Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has created a dive team of six Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks employees who focus on controlling aquatic invasive species in the state’s waterways. Besides attempting to physically control AIS in lakes and streams the group also does education, detection and prevention. The team has inspected over 125,000 watercraft during 2020 with over 30 being detected carrying invasive species.

Nomad Global Communications builds specialty vehicles with mobile communication systems to assist rural firefighters and law enforcement. The company has been building these vehicles since 2002 in Columbia Falls. The COVID 19 outbreak has caused the business to focus on vehicles allowing medical personnel to bring their treatment regimes to rural areas and impacted urban areas. Nomad has also responded to the pandemic with adaptations in both its physical design and digital approach. Nomad’s most recent updates include low-touch features and increased software security.

 The Ponderosa Chalet at Snow Bear Chalets on Big Mountain has been selected as one of Vrbo’s ( vacation rental by owner) top 25 all-time favorite properties. The online vacation rental business selected 25 properties out of more than 2 million listings worldwide in order to celebrate its 25th year in business. The chalets opened in 2017 as the world’s first ski-in, ski-out tree houses.

A full liquor license and a beer and wine license are available in the Missoula area, according to the Montana Department of Revenue. The floater All-Liquor license is available for a minimum bid of $323,000 in a competitive bidding process, and is not eligible to offer gambling. A beer and wine license that can be located within Missoula or five miles of Missoula is available for a minimum bid of $42,000.

The Downtown Missoula Foundation will offer Heritage Trail Tours and Dinner at one of three fine dining restaurants in downtown Missoula. Offered on Tuesday and Thursday evenings in October, the Heritage Trail Dinner Tours will feature a 90-minute guided walking tour paired with a three-course dinner for $100 per person.

Yellowstone National Park has reported that it had the most-ever September visitors. The increase contrasts sharply with May, when visitation rates were 90% lower compared to the same month last year. The park recorded about 837,000 visits in September, a rate 21% higher than September 2019 and 15.6% higher than the park’s second-busiest September on record in 2018. Visitation rates through June were down 49% compared to numbers from the first six months of 2019. A rapid uptick saw an increase of 2% in visitation rates in July and an uptick in August of 7.5%.The national park’s peak season is typically from May through September. Tourism tends to taper off in September and October. Most lodges, restaurants, stores and other services close for the year in October, followed by all park roads in early November.

The Sky Shed, a ninth-floor rooftop bar and restaurant has opened in downtown Bozeman. with panoramic views of Bozeman. Situated on the roof of what’s now the tallest building in downtown Bozeman, the Sky Shed is essentially a glass restaurant that can be opened to combine the indoor and outdoor seating. Fireplaces dot the patio, surrounded by oversized furniture and tables.

University of Montana researchers have received a $21 million government contract, bringing more support and longevity to what has been a grassroots effort to build a better climate monitoring network across the state. The funding comes from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Heartland Forward published its annual report, “Most Dynamic Micropolitan Regions,” which ranks 515 micropolitans–regions whose populations range from 10,000 to 50,000–by their economic performance. Bozeman ranked sixth.  Pecos, Texas; Jackson, Wyo.-Idaho; and Summit Park, Utah, ranked as the first, second, and third most dynamic micropolitans, respectively. Tourism, energy, and robust entrepreneurship were the most common strengths among the top 30 places. The report offers a view of small cities’ economies heading into the COVID-19 pandemic, indicating which locations may be well positioned to capitalize on a potential exodus from large cities, and which may be most vulnerable to the economic impacts of the crisis.

The Old Faithful Snow Lodge closed 10 days early, October 13, after staff started being diagnosed with COVID-19. Over a dozen cases were reported during the last two weeks, after a summer with only a few cases. Normally the lodge would have closed on October 25.

Developers are planning to build a $19.1 million television and film studio in Missoula. A Montana-based company called Shadowcast Partners, LLC, is planning to purchase the county-owned land in the Missoula Technology Park, to build a large-scale television and film studio.

