By Bethany Blankley

More than 20 percent of small business owners said they will have to close permanently if current economic conditions do not improve within the next six months, according to a survey conducted by the National Federation of Independent Business.

The largest small business association in the U.S., headquartered in Nashville, conducted the survey to assess the financial health of small businesses.

The survey found that 21 percent of small business owners said they will have to close without improved economic conditions within the next six months.

An additional 19 percent said they will be able to operate no longer than 7-12 months under current economic conditions.

Holly Wade, NFIB Director of Research and Policy Analysis, said that while small businesses are “adapting to the abrupt shifts in consumer spending, managing customer and employees’ health and safety,” complying with state and local mandates has created additional stress.

“Many of them still need more financial assistance just to keep their doors open and staff on payroll,” she said.

Of the small businesses that were able to receive a mostly forgivable loan through the Small Business Pay Check Protection Program (PPP), 84 percent said they have used the entire amount they received.

Nearly half of PPP loan borrowers (47 percent) anticipate that they will need additional financial support over the next 12 months. If eligible, and if offered, 44 percent said they would apply or re-apply for a second PPP loan.

Most small business owners surveyed said they do not expect business conditions to improve to normal levels until next year at the earliest. Only 19 percent said they expected conditions to improve to normal levels by the end of 2020.

Roughly 52 percent said it won’t be before sometime in 2021; 20 percent said sometime in 2022 when business conditions improve.

So far, sales levels remain at 50 percent or less than they were pre-COVID for about 20 percent of those surveyed.

CARES Act extended unemployment benefit funding hurt small businesses, respondents said. About 32 percent said the extra $600 per week that employees received “hurt their business by making it harder to hire or re-hire workers.”

Roughly 3 percent said they had to offer a higher wage to employees to encourage them to come back to their job; 4 percent said they agreed to have an employee continue working at reduced hours so they could also receive the $600 per week payment.

As a result of the $600 weekly payments, about 68 percent of workers received more income than they did when they were working, a report published by the Foundation for Government Accountability found.

Roughly one in five individuals on unemployment received at least double the amount of their prior wage. A worker previously earning $445 per week, or about $23,000 annually, has been receiving $832 per week in unemployment benefits, more than $43,000 annually, for example.

About 21 percent of the small business owners surveyed by NFSB reported they had an employee take COVID-19 related paid sick leave or family leave as mandated and offered through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). Among them, only 30 percent said they had claimed the tax credit or an advance refund for reimbursement of these costs.

The survey is the 11th Small Business COVID-19 NFSB survey designed to assess the impact of state and national coronavirus shutdowns on small business operations, economic conditions, and utilization of the targeted small business loan programs.

By Logan Portenier, Yellowstone County News

Gavilon Grain LLC is moving from their current site in Billings towards Huntley. “The current location has run its shelf life,” stated the Gavilon Marketing and Communications Manager, Patrick Burke.

The main goal for the move is not only to make the process for the farmers and truckers more accessible and efficient, but also to have better access to the railway system. “We are going to be building a loop track,” added Burke. “It allows us to be more efficient when loading a train. Along with this, we can hold an entire train off from the main track while it’s being loaded, which prevents back-ups on the track. Once we are done loading our train, it can be directed back onto the main track without holding up other trains.”

With two grain elevators located so closely together, concerns of traffic congestion were raised. “It shouldn’t cause any traffic issues,” responded Burke. “We’re focusing on making the entire process insanely efficient and quick.”

“We hope to see the project finished by the fall of 2021,” said Burke. “The current Billings site will remain open throughout the construction of the Huntley location.

Rolling Acres Subdivision, located west of Columbia Falls Stage Road and north of Kingfisher Lane,  is being proposed by Unique Realty Developer Inc.. The project will include 77 lots on 114 acres with shared wells, individual septic systems, plus a community sand-mound septic system. Rolling Acres  located in close to a pair of conservation easements meant to protect riparian habitat along the Flathead River. The development has spurred concern from local residents and government agencies.

Rattlesnake Dam was recently removed from Rattlesnake Creek. The planned renovation of the area includes a three year plan to restore the watershed. The dam was built in 1904, reinforced with concrete in 1924 and was an important part of Missoula’s water supply until 1993. The city  acquired the dam, along with 10 other dams on lakes in the Rattlesnake Wilderness, through the acquisition of the Mountain Water Company. The project includes 1,000 feet of stream channel restoration,

Grocers and convenience store operators are commenting on the lack of beer and soda products which are packaged in aluminum cans. There is a nationwide shortage of aluminum cans due to people staying home and consuming these products thereby increasing the demand for aluminum cans.

North Dakota lawmakers have halted the plans the Bank of North Dakota proposal for more coronavirus business aid. The lawmakers want more details before deciding on approval. Bank of North Dakota President presented the concept of loan interest relief for businesses hit by the pandemic, which would use $100 million of CARES Act money that’s expected to go unused. North Dakota received $1.25 billion of the aid. The nation’s only state-owned bank received $200 million, which went to fund the COVID-19 PACE Recovery loan program. The bank has provided $93.6 million through 114 COVID-19 PACE Recovery loans.

North Dakota is one of four states and a city asked to be part of a task force that will help the federal government think about how to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine once one is available.

The selection does not necessarily mean North Dakota will be first in line to receive COVID-19 vaccine, Given that COVID-19 has such an uneven distribution of risk, it is likely delivery will be prioritized to vulnerable populations first..

Governor Steve Bullock announced that he will direct up to $20 million in funding to the Montana University System to support its fall semester COVID-19 strategy for testing students. MUS will prioritize rapid detection and isolation of new COVID-19 cases, rapid contact tracing for each of those cases, and rapid quarantine and testing of individuals who have had close contact with positive COVID-19 cases. To prioritize resources, MUS will not test each student arriving to its campuses, but tests will be available to those who need them and MUS will also use epidemiological surveillance testing to improve effectiveness of mitigation efforts. Funding for testing comes from the state’s allocation of federal relief dollars made available through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Bank of the Rockies, Livingston, announced  that Heather Malcolm was selected as a 2020 Rising Stars Honoree. Heather is the Vice President of Ag Lending for Bank of the Rockies and works out of their Livingston Branch where she’s been for 16 years. Each year BankBeat magazine, in conjunction with the United Banker’s Bank, honors rising stars in banking. Bank of the Rockies was founded in 1883, and is headquartered in White Sulphur Springs. The bank operates branches in White Sulphur Springs, Shields Valley, Emigrant, Livingston, Helena, Lewistown, and Bozeman.

About half the number of bikers as usual were expected to attend the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, in Sturgis, SD,  but that still amounted to about 250,000 people, and – lamented reporters – there was hardly a mask in sight. There were some attendees interviewed, who considered themselves at high-risk, and were making the personal choice to wear masks and said they were avoiding bars and restaurants. Since South Dakota has imposed no COVID –related restrictions the choice was up to the individuals involved. Concerned civic leaders said that they will be interested to see if the level of diagnosed COVID-19 cases, which has been relatively steady, will increase.