Montana Highlights

  • Montana Highlights June 1 2021 +

    Watercraft inspectors in Montana have found aquatic mussels on 21 boats so far this year. All watercraft including non-motorized boats must be inspected when coming into Montana. Inspectors found 35 boats with aquatic mussels in 2020. Adult mussels can attach themselves to the bottom of boats and survive out of water for up to 30 days.

    Glacier Rail Park in Kalispell, which  opened in 2018, is full ahead of schedule with the decision by Northern Plastics decision to expand from its current Montana Highway 35 location into the last rail park lots. Northern Plastics manufactures polymer molds in its 10,000-square-foot facility. At the new rail park location Northern Plastics will more than double its size.

    Yellowstone National Park has reported that visitation at last month increased by 40% compared to 2019. This was an increase of approximately 19,000 people and a record for the month. The previous high visitation for the month of April was in 2016 when more than 59,000 people visited the park.

    Grand Teton National Park experienced record numbers of visitors in April with more than a 48% increase compared to the same month in 2019. The 2021 numbers set a record for April in the park of 87,700. The previous high in April was 60,500 set in 2018.

    According to the Montana News Bureau the state is advertising for a business attractions manager. The position will pay $125,000 a year. The job entails traveling the United States promoting Montana as good place to start or expand a business. New tax laws and a $500,000 budget for the position are hoped to help foster interest by businesses in the State.

    Glacier National Park recorded more than 53,000 visitors in April 2021, about 50% more than in 2019, but it did not set a new record.

    Madison River Equity LLC will seek a special use permit from the Butte-Silver Bow Zoning Board to install a 1,600-acre solar array on June 17. The project known as the Basin Creek Solar Project is on private ranchland in south Butte. Project will include 700,000 solar panels which will produce nearly 300 megawatts annually.

    Montana Zipline Adventures opened on May 21, 2021. The business located in Anaconda near North Cable Road has passed the required inspection by the Association for Challenge Course Technology. The owners of the business are Andre and Mianne Graa. The cost is $89 a person.  There will be a $10 discount for people who live in surrounding counties and for veterans. The course has age and weight restrictions that are described on its website: montanazip.com.

    Montana’s statewide elected officials will be able receive a pay raise on July 1. The raise is due to a state law that requires pay raises every other year. governor Gianforte will receive a raise of  3.6% but the lieutenant governor and Supreme Court clerk will not get a raise at all. The state auditor will receive a 9% raise. Supreme Court justices and district court judges will get 4.2% raise

    The median price for single-family homes in Gallatin County was $660,000 in April. This price is down from $704,750 in March, according to data from the Gallatin Association of Realtors. It was a similar story for the condo and townhouse median prices. The number of new listings for  single-family homes and condo and townhouses increased from April 2020. There were 160 new listings of single-family homes listed in April 2021, compared to 132 last April, and 102 new listings for condos and townhomes this year compared to 94 last April.

    The Scoop bar in Bozeman closed its door for good last week. The Scoop, legally named the Scoop Beer Parlor, has been owned by the Davis family of Bozeman since 1977.

    Oasis Petroleum is selling its Permian position for less than half the price it paid in 2017. Oasis acquired 20,300 net acres in the Delaware Basin for $946 million, an average $46,000 per acre. The company has now announced it will sell the assets for a little more than half that price. The Permian divestment is the second major transaction announced by Oasis in recently. The company has also announced a $745 million acquisition of Diamondback’s QEP assets in the Bakken. This play added 95,000 acres to the company’s existing Bakken Portfolio.

    The Dakota Access pipeline has avoided a shut-down order. A federal judge has denied a request from the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River tribes to shut down North Dakota’s largest pipeline because it now lacks the proper federal authorization to cross under Lake Oahe. The judge also denied a motion from the State of North Dakota that sought to intervene in the case.

    A new study of living and dead Engelmann spruce trees collected at high elevations in and around Yellowstone National Park have shown that the last 20 years have been the hottest summers in the Yellowstone region for over 1,250 years. The findings were published in Geophysical Research Letters. The warm periods of the past were characterized by substantial multidecadal temperature variability, markedly different from the prolonged, intense warming trends seen over the past 20 years. 

    The federal government has provided funding for a wellness center in Poplar. A new Fort Peck Wellness Center has received $23 million from the New Markets Tax Credits. The purpose of the center is to extend the  life expectancy among members of the Fort Peck Tribes. Additional funding is being made by the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes. The 50,000-square-foot health clinic and recreation center will provide services for health care, physical fitness, childcare, and cultural arts and education. The building will be constructed at the old airport site off U.S. Highway 2.

    Stone Glacier announced they are going to open a new business headquarters in Bozeman. Stone Glacier is a manufacturer of premium outdoor equipment. The new 16,000 square feet facility building will be located at the intersection of Huffine and Love Lane and it will also serve as a retail space – to be completed by April 2022. Inc. Magazine has ranked the company as one of the fastest growing companies in America and ranked it #3 in 2020. The company plans to add brands and double its number of employees.

