As a financial services professional, Jennell Huff sees the risks that older adults face from elder abuse, fraud and exploitation. The onset of the COVID pandemic has made matters worse, forcing many people into isolation.

That passion for protecting older adults – particularly those at increased risk because of dementia – has brought Huff and her employer, Bank of the Rockies, to the Alzheimer’s Association. That commitment has encouraged Huff to bring a variety of resources to the table for the 2020 Walk to End Alzheimer’s taking place virtually throughout Montana in September and early October.

“I think that our missions intersect in that bringing awareness to cognitive decline is important,” said Huff, a relationship manager at Bank of the Rockies’ Shields Valley branch. “To me, COVID isn’t a time to slow down our efforts, but to ramp them up. It’s more important than ever to find ways to engage our elderly residents and make them feel like they aren’t alone or forgotten.”

To demonstrate Bank of the Rockies’ support and determination, Huff has organized the bank’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s team around the theme of “Banking on Hope.”

“Because the Walk is everywhere this year, in my community it truly will be,” she said. “I have approached several of the businesses about setting up ‘check in’ or ‘selfie stations’ at their places of business. We are asking our walkers to snap selfies at these places and send them to me. We have a prize for first, second and third place in Shields Valley.”

 Huff also crossed generational lines to recruit a preschool, Elevate Our Shields Valley, where the children have created small purple footprints on the bank’s sidewalk for the day of the walk. And the school district’s art teacher, Belit Pigman, will have her K-12 students create flowers for a Promise Garden that will be displayed in Bank of the Rockies’ office throughout the month of September.

The harsh facts are that there are more than 47 million people around the world living with Alzheimer’s disease, including 6 million in the U.S. and 22,000 in Montana. And it is the only leading disease without a prevention, treatment or cure.

 On Walk day, an opening ceremony will feature local speakers. These events will be delivered to participants’ smartphones, tablets and computers.  

New features are being added to the Walk’s mobile app. Participants can use the app and new “Walk Mainstage’’ to:

*   Track their steps and distance

*   Follow a virtual Walk path

*  Manage their Facebook fundraisers and

*  Access information and resources to help individuals and families affected by the disease.

By Colter Brown, Northern Ag Network

In the last few years, it’s become evident that the beef industry needs more processing capacity. That only became more clear this spring, when a bottleneck in U.S. cattle processing created a backlog of harvest-ready cattle. It does appear though that more shackle space will be created in the next year or two.

Last week, a new meatpacking plant in Idaho Falls announced plans to open in the fall of 2021. Intermountain Packing will build a new $20 million facility that will have the capacity to process 500 head of cattle and bison per day. The new packing plant is connected to Intermountain Bison, a vertically-integrated operation that raises and processes bison.

This is the second announcement this summer of a new packing plant coming to Idaho. In late July, Agri Beef announced its plans to open a facility in Jerome, ID. That facility will also process 500 head of cattle per day.

These new plants are not huge in scale when compared to many of the packing plants that operate largely in the Midwest. But increasing harvest capacity will allow for more competition in the packing segment and more marketing avenues for cattlemen.

Last week, in Certified Angus Beef’s virtual Feeding Quality Forum, CattleFax CEO Randy Blach said that its clear the industry needs more harvest capacity. Blach said, the industry-wide estimated 40-hour processing capacity decreased from 550,000 thousand head in 2007 to 465,000 head in 2016. Now for 4 consecutive years the industry will have processed more than the 40 hour capacity as packers are currently incentivized to run extra shifts.

“The cow-calf producer needs to be more profitable,” Blach said. “The good thing is the profitability is in our industry but we need a little more harvest capacity to balance who’s getting what share of that. That’ll sort itself out over the next few years. Beef cow numbers are going to contract a little bit and some additional packing capacity will be coming online in the next 12 to 24 months.”

As evidenced by the new plants in Idaho and smaller processors around the region that have expanded, the U.S. beef packing capacity will increase. The hope of many ranchers is that will help to shift some of the leverage and profitability in the industry over to the cow-calf and feeding segments.

Montana got a grade of F for the health of its manufacturing industry, according to a recent report from Ball State University – a decline from a D- grade in 2019.

Montana maintained a C for logistics, C+ for human capital – up from a C in 2019. The state dropped to a B+ for tax climate, down from an A. F for expected fiscal liability, C for sector diversification, a D+ for productivity and innovation — a step up from a D last year, and a D for Global Reach.