A Finland study shows that older people today are smarter, stronger and faster than 30 years ago. The study compared the physical and cognitive performance of a group of older people in 2017 with a similarly aged group three decades earlier. Improvements were seen in almost every test, suggesting progress has been made extending the number of healthy years a person lives

The Montana Chamber announced the hiring of Payton Dobbs as the organization’s Membership Relations Coordinator. Payton is responsible for member engagement, retention, and recruitment. Before starting her business selling insurance in 2018, Payton spent five years working in retail where her interest in business and entrepreneurship began.

On Nov. 5, the Bozeman-Yellowstone International Airport will send off their first flight from their new B concourse terminal expansion. The expansion will add four new gates with the more than 75,000 square foot terminal area.  The $26.5 million new concourse will have food services and retail options.

The minimum wage is determined by taking the current minimum wage of $8.65 and increasing it by the CPI-U increase from August of 2019 to August 2020. The CPI-U increased by 1.31% (unadjusted) over the year ending August 2020. To keep the minimum wage at the same purchasing power as the prior year, the wage should increase by $0.11 per hour. However, since state statute requires the wage to rounded to the nearest 5 cents, the 2021 minimum wage rate will be $8.75. 

In 2020, the District of Columbia and 29 U.S. states, including Montana, have minimum wage rates that exceed the federal rate of $7.25 per hour.  

All events at Metra Park have been cancelled through November 9, according to a press release issued by Yellowstone County Commissioners on Tuesday.

The Board of Commissioners stated, “In continuing to do all that we can to keep our community as safe as possible, and in light of the Health Officer Order of October 12, 2020 limiting group size to 25 individuals, the Board of County Commissioners has directed MetraPark staff to inform any and all vendors and promoters who have rented any portion of MetraPark grounds and buildings that all events have been canceled through at least November 9, 2020.”

“This decision was not made lightly and the Board understands the need for events and activities for our community. However, after consulting with County Attorney Scott Twito, it is clear that we cannot guarantee adherence to the Health Officer’s Order. Our health officials have asked for the help of our community and we must all rise to do our part.”

Each year the Montana Economic Developers Association recognizes economic development achievements through its 2020 MEDA Award Winners.

There are two categories of awards: Impact Awards and the Anthony J. Preite Champion of Economic Development Award. Impact Awards recognize member organizations that demonstrate valuable and effective approaches to regional economic and community development. The Anthony J. Preite Award recognizes an economic developer who has significantly contributed to the profession, to the association, their economic development organization, and to the communities they serve as a whole.

The seven MEDA 2020 Impact Award Winners include:

Southeastern Montana Development Corporation (SEMDC) Powder River County Bridge Disaster Recovery Effort: SEMDC and Great West Engineering lead a recovery team to assist Powder River County in receiving a $7 million dollar grant to replace and or upgrade four bridges and resurface 18 miles of roads for $8.75 million dollar disaster effort.

Anaconda Local Development Corporation launched a multi-pronged approach to mitigate the effects of the economic shutdown due to COVID-19. ALDC acted quickly with its partners to mitigate the effects of the shutdown on businesses and stood at the forefront of information for opportunities and resources for businesses to keep employees on the payroll. Ultimately, ALDC aided over 30 businesses to make it through the initial COVID closure and reopening. A second Impact Award is given to Anaconda Local Development Corporation for its Anaconda Historic Signs & App Project. Historic building plaques were mounted on over 20 downtown buildings to increase historic education and tourism. In addition, an accompanying app with Montana Historical Society’s Historic Montana website takes users on a virtual tour of selected buildings, neighborhoods, and cultural sites. The Historic Signs project has brought people to the heart of Anaconda to be educated in a whole new light about the culture and history within the central business district.

Big Sky Economic Development’s Space2Place program, created through its Community Development Department, offers micro-grants up to $5000 to individuals and community organizations for creative placemaking projects. The program emphasizes how individual and community efforts can create incremental changes that enhance the beauty, vibrancy, and activation of our spaces, transforming them into engaging places. Space2Place has assisted in the development of twenty-three unique and engaging community assets which has transformed ugly to attractive, underutilized to engaging, and bland to vibrant.