    Gallatin County’s residential real estate saw increases in sales, prices and new listings in April, with many homes selling above asking price, while inventory and days on the market decreased compared to last year. The number of new listings increased 21.2% in April compared to last year, from 132 to 160. Pending sales were up 28.8%, going from 118 to 152. The number of closed sales increased 36.4%, from 99 to 135. The average days on market decreased 47.6%, from 63 to 33. The median sales price increased 50% from $440,000 to $660,000. Sellers received 100.7% of their list price, up from 98.8% last April. The inventory of available homes fell 68.1%, from 404 to 129, while the months’ supply of inventory dropped 75.8%, from 3.3 to 0.8.  

    The City of Williston is accepting digital cryptocurrency payments for utility bills. It is the first municipal utility in North Dakota to accept bitcoin and the third in the nation. While only utility bills can initially be paid with cryptocurrency they may eventually allow other bills such as landfill, permits, and licenses.

    The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) recently issued new load postings for the Cove Ditch Bridge in Park City in Stillwater County. The postings are part of a multi-year effort to update load ratings and postings on Montana bridges as mandated by the?Federal Highway Administration

  • Montana Highlights May 1 2021 +

    U.S. Customs and Border Protection will continue to operate six ports of entry in Montana and one in Idaho at reduced hours in order to limit the further spread of coronavirus. On April 22, 2021, these measures were extended for an additional 30 days.

    Early Stage Montana, a nonprofit working to accelerate the growth of Montana technology start-up companies has hired Jenni Graff as its first executive director. Adam Gilbertson of Laurel and Dan Rausch of Sioux Falls, SD have joined the Board of Directors.

    The Montana Science Center of Bozeman is celebrating 20 years. The center was founded in 2001 by city residents, who wanted to experiment with STEM learning opportunities for all ages. The center offers interactive exhibits, educational programs, weekly programs as well as summer camps.  

    The Gallatin Association of Realtors will use a $4,500 Placemaking Grant from the National Association of Realtors to help with the development of a new half-mile trail within the Highland Glen Nature Preserve, which is a Bozeman Health property. GAR will provide a $450 grant match, and Realtor members will participate in the construction of a bridge on the trail. The new half-mile trail will provide a connection to the existing 4.5 miles of trails within the Highland Glen Nature Preserve. A number of organizations are providing funding for the $47,000 project, including the Gallatin Valley Land Trust, Bozeman Health, the City of Bozeman, the Gianforte Family Foundation, Sanderson Stewart, AMB West Philanthropies, Murdoch’s Ranch and Home Supply and the One Valley Community Foundation. 

    Gallatin County’s residential real estate saw strong sales, increased prices and high demand for homes in March. The average number of days homes spent on the market was half of what it was in March 2020. Median sale prices jumped 45.3%, and on average sellers received more than their asking price for single family homes. The number of new listings decreased 10.5% in March compared to last year, from 172 to 154. Pending sales were up 41.1%, going from 107 to 151. The number of closed sales decreased 14.3%, from 119 to 102. The average days on market decreased 52.9%, from 85 to 40. The median sales price increased 45.3% from $485,000 to $704,750. Sellers received 100.4% of their list price, up from 99.1% last March. The inventory of available homes dropped 69.8%, from 414 to 125, while the months’ supply of inventory fell 75%, from 3.2 to 0.8.  

    After 38-years in business, the Women’s Club of Missoula has decided to shut their doors. The Women’s Club isn’t the only business shutting its doors in Missoula. At Southgate Mall two corner stores have closed, JC Penney and Lucky’s Market and The Green Light.

    Also in Missoula, construction continues on an old department store as crews work to transform the space into a Scheel’s in time for its October grand opening. And in other positive news the Pink Elephant is now open.

    The Bozeman Health Cottonwood Clinic and Surgery Center has opened. The new space has family medicine, internal medicine, and pediatrics. CEO John Hill said they hand-picked the team to be a part of this clinic. Over the next six to nine months radiology surgery, ambulatory surgery, and a gastrointestinal clinic will open at this location too. 

    Samar International Food Market has opened in Missoula. The business offers a wide variety of spices and specialty foods. It is located in Paxson Plaza.

    Medellee Antonioli is the new owner of Books & Books at 206 W Park St, Butte. Current plans call for a move and expansion at 43 E. Broadway St by the end of summer.

    Mountain Berry Bowls has opened at 2200 N. Last Chance Gulch, Helena. The food truck is open  Wednesdays – Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. They feature combinations of fruit, toppings, and more. All bowls are gluten and dairy free.

    Casey and Ann Brooks  are the new owners of RB Drive-In at 932 Helena Ave. in Helena. 1948. The menus has been updated but the original favorites have been retained. You can check them out on Facebook.

    HomeBase Partners, has begun the planning stages for a development on four blocks between Villard and Lamme streets  Tracy and Grand Street. new buildings will hold a combination of residential and business spaces. The area is now home to a building with medical offices, houses, other office buildings and parking lots.

