Just for the fun of it, let’s take a look at what was happening in Billings 30 years ago. Following are some business news snippets taken from the pages of the Big Sky Business Journal during 1989. The business world was on the precipice of the computer age, many businesses were adapting to the new technology and great changes were happening. A perusal of the highlights should resurrect some memories, remind of old friends and acquaintances, and will undoubtedly be informative for those somewhat younger.


In March of 1989, Yellowstone National Park reported that bookings were running about a third behind that of the same period the previous year. The decline was attributed to the “horrendous cold,” but then it was also the year following Yellowstone’s horrific fires and many people across the nation were left with the idea that there “was nothing left to see.”

One of Billings’ oldest and most noted photography studios, Cetrone Studio and Garden for Photography, has purchased the old Shiloh School building with plans of renovating the site for a studio.

The Montana State Senate voted 70 -1 to eliminate Montana’s Certificate of Need law, which requires approval of the Department of Health and Environmental Services for investment in  new services or major expansion of existing services in health care institutions. Competitors of proposed health care projects are allowed to voice opposition and influence the Department during a hearing process. The bill ultimately failed to pass and the law is still in effect in Montana – one of the last states to retain such a law.

A new Masonic Temple was built at the corner of 11th and Broadwater. The $1.5 million structure was built by Fisher Construction and designed by Skip Stanaway.

Cellular Inc. has received approval from the Federal Communication Commission to develop a statewide cellular telecommunications network in Montana.

Robert D. Worth, President of Norwest Banks in Anaconda-Butte and Dillon, has been named President of Norwest Bank Billings, N.A., Montana largest Norwest Bank.

A special issue of the Big Sky Business Journal on March 15, recognized Billings Entrepreneurs – Becky Reno, Video Library; Jim Roscoe, Roscoe Steel; Jay Foley, Freight Agency; Harold Reinke, Midland Dodge; Kim Hanson, Tech Time.

The Montana Rescue Mission announced the purchase of the former Lincoln Hotel in downtown Billings to be used as a shelter for destitute people. The Mission raised $250,000 for the purchase.

Terry Steinmasel was appointed as the new manager at Club Wholesale.

Tractor & Equipment Co. celebrated sixty years in business in May 1989.

Billings gained its first private court. The business of offering arbitration and mediation services or Alternative Dispute Resolution has been lunched by a former oil landman, Lew Penwell, through his new firm, AMSCO (Arbitration and Mediation Service Company).

Construction has commenced on the new $835,000 facility that will house the Billings Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center at 800 block of S. 27th Street. The building is a cooperate effort between the City of Billings and the Chamber. The Chamber received a $410,000 loan from the city increment tax fund at 4 percent interest, and the city agreed to provide $75,000 in tax increment funds for ground improvements.  The city also approved a $250,000 grant to build the visitor’s center portion of the new building. While the Chamber will own the building the city will own the land.

Alf Hulteng, Vice President of Fisher Construction, is retiring after eleven years in association with Fisher.

Kelly Services has appointed Daphne Morison as the new branch manager of their Billings branch, replacing Jacqui Wandersee.

Lonnie Funk, manager of Billings Plaza Holiday Inn, has been named Regional Director and Vice President for John Q. Hammons Hotels and will be relocating to Kansas City.

The cost of medical care was reported to be “rising on all fronts” in 1989. The future will see some “cost shifting” said Terry Screnar, Executive Vice President of Blue Cross, Blue Shield of Montana, “as Medicare, currently the source of 50 percent of the average hospitals income, curtails its payments….the costs will be shifted to private plans to recoup lost income from Medicare cuts, non-payment and negotiated discounts.”

Medical Assistance Facilities offered a reprieve for Montana rural hospitals facing escalating costs. A unique state program, MAF was a prototype of the Federal Health Care Financing Administration offering grants to the Montana Hospital Association to launch a program of acute, short term care most commonly needed to stabilize a patient before transferring them to a more distant hospital.

Sylvan Learning Center announced a writing class designed for students needing to learn the mechanics of writing and sentence structure and for adults wishing to brush up on writing skills.

Sign Design was noted for the high profile advertising their company vehicles give their business. “The effectiveness of quality vehicle graphics cannot be overlooked,” said Steve Mysse, owner of Sign Design.

The Billings Chamber of Commerce named Mayor Jim VanArsdale as its first Tourism Person of the Year.

