use of the RLF will be a public/private partnership within the lending community to fill financing gaps primarily brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. The EDA RLF will serve several purposes. Funds will be for commercial purposes only and used for working capital, equipment purchases and assistance with commercial real estate acquisitions.

Most for-profit small businesses located in Yellowstone County, or looking to relocate to Yellowstone County, along with business start-ups, will be eligible. Loans will range from $10,000 to a maximum of $250,000 in certain circumstances. It is EDC’s objective to assist as many small businesses as possible. Rates and terms will be competitive and depend on the use of the loan proceeds. These funds are not to be used to replace conventional commercial financing, but rather to be used in partnership with our local lenders and to fill that financing gap not completely available from the private sector.

“Big Sky EDC is very excited at the opportunity to provide this new financing option to assist with the recovery and expansion of our small business community!” – Brandon Berger, Director of Big Sky Finance at BSED.

“This gives BSED additional tools to support entrepreneurs and business growth—which is at the heart of our mission. It is all about building momentum in our economic recovery, and beyond.” – Steve Arveschoug, Executive Director. For more information please reference the recent release – U.S. Department of Commerce Invests $1.8 Million in CARES Act Recovery Assistance to Capitalize Revolving Loan Fund to Serve Businesses in Yellowstone County, Montana.

Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform

With passage of Biden’s $1.9 trillion spending plan, Democrats are not just trying to enact higher taxes at the federal level – they are also trying to stop states from cutting their own taxes.

At the last minute, Democrats added a provision giving federal bureaucrats veto power over any tax cut from now until 2024 if a portion of the $350 billion in state and local aid is used to “directly or indirectly” offset tax cuts. This provision was inserted by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., at the request of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., in order to prevent federal dollars from “subsidizing” tax cuts. This prohibition shows the mentality of the Left – they are OK with providing states with billions of dollars to expand the size of government, but not to reduce taxes for families and businesses.

This vague standard is ripe for abuse and could be broadly applied to block tax cuts across the country for years to come.

The ban violates federalism, infringes on the sovereignty states have over their own tax policy and is an attempt to prevent competition between states.

Tax competition between low-tax states and high-tax states allows voters to see a clear contrast between success and failure. Democrats know that taxpayers have already been voting with their feet.

Over the past decade, millions of people and jobs have moved from high-tax states into states with low or no income taxes, and the ability to work remotely will only amplify this trend.

States such as New York, California and Illinois – which have been spending recklessly for decades – will still be allowed to use the bill’s funds to directly grow the size of government or bail out government union pension funds.

New Hampshire, which does not tax wage income, is looking to adopt a true no income tax by phasing out its 5% tax on interest and dividends income. Several more states – including Arizona, North Dakota, West Virginia, North Carolina and Mississippi – are currently exploring ways to put their income taxes on the path to zero.

While the Treasury Department said that Georgia’s proposal to cut state income taxes could go ahead, this is the first of many proposals the federal government may demand a say in.

Senators in swing states that voted for the provision, such as Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., and Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., should explain to their states’ citizens why they want former President Barack Obama and Schumer to have veto power over state tax cuts.

Moving forward, Congress should repeal this state tax cut ban.

Fortunately, Republican lawmakers are taking action.

Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., and Congressman Dan Bishop, R-N.C.,) have introduced the “Let States Cut Tax Act,” legislation to repeal this provision immediately. Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, has introduced similar legislation and has called on Treasury to immediately clarify the vague provision so that states are able to proceed with tax cuts.

Unfortunately, Democrats are doubling down on the ban. Last week, Braun went to the Senate floor to ask for his bill to be passed but it was blocked by Manchin.

The fact is, Congressional Democrats have no business dictating to states whether they can or cannot cut taxes. Lawmakers should immediately repeal this prohibition in order to protect tax competition and ensure well run, low tax states can continue to provide tax relief to their residents.

The project management team overseeing the renovation of Big Sky Economic Development’s new headquarters and entrepreneurship center opened bids on April 6. While they had anticipated the possibility that bids may exceed the proposed budget they were still “taken back” that the one bid they received was a million dollars over budget.

But the county’s economic development agency remains confident that they will be able to move forward with the project to renovate the former Montana National Bank Building located at 201 N Broadway under Sky Point into what will be the agency’s new headquarters, as well as a new entrepreneurial business incubator for the Rock 31 Entrepreneur Program.

Big Sky EDA is currently located at Granite Towers at 222 North 32nd Street.