  • Montana Highlights April 15, 2021 +

    Former Governor Steve Bullock signed an executive order during the midst of the pandemic last year to allow restaurants to deliver beer and wine with meals. Sen. Ellie Boldman, D-Missoula, and Rep. Ed Buttrey, R-Great Falls, have co-sponsored Senate Bill 320, which will approve the measure permanently. The Montana Tavern Association are in support of the bill, pointing out that people can already have drinks delivered on resort property

    Owners Mike Davis and LaDelle Reynolds are closing  the North Valley Ag Center in Columbia Falls on April 30. The facility has been sold to an event business.

    Carolina Cotman. a yoga instructor, has opened the Samaa Retreat Center. formerly a bed and breakfast known as the Candlewycke Inn will still be open for traditional lodging this summer but going forward the Retreat Center will focus on wellness retreat experiences.

    The  proposal to build an outdoor recreation park near  Flathead Lake has drawn opposition from neighbors. The proposed amendment to the county’s regulations would allow for commercial outdoor recreation activities, which  would specifically prohibit swimming pools, water parks, bowling alleys, RV parks and commercial resorts.

    Glacier National Park plow crews are working about a mile beyond the Loop on the road’s west side. In 2020 the plows didn’t make it to the Loop until April 14. Outdoor enthusiasts should expect ice on some portions of the roadway. There is also the threat of avalanches at and beyond Avalanche Creek.

    Senior U.S. District Court Judge Charles C. Lovell, the Montana judge who approved a search warrant for the Unabomber’s cabin has retired. The Judge also  presided over the Unabomber’s first few court appearances,

    The Newberry, a new event center located at 420 Central Avenue in downtown Great Falls will open this fall. The center plans on hosting 90 plus events each year and bring large numbers of people to downtown Great Falls. More information can be found on the centers website, thenewberrymt.com.

    Avelo Airlines has announced flights between Bozeman and Burbank beginning April 30. Avelo is a new commercial airline, which previously operated as a charter airline under a different name. Avelo will be the 10th airline that flies out of the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport

    Work is set to begin soon on the cleanup of  the Harlowton railyard that’s contaminated with asbestos and petroleum. The cleanup of the Harlowton railyard is part of the attempt to revitalize a 180-acre site. About 3,000 cubic yards of asbestos-tainted soil will be dug up site by the end of this month, wrapped in plastic and hauled to a Great Falls landfill. Work will resume this fall by  removing contaminated soil from another area that once had a 500,000 gallon fuel tank.

    ROAM Beyond has opened its third location in Northwest Montana. ROAM Beyond’s Cabins sleep three to four people with features such as heated bedding, full bathrooms and induction stoves. Sites include fire pits, heated outdoor gathering spaces and the main attraction: tiny mobile camper units.

    St. Peter’s Health officials, of Helena, have announced that the hospital will affiliate with Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah. The agreement will give patients undergoing cancer and hematology care access to more options for treatment and provide top cancer experts. Huntsman now has six affiliate cancer centers across the Mountain West region. All affiliates are independent, not-for-profit health systems. 

    Yellowstone Park officials have announced that they expect to open roads leading to Old Faithful and Canyon Village this week. The first road sections planned to open are from the west entrance to Old Faithful, from Mammoth Hot Springs to Old Faithful and from Norris to Canyon Village. Masks will be required in buildings and at any time when social distancing isn’t possible. Park-run visitor centers will stay closed. Yellowstone National Park Lodges is scheduled to open some of its accommodations later this month. Dining options will be limited to takeout only.

    Certain USDA Service Centers in Montana are beginning to reopen to limited visitors by appointment only. Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) staff also continue to work with agricultural producers via phone, email, and other digital tools.

    Montana producers intend to plant 2.90 million acres (1.17 million hectares) of HRS in 2021, down 12% from last year, but in line with the 5-year average. Montana spring and winter wheat acres typically share an inverse relationship and this year is no different. Montana winter wheat acres are up 13% on the year at 1.75 million acres (708,000 hectares). Dryness has producers on edge, but favorable spring wheat prices will encourage them to plant into dry soil, despite the drought risk. (From Northern Ag Network)

    U.S. Secretary of Commerce announced that the Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) is awarding a $1.7 million CARES Act Recovery Assistance grant to Bear Paw Development Corporation of Northern Montana, Havre, to capitalize and administer a Revolving Loan Fund that will provide critical gap financing to coronavirus-impacted small businesses in Blaine, Chouteau, Hill, Liberty, and Phillips counties. This EDA grant is expected to create 50 jobs, retain 70 jobs, and generate $3 million in private investment.

    A unique ice cream shop has opened in Fairview. DJ’s Ice Cream Parlor & YakAttak Coffee, 308 S. Interstate Ave., sells all sorts of specialty coffees, ice cream, snow cones, cotton candy, according to Jessica Shaffer, who owns the business with her family, Michael, Bethany, Whitney, Dakota, and Tyrell.

    The Gallatin County Health Board voted to extend the county’s face mask mandate into May. The mask mandate expires on May 27, and the reopening guidelines expire on May 10. A meeting in early May will be held to determine whether to continue with the government mandate.

