Friday, October 2 is Manufacturing Day. It is an opportunity for manufacturers to highlight their work and energize a future pipeline of skilled workers. The Montana Manufacturing Extension Center is urging manufacturers to make it a Manufacturing month, showing the community what your business is all about, how hard you’ve been working this year – both at your facility and ways to advance the industry in Montana.

A tool kit to provide information and ideas is available at www.creatorswanted.org/ wp-content/ uploads/ 2020/08/ MFG-Day-Host- Toolkit-2020.pdf

By Dan Nordberg and Brent Donnelly

As leaders within the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), we have the privilege to partner with businesses and entrepreneurs pursuing their American Dream – even amidst extreme challenges. Last week, we visited Bozeman, Butte, and Belgrade to learn how local businesses are weathering the pandemic, and we were encouraged to hear about the ways so many not only kept their businesses viable but went above and beyond to support their community.

Take Bridger Brewing Company, for example. Known in the area for locally sourced pizza and brews, Bridger has made community partnerships a central component of their business model. When the coronavirus pandemic impaired their ability to continue business-as-usual, Bridger applied for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan through the SBA to supplement their income and keep their employees on payroll. Because of the financial flexibility provided by this loan, the restaurant committed to serving their community in one of the ways they know best: they delivered free pizza to fire stations, non-profits, and other first responders.

Mountain Hot Tub was also impacted by the economic challenges of recent months. An integral part of local tourism efforts, Mountain Hot Tubs experienced challenges based on the supply chains of national manufacturers. Though business was uncertain and they weren’t getting the inventory they needed, the hot tub retailer was able to bring back their entire staff through the help of a PPP loan. Kelly King, Mountain Hot Tubs’ co-owner and president, said the PPP allowed them to change their mindset from insecurity to innovation, and they utilized the time of reduced sales to dig into business strategy and consider opportunities for forward advancement.

These stories are just a few that demonstrate the incredible actions of your business community, and the SBA is honored to play a part in making them possible. In recent months, more than 30,000 Montana businesses have received over $2.2 billion in SBA loans. These dollars fueled local economies, made sure families continued to receive paychecks, and kept hometown businesses afloat.

Visiting your region, we were reminded that so much good is happening despite the challenges around us. People are giving back to the community. Neighbors are helping neighbors. Companies are going the extra mile. Yes, times are tough, but by investing in local businesses, we’re truly building a foundation for a stronger tomorrow.

We are profoundly grateful to your local business community for hosting us last week. Together, we’ll continue empowering Montana entrepreneurs to serve their hometowns and pursue their American Dream. To learn more about the PPP or other SBA programs, visit sba.gov/mt.

Dan Nordberg serves as the National Director for Rural Affairs for the U.S. Small Business Administration, and Brent Donnelly serves as Director for the SBA Montana District Office.

MDU Resources Group, Inc. reported second quarter earnings of $99.7 million, or 50 cents per share, a 61% increase over second quarter 2019 earnings of $61.8 million, or 31 cents per share. For the six months ended June 30, MDU Resources earned $124.8 million, or 62 cents per share, compared to $102.7 million, or 52 cents per share, in 2019.

Said David L. Goodin, president and CEO of MDU Resources, “Our operations performed extremely well in the quarter, with record revenues and earnings at both our construction businesses and very strong results from our regulated energy delivery businesses.

“Our geographic diversity and focus on midsize markets has served us well …. Our utility and pipeline operations continue to provide needed energy … and our total construction backlog remains at a near-record level of nearly $2.2 billion.” The construction materials business had record second quarter revenues and earnings. Revenues were $621.1 million, compared to $596.0 million for the same period last year, and earnings of $53.0 million were an 82% increase over second quarter 2019 earnings of $29.2 million.

Mason O’Donnell recently joined Stockman Bank as a Financial Analyst. His responsibilities include modeling interest rate and liquidity risk; and assisting in the analysis of the balance sheet strategies, funding options and firm capitalization.

 He will also provide credit write-ups and analysis on fixed income investments for the bank’s bond portfolio, as well as the reporting of key measurements, performance ratios and credit standards.

O’Donnell earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics and Finance at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa in 2019. He is currently a level 2 candidate in the CFA program.

He is located at 2700 King Avenue West and can be reached at 406-655-3989.

Vision Net, Inc., a Montana-based telecommunications solution provider, marks its 25th anniversary this year. Incorporated in 1995 and wholly owned by nine telephone companies, Vision Net was founded to provide advanced, cutting edge distance learning and Internet services to rural Montana schools. The company’s early focus on videoconferencing— and the connectivity needed to support it, then and now—is proving critical in a Covid-19 world of remote work and online education.

Vision Net’s investment in Montana’s information technology infrastructure is extensive. In 2005, Vision Net merged with Montana Advanced Information Networks, Inc. (MAIN), forming a company uniquely positioned to deliver a wide range of technical professional services that, to this day, includes broadband network transport, Internet services, design and management of customized wide area network (WAN) solutions including SD-WAN, end-point and network security products, and more.

What began as a company providing videoconferencing services has evolved into one of Montana’s leading technology companies whose world-class 24/7 Network Operations Center (NOC) provides application, network and unified communications support to our carrier and business clients both locally and nationwide.

Most recently, the company funded and delivered critical broadband fiber infrastructure to Helena and Billings, two cities experiencing—yet struggling to meet—increased Internet demand.