Big Sky Economic Development (BSED) Coulson Park Project is a second MEDA Impact Award for this organization. Big Sky Economic Development, collaborating with the City of Billings and community stakeholders, plan to design and develop Coulson Park which sits next to the Yellowstone River back dropped by the sandstone rimrocks. Through BSED’s hard work, grant writing, community participation and local and city leadership, Coulson Park has recently concluded a master plan and begun the funding process towards development. It was through many public outreach meetings, presentations, and conversations that the vision was not only identified, but passed on throughout the community.

The Choteau Area Port Authority (CAPA) has made great strides in community and economic development as a result of key partnerships, including holding a MEDA Community Review. As a result, CAPA has been able to assess, target, and implement economic development strategies for the community. Progress has been made in four key areas of focus: community enhancement, infrastructure, business support, and tourism and recreation. CAPA initiated the MEDA assessment and has been a supporter, facilitator, and driver of many projects and generated over $100,000 in grants for projects.

Great Falls Development Authority (GFDA) Bridge Financing Project is a prime example of economic development impact. Bridge financing is an effective way to make limited economic development loan capital create greater impact. In the ten years since GFDA’s bridge loan product, it has closed 11 bridge loan packages totaling $16,314,289 which has leveraged more than $121,617,469 in private investment in the Great Falls trade area. Every dollar of bridge loans has leveraged over $7 of investment. Because of their unique nature, each bridge loan project has required services of GFDA in business coaching, business development and lending staff to be involved, as well as a number of volunteer leaders. To date, no loan capital on bridge loans has been lost, and none of the current bridge loans are delinquent.

The MEDA Anthony J. Preite Champion of Economic Development Award is intended for a Montanan who has practiced economic development full-time who has significantly contributed to the profession, to the association, their economic development organization, and to their communities as a whole. MEDA announced the Anthony J. Preite Champion of Economic Development for 2020 is Jim Atchison, Executive Director, Southeastern Montana Development Corporation, located in Colstrip. Atchison has served in economic development for over 20 years and thrived through challenges of boom, bust, fire, flood, and pandemic. In making the 700 mile round trip to Helena to testify on key issues, Atchison will now have this very special award to add to his renown “tool box” for Montana economic development.

Letters to the Editor – Webb

Extreme Kathleen a campaign finance hypocrite

If you’ve ever heard Extreme Kathleen Williams speak, you have heard her decry the influence of outside money in politics, and even claim to lead by example on the issue of campaign finance. Unfortunately, her record shows she fails to practice what she preaches.

Her campaign is being supported by over $2 million in outside money from Nancy Pelosi and national Democrat groups – and is even bankrolling her campaign with money from radical groups who are pushing to defund the police!

While Extreme Kathleen touts the need for campaign finance reform, what she means is forcing taxpayers to foot the bill for her political campaign – to the tune of up to $5 million. She has vocally supported a bill before Congress to do just that.

This is coming from the same person that pays herself a salary from her campaign, lining her own pockets despite telling her campaign contributors that “every dollar donated goes right back to the campaign.”

From scamming her own donors, to wanting to use your tax dollars to fund her political aspirations, to accepting money from the very dark money groups she decries, it is clear Extreme Kathleen isn’t independent—she’s just another self-serving politician.

Representative Peggy Webb

House District 43

Billings, MT

Letter to the Editor – O’Leary

Montana cannot afford

Kathleen Williams

With our economy still reeling from COVID-19 and the ensuing shutdown, it is critical our lone voice in the U.S. House of Representative be someone with a proven record of supporting pro-growth policies that will get our economy moving again and get Montanans back to work. After examining her record, it is clear that is not Kathleen Williams.

Extreme Kathleen is a liberal tax-and-spend politician who thinks she knows how to spend your money better than you do. She supports slapping a massive, new tax on retirement accounts and pension plans and wants to repeal the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act, which would mean a tax hike of over $2,200 for the average Montana family.

During her time in the Montana legislature, she had a disastrous record when it came to taxes. Extreme Kathleen voted against 10 major tax cut bills totaling over $1 billion in much needed tax relief for Montanans, even voting against an income tax cut for Montana’s poorest citizens.

Electing Extreme Kathleen to Congress would mean more government and higher taxes for Montana families and small businesses, at a time when we can afford it least. I urge all Montanans to reject her radical agenda.