    Enplanements at the Bozeman Yellowstone International in March were about 80-85 percent of March in 2019. Airport Director Brian Sprenger said they are expecting a continual increase through summer. The airport’s summer flight schedule includes non-stop service to 29 summer markets, a record for the airport by nine airline brands. Delta Airlines is going to resume selling middle seats beginning in May after changing up COVID-19 safety precautions.

    The Montana VA Health Care System opened a $12 million state-of-the-art primary care clinic at Fort Harrison VA Medical Center, where veterans will remain in a single appointment room and each provider will come to them in a one -stop shop approach.

    AC Hotels, the modern, design-driven brand from Marriott, opened its first property to Montana, the AC Hotel Missoula Downtown. The newly-constructed property is managed by Aimbridge Hospitality. 

    The Daily Post Building in Uptown Butte has new ownership, after suffering damage from a fire a year ago. A renowned Butte family known as the Markovich’s closed the sale on St. Patrick’s Day. Corey and his wife, Kristi Markovich are ready to take on the historic building and its current problems. They plan about $1 million in renovations to the building that used to be home to the Irish Times Bar, the Post bar, and Muddy Creek Brewery.

  • Montana Highlights April 1, 2021 +

    Watercraft inspection stations are opening up across Montana for the 2021 season. Just which inspection stations are open can be seen on a FWP website map. FWP officials claim inspection stations are the state’s first step in preventing the movement of aquatic invasive species (AIS), which can have devastating impacts on Montana waterways. A report on activities from the 2019 season show the agency performed over 113,000 watercraft inspections and intercepted 16 mussel-fouled vessels.

    Senate Bill 379 has raised some eyebrows of the Montana PSC and environmental groups as it would allow owners of coal-fired power assets to recover costs for any underappreciated value and expenses from energy consumers. The bill would allow the utility to recover market value for new ownership of a coal power asset.

    Watercraft inspection stations are opening up across Montana for the 2021 season. Just which inspection stations are open can be seen on a FWP website map. FWP officials claim inspection stations are the state’s first step in preventing the movement of aquatic invasive species (AIS), which can have devastating impacts on Montana waterways. A report on activities from the 2019 season show the agency performed over 113,000 watercraft inspections and intercepted 16 mussel-fouled vessels.

    Canadian coal company Teck Resources has paid a $60 million fine after pleading guilty to pollution discharges that have killed nearly all the fish in nearby waters. Canadian investigators found the mining company discharged hazardous amounts of selenium and calcite into the Fording River from two coal mines in the Elk Valley, just north of Eureka, Montana. Some of that selenium has been connected to fish damage in Montana Koocanusa Reservoir and the Kootenai River. The decision came in a Canadian federal court in Fernie, British Columbia. The fine is 10 times as large as any previous punishment imposed under Canada’s Fisheries Act.

     The city of Williston, North Dakota has negotiated a contract with Delta Airline to bring flights back to Williston. The one-year agreement promises to subsidize SkyWest Airlines which has partnered with Delta for flights to Minneapolis. If passenger numbers fail to make it profitable the city will reimburse losses to the airlines on a quarterly basis.

    Revolving Loan Fund.  In February, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) awarded a $1.2 million CARES Act Recovery Assistance grant to the Northern Rocky Mountain Economic Development District, Bozeman, to capitalize and administer a Revolving Loan Fund (RLF).  Businesses adversely affected by the coronavirus pandemic in Gallatin and Park counties will be eligible for these funds. Special recognition goes to the City of Belgrade, which provided $250,000 for the local match requirement. The Department of Commerce estimates that the total investment will create 40 jobs, retain 125 jobs, and generate $10 million in private investment.

    Governor Greg Gianforte and Department of Administration Director Misty Ann Giles have announced the appointment of Kevin Gilbertson to serve as Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the State of Montana.

    The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) announced  a proposal to widen shoulders and add rumble strips to about 7.6 miles of Highway S 421, north of Lodge Grass. The project begins approximately seven miles south of Garryowen 7.6 miles ending approximately one mile northwest of Lodge Grass.  Construction is tentatively planned for 2024 depending on completion of design and availability of funds.

    NorthWestern Energy will begin upgrading the Montana Street substation in Butte to enhance reliability for 6,000 electric customers in the area.

    North Dakota’s daily crude output for January was 1.147 million barrels, a 4% drop from December. The decline was attributed to high winds in January that caused power outages that interrupted oil production. The outages knocked about 50,000 barrels per day offline.

    The U.S. oil pricing benchmark, West Texas Intermediate, has risen above $60 per barrel, where it sat at the start of 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic hit and sent prices crashing. Experts view the current price as a blip. Wells idled during the pandemic are expected to be brought back online. Uncertainty about the Bakken reins as ND producers worry about the potential shutdown of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a prospect that could come out of a court hearing slated for April 9. Producers are considering having to move more oil by rail or potentially trucking it from the Bakken across Interstate 94 past Bismarck and then south to Linton.

  • Montana Highlights 03-01-21 +

    B&F Excavating, of Columbia Falls has sold to Integrated Securities Solutions of Kalispell.

    The Northern Rockies Coordination Center, which is part of the National Interagency Fire Center, put the estimated cost of fighting the 75 large wildfires Montana in 2020 at $55 million. Those fires burned a combined 335,242 acres of land.