For Vision Net CEO Corey Jensen, meaningful investments such as these are what set the company apart. “As a Montana-based company, it’s vitally important that we seek out and support those opportunities that drive value for our state and our customers,” he said. “Fast, reliable connectivity and other critical telecommunications solutions ensure that Montana businesses can compete locally, regionally and nationally. And they position our communities to attract businesses looking to relocate, driving economic development for us all.”

Vision Net provides ongoing professional training for employees, competitive benefit packages, and flexible scheduling to help employees achieve a better work-life balance.

The recently-renovated Billings office was designed with employee comfort in mind, and Great Falls employees enjoy summer BBQs in the renovated breakrooms and outdoor areas as that office undergoes renovations and upgrades.

As a community-minded company, Vision Net supports several state-wide and community organizations. Vision Net has always been involved locally, like supporting Special Olympics – not just financially, but with Vision Net employees volunteering at the games. For almost 20 years, Vision Net has partnered with Billings TrailNet and is the 2020 title sponsor for the annual Ales for Trails fundraiser. Vision Net supports various non-profit organizations throughout Montana as part of our continued commitment to Montana.

 Looking ahead, Jensen said the company will continue to innovate “to stay ahead of the rapidly- changing IT curve,” adding that the current pandemic has presented new challenges and opportunities.

For example, in early March, Montana-based independent financial and retirement planning consultants Ed Ulledalen and Molly Van Binsbergen contacted Vision Net for a phone system upgrade that would allow them to work remotely when needed. Little did they know that within weeks of that phone call, as the pandemic settled in, their entire business model would shift to full- time remote work. Vision Net transitioned them to an app-based solution that allowed them to “carry” their work IDs across personal and business phones, tablets and computers, providing a seamless experience for their clients. It was, as Ulledalen said, “a timely and needed upgrade that literally saved our business.”

As an IT professional, Jensen said stories such as Ulledalen’s are rewarding. “Knowing we are delivering meaningful, impactful solutions to our customers and our communities is why we’re all here,” he said. “I look forward to Vision Net’s next 25 years and the many relationships, challenges and opportunities that will come along with it.”

BauerFinancial, Inc., the Nation’s premier bank rating firm, announced that Stockman Bank of Montana has once again been awarded its highest (5-Star) rating for financial strength and stability. Earning a 5-Star rating indicates this bank excels in areas of capital adequacy, profitability, asset quality and much more. Earning and maintaining this top rating for 47 consecutive quarters, especially in this environment, makes its accomplishment even more impressive. That makes Stockman Bank of Montana an “Exceptional Performance Bank”, a status reserved for banks that have earned Bauer’s highest rating consistently for at least 10 consecutive years.

 “It’s a noteworthy accomplishment in the best of times,” stated Karen Dorway, president of the research firm. “Today, it speaks volumes. How do they do it? A solid sense of community, working one on one, providing solutions to people who need it – that’s the mark of a true community bank. Stockman Bank of Montana’s team members have been right there on the front lines doing whatever they could to help their neighbors and friends throughout the pandemic. And, they’ve done it all without compromising the strength of the institution itself. That’s doing well while doing good.”

KLJ Engineering welcomed Brenna Moloney to their Billings office.

Brenna Moloney

Moloney joins KLJ as an archaeologist. She earned a master’s in archaeology from Wayne State University, as well as a master’s in geography from Eastern Michigan University. She has ten years of experience in cultural resources.

Michael Hass Allstate Insurance  is celebrating 20 years of service in the Billings.

The Michael Hass Allstate Insurance first opened its doors and wrote its very first insurance policy in 2000. Times were different 20 years ago, Shiloh Road had no roundabouts, our population was only 91,926, and cell phones weren’t around! Now, the full-service Allstate agency, located at 1611 Alderson Avenue, employs four licensed professionals with three additional support staff and serves more than 1900 families and businesses, helping them protect  their family, their home, their automobiles and their lives. 

 “Time flies! It feels like just yesterday when we cut the blue ribbon and opened our doors,” said Hass. “The years I’ve been with Allstate and all the years I’ve worked in this community have been an important part of my life. I have enjoyed working with so many families in our community and thank each and every one of them for allowing me to service their household insurance and financial needs.”

Hass provides auto, home, life and commercial insurance, as well as a variety of financial products, including college savings plans, mutual funds and more.

Hass also serves his community as a volunteer coach for the Billings Youth Hockey league, and offering programs such as teen driver safety and fire safety to students and residents. Through the years, Hass has won numerous awards, including Billings Gazette Readers Choice Awards for best insurance agent and coach of the year.  He has also won several awards from Allstate – Inner Circle, Circle of Champions, National Conference, Honor Ring and Spirit of the Good Hands.

René Beyl has been named the Billings Chamber’s Operations and Engagement Manager. Beyl brings 12+ years of experience with the Billings Chamber of Commerce to her new position, which is responsible for daily operations, member data management, and assisting with employee and member engagement.

“René brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to this position,” said Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Reiser. “Her overall commitment to our organization, her upbeat and outgoing personality, along with her detailed knowledge of our members, and willingness to meet new people and help them feel comfortable with our organization make her an excellent candidate for this new role.”

Oboz Footwear, the True to the Trail® outdoor footwear company headquartered in Bozeman, has hired Rich Hohne as its Director of Marketing.  Hohne joins Oboz from Simms Fishing Products. Amy Beck is Oboz Footwear president. Hohne spent over ten years at Simms.