Building permits issued during the first quarter in Billings hinted at an increase in the volume of construction. “We are dealing with such low figures that just the issuance of one permit for a major project could change it all,” explained Jim Lechner of the Montana Building Industry Association.

“As Congress faces failure in expanding long term health care coverage due to budget restraints, it is becoming increasingly interested in the establishment of federal standards for private sector long term care insurance.”

“If the banking industry is going to survive it is going to change dramatically,” said Cass Betinger of Matrix Funding. A rapidly changing world in trade, technology and culture, “is pushing dramatic changes in business organization.”

An assistant professor of journalism at Ohio State University concluded, “A study of the news coverage of the 1988 Yellowstone fires has blamed the ‘widespread scientific illiteracy’ of journalists and the need for sensationalism to hold readers interest for having left ‘incorrect impressions and unduly alarmed readers and viewers.” Sources said, “news coverage overall was guilty of ‘missing the forest for the burned trees.’”

Montana industries are projected to employ 304,720 wage and salary workers by 1995 – an increase of almost 36,000. Most new jobs were projected to be in the service industries, education services, health services and eating and drinking establishments.

Montana Farmer’s Union President Terry Murphy has informed his organization that he will not be a candidate for re-election. He held the office since 1979.

Montana Taxpayers’ Association reported that the highest 10 percent of adjusted gross incomes paid 50 percent of total income taxes in Montana. The “Wealthy” top ten percent category began with an income of only $31,000 a year.

Coca Cola Bottling Company West acquired the operating assets of Big Horn Coca-Cola Bottling Co., based in Cody, Wyoming.

In entering the 90s, the brokerage firm of Dain Bosworth sees themselves in a strong position throughout the northwest quadrant of the US. Dain Bosworth doubled its salesforce in the previous five years and increased its $200 million in assets to $650 million. Confronting the industry is the swell of babyboomers, who as they enter their “saving years” will create a new challenge to the brokerage business, said Fred Friswold, President and CEO of the company.

T. J. Maxx announces that it will anchor a new Rimrock Plaza, next to Target.

Ski resorts in Montana recorded their second consecutive record season. Montana logged 789,232 skier-days during 1988-1989 ski season, up nine percent.

Congress passed the Natural Gas Decontrol Act of 1989, including price controls.

Speaking at a Montana Bankers Association conference, a First Interstate Bank economist said interest rates are anticipated to about 8.75 percent and then increase to about 10 percent. He predicted a pending recession would be mild, and recovery would be “proportionate” to its severity. The farm economy will do well, he continued his predictions, wood products are new cyclical lows for housing starts, and home remodeling is “currently the fastest growing market for domestic lumber.” Coal mining has been good and “likely to improve.” 

Eastern Montana College began offering the first of five computer classes in July – two classes for IBM computers (beginning dBASE III+; beginning DOS; and Advanced WordPerfect), two classes for the Macintosh (Beginning Microsoft Word and beginning HyperCard).

Concern about foreigners buying up Montana farm land was dispelled by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research, which reported that foreigners owned less than one percent of available private farmland in Montana.

Involved in a “sticky business” Gary and Patti Brockel discovered that selling caramel apples at MontanaFair was a boon to their business, Brockel’s Chocolates. They started selling caramel apples at the fair in 1979, but in 1989 they were struggling with MetraPark management, which started selling caramel apples themselves, and forced Brockel’s to quit selling their caramel apples. (Eventually, several years later, Brockel’s was permitted to resume selling caramel apples.)

“From a serene and isolated ranch setting, several miles outside the rural community of Shepherd,” United Tote expanded their business. United Tote, under the direction of founder and CEO, Lloyd Shelhamer, sold equipment and services for pari-mutuel wagering throughout the world. The company maintained a research and development facility in San Diego, a sales offices in Newport, Delaware and Winnipeg in Canada, with its headquarters and production facility located at Shepherd. Needing to more than double production of 50 computer terminals a day, United Tote, built a major addition, extending space from a remodeled quonset hut. Founded in 1959, United Tote became a publicly traded company in 1984. Return on average stockholders’ equity rose to 18.6 percent.

The Montana State Legislature, under a mandate from the Montana Supreme Court, adopted a school funding bill, HB28, to equalize spending on education across the state.

Two egg producers in the Billings area announced the closing of business. Hager Brothers Eggs and Pepper’s Eggs in Columbus succumbed to the “economies of scale” and changing eating habits of consumer. Left to absorb the market were National Food Corporation, a Washington-based company, Howe’s Eggs in Big Timber and a small producer in the Miles City area. The market started to decline in the mid-70s according to Clark Martin, whose father, “Pepper,” started Peppers’ Eggs in 1957.