    The expansion of Headframe Spirits whisky making capacity will require a $1.8 million capital investment to expand distilling and whiskey-storage capacity. The company will become by far the largest producer of American single malt whiskey. Over the next six years, they expect to make 20,000 barrels, using Montana barley. The whiskey will be made and aged at the company’s Kelley site for a large distilling company that will anonymous, To live up to the terms of the contract Headframe will produce 24 to 30 barrels a day.

    The state health department will be forced by the legislative budget subcommittee to leave the former Montana Development Center campus in Boulder. The Legislature passed a bill in 2015 to close the center within two years. The state-run institution housed people with developmental disabilities. 

    Governor Gianforte recently got a firsthand look at the material that will go unused to build the Keystone XL pipeline. The Governor also talked with construction heads, energy managers and local officials who voiced their concerns about the president’s decision.

    Acela Truck Company, the Belgrade company which makes mobile morgue trailers has begun  making mobile vaccine trailers.

    The state of North Dakota’s eight commercial airports posted a total of 42,238 airline boarding’s for January 2021, a 57 percent decline in passengers from the same month last year.

    George Willett has sold Showdown Montana ski area to his daughter, Katie Boedecker, Willett has owned the ski area for 47 years.

    In Bozeman, the number of new real estate listings decreased 4.8% in January compared to last year, from 105 to 100. Pending sales were down 10%, going from 120 to 108. The number of closed sales decreased 23.8%, from 101 to 77. The average days on market decreased 62.7%, from 75 to 28. Median sales price increased 24.4% from $450,000 to $560,000. Sellers received 99.7% of their list price, up from 97.5% last January. The inventory of available homes dropped 66.8%, from 364 to 121, while, the months’ supply of inventory fell 70.4%, from 2.7 to 0.8.  

    In a study of 24 institutions of higher learning in Montana, Montana State University I Bozeman was ranked as the top college in Montana by intelligent.com for 2021.

    Longtime Great Falls business JJ’s Bakery has announced that it will close in April. Owners John and Erin Williams thanked their customers and staff saying. They plan to focus on their other business, The Burger Bunker, at 24 5th St. S.

    Bob Rowe, president and chief executive officer of NorthWestern Corporation announced changes. Brian Bird is to become president and chief operating officer; Crystal Lail is to become chief financial officer; Jeanne Vold, vice president – technology; Stephen Adik and Julia Johnson are retiring from Board; and Dana Dykhouse is to become chair.

    Following the Governor’s lifting of the face mask mandate, the city of Whitefish, enacted an emergency measure to re-impose, for 90 days, the mandate locally. Emergency Ordinance 21-01 requires that “all businesses, government offices, or other persons responsible for indoor spaces open to the public shall require and take reasonable measures to ensure people wear a face covering that covers their mouth and nose at all times while entering or remaining in any indoor spaces open to the public.” 

    Montana’s pulse producers received some good news last month when it was announced that a major processing plant has reopened in Glacier County. A newly formed joint venture called AgroLink, LLC announced in early January that it is resuming operations at the Pardue Grain processing facility 12 miles west of Cut Bank. Pardue Grain elevators had been in operation on the 35-acre site since 1959.In 2018, the company completed an $8.25 million expansion project adding a food grade pulse processing plant and warehouse; however, Pardue Grain was forced into bankruptcy just a year later after U.S. exports of pulses — field peas, lentils and chickpeas — plunged due to excess global supply and the imposition of new import tariffs by China and India.AgriLink purchased the Pardue Grain plant last September at a lender ordered auction for an undisclosed price. AgriLink is a joint venture between Singapore based Agrocorp International and LinkOne Ingredient Solutions, a major producer of high quality pet foods based in Missouri.

    Great Falls, too, is hoping to land a medical school. The private, nonprofit Touro College hopes to partner with Benefis Health System for a medical school. Montana University System has approved New York-based Touro’s plan to offer post-secondary degree programs in Montana, and is working to attain accreditation for the new location through the American Osteopathic Association’s Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation.

    WinCo Foods has opened two employee-owned 24 hour locations in Missoula and Bozeman. Last year, the Bozeman location started construction in June and, it took four weeks for employees to stock the new shelves. 

    Last week, Governor Gianforte signed into law SB 61, which makes fishing free on Mother’s Day weekend. Senator Pat Flowers (D-Bozeman) introduced the bill which got approval of the State Legislature.

  • Montana Highlights 2-15-21 +

    Lea and Dennis Doherty plan to open Whitefish SuperWash during the week of February 8. The SuperWash includes a spot for every type of needed wash from pets to RVs. The SuperWash is located at 6354 US 93 South in Whitefish. The wash itself and the materials used to clean vehicles are all environmentally friendly.

    Red Rooster, a home goods retail store in Missoula, has announced they are closing after 27 years in business. The store will be selling everything 20% off until Feb. 28 and some items are on clearance for 60% off.

    The Morse family of Columbia Falls held the grand opening of Flitter Bee Buzz Thru on Saturday, Feb. 13. They plan to sell hot and cold beverages, along with pastries like breakfast croissants and cinnamon rolls. Flitter Bee Buzz Thru is located at 2120 Ninth St. W. in Columbia Falls.