Brandon O’Leary

Helena, MT

Letter to the Editor – Voigtlander

Williams doesn’t support law enforcement 

At a time when violent attacks against law enforcement are on the rise, our police deserve to know they have the support of our elected leaders. Therefore, it is deeply troubling that despite repeated calls to do so, Extreme Kathleen Williams has refused to say she supports Montana law enforcement.

You see, Extreme Kathleen is bankrolling her campaign with donations from radical groups pushing to defund the police. No wonder as cities across our nation burned and dangerous movements to defund the police began to grow in Helena, Bozeman, and Missoula – she has continued to remain silent.

Radical activists have bought her silence, but make no mistake Extreme Kathleen would vote in lockstep with Nancy Pelosi and far-left Democrats to strip funding from our police departments. Her willingness to pander to far-left ideologies is a slap in the face to our police and puts public safety at risk.

Montana law enforcement deserves better. This once again proves why Matt Rosendale is the best choice to represent us in Congress. Matt unabashedly backs the blue, and he has spoken out strongly against these irresponsible efforts to defund police. I encourage all Montanans to join me in supporting Matt Rosendale for Congress. 

Kyle Voigtlander, Bozeman, MT

By Evelyn Pyburn

Due in part to the impact of COVID-19 on the meat processing business, there is a shifting going on in the industry. Business people and investors are looking with new interest at Montana’s beef industry. Where it’s leading is uncertain but that there will be changes is certain.

Because the COVID crisis squeezed a narrow distribution system that left meat counters empty, it lifted the veil on an already troubled industry that had been undermined by regulations and protectionism for decades. It has prompted a transformation which will hopefully benefit Montana.

Local processing plants are changing ownership, others are expanding, and investors are proposing new plants. What the future prospects are for the industry might best be understood by looking at the past and understanding the problems, and asking “why?” suggests Taylor Brown, who experienced a very “expensive” lesson regarding the industry some years ago.

Taylor Brown, a very prominent figure in Montana agriculture and owner of Northern Ag Network, was one of nine investors in Meats of Montana, which opened in the fall of 1990. It was a venture aimed at rejuvenating the meat packing business in Montana, after the closing of Pierce Packing and Midland Packing in Billings, and after a period of closures of smaller operations throughout the state.

The company invested substantial sums to refurbish the Midland Packing plant, “the last big packing plant in Montana.” The plant “was a good facility” — still very useable once it was updated and re-equipped.

Meats of Montana entered the business as a medium-size operation, not as large as Midland or Pierce which might have drawn attention from the larger players like Iowa Beef Processors (now Tyson Foods), but it was larger than the small-town processors who serve local consumers and livestock growers. They planned to process about 250 head a day purchased locally in the region.

Whether that is the size of plant that can be successful in serving the market now is yet to be seen, but there are investors actively exploring the possibilities of starting such operations in Montana.  There is a difference in what is required of the different size facilities and the challenges that each must face.

In comparison to the rest of the country, Brown emphasized that “the amount of beef we process in Montana is tiny, tiny.”

The segment of the industry that has felt a huge demand in Montana is the local small processing plants that are scattered about the state.  The demand for their services has been exceeding capacity for quite some time, but it was exacerbated during the meat shortages brought on by the impacts of the virus. When consumers turned to local retail meat stores and the slaughter plants in their hometowns they were surprised to confront long wait periods. Some were booked out for a year or more.

While the local plants, usually family-owned businesses, were striving to expand they reported that one of their biggest stumbling blocks was finding the labor they need. It’s quite likely that most of them received quite a boost in their expansion efforts, a few weeks ago, when they received grants from Coronavirus Relief Funds. A total of some $7.5 million was awarded through the Montana Department of Agriculture, to dozens of plants throughout the state. Awards typically ranged from about $50,000 to $150,000 for each business. More recently it was announced that more funds are available for applicants.

Brown believes that growth will be seen in the state in the operations of the small plants, as they respond to a changing market in which consumers are more focused on locally produced products, custom products, and seem willing to pay for quality. It will likely be these producers coming with new ideas and taking advantage of new technology who will grow and reshape the future of the industry for Montana.