“We had one strong bid, from a good contract with very good subs,” said EDA Director Steve Arveschoug on a positive note. “The reason we didn’t get more bids, is the subcontractors are slammed right now. Their ability to take on projects is really constrained. It is going to take longer and it is going to be more costly because of a lack of trades,” said Arveschoug, who had been contacted prior to bid opening by contractors who had been interested in the project but said they would not be able to put in a bid because they could not find the subcontractors.

The problem is not unique to the EDA project – throughout the region reports are the same – construction projects are being put on hold because of a lack of construction workers, as well as because of a steep escalation in the price of building materials.

While EDA developed a budget for what was expected to cost about $3 million, the bid they received from TW Clark Construction was $4,075,000. TW Clark is a Spokane-based company with Billings’ offices at 609 Charles Street.

Arveschoug said that they will be looking for gap funding and doing some value engineering to make TW Clark’s bid work and to complete the project, which they hope to have built within one year. “We have a good project management team. Some of the leading contractors in the community,” said Arveschoug, noting, too, that the joint Big Sky EDA and EDC boards at a meeting last week urged that they move forward.

They must have a “game plan” within the next 30 days according to the parameters of the $2.1 million federal grant Big Sky EDA received from the U.S. Economic Development Administration in 2019 for the purchase of the building and renovation.

“We are going to look at American Rescue Funds that are coming to the state. They are designed to come to the rescue for economic recovery,” said Arveschoug, pointing out that their project qualifies on at least two fronts for COVID-impact funding.  EDA’s mission is to assist businesses in economic recovery and the increased costs and limited labor they are encountering are a consequence of the pandemic.

Also, the U.S. Economic Development Administration is not surprised at the outcome of the bidding process. “The regional director for the Economic Development Administration said they have seen these issues with projects all across the region. All of the region’s re-development projects that they are funding are experiencing additional costs,” said Arveschoug.

From the beginning the federal grant has been matched by local funding. There are other options for additional grant funding, including Big Sky EDA reserves and those of its sister member organization Big Sky Economic Development Corporation (EDC). The two agencies provided $2 million in matching funds for the federal grant.

Also, Arveschoug reminded that they were able to buy the building because of what was essentially an over $700,000 grant from the building’s owners Chris and Mike Nelson. “They felt very strong about this mission,” said Arveschoug, “So they made their own grant to the project and reduced the cost to us before the EDA made their grant.”

When completed the first floor of the renovated building in downtown Billings will serve as a co-working space with a coffee shop where entrepreneurs can meet and connect. The basement will serve as a work area, and the second floor will be used as a training space. The third floor will house the Big Sky EDA offices.

Big Sky EDA is a county agency serving economic development in Yellowstone County. Through a number of various economic development organizations and programs it provides resources for business creation, retention, new business recruitment and community development.

Montana’s unemployment rate dropped in February to 3.9%, after falling to 4.0% in January. The unemployment rate for the U.S. was 6.2% in February.

Yellowstone County is ranked 23rd among counties for the lowest unemployment rate at 4.4 percent, which is about .6 percent higher than a year ago. There are 76,274 people employed in the county which is 2400 less than last year.

McCone County has the lowest unemployment rate in the state at 2.3 percent which is -0.1 percent lower than last year, currently employing 954 people. Glacier County has the highest unemployment in the state at 10.2 percent, which is 1.7 percent higher than a year ago with 4,541 people employed.

Yellowstone County’s unemployment rate is higher than the 3.4 percent rate in Gallatin County. The rates in other urban counties are Lewis & Clark County, 4.5 percent, Cascade 4.8 percent, Missoula 5.2 percent, Silver Bow, 5.5 percent.

Nationally, Montana’s “bounced back” 8th best. South Dakota’s has bounced back the best and Hawaii’s the least best, according to

“Montana’s unemployment rate continues its downward trend, but too many of our businesses are struggling to find workers,” Governor Greg Gianforte said. “Getting Montanans back to work in good-paying jobs and improving access to trades education and apprenticeships are top priorities as we get Montana open for business.”

Governor Gianforte has worked with the legislature to address the growing skilled labor shortage in Montana by creating the Montana Trades Education Credit (M-TEC). A central element of the governor’s Roadmap to the Montana Comeback budget, the bill, H.B. 252, provides $1 million per year in 50-percent credits to businesses for their employees to learn a trade. The funding level will support as many as 1,000 scholarships annually. Under the program, employers and employees can decide on training that is best for the business and the employee.

“Expanding trades education in Montana and empowering our workforce are critical. I look forward to this bill getting across the finish line and to my desk,” Governor Gianforte said.