    According to the National Association of Homebuilders, lumber prices skyrocketed 130% between April and September of 2020, which has raised the cost of constructing a new single-family home by $16,000. According to Montana statistics:

    *  In 2004, there were 10,000 people in Montana employed by lumber mills or working in forestry. As of 2010 there were 7,030 and 7,641 in 2020.

    * The private forestry industry earned $508 million in 2004, $305 million in 2010, and in 2020, it was up to $347 million.

    Lumber production has dropped over 50% from 985 million board feet in 2004 to 428 million board feet in 2020.

    The Trailhead store in Southgate Mall, an outdoor gear shop focused on women’s clothing, has announced it is closing. The business is focusing on the two other Trailhead stores, one downtown and a boat shop near Southgate Mall.

    One of the steps taken to keep Montana Tech viable is the adding of 10 students per semester to the nursing program. The incremental additions will eventually increase the program size by 50% to 150 students by fall 2022. Nursing students at Tech will benefit from a state-of-the-art Nursing Simulation Center. The bid goes out during February for construction of the $1.7 million project.  Students will be practicing their field skills at the center by spring semester of 2022.

    Tesla has invested approximately $1.5 billion in Bitcoin and announced plans to begin accepting the digital currency as payment for its vehicles shortly. The price of Bitcoin soared 15% with the Tesla announcement.

    Lone Mountain Land Company, which manages Spanish Peaks Mountain Club, Moonlight Basin and other businesses in Big Sky, have announced that they are collaborating with the Big Sky Community Housing Trust to develop affordable rentals on and near the site of the former American Bank building. The current plan is to build two 21-unit apartment buildings with a mix of one, two and three bedroom units. All of the units in the project will be deed restricted from becoming short-term rentals. The company has also purchased Buck’s T-4 Lodge to develop dorm-style housing. LMLC is also planning a few more developments, which include two 24-unit, dorm-style apartments and more rental housing.

    Cottonwood Environmental Law Center, Montana Rivers and the Gallatin Wildlife Association filed a motion for a preliminary injunction against Big Sky Water and Sewer District. The motion asks the court to prohibit the district from accepting new sewer hookups and irrigating the Meadow Village Golf Course with treated wastewater containing concentrations of nitrogen above 10 milligrams per liter. The groups also requested that the court require the district to disclose nitrogen concentrations in water used to irrigate the golf course.

    The Butte-Silver Bow health board amended COVID-19 restrictions to allow businesses to remain open until 12:30 am. County bars, restaurants, breweries, distilleries, and casinos will be allowed to stay open longer. They have had to close by 10 pm since December.

    The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) announced new load postings for the Coffee Creek Bridge in Fergus County. The postings are part of a multi-year effort to update load ratings and postings on Montana bridges as mandated by the Federal Highway Administration.  The FHWA mandate is in response to changes in the trucking industry over the last decade. Truck manufacturers are building specialized hauling vehicles, which are capable of legally carrying heavier loads than typical vehicles have in the past. Often times one or more axles can be raised or lowered as needed to comply with statutory weight limitations.  To comply with the mandate, MDT is updating load ratings for 4,500 public bridges across the state, an effort that is expected to take about four years to complete.  

  • Montana Highlights 01-15-21 +

    TC Energy Corporation has launched an open season to solicit binding commitments for crude oil transportation services on the Keystone Pipeline System from Hardisty, Alberta to Patoka, Illinois. Interested parties may submit binding bids for transportation capacity during the open season that will close at 12 p.m.MT on February 19, 2021. Information regarding the open season is available online or by contacting liquids_pipelines@tcenergy.com.

    Montana’s legislative leaders are highly recommending but not requiring face coverings for people participating in the Legislature. The panel voted 6-2, with both Democrats voting no, to temporarily accept recommendations that masks be highly recommended and temperature checks highly encouraged for people entering the Capitol and that people with symptoms or awaiting a test participate in the Legislature remotely. They also agreed to wear masks while interacting with legislative staff in their offices.

    Frame of Reference Fine Art from Whitefish, is opening a second location at 573 Electric Ave. in Bigfork. The second location will precipitate a name change to FOR Fine Art. The new shop will feature similar genres as the orinial location but also include work by artists exclusive to the Bigfork location. FoR Fine Art is tentatively scheduling a soft opening for Valentine’s Day 2021.

    The Ratkowskis family of Kalispell are launching Montana Milk Moovers, a family business they started last spring to connect customers with local agriculture producers. The Ratkowski family works with producers in Kalispell to collect fresh milk, meat, produce and other groceries every day. Recipients sign up online and indicate the quantity and frequency they’d like to have their orders. Customers pay to install a porch box that keeps their products cold and fresh, plus a delivery charge.

    Two conservation groups Friends of the Wild Swan and the Swan View Coalition have taken issue with clear-cut openings that have been proposed by Flathead National Forest officials as part of a forest management project near Bigfork. The groups claim that four clear cuts proposed within the Bug Creek Integrated Resource Management Project are larger than what the revised Flathead National Forest Plan recommends for such projects. The public has one month to provide comment on the four openings in Bug Creek.