The 2020 Manufacturing Scorecard from Ball State’s Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER) analyzes how each state ranks among its peers in several areas of the economy that underlie the success of manufacturing and logistics. 

The production of goods holds particular interest in the US economy. Manufacturing firms are not necessarily reliant on local demand for goods and are therefore footloose. Their location depends more on local factors such as the quality and availability of the labor force, transportation infrastructure, nonwage labor costs, access to innovative technologies, and the cost of doing business.

Manufacturing is the production of both consumer durable goods and consumer non-durable goods. The study included three variables: the share of total income earned by manufacturing employees in each state, the wage premium paid to manufacturing workers relative to the other states’ employees, and the share of manufacturing employment per capita.

U.S. manufacturing activity posted a fourth straight month of expansion in August, hitting a level the index has not seen since January 2019, according to the Institute for Supply Management’s monthly Report on Business.

This is the third straight month of expansion for the manufacturing activity index, while the economy registered growth for a fourth consecutive month.

According to the ISM, U.S. manufacturing activity edged up another 1.8% in August, and now stands at 56%. Anything over 50% is considered expansionary.

In June, the ISM’s index posted a gain of 9.5%, rocketing from a severe contraction back into expansion. July’s gain was a more modest 1.6%, speeding up to a 1.8% in this most recent survey.

The breakdown of growth was similar to July’s report, with increase in activity led by new orders and production. Employment, however, remained in contraction.

Supplier deliveries slowed at a faster rate, raw materials inventories contracted while exports and imports grew.

Said Timothy Fiore, Chairman of the ISM: “After the coronavirus (COVID-19) brought manufacturing activity to historic lows, the sector continued its recovery. In August, the first full month of operations after supply chains restarted and adjustments were made for employees to return to work.”

Fiore went on to say that many companies went through an adjustment period with the many safety measures that needed to be implemented. Additionally, sentiment among industrial executives was positive, with 1.4 positive comments for every negative comment.

Additionally, the economic climate continues to impact investment, with many panelists putting off capital investments for the rest of 2020.

Said one executive in the machinery industry, “Capital equipment new orders have slowed again. Quoting is active. Many customers waiting for the fourth quarter to make any commitments.”

Of eighteen industries, fifteen reported growth in August (compared to thirteen in July). Growth was led by wood products; plastics and rubber products; food products; textiles and chemicals.

The three industries posting declines included printing & related support activities; petroleum products and furniture.

By Commissioner Roger Koopman

As I wrap up my eight years on the Public Service Commission, I think back on all that I have learned.   Having previously run an employment agency for 37 years, it’s second nature for me to ask, “What are the most important qualifications for being a good commissioner?”  As a life-long Republican, my answer may surprise you, because the stuff that makes for a great PSC commissioner is uniquely different from other political offices.

Truthfully, the nature of the job – the wise regulating and rate-setting of utility monopolies – has almost nothing to do with a commissioner’s political party.  But there are three basic qualities a voter should look for when selecting the person to represent them – and the greater public good – on the PSC:  

1. The ability to put the public interest ahead of personal politics, ambitions and agendas.  Most PSC candidates come with the baggage of previous political experience and partisan involvement.  While this isn’t an immediate disqualifier (I myself am one), seasoned politicians generally have a harder time checking their egos and their politics at the door, avoiding intra-commission alliances and keeping their minds open to all evidence and all points of view.  A 5-person commission can only serve the public interest when all commissioners are willing to respect, listen to and learn from the others – as well as from the PSC staff and the public at large.  They must be willing to deliberate on each docket with an unbiased, well-informed and open mind.  

2. The willingness to devote long hours to the job, and possessing the intellect to understand what’s said and read.  The PSC commissioner job offers a unique opportunity to cheat your employer – the public – if that’s your goal.  Commissioners who lack a work ethic can get by doing very little to earn their $109,000 salary.  Unfortunately, I have seen multiple examples of this. To these commissioners, the “work” is in the getting elected.  After that, they flaunt their title and do little else.  Good commissioners, with an active conscience, put at least 40 to 50 hours a week into the job, and do an enormous amount of reading for each case that comes before the Commission.  They have an intellectual curiosity for all areas that the PSC regulates, and are constantly striving to self-educate, self-improve and gain a stronger grasp on the many responsibilities the job entails.