 Larger operations will face greater hurdles and risks. Brown worries about them. He points out that “very smart”, knowledgeable people have tried to launch a number of meat processing ventures in various locations in the state and they failed. “Why haven’t they been successful?” ponders Brown, believing that the future success of such enterprises could very well lie in answering that question.

Brown said that the investors in Meats of Montana were experienced, and thought they had done their homework and thought that they were adequately capitalized, but neither assumption proved true. The industry is far more complicated than it appears on the surface and to do a large volume of production takes a lot of money – [italics] a lot of money, emphasized Brown. And, an operation needs very good money management, because the process of buying and selling in large quantities every day, means that money moves “at the speed of light,” explained Brown.

It didn’t take long for Meats of Montana’s weaknesses to become evident – the venture only lasted for about two months. But, that is not to say that they didn’t have a lot of good things going for them. “We had an available work force of trained and experienced people, and we put out a quality product. We had good production management – smart guys who knew how to do it.. And, we had more cooperation than I expected from USDA.” USDA (US Department of Agriculture) oversees the federal inspection of meat processing plants that ship product across state lines.

They slaughtered about 5200 head of cull cows and bulls, processing about 43 car loads of lean beef – about $2.5 million worth in large box containers that were shipped “all over the west coast, and into the upper midwest.”

There were advisers who said that they should have planned to operate on a bigger scale, “and maybe we should have,” said Brown, “but that would have taken a whole lot more capital.” And, a larger scale packing plant in Montana would encounter the problem of not having enough local supply of finished cattle. While Montana raises a lot of cattle, there aren’t a lot of finished cattle because the feed – corn — is not available here. The big feed lots and big packing plants are located in the mid-west and the high plains because that’s where the corn grows.

“At larger scales, it is a really complicated business,” said Brown. “Just finding the amount of skilled labor you need. And, timing the supply so you have it when you need it. If you are going to sell rib-eyes and t-bones, where are you going to get a dependable supply of finished cattle? At a competitive price? And, do you have a reliable market?”

“Timing is important. You have a perishable product, which is especially critical at times when the market is working against you,” he continued.

Brown feels that people sometimes overestimate the added price that consumers will consistently pay,  in order to have a product that is “Made in Montana”.   He says Montana Beef is a great niche, but it’s hard to find the scale that is profitable enough to be economically sustainable. 

One of the biggest issues that must be dealt with is what to do with the “offal” or byproducts, including organ meats and the hide. The sale of these materials often represents the company’s profit, which reflects how tight the profit margin is in the business. Finding a market for these products can be challenging, especially if located in a low population state like Montana.

For example, Brown said that they discovered there was a big demand for tripe (stomach meat) in Korea, and buyers liked the Meats of Montana product.  However, “It’s surprising how much tripe you have to store up, to accumulate enough to fill a shipment.”

A lot of things have changed since 1990 and there will be even bigger changes in the future, so Brown says the experiences of their group might not be quite as applicable today; though similar concerns likely still confront those who wish to ratchet up the industry in Montana.

“With the right scale, and enough capital and industry expertise, someone could successfully expand and revolutionize Montana’s meat processing industry”, says Brown, “but like many things, it is a lot harder than it looks.”

County Commissioners rejected the request for a zone change by Cherry Creek Estates in the Heights, following extensive testimony from residents opposed to the change, which would have enabled the proposed development of 33 two –family townhomes.

“My strongest opposition is that it would de-value properties,” said Commissioner Don Jones. His motion to deny was seconded by Commissioner John Ostlund, who said he agreed.

Commissioner Denis Pitman said he opposed the request because it would increase density, which would impact transportation and contribute to school overcrowding, and because the developers do not plan to build walking trails.

The request was to change the zoning from “Public” to “R-80”, by Cherry Island, LLC, which is managed by the Jock Clause  family who developed and managed the adjacent development of Cherry Creek Manufactured Home Park in 2001.

Those testifying in opposition said that the earlier development is today a source of much public criticism regarding how it is maintained and managed. It is seen as a source of much crime in the area.

