Dr. Susan Gilbertz has been appointed the new MSU-B College of Business Interim Dean, with the retirement of Ed Garding, who retired as Interim Dean for the College of Business in June 30. He was former First Interstate Bank President.

A search for a new College of Business Dean was announced in October.

Gilbertz grew up on a ranch south of Gillette, Wyoming and attended small rural schools. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Wyoming in Communication and Conflict Management. Later, from Texas A&M University, she earned the PhD in Geography.

Gilbertz served at Texas A&M University for 18 years as: instructor of communication, coordinator of advising for a department, international studies faculty exchange instructor (Italy, France, Indonesia, China, Germany, Oman), and co-investigator on nearly $1,000,000 of research grants involving environmental conflicts.

In 2003, she took the position of Director of Environmental Studies at Montana State University Billings. In her twenty years with MSUB she managed the EVST program, taught a variety of courses. Before taking the Associate Dean position with the COB, she served in faculty leadership roles.

Gilbertz’s primary research interests have focused on the sustainability of the communities of the Yellowstone, the Clark’s Fork, Madison, the Ruby, the Milk and the St. Mary’s Rivers of Montana. She has overseen over $500,000 in research projects for MSUB, and has nearly 50 publications.

Gilbertz was recently enlisted by the USGS to serve as the co-chair/US representative to the St. Mary’s/Milk River Socioeconomic Technical Working Group of the Joint International Commission that oversees water sharing between Canada and the US.

Gilbertz remains involved in the management of three ranching business entities in Wyoming and is the sole proprietor of a small social entrepreneurship enterprise in Billings. 

The search for a new College of Business Dean was announced earlier in October and a full position description may be found at www.msubillings.edu.

By Kim Jarrett, The Center Square

A proposed long-term care staffing rule from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services would not improve care but would force nursing homes to close, 14 Republican governors said in a letter to CMS.

The rule changes would require long-term care facilities to conduct a facility assessment that includes a staffing plan within 60 days of the rule’s implementation. The second phase of the rule mandates a registered nurse must be onsite 24 hours a day.

The final element of the rule would require a registered nurse on site for 0.55 hours per resident day and nurses aides onsite for 2.45 hours per resident. It would be implemented three years after the final rule is published.

The governors, including Gov. Greg Gianforte, said the rule would lead to a crisis in the long-term care industry.

“America’s long-term care industry is facing a full-fledged workforce crisis, hitting lows not seen since 1994,” the governors said in the letter. “Between February 2020 and December 2022, facilities lost more than 200,000 workers, and industry observers view long-term care as among the hardest hit sectors in healthcare that has still not recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic. Such challenges are especially acute in rural areas. Despite this, the CMS requirements would force over 80% of facilities nationwide to hire more staff at a time when workers, particularly RNs, have never been scarcer.”

The requirements could force nursing homes to close, they said.

The Iowa Health Care Association agrees. Twenty-seven nursing homes have closed in Iowa since 2022, according to the association, which represents 318 nursing homes and other long-term care facilities across the state.

“The CMS rule issued today to enforce the Administration’s proposed mandate will needlessly exacerbate the extraordinary health care workforce crisis, tear at the fabric of our rural communities, and threaten access to long-term care services for Iowans who depend on those services to meet their most basic human needs,” said IHCA president and CEO Brent Willett the day the rule was released. “Today’s rule, if allowed to stand, will result in further closures, introducing needless trauma into the lives of residents and preventing access to care for rural Iowans who deserve it.”

The letter is signed by the governors of Iowa, Nebraska, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming.

By Evelyn Pyburn

A contingent of state legislators, Billings and other state leaders, in various capacities, will be making a trip to Rapid City, South Dakota to tour their detention facility, the Pennington County Jail, to find out how they operate and possibly learn new ideas about how to deal with some aspects of Yellowstone County’s crime issues.