    Great Falls-based Benefis Health System has  announced plans to open the space at 2960 N. Washington St. Helena, in the middle of the year. The new facility will complement the Benefis clinic being built at the former site of the Capital Hill Mall on Prospect Avenue.

    Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality has  issued a water quality certification for the Keystone XL pipeline project in eastern Montana, required since the pipeline would cross 201 wetland and water body features, including streams and rivers, that are regulated by the Clean Water Act. Conditions of the issuance include spill prevention measures as well as a re-opener clause, which would allow the certification to be modified to ensure ongoing compliance with applicable water quality standards. These conditions also include an oversight role for the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation Office of Environmental Protection. Joe Biden has pledged to shelve the project, which was first proposed 12 years ago, although it is not clear what the legal framework for that would be, given that construction of the $8 billion project under the U.S.-Canada border has already begun.

    A proposal to allow “work camps” in the West Glacier region to house summer employees has been proposed by a land use committee for the area. In past years some employees have lived in campgrounds in tents. The regulations require that neighbors be informed of a proposed work camp. If the planning board, approves the new regulations, it would forward the regulations to the county commissioners for final approval.

    Scott Osterman of Applied Materials in Kalispell, has been nominated by Gov. Greg Gianforte to lead the Montana Department of Commerce. Osterman is originally from Northcentral Montana. Over his business career he has served in Fortune 500 companies and venture start-ups. He has been employed in the semiconductor, automobile and high-tech hardware and software industries.

    According to a Stanford University and University of California SD report wildfire smoke accounted for up to half of all health-damaging small particle air pollution in the western U.S. in recent years. Researchers used satellite images of smoke plumes and government air quality data to model how much pollution was generated nationwide by fires from 2016 to 2018 compared to a decade earlier.

    Helena Regional Airport is seeking to entice American Airlines to come to Helena. The airport plans to apply for a Department of Transportation Small Community Air Service Development Grant.  The airport has met with several airlines in order to bring more opportunity to Helena. Currently Billings is the only Montana airport that has direct flights to Phoenix.

    Due to the crippling COVID restrictions on business another restaurant in Montana is closing. After almost 30 years of business, Santa Fe Red’s in Bozeman closed January 5.  A full-service Mexican restaurant and cantina that opened in 1994, the business managed for a while because they had outdoor seating, but when the weather got cold weather it ended their reprieve.

    At the same time, a new business is opening in Bozeman. A smoothie shop offering acai bowls, smoothies and post-workout recovery shakes called Blended Shakes and Smoothies has opened on Main Street across from Bozeman High School.  Michelle Ronsen is the owner of the shop which provides dine-in or to go smoothies

    St. Peter’s Health in Helena announced the completion of a $9 million expansion to its hospital operating room. The 2-year renovation project began in 2017. It included the expansion to the center’s operating room and sterile processing department, introducing cutting-edge surgical equipment and technology. It is expected the new facility will help in recruiting more surgeons and surgical specialties.

    Gallatin County’s residential real estate market saw increases in closed sales and average sales price last month, while the inventory of available homes tightened significantly in November compared to last year. In November, median sales prices increased 46.4%, from $420,000 in November 2019 to $615,000 in November 2020. Closed sales increased 39.1%, from 110 to 153, and pending sales jumped 19.1%, from 89 to 106. The number of new single-family listings increased 21.3% compared to November 2019, from 75 to 91. The average days on market increased 14.6%, from 41 to 47. Sellers received 99.2% of their list price last month, up slightly from 97.9% last year. The inventory of homes for sale decreased 66.6%, from 467 to 156. The months supply of inventory decreased 71.4%, from 3.5 to 1.0 compared to last year.

    Allegro Group, Inc. has acquired LEAD 406, a leadership development and experiential learning company based in Bozeman. The acquisition expands Allegro Group’s consulting practice. LEAD 406 Managing Partner Phil Kornachuk joins Allegro Group as Managing Director of Leadership Development. He will head the company’s new office in Bozeman. Allegro Group, founded in 2015, helps companies build and develop high-performance leadership teams..

    According to homeselling platform iSoldMyHouse, Nebraska, Iowa, North Dakota, Kansas and Maine have the happiest people, made happy by having the most affordable cost of living, low crime rates, high employment and graduate rates, longer average life expectancies, high-quality hospitals, pristine air quality, and plenty of sunshine. Montana was in the second tier of happy people. Unhappy people are to be found in states like California, Nevada, Alaska, Louisiana, West Virginia, Pennsylvania.

    The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) recently issued a new load posting for the Old Highway 10 Drainage Bridge six miles east of Hysham, in Treasure County. The posting is part of a multi-year effort to update load ratings and postings on Montana bridges as mandated by the Federal Highway Administration. The FHWA mandate is in response to changes in the trucking industry over the last decade. Truck manufacturers are building specialized hauling vehicles (SHVs), which are capable of legally carrying heavier loads than typical vehicles have in the past. These SHV configurations concentrate heavy loads over a short length, and they have been found to overstress bridges beyond what was previously modeled by standard commercial vehicles.