3. Integrity, fidelity, transparency and adherence to the law and to the established policies of the PSC.  It cannot be emphasized too strongly, the legal and fiduciary responsibilities that rest on the shoulders of every Public Service Commissioner.  The work of the Commission impacts many millions of dollars and the lives and businesses of every resident in the state.   Persons who are inclined to play it fast and loose with the truth, or who are drawn to game-playing and deal-making out of the public eye have no place on the Public Service Commission.  Both the internal and statutory rules commissioners are required to follow are there to protect the ratepayers and the integrity and credibility of the Commission itself.  They cannot be compromised.  It follows that any commissioner who has a problem with openness and total public transparency is a commissioner who is in the wrong job.    

Currently, the PSC is a mess, guilty of everything from spying on colleagues to intimidating staff, abusing law enforcement, slandering, lying and flagrantly violating agency rules.  I have sounded the alarm, but all my appeals have fallen on deaf ears.  To one degree or another, all four commissioners are responsible for the train wreck, either by their own shameful actions or their failure to act when duty called.

There are three PSC seats up this election cycle, so the control of the commission hangs in the balance.  I will make no endorsements.  I ask only that you consider the job qualifications I’ve listed:  independence, work ethic, integrity.  Then learn about each candidate, and choose wisely.  .

The Center Square

Indiana’s attorney general wants a U.S. appellate court to allow the Dakota Access Pipeline to remain open while the federal government studies the environmental impact.

Attorney General Curtis Hill said shutting down the pipeline would create public safety hazards, threaten the environment and deliver an economic blow to grain farmers throughout the Midwest.

Earlier, a lower court ordered the pipeline closed by vacating an easement that allowed continued operation. That U.S. district court cited a lack of an environmental impact study.

“The courts should allow the pipeline to continue transporting oil while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prepares an environmental impact study,” Hill said in a news release. “The order by the U.S. district court largely ignores the damage that a shutdown would cause to our economy, environment, food supply and personal safety.”

Hill, working with the state of Montana, joined nine other states in filing a brief with the appellate court.

For three years, the pipeline has carried about 570,000 barrels of crude oil per day from western North Dakota to southern Illinois. Closing it, according to Hill, would force oil shipments to go by rail.

Hill believes shipping by rail would force oil to compete for train space with agriculture, harming Indiana farmers and threatening the food supply during the global pandemic.

“The Dakota Access Pipeline has already been constructed, the oil is flowing and the American economy has come to rely on its benefits as an alternative to rail or truck transport,” Hill’s brief states. “The disruption that will result from vacating the easement is not merely economic. It will affect the food security of all who rely on Midwestern grain producers to ship affordable food through rail transport.”

By Evelyn Pyburn

It’s a sad lesson of life, but there is always those among us who strive every day to acquire the unearned.

In my world, that is the real definition of greed – much more so than people working hard to make money.

The reach for the unearned is seen all around us, and while much of its cost often falls to taxpayers in general, a more favored target is “greedy” money makers, ie. businesspeople. The “reach” always involves laws that force the money-makers – business owners, employers, producers, job creators – to comply just in case they should have other ideas and resist the theft. The coercion comes in laws that set minimum wages, mandated family leave, restrict management decisions to favor employees, control prices, or mandate benefits, etc. – issues that could, and should, more legitimately  be negotiated voluntarily between concerned parties. The latest is the requirement that employers pay employees who are quarantined by government decree, due to Covid-19, above and beyond their sick pay benefits.

One trial lawyers association recently advised employees to make sure they know their rights, implying that employees have a right to be protected from contracting COVID. What rights? Rights aren’t guaranteed outcomes or gift cards, rights are a freedom to act. The employee is always free to leave a job and find another if they don’t like the conditions of the job, whether it has to do with health measures, the work asked of them, or compensation. To be able to legally impose obligations on an employer or anyone else, is to have the power to enslave one person for the benefit of another. That is NOT a RIGHT!

The requirement is destroying just as many businesses now as were destroyed with the closure mandates. Small businesses lose all their employees for weeks on end, which means usually they cannot operate – they cannot “make money.” Some employees think it is a lucky break, getting to stay home while still getting paid, and they milk it for as much as they can. In the meantime, the costs mount for the business owner who has no income.