UM Bureau of Business and Economic Research Director Paul Polzin reported that Montana’s economy would grow about 1.7 percent in 1989, “bringing some good news to the state after nearly a decade of economic decline.” He attributed the growth to continued expansion in Montana’s mining industries and modest increases in other sectors of the economy, combined with the ending of employment declines in oil and gas exploration and railroads.

Montana’s grand event of the State’s centennial birthday celebration in 1989 was The Great Cattle Drive, an event that brought worldwide media attention and thousands of people to Billings to participate and observe. While many of the visitors joined the odyssey which moved cattle from Roundup to Billings, the motels kept a few vacancies open in otherwise fully booked accommodations, because as one motel manager said, “I don’t think some will realize how tough it’s going to be.” The Drive was held Sept. 4-9 by organizers of Latigo Corp. It included between 3000 to 5000 participants and 300 wagons, moving between 5000 to 7000 cattle. The idea for the drive came from Stan Lynde a Montana native who drew the Rick O’Shay and Latigo comic strips for the Chicago Tribune Syndicate.

Little did organizers of the Great Centennial Cattle Drive realize that 100 years earlier there was another great roundup of cattle between Miles City and Billings, which involved one million head of cattle. It was the biggest cattle roundup in history, organized by the Montana Stockgrowers Association, in recognition that the big open range of the 1880s in Montana was no longer viable.

The sale of the Sheraton Hotel by Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. to Larking, Inc., a nationwide operator of 82 hotels, brought about an abrupt change in general manager. Mark Zovic is the new general manager, replacing John Wild.

The Chicago Mining Corp. is planning to build a custom mill to extract gold near Pony, Mt.

Single-family site-built housing starts, in Montana, were slightly lower in 1988 than in 1986. The number of starts in 1988 was about 1800.The major areas of house construction were around Kalispell-Whitefish and Missoula.

Initiative 105 passed by Montana voters in 1986, has failed to bring about its intended tax reform, while numerous new laws have so punctured I-105 with holes that the pressure it was intended to bring upon lawmakers has been effectively deflated. But none of the amendments so “erode the spirit of the initiative” as much as the state’s new school funding law, HB 28, according to the Montana Taxpayer’s Association. Its passage removed all school levies from the restrictions.

There is a dearth of job opportunities in the Billings area heading into the final months of 1989. 13 percent of employers planned to upgrade staff size, 3 percent expected staff depletion and 84 percent said they would stay at current levels.

Debbie Singer, who was recently recognized for a life time achievement in her career with NorthWestern Energy, was featured in the Big Sky Business Journal as an outstanding achiever in the business community in its September 15, 1989 issue, at a time when NWE was known as Montana Power Company. “My job is best described as that of being a problem solver,” she said, then, because when an MPC customer contacts Debbie that is usually what they have.

Billings Clinic West officially opened an extension of Billings Clinic at Lamplighter Square, 2675 Central Avenue.

The Nature Conservancy, through contributions from Aetna Life Insurance Co., acquires 320 acres at Meeteetse Spires on the east front of the Beartooth Mountains, to preserve the area and rare plant species.

Eastern Montana College reported that enrollment at the college is expected to exceed 4,000 in the fall, following the largest summer session of the college, according to President Bruce Carpenter.

Failure by the State Legislature to deal with discriminatory state law in the taxation of retirement incomes will likely cost the state more than $13 million in refunds to retired federal employees.

For the fifth consecutive semester, enrollment at Rocky Mountain College increased, boasting a 10 percent increase over the previous year with 776 students, nearly a 100 percent increase over the spring of 1987 when RMC had 396 students.

With production over 36 million tons this year, Montana’s coal market is fairing well – better than expected, according to Jim Mockler, President of the Montana Coal Council. But much of the future for Montana’s coal industry hangs on the outcome of the federal Clean Air Act, pending in Congress. While the act could serve to dramatically increase Montana’s coal market – there are proposed aspects of it that could equally damage the state’s industry, said Mockler.

Torres Restaurant announced the building plans for a new restaurant at 8th Avenue and 27th Street and the production and wholesaling of Torres Tortillas at 5200 South Frontage Rd., according to owner, Josey Torres-Quarnberg. Located at 109 5th Street West, the restaurant was started by Josey’s father and had been in business for 26 years.