The trip will serve a two-fold purpose, according to City Councilwoman Jennifer Owen.  Some of those going on the trip are members of the sub-committee appointed by the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) to explore all aspects of the county’s justice system, including the possible expansion of the jail, and others will be focused on how they deal with their pre-arraignment process and diversion program.

Owen is part of the CJCC subcommittee, as is County Commissioner Mark Morse and state legislator, Barry Usher, who will also be going on the tour. There will be others going on the trip from city and county leadership, as well as a number of state legislators.

 About the subcommittee, Owen explained, “We are looking at every possible thing we can do to make it [the justice system] work better.”  A separate “overarching” project is to build a temporary holding facility. With that in mind, there will be some investigation by the tour group into a pre-arraignment facility.

The City is pushing for the temporary holding facility, hoping to get a contract with Yellowstone County to operate it, and that it will be operational in a matter of months – at least by the end of 2024. The City has included a half million dollars in its budget to pursue the project, and anticipate that there may be a need to appropriate more funds. By law, only the County can operate a jail or prison, which is why the City will negotiate a two or three year contract with the County to operate a facility to hold misdemeanor cases immediately after being arrested for up to 72 hours as they wait to see a judge.

In having to deal with an over-crowded jail, a scenario that currently occurs regularly, is that a law officer will charge someone who, for example, is drunk and disorderly, only to have to leave them “on the streets,” since they don’t have a place to hold them. Invariably they will encounter that same person again later in the same night perpetrating another crime. “They can end up having multiple outstanding warrants and multiple crimes in one evening,” said Owen. It is instances such as this that a temporary holding facility is expected to curb.

The idea is to fund short- term, temporary structures that are flexible, which will allow officials to evaluate, over a two or three year period, the holding facility’s impact on crime and whether the facility impacts the jail – the Yellowstone County Detention Facility — population. The data collected will be beneficial in knowing what is needed in expanding the jail. According to Owen there are a number of vendors that offer a variety of units that can be rented.

County Commissioner Morse commented that where the information they gather will lead is uncertain. It will help in determining whether a temporary holding facility is possible and how it might fit in with other strategies, as well as helping to clarify uncertainties about adding onto the jail.  No matter what they do, a temporary holding facility would have to be located in proximity to the jail in order to access support services such as medical care, kitchen, laundry, administration, etc.

Among other options that the subcommittee is looking at is information brought by Justice of the Peace David Carter regarding a management program that will unify the courts and improve the ability of the courts to get data out of the system, which means, for example, a judge will know if a defendant before him has other outstanding warrants, etc.

County Attorney Scott Twito, who heads the CJCC, is also overseeing the sub-committee, which is meeting on a weekly basis, and is comprised of city and county officials, law enforcement, judges, and a legislator.

By Evelyn Pyburn

While many aspects of updating and expanding the Billings airport have been completed, there are more to come. Most of them are essential to attracting and retaining airline companies in the Billings market, according to Jeff Roach, Airport Director at Logan International Field in Billings.

Roach was one of several speakers at a special event featuring the Billings Air Service Committee hosted by the Billings Chamber of Commerce. Also presenting was Trina Froehlch of Mead & Hunt, of Eugene, Oregon. She gave one reason for the question that is commonly asked by people in Billings, which is why does Bozeman have more and less expensive flights than Billings? She explained that following COVID, business travel did not bounce back the way leisure travel has, which has encouraged airlines to invest more in leisure travel than business travel. Given that Bozeman has far more leisure travelers while Billings has always had a stronger business community, Bozeman has been more attractive for airline investment.

She added, “Billings and Bozeman are very different markets.”

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities for Billings to expand its service. One way is to use Billings’ air service, even if it is a bit more expensive, advised Billings Chamber CEO John Brewer. The more travelers there are using Billings’ service the more attractive it appears as a good market to the airline carriers. The difference in cost per ticket isn’t that great – currently on average 13 percent per ticket. While that can amount to a lot for a family, Brewer is just saying….