Of course, if the consequences of the COVID edicts were allowed  to fall directly upon the workers they might not be so tolerant of the situation. They might interpret the validity of the mandate differently and weigh the consequences more incisively. So, since employee numbers are greater than those of employers, their political clout is greater, and it becomes politically necessary to shield them from reality, and force the impacts upon the employers.

The situation does not have to last long before it destroys many businesses, but that consequence is never understood to the now- unemployed, who believe, along with the politicians and bureaucrats, that it is possible for an economic system to thrive treating businesses as though they are philanthropic organizations – as though they have the same bottomless pockets that government thinks it has.

The grab for the unearned is ratcheting up, as the almost-immoral philosophical perspective is extended to the idea that employers should be held liable if their employees contract the disease. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how broadly and unjustly lawyers and the legal system will seize the opportunity this affords them to enrich themselves, in their perpetual quest for the unearned.

Consequences far less evident will be the changes business owners will make in how they operate to reduce their exposure to liability – some of those changes will not be foreseeable as creativity is brought to bear – but be assured the adjustments will not result in improved products, services, convenience or value – or jobs. Be assured that to hold businesses liable for employees or customers contracting COVID or any other disease (as it will surely be expanded to include), will be to the detriment of all of our society in many ways.

It has been through a system of voluntary exchange of value for value – without coercion and with incentives aligned with achievement – that we have come to enjoy a standard of living beyond any ever before known in the world, with the expectation that it will grow ever greater. But if this process of granting the unearned on the backs of the productive continues, it means, not only will many businesses fail, but our standard of living will decline – the wellbeing of the general population will diminish.

It is a lose-lose strategy for all.

by Evelyn Pyburn

“Because Montanans deserve better.”

That’s the reason that Kyle Austin has started a new business called Pharm406.

As a pharmacist who has served in a number of capacities in hospitals, ambulatory services, and retail settings, Austin saw there is a lot of room for improvement in how pharmacy and other health care services are provided. “We strive to do things better than everybody else,” is the motto of his business which provides a number of services at competitive prices while going the extra distance of providing delivery services and other conveniences that make it easier for their customers.

‘At first I decided to do mobile immunizations and then discovered the former Rocky Mountain Bank location—  1410 38th Street West — and decided there was more I could do.” Although some aspects of the business are already open, a Grand Opening is planned for September 24.

Besides a pharmacy, Pharm406 provides a cryo chamber – -an alternative to pain management, and the services of a chiropractor and of a massage therapist.  They can also do rapid COVID testing with results in 13 minutes, and in November they will be able to provide testing for COVID antibodies.

Pharm406 will also include a walk-in clinic as soon as Austin engages a physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner. Other services include out-patient hydration therapy, Ketamine Infusions, and potentially other treatments.

And just to inject some fun into the whole process of health care, Austin delivers what may be the ultimate in convenience and enjoyment into the annual tedium of the annual flu immunization with “Get a brew and not the flu.”

At designated times and places customers may get their flu shot and a free beer – and not just in Billings! He’s already held a mobile flue immunization clinic in Red Lodge at the “Bull and Bear Saloon.” And, in Billings it’s been held at the Den with others scheduled throughout the city and still others in such places as Great Falls, Glasgow, Wolf Point, Bozeman, etc. “We bring our immunization equipment and we will bill insurance or collect cash payment and the patient gets a free beer,” explained Austin, “It helps the people who have establishments that have gone through the COVID closures.”

Located in a former bank building with three drive up windows, Pharm406 is probably the only pharmacy in the country with three drive-thru windows, said Austin. No more waiting in a long auto-line to pick up or drop off your prescriptions.

But even picking up prescriptions may be unnecessary, because Pharm406 is providing free delivery service, and not just for Billings, but for the Heights, Lockwood and Laurel. They will deliver free on specific delivery days and if it works out maybe at other times as well. And, they will deliver over- the –counter items, too.

Pharm406 will also “bubble pack” prescriptions, so they come in a packet that contains all the medications that the customer needs to take at one time. Like delivery, that service is also free of charge. Austin said that in the beginning to introduce customers to his business the services will be free and he hopes to be able to continue to provide the services free of charge, but it may become necessary to eventually charge for them, but it remains their goal to still be competitive. “We will match anyone’s prices,” he said.

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.

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 wp-content/ uploads/ 2020/08/ MFG-Day-Host- Toolkit-2020.pdf