Total employment in February fell by 965, and the labor force shrank by 1,521 workers. Total employment includes payroll, agricultural, and self-employed workers. 

After updating January’s preliminary estimates, payroll employment was unchanged in February, remaining at 477,700 jobs. The manufacturing and accommodation and food services industries each added 500 jobs, which were offset by job losses in construction and financial activities.

The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased by 0.4% in February, driven by increases in gasoline prices and a rising energy index. Over the last 12 months the CPI-U has increased 1.7%. The index for all items less food and energy, referred to as core inflation, increased 0.1% in February.

Bethany Blankley, The Center Square

Red states are leading economic growth in the U.S., a new report by the U. S. Commerce Department shows, with South Dakota, Texas and Utah reporting the highest growth.

The report is based on 2020 fourth quarter gross domestic product (GDP) data and February 2021 unemployment rates.

Real GDP increased in all 50 states and the District of Columbia in the fourth quarter of 2020. Real GDP for the U.S. as a whole increased at an annual rate of 4.3 percent. The percent change in real GDP in the fourth quarter ranged from 9.9 percent in South Dakota to 1.2 percent in the District of Columbia.

Montana had a GDP increase of 3.6 percent.

The top three states in quarter-over-quarter growth were South Dakota (9.9 percent), Texas (7.5 percent), and Utah (7.1 percent). All three have Republican trifecta governments, with Republicans controlling the governor’s offices and both chambers of state legislatures.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, pointing to the report, tweeted, “The Texas economy expanded at a rapid pace of 7.5 percent in the last quarter of 2020. That means more jobs & more prosperity for Texans. Only one state – and no large state – had better economic growth than Texas. The Texas economy is fire.”

Eight of the states in the top 10 are all Republican-led states. The two in the top 10 that are Democratic strongholds are Connecticut, reporting 7 percent growth, and Delaware, reporting 5.8 percent growth.

Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds pointed to Iowa’s growth of 6.3 percent, tweeting Iowa is “The #1 state for opportunity,” with a “GDP growth faster than the national average,” and it “had kids back in school since August.”

On March 26, the New York Federal Reserve “GDP Nowcast” model, which estimates real-time economic growth, said that while the U.S. economy grew at 6.1 percent in the first quarter of 2021, it will only grow at 0.7 percent in the second quarter.

Fed analysts attribute the “negative surprises from personal consumption expenditures, manufacturers’ shipments of durable goods, and housing data” as contributing factors for the forecasted decrease. Their forecast for the entire year is roughly 6 percent growth or higher.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment rates were lower in February in 23 states and the District of Columbia, higher in four states, and stayed roughly the same in 23 states, with the national unemployment rate remaining at 6.2 percent.

States reporting the highest unemployment rates are Hawaii (9.2 percent) and California (9 percent). States with the lowest are South Dakota (2.9 percent) and Utah (3.0 percent).

The City County Planning Department is going through the process to approve a study regarding the feasibility of a rental program for the short-term use of bikes and scooters in Billings. It’s a service or business available in many cities across the country, which is meant to extend transportation options.

The City of Billings’ MET Transit is considering implementing such a program according to Elyse Monat, Transportation Planner for the City/ County Planning Department.

The $45,000 study was done under the auspices of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) which for Yellowstone County and Billings is the Policy Coordinating Committee (PCC). The study requires approval of both governing bodies as well as the Montana Department of Transportation. All three agencies comprise the PCC board which must give final approval. 

The MPO (PCC) hired Alta Planning + Design, a multi-state company with offices in many states including Oregon, Utah, Colorado and California. The goal of the Billings Area Bike and Scooter Study, is to determine how a bike and scooter “share program” would have to be established in order to be successful. The program is a service or business model in which bicycles or scooters are available for short-term use, usually 15 to 45 minute trips. Often operated under contract with the municipality, the service allows a user to check out a bicycle or scooter from locations around the city, ride to their destination and then leave the bicycle at some point for someone else to use.

The service is designed to be “a cost-effective, environmentally-friendly, convenient travel option for shorter trips” …which “could serve as an extension of transit and help Billings community members and visitors get around more easily without using a car.”

According to Monat, the survey of 245 Billings respondents 53 percent said they are interested in seeing such a program, 24 percent are not interest, and 14 percent wanted more information. Others sid they like the idea of “bike share” but not “scooter share.” Concerns sited included safety, lack of bicycle infrastructure, and vandalism.