The number of potential passengers is paramount for airlines in making their decision about where to bring service. Increasingly, they are operating larger aircraft with more seating because operating smaller planes is too expensive. They need to fill seats – typically from 60-70 – in each airplane.

Froehlch identified four areas of costs that are plaguing airline companies – high fuel costs, labor shortages, a decline in demand, and a shortage of aircraft. But their Number 1 problem is a shortage of pilots.  “It is really acute.”

There are a number of things that Billings airport has to do in order to bring in new carriers and expand service – “things that weren’t priorities before.” Some $60 million in upgrades have been identified.

Airline companies do not want to unload passengers on the ground. Billings Airport is doubling their number of gates. They have completed four and planning to add four more by April 1. They have only one ground loading area.

This spring they will begin building access roads to business centers within Logan Field.

They are going to realign the road on the west end of the airport which will allow for the expansion of a ramp that allows for a fifth air cargo pad.

“Every year into the future we have projects planned,” said Roach. The projects are prioritized and set forth in a master plan, but Roach noted that their existing master plan is 12 years old and needs to be updated. They updating could take up to two years.

Developing a 20- year master plan will take “robust public involvement,” said Roach.

Parking is one of the critical issues. “Do we stay on the ground or do we go vertical?” questioned Roach. Security improvements is another issue. “Our baggage claim no longer meets security requirements,” he said. There are other security issues to be addressed. Changes are also necessary in the area of bag screening and ticket counters.

Roach hinted that another fixed based operator is coming to Billings, a business similar to Edwards Jet Center.

There has been expansion in Billings’ air service.

The City of Billings, in partnership with the Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID), the Billings Chamber of Commerce, and Big Sky Economic Development has been awarded a $1,000,000 Small Community Air Service Development Program (SCASD) grant by the United States Department of Transportation to recruit, initiate, and support new air service between Billings and one of two California hubs—San Francisco or Los Angeles.

Brewer pointed out that Southern California was identified as one of the top destinations in the country and Billings has no direct service to California. The Billings community must fulfill a match commitment to get the grant, which they are working on doing, according to Ashley Kavanagh, Senior Director of Recruitment and Community Development at Big Sky Economic Development. Local citizens and businesses were urged to contribute.

Another new “low-cost carrier”,  Sun Country Airlines, has been announced to begin service in Billings on June 19, 2024, with nonstop flights to Minneapolis-St. Paul. A seasonal service, the flights will be run every Wednesday and Saturday, until Aug. 24, 2024.

Billing has the second most flights, but is third in seat capacity.

Companies offering air service in Billings are Alaska, Allegiant, Delta, Frontier, Jet Blue and Southwest.

By Christen Smith, The Center Square

The Biden administration cut a $7 billion check to launch its vision for a hydrogen-fueled future.

The money augments $40 billion in private investment to build seven hydrogen hubs across the nation that will decarbonize transportation and industrial manufacturing, slashing 25 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year.

The amount “roughly” equates to removing 5.5 million gasoline-powered vehicles from the road, or just under 2% of the estimated 286 million operational cars in the United States.

After calling climate change “the only existential threat to humanity” during a news conference in Philadelphia, President Joe Biden touted federal infrastructure spending as the key to reigning in greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning away from fossil fuel reliance.

“Today’s announcement is all part of a bigger vision to do just that,” he said.

The hubs expand across seven regions and 16 states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, New Jersey, Delaware, California, Texas, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Washington, Oregon, and Montana.

Together, the network of pipelines, storage facilities and refueling stations will use natural gas to produce energy and capture the resulting carbon emissions underground, creating 3 million metric tons of hydrogen annually – or about 30% of the federal government’s “clean hydrogen” goal for 2030.

“I found that when the government invests in the needs of the American people, guess what? The private sector jumps on real quick,” Biden said.

Hydrogen can be produced in three ways – referred to as gray, blue or green. Gray hydrogen is produced with natural gas and steam; blue is produced the same way, but its carbon gets captured and stored underground; and green is produced with renewable energy, such as wind or nuclear.