    Montana VA Health Care System (MTVAHCS) has been selected to lead a national VHA pilot program to bring vaccines to rural Veterans. On the morning of January 21, a vaccination team will fly doses of the Moderna vaccine in special plug-in coolers from Fort Harrison’s ultracold on-site freezer to Havre. MTVAHCS staff has begun calling eligible enrolled Veterans to schedule vaccine appointments.

  • Montana Highlights December 15, 2020 +

    Blue Dog RV has opened on US Hwy 2 in Kalispell. The Kalispell store is the 16th Blue Dog dealership in the Western U.S. and the first in Montana. The new Blue Dog RV store will offer travel trailers, fifth-wheels, toy haulers and motor homes, along with parts and accessories. The store will carry several brands, including Forest River, Keystone and Thor.

    There has been a 29% increase in the number of property-related documents processed by the Missoula County Clerk and Recorder’s Office this year. This increase means 803 more documents processed per employee in the Clerk and Recorders office.  The Clerk and Recorder’s office has updated  their website and processes to accelerate their work.

    Brandy Kincheloe has joined the Montana Primary Care Association as workforce development coordinator. The workforce development coordinator provides training to Montana’s Community Health Centers and Urban Indian Centers.

    Montana will be represented in the inaugural Small Business Majority’s Holiday Gift Guide by Sarah Calhoun’s business Red Ants Pants of White Sulphur Springs. Small Business Majority is a national organization that seeks to empower entrepreneurs. It’s holiday gift guide highlights small businesses from across the country in an effort to encourage shoppers to support local entrepreneurs.

    Parkland Corporation has agreed to purchase Story Distributing Company of Bozeman which operates Casey’s Corner gas stations and convenience stores. The company now operates in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Washington and North Dakota, with 12 convenience stores and about 175 employees. Parkland Corporation is the largest independent supplier of fuel and petroleum products in Canada and the Caribbean.

    Candace Carr Strauss, Big Sky Chamber of Commerce and Visit Big Sky CEO has announced her resignation from the organizations. She has accepted the position of president and CEO of the Sedona, Arizona, Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau. The Big Sky Chamber of Commerce and Visit Big Sky organizations will conduct a national search for CEO candidates.

    Walton Homestead Medical Clinic has received approval from the city’s of Bozemans planning department. The new building will be on a lot at the corner of West Oak Street and North 15th Avenue.  The two-story, 9,300-square-foot clinic will have 16 exam rooms.

    Miles Community College has been gifted with $25,000 from Northwest Farm Credit Services  to help fund the newly established meat processing program. The gift is part of the stewardship commitment to improve the lives of their customers and communities. The meat processing program is a one-year certificate degree offered at the college. It is comprised of both general and industry specific courses, available both online and on-campus, and includes several paid internships at local processing plants.

    The North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources has released oil and gas production figures for September 2020. The state hit a record for gas capture percentage at 93%, but gas production was far below the record levels it hit in November 2019. Here are the numbers: 36,649,997 barrels or 1,221,667 barrels/day — September 2020 oil production; $31.59 — Average price of a barrel of North Dakota oil in September 2020; 84,409,981 MCF or 2,813,666 MCF/day — September 2020 gas production; 78,479,791 MCF or 2,615,993 MCF/day — September 2020 gas captured; 93% — gas capture percentage; 88% — state mandated gas capture goal for September. The goal went up to 91% Nov. 1); 15,377 — Number of producing wells in September 2020; 51 — Number of drilling permits issued in September 2020; 43 — Number of completed wells in September 2020, up from 19 in August; 11 — Average drilling rig count in September 2020; 80% — Decrease in drilling rig activity between January and September 2020.

    White Raven Winery has opened their tasting room in Columbia Heights, near the junction of Hwy 2 and 206. The winery is owned by Columbia Falls natives Dan and Rebecca Murphy. White Raven turns out 12 different wines, four of which are Montana made.  The grapes used in White Raven’s Montana wines Marquette, Frontenac and L’Acadie Blanc are all cold-hardy varietals originally grown in cold mid-western states.

    The Gallatin County Resource Advisory Council approved fee hikes at 14 rental cabins, three campgrounds and the Rendezvous Ski Trails. 23 other increases have been proposed across for 15 other campgrounds, 14 cabins and lookouts. The rental rates for popular cabins close to Bozeman and Yellowstone National Park would jump from $30 a night to $65. Rendezvous Ski Trails would see a family pass rise from $75 for a family to $190. One cabin in the Taylor Fork area, which has yet to be added to the rental program, is set to cost $75 a night.

    Mike Sartwell, president and CEO of Preferred Restaurant Group, Inc., has opened the first Slim Chickens, a southern inspired chicken franchise, in Montana. With 43 years of restaurant and franchising experience and a Slim Chickens location in North Dakota, Sartwell opened at 1450 Prospect Avenue in Helena.

    The Montana BioScience Alliance has chosen Marshall Bloom, M.D., as its 2020 Hall of Fame honoree. Dr. Bloom is the Associate Director for