Study recommendations to the City is that should they implement the program it should be a hybrid that would include both bikes and scooters. Hybrid means a bike can be retrieved at and returned to a station which consists of a series of bike racks, or anywhere within the designated service area; bikes are typically referred to as “smart bikes” due to the on-board technology hardware; user transactions can occur through hardware on the bike, web, and/or smartphone application; may include manual bikes or e-bikes.

The business model recommended by the study would be for the city to hire an experienced company that owns and operates a turnkey system, which means the service would be publically owned and privately operated.

The City would rent equiment and contract with the company for the full range of operations support, including installation, operations, sponsorship, customer service, and maintenance. The company takes on the risk of funding and operating the program in return for generated revenues.

Additional funding was identified as possible from sponsorships, grants, or operational funding.

Things recommended to the city in order to provide greater assurances for a successful program included: enable safe, convenient personal mobility such as sidewalks, separated bike lanes, crossing treatments, speed limit reductions, lighting, etc. should be focused around large employers and key services, such as health care and quality food outlets.

Funding for the Billings Area Bike and Scooter Study came in large part from the federal government, with the city and other organizations providing 13.42 percent in matching funds.

The study will be considered by the PCC at its March 18, 2021 meeting, at noon at the County Commissioners’ office in the Stillwater Building.

The future USS Montana has been launched in Newport News, Virginia. The nuclear-powered fast attack submarine will be completed pier-side while crew training continues toward sea trials this year. The boat’s commissioning into the Navy fleet is likely in early 2022. Huntington Ingalls Industries announced that the 7800-ton Virginia-class submarine was launched into the James River at the company’s Newport News Shipbuilding division.

Captain Michael Delaney, commanding officer of USS Montana, has visited the state multiple times with crew members.

“Our exceptional young sailors want all Montanans to know that in their training and the fulfilling of their operational responsibilities, they are energized by the support they feel from Big Sky Country,” said Delaney about the launch. “The same will be true when they are eventually deployed aboard the USS Montana in defense of our nation.”

Delaney said that crew members who have visited various parts of the state to get to know her people, history, culture, and economy have been tremendously impressed by the Montanans they’ve met.

“We’re all committed to making Montana proud as we work toward taking the state’s namesake warship to sea for the first time later this year,” said Delaney.

Montanans are actively supporting the commissioning and crew of USS Montana through the USS Montana Committee, a Montana nonprofit corporation with a number of responsibilities. Included are building a support relationship between the crew and Montanans for the boat’s 30-year service life and providing certain enhancements to the warship, including an onboard Montana history and culture display being developed with the Montana Historical Society.

The Committee will be doing informational presentations around the state this year with a unique submarine-sized ship’s bell cast as a replica of the one aboard the first and only other USS Montana, an armored cruiser commissioned in 1908. The bell will be presented to the boat and its crew at the future USS Montana’s commissioning.

According to Huntington Ingalls Industries, until launch USS Montana had been in a floating dry dock following transfer from a construction facility in October. The dry dock was submerged, and the submarine was moved by tugboats to the shipyard’s submarine pier for final outfitting, testing and crew certification.

“For our shipbuilders, launching USS Montana signifies five years of hard work, commitment and dedicated service,” said Jason Ward, Newport News’ vice president of Virginia-class submarine construction. “We look forward to executing our waterborne test program and working toward sea trials and delivering the submarine to the Navy.”

Through the teaming agreement with General Dynamics Electric Boat approximately 10,000 shipbuilders, as well as suppliers from all 50 states, have participated in USS Montana’s construction since the work began in 2015. USS Montana is approximately 92% complete.

The Supreme Court will soon consider whether to accept New York State Rifle & Pistol Association vs. Cortlett, which challenges New York’s carry laws. One of the legal briefs has the backing of nearly half of the Attorneys General in the US.

In their brief, primarily written by the offices of Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich and Missouri AG Eric Schmitt, the AGs argue that the collective histories of the 23 responding states demonstrates that “subjective-issue handgun permit regimes, such as N.Y. Penal Law §400.00, are unconstitutional because they impose state-created, subjective conditions upon the exercise of a fundamental constitutional right.”

The Amici States emphasize two reasons that this case warrants the Court’s review. First, empirical data and the States’ experience with objective- issue regimes demonstrate that these subjective-issue regimes undermine the very public-safety purposes that they purport to advance. Citizens that receive permits are significantly more law-abiding than the public at large, and studies link objective-issue regimes with decreased murder rates and no rise in other violent crimes. Public safety is also increased at the individual level when citizens carry for selfdefense and respond to a criminal attack with a firearm; these defensive gun uses leave the intended victim unharmed more frequently than any other option and almost never require firing a shot.