Others warn that relying on federal subsidies may waste taxpayer money, especially since the promised benefits of carbon capture, in particular, haven’t panned out.

Despite this, the administration said two-thirds of the projects will work with green hydrogen, in some capacity, and has publicized a four-year timeline to complete construction on the hubs.

Meeting with representatives from Taiwanese trade associations and importer groups, Gov. Greg Gianforte promoted Montana’s high quality commodities and growing industries to expand economic opportunities for Montanans in Taiwan.

“Taiwan is home to some of the most quality-driven buyers in the world, and Montana delivers – whether our superior grains and beef or world-class semiconductor machinery,” Gov. Gianforte said. “Montana is also seeing rapid growth in industries like photonics and bioscience, creating new opportunities to strengthen our partnership with Taiwan as a global powerhouse for technological innovation.”

Promoting Montana agriculture, Gov. Gianforte met with the U.S. Wheat Associates and the Taiwan Flour Miller Association, the main importer of Montana wheat. Wheat is Montana’s largest export to Taiwan, totaling $32 million in sales.

Taiwan is also an important market for Montana cattle producers, with $16 million of Montana beef exported to Taiwan last year.

The governor then addressed bio and defense firms at a roundtable luncheon, spotlighting Montana’s photonics and bioscience industries. Montana ranks sixth among states for bioscience industry growth, and has one of the highest per capita concentration of optics, photonics, and quantum companies in the United States.

Later, the governor met with representatives from the Taiwan External Trade Association and the Taiwan Trade Office, and he joined his delegation to network with over 80 business members of the Taiwan-USA Industrial Cooperation Promotion Office (TUSA).

TUSA focuses on smart machinery, biomedicine, green energy, and the semiconductor industry. Industrial machinery, largely for semiconductor applications, is Montana’s second largest export to Taiwan.

There, the governor oversaw the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on advanced manufacturing between the Montana Photonics and Quantum Alliance and TUSA.

The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) announced a proposal to resurface approximately 6.5 miles of Interstate 94, east of Billings in Yellowstone County. The project begins about one mile east of Huntley and extends east for 6.5 miles, ending approximately two miles west of Ballantine.

Proposed work includes full width crack sealing, applying a seal and cover (chip seal) to the travel lanes, and fog sealing the shoulders. Work will also include bridge deck repair, upgraded pavement markings, signage, and guardrail replacement. The purpose of the project is to preserve and extend the service life of the existing asphalt, and enhance roadway safety features.

Construction is tentatively planned for 2027 depending on completion of design and availability of funds. No new right-of-way or utility relocations will be needed.

MDT welcomes the public to provide ideas and comments on the proposed project. Comments may be submitted online at http:// www.mdt.mt.gov/ contact/ comment- form.aspx or in writing to Montana Department of Transportation, Billings office, PO Box 20437, Billings, MT 59104-0437.

By Evelyn Pyburn

Perhaps the most commonly heard question in Billings is “Why don’t they expand the jail?” As incidents of crime become more prevalent, impacting citizens in more direct ways, and as news reports indicate many of the perpetrators remain on the streets, the issue rises to the top of most conversations in the community.

A frustrated public can be heard to lay the blame on “lenient judges” who they see as handing down minimal sentences to criminals. Or to cops who don’t arrest people involved in misdemeanor crimes. Or to county commissioners who are simply opposed to expanding the overcrowded jail.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” said County Commissioner John Ostlund about the claim that the county commissioners are simply opposed to expanding the jail. While expanding the jail may seem to be a logical solution to an over-crowded jail – doing so is a very complex issue – one which begs the question, “Will that really solve the community’s problems with crime?”

Dealing with the increase in crime that has impacted the Billings and Yellowstone County is multifaceted. There are issues at every turn in the entire judicial system from the moment a suspect is arrested throughout the entire adjudication process – problems which leaves many perpetrators sitting in jail for extended periods waiting on the system, and forces the release of others back onto the streets to commit more crimes.