A long established Billings computer consulting firm, Tech Time, has been successful in convincing Information Resources, Inc., a data based research company, to relocate part of its business to Billings.

Montana is ranked eighth in the nation for new business starts, having increased 8.9 percent in the first six months of 1989 in the number of incorporations in Montana. Business failures dropped more than 19 percent.

Having just completed its cardiology surgery suites and with the first by-pass surgery scheduled for the end of October, St. Vincent Hospital and Health Centre is expanding in several different directions, according to administrator, James Paquette, who said during an interview, “…while the medical community will continue to grow, it is still a service industry, and without long term growth in the rest of the economy we could overestimate the impact that health care will have on our renaissance.”

Rocky Mountain College began a new program in Motor Carrier/ Management (truck driver training).

The state legislature passed bills that exempted members of an employer’s family from workers’ compensation coverage, allowed either the Workers’ Compensation Judge or the Supreme Court to stay the execution of an order ending the outcome of an appeal, declares an insurer is no longer liable for benefits if the party suffers a new non-work related injury to a previously-injured body part, reorganizes the state workers compensation fund, transferring regulatory functions to the Department of Labor.

A report issued by a congressional research service on the economics of proposed wilderness alternatives virtually ignored oil and gas potential said Janelle Fallan, executive director of the Montana Petroleum Association.

The Montana Science and Technology Alliance invested $350,000 in Basic Bio Systems, a Missoula firm that is developing new products for the controlled release of active agents in the pesticide, cosmetic, and pharmaceutical industries.

In the last nine months Coors Beer, American Express, Ivory Soap, Nike athletic shoe, the American Beef Council, Panasonic Razor, Interstate Bank, Kemper Insurance, and Timberline hiking have all shot commercials in Montana. Montana also played host to four feature films, a number of industrial films and a music video. Revenue generated is estimated at $8 million.

Fisher Construction has commenced the building of a 46 –unit Days Inn at 843 Parkway Lane for ManaDyne, Inc. based in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

A moderate –income family—two workers earning $45,000 with two dependent children – faces a tax bill of $14,068 for fiscal year 1989.

Dr. Michael Schaer, President, announced the opening of Computer Unlimited branch office in Naperville, Illinois. The office will be the Chicago location or on-site and remote demonstrations of TIMS SUPER + total Information Management System or Distributors.

A total of 322 wells were drilled for oil and gas in 1988, in Montana, which was 26 fewer than the previous year. Oil and gas production decreased in 1988 to 23.3 million barrels, as compared to 25.1 million for 1987. A total of 350 companies and individuals produced oil and gas in Montana in 1988.

Barbara and Harvey Flatland started a new business called Ulness Lefse, the making and marketing of a Norwegian “pastry” known as Lefse.

It was announced that Billings Auto Auction has signed a three-year contract with General Motors to conduct regular sales of their used vehicles. Ron Dinkel, Auto Auction Vice President, said that the deal would substantially boost their business in 1990. They were already conducting sales for Ford Motor Company.

US West announced plans to close its residence sales and services office in Billings as part of a company-wide effort to control costs. It moved the functions of the office to Boise Idaho. The office employed 33 people, according to Russ Cravens, the company’s Public Relations Director.

A new residence was being planned at the Special K Ranch to house four women.

Among the forecasts for the future was: The aging of the workforce in America is forcing a change in attitudes among both employers and employees. ..”And, Montana will not be left unscathed…” Employers are going to have to begin to take employees very seriously and begin thinking of new job applicants as being middle age or older, rather than young. It was called the Baby Bust – the aging of the Baby Boom generation.

Montana’s communications –related businesses were standing united against the Department of Revenue’s attempts to revitalize a gross receipts tax aimed specifically at the communications industry. The law, initiated in 1937, as the Telephone License Tax levied on phone companies, was originally aimed at Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph. Ambiguous language allowed the state to invigorate its application to any company involved in two-way communication.

At the end of 1989, economists were saying that that the job picture for the Billings area was stagnant, according to a survey conducted by Manpower, Inc.

Dennis Burr, President of the Montana Taxpayers Association was saying that Montana needs to develop a tax system that is not “as is the present system,” the deciding factor of whether a business locates in Montana or remains in the state.

United Tote, Inc., Billings, announced the acquisition of Autotote Systems, Inc., in an $85 million transaction which combined two of the pari-mutuel industry’s wagering systems suppliers.

Americlean Franchising Corporation, a Billings business, was selected by a national television production firm, the Hastings Group, to be featured in a pilot episode about franchising.