Culminating years of work, a small satellite designed and built by Montana State University students  was launched on Feb. 20, aboard a cargo resupply rocket bound for the International Space Station.

The bread loaf-sized satellite, called by the acronym IT-SPINS, will dock at the space station until later this spring, then be propelled into orbit and commence a more than six-month mission of measuring the properties of Earth’s atmosphere at the edge of outer space.

Since the project kicked off in 2015 with a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation, more than 30 MSU students in MSU’s Space Science and Engineering Laboratory have been involved in developing the satellite, according to David Klumpar, SSEL director and research professor in the Department of Physics in MSU’s College of Letters and Science. The launch will mark the 12th time a small satellite designed and built by MSU students in SSEL has been sent to outer space.

“We give students the opportunity to take a lot of responsibility in developing the mission, designing and making the hardware, putting it all together and then testing it to make sure it’ll survive the launch and work in space,” Klumpar said. “It’s a really hands-on experience.”

Using a specialized sensor created by the nonprofit research institute SRI International, the satellite will measure ultraviolet light emitted by charged particles, or ions, in the upper layers of Earth’s atmosphere called the ionosphere and thermosphere. IT-SPINS stands for Ionosphere-Thermosphere Scanning Photometer for Ion-Neutral Studies. The study could lead to improved forecasting of “space weather” in which variations in solar ultraviolet and X-ray radiation cause the number and intensity of ions to increase, sometimes interfering with satellites and orbiting spacecraft.

Besides the sensor, the satellite — including solar panels, batteries, communications hardware and a variety of computerized controls — was almost entirely designed and built by students, mainly engineering and computer science majors, with the help of SSEL staff, Klumpar noted.

Nevin Leh, who earned his bachelor’s in computer science from MSU in 2016, worked on the project as a junior and senior. He programmed the software that sends commands to the satellite, tracks it in the sky and downloads the data it collects.

Recent months have been a scramble as Leh, along with other SSEL staff and students, went through the final rounds of testing to ready the satellite for launch. “After you send something to space, you can’t just go up there and fix it,” Leh said.

Part of the testing involved putting the satellite in a vacuum chamber at MSU and cycling the temperature between minus-20 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit, simulating the harsh sun and chilling shade the MSU creation must endure as it orbits the Earth 14 times per day. The MSU team included specialized materials and coatings in the design to help the device retain needed warmth while also radiating excess heat.

SSEL will be involved in monitoring IT-SPINS and downloading data when the satellite passes within line-of-sight of the MSU campus, which will happen a couple times per day, according to Klumpar. MSU researchers will be involved in analyzing the data using a software developed by the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University, a collaborator on the project.

Calling to Reinstate Keystone XL Permit

Montana’s Attorney General Austin Knudsen led a coalition of 14 attorneys general last week calling on President Joe Biden to reconsider his unilateral revocation of the 2019 Presidential Permit for the Keystone XL pipeline and advised him that states are reviewing available legal options to protect their citizens and interests.

In letter, Knudsen and the attorneys general coalition reiterate the harms Biden’s decision will inflict on Americans: thousands of displaced workers, increased reliance on energy produced in Russia and the Middle East, and lost economic activity and opportunity.

“Your decision will result in devastating damage to many of our states and local communities. Even those states outside the path of the Keystone XL pipeline—indeed all Americans—will suffer serious, detrimental consequences,” Knudsen led the attorneys general in writing to Biden. “In Montana for instance, killing Keystone XL will likely cost the state approximately $58 million in annual tax revenue. Montana will lose the benefits of future easements and leases, and several local counties will lose their single-biggest property taxpayer. The loss of Keystone XL’s economic activity and tax revenues are especially devastating as five of the six impacted counties are designated high-poverty areas.”

The pipeline would run 285 miles through Montana crossing through six counties. Montana businesses, local governments, and utilities have made substantial investments in preparation for the pipeline, which are now rendered lost by Biden’s action. As a result, energy bills for some Montanans’ are likely to increase and schools and local governments in eastern Montana will lose out on much needed revenue.

Knudsen criticized Biden for failing to consult the State of Montana on the costs to consumers and economic impacts, setting a dangerous precedent for other permits and projects, and “virtue signaling to special interests.”

“Please be aware that the states are reviewing available legal options to protect our residents and sovereign interests. In the meantime, we urge you to reconsider your decision to impose crippling economic injuries on states, communities, families, and workers across the country,” Knudsen and the attorneys general wrote.

The letter was also signed by attorneys general from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and West Virginia.