As County Attorney Scott Twito once commented, if the jail is expanded “We will just fill it up,” underscoring that an expansion will not have addressed the reasons there are so many people sitting in jail.

At another public meeting, when asked about it, County Commissioner Don Jones pointed out that were the jail expanded and all the other issues resolved, the county could be sitting with an empty jail. Would that be a wise expenditure of taxpayer money?

The County is the only local agency that has authority to build and operate a jail. It is why the City of Billings approached the county, not long ago, with the offer of $500,000 to help finance the cost of building a 72-hour holding facility if the county would agree to operate it, with the idea that having to serve just two or three days in jail, would be a deterrent for some criminals. The idea and offer was positively received by the commissioners and by the County Sheriff Mike Linder, who said, “I would like to try it.”

Shortly after the city’s offer, County Attorney Scott Twito announced his appointment of a sub-committee of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) which will be made up of people representing various aspects of the community including city and county officials, law enforcement, judges, a legislator and others, to meet twice monthly to closely examine the many aspects of the judicial system and report recommendations to CJCC regarding solutions to best address the surge in criminal activity. Their meetings are open to the public.

County Commissioners approved the formation of the committee and appropriated $150,000 to enable the sub-committee to engage whatever professional expertise it might need, including engineers or architects to delve into costs and options of expanding the jail.

Serving on that committee is County Commissioner Mark Morris, who explains that more than trying to find answers to problems; they have to determine what questions to ask.

Undoubtedly one of the biggest factors impacting the entire judicial system is a shortage of personnel – of casual laborers to professionals, of detention officers, medical providers, policemen, and attorneys. From one end of the process to the others the first issue to emerge is the ongoing inability to fill open staff positions.

Right now, the Yellowstone County Detention Facility is short 18 detention officers and the Sheriff’s office is constantly seeking more deputies. The County Attorney’s office has been struggling to attract and retain the lawyers it needs and is short-handed most of the time.

One significant vacancy for the county and the state has been a chronic need for more mental health professionals who can provide mental health evaluations for those charged with crimes but are in need of mental health evaluations in order for their cases to be adjudicated. There are inmates of the jail who have been there for more than a year waiting for a mental health evaluation. There is available, only one mental health professional qualified to do that, for the entire state, pointed out Ostlund.

Morris pointed out that one solution that has been discussed by the CJCC is to hire professionals from out of state to do the evaluations. “It would be less expensive than keeping someone in the jail for a year,” he said.

Not only is the shortage of staff an issue that generates a backlog in the adjudication process that keeps inmates in jail longer, contributing to the issue of an overcrowded jail, but to add onto the jail will amplify that problem as they attempt to staff it.

There’s no doubt that the Yellowstone County Detention Facility is overcrowded. It began exceeding maximum capacity almost from the very first day the last expansion was completed. With a maximum capacity of 434 inmates, its daily population ranges between 590 and 600.

The first question to be answered is how many beds should be added? “Is it 600 or 1000?” asks Ostlund, “No one knows the answer.” Another question is what kind of a facility should be built, a minimum security or a major security facility. Costs vary depending on those answers, and not all the data is known in helping to make those decisions.

How much will it cost? There are many aspects to expanding the jail that impose significant costs that may not be considered by those thinking of just building a physical structure. The commissioners estimated that the cost of design and construction would be about $45 million, which could vary greatly depending on the size of the addition. There are different kinds of facilities and different ways to build them, many of which are dictated by law, that would also effect cost.

Besides building the building there is the annual operational cost – costs of maintenance, staffing for guards and processors, for the operation of a kitchen and a laundry, and to meet the mandatory medical services that have to be made available to inmates, including such things as dental care. There are many services for inmates that the county must provide in a jail which are mandated by state and federal laws.

The commissioners explained that there is significant processing that must be done to arrest and to release someone even for a minimum security, 72-hour holding facility. They must be evaluated and everything they have must be documented and stored, and available to be reclaimed when they are released. And, there are liability issues associated with that process.