The Montana Contractors’ Association (MCA) Board of Directors has announced its support for Greg Gianforte as Governor. MCA President Bob Warren stated that the board chose Gianforte based on his opposition to I-190 and his support of career technical education.

“The recreational marijuana initiative is a very, very troubling initiative. The MCA board voted to fight this with all our strength and financial resources,” Warren said. “We chose to support the Gianforte campaign because of his similar opposition. If I-190 passes, all our efforts to change the workforce culture will be damaged or for naught.“

Warren applauded Gianforte for his platform to combat the drug epidemic. “We see the problems that drugs create in our workplace and our communities. The MCA’s vision is to improve the quality of life and safety in our communities.”

Gianforte’s economic development plan emphasizes trades and apprenticeships, another MCA priority.

“As contractors know very well, a four-year degree is not the right solution for every young person,” Warren said. “We are very encouraged that Greg will promote trades education opportunities, and the potential for higher earnings, with no student loan debt.

The Montana Contractors’ Association is a membership organization representing Montana’s construction industry and professionals.

Most consumers plan to fly internationally and are open to air travel, according to a new survey conducted by OAG, a global travel data provider that says it monitors the world’s largest network of schedules and travel status data.

More than 4,000 global users of OAG’s flightview travel app indicated that overall fear levels over catching COVID-19 while flying are tepid, and most consumers are open to air travel.

Of those surveyed, 69 percent said they plan on flying internationally within the next six months; 79 percent have plans to fly domestically.

Airlines and tourism companies can potentially capitalize on this trend, OAG suggests, by prioritizing their efforts around domestic travel, particularly focusing on cities with low transmission rates.

“The coronavirus has devastated the aviation and travel market,” OAG says in the report, “causing consistent and severe capacity cuts week after week. Globally, overall capacity is down nearly 50 million seats or 47 percent.”

A Mexican –based company, Grupo Cementos de Chihuahua (GCC), has filed a plan with the Billings Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management to explore the extent of a gypsum deposit in the foothills of the Pryor Mountains south of Gyp Springs Road and west of its intersection with Crooked Creek Road.

The environmental assessment is available for public comment until November 5.

The project proposes to drill 10 holes about 70 feet deep on 10 claims, which are on public domain land in southern Carbon County. BLM must approve the proposal and determine any mitigating requirements, as well as approve the plan of operation as meeting performance standards.

GCC is a multinational company, with plants in South Dakota and Colorado, but also owns another plant in Montana. GCC purchased the cement plant at Trident, Montana in 2018.. In total the company operates eight plants in the US and Mexico producing about 5.8 million tons annually.

Gypsum is a soft sulfate mineral composed of calcium sulfate dihydrate, which is widely mined and is used as a fertilizer and in manufacturing cement and is the main component in many forms of plaster, blackboard/ sidewalk chalk, drywall, etc.

The plan that BLM is considering would require that a paleontology consultant monitor any ground disturbance to mitigate potential damage to fossil resources that have been identified in the area. A botanist would also have to be onsite to oversee the protection of some rare plants that have been identified in the area, which BLM designated as of critical environmental concern and a natural area.

No drilling is proposed during the grouse’s mating and nesting season since the sage grouse is known to use the region.

The anticipated area that will be disturbed by the drilling is small – less than seven acres total, so the BLM is not proposing that any further impact study be required.

In June 2018, Grupo Cementos de Chihuahua received regulatory approval for the purchase of the cement plant from CRH in Trident, a gypsum mining operation near the headwaters of the Missouri River, which was started in 1908 by Don Morrison and a group of investors.

 Known then as the Three Forks Portland Cement Co., its production was used in many regional construction projects, including Holter Dam, Morony Dam, the Heart Mountain project in Wyoming, Fort Peck Dam, Grand Coulee Dam, and Polson Dam.

On Jan. 1, 1948, the Three Forks Portland Cement Company was consolidated into the nationwide Ideal Cement Co. In the 80s, Ideal Cement Co. sold the plant to a Swiss based cement company. In 1990, the plant at Trident was renamed Holnam, short for Holderbank North America. In 2002, the facility was again renamed, Holcim Trident Plant