Increasing the jail from 434 beds (currently) to 884 (increase of 450 beds) would project an increase in operations of more than $10 million annually, according to the County Finance Office. That would cover the cost of medical, food, insurance, maintenance, miscellaneous operational costs and full time employees. Operational costs in FY2023 for the current jail were a little over $13 million.

There are other issues that expanding the current jail brings for the county. Currently the jail occupies a space shared with the Evidence Building and the Road and Bridge Department. There is not enough room to add onto the jail without moving one of the other facilities. Do they move and probably rebuild the Evidence Building or the Road and Bridge Department?

Ostlund noted that the county does own vacant space across the street from the jail, currently used for parking. There is no doubt that the day will come that they will have to use it for expanding one facility or another, he said.

Ostlund said that the cost is a concern, because “We care what the impact is on our taxpayers.” When it comes to asking the voters to pass a bond the commissioners believe they should be able to answer all these questions for the voters. “We need to have our ducks in a row,” said Ostlund, “If we are going to make a case we are going to have to be credible.”

A new reporting requirement for small business owners goes into effect Jan. 1, 2024

In a National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) survey, 90% of NFIB members had never heard of the new small business ownership information reporting requirement regulation, set to take effect in January 2024. On September 18, NFIB sent a letter to the U.S. House Financial Services Committee expressing disappointment that the committee did not consider stronger legislation to delay or repeal the small business ownership information regulation. This is a substantial regulation that only affects small business owners.

This federal law is set to expand the role of the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) to collect and store confidential personal information about small businesses that have 20 or fewer full-time employees and the individuals who ultimately own or control a company, known as the beneficial owners.

To make matters worse and more difficult for small business, FinCEN released a 56-page compliance guide for the beneficial ownership information regulation. NFIB Vice President of Federal Government Relations Kevin Kuhlman recently testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services Subcommittee on National Security, Illicit Finance, and International Financial Institutions and was quoted in a Thomson Reuters article reacting to the release of the FinCEN Small Entity Compliance Guide.

Kuhlman said the new FinCEN guide “more demonstrates the problems than answers the questions. What I think the compliance guide demonstrates is what began as ‘a simple and basic request’ for four pieces of information has turned into a very complicated 56-page compliance guide … that will overwhelm small businesses,” Kuhlman said. “NFIB would be supportive of taking a pause — delaying the requirements either administratively or by legislation — to improve the outreach, simplify the process, and allow business owners to better understand their compliance responsibilities.”

The rule will affect a broad spectrum of businesses (U.S. and non-U.S. entities including LLCs, corporations, and entities formed under state or tribal laws) and require them to begin filing reports on their beneficial owners to FinCEN. Small businesses with 20 or fewer full-time employees and $5 million or less in gross receipts or sales as reflected in the previous year’s federal tax returns will fall under the new reporting requirement.

“This is going to require 32.6 million small businesses to register their beneficial ownership information with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network by January 1, 2024,” said NFIB Government Relations Director Jeff Brabant. “Anyone who has a 25% or greater stake in the company or is a senior officer will have to register a copy of their driver’s license and business information. This is a daunting task and probably the biggest regulation that no one is talking about right now.”

NFIB will continue to push for a full repeal or delay of this legislation and urges FinCEN to provide more substantial outreach and education on this requirement to small business owners.

Montana State Fund (MSF) announced a $35M dividend declaration to more than 24,000 policyholders across Montana. MSF is the state’s not-for-profit and leading workers’ compensation insurance company. It insures approximately 24,000 employers and their workers in approximately 400 industries from every Montana county.

This is the 25th consecutive year MSF has declared a dividend, totaling $431 million distributed to its customers.

Dividends are not guaranteed. If financial circumstances warrant, the MSF Board of Directors may opt to declare a smaller dividend, or no dividend at all. Dividend payments will begin in late October and are expected to be complete by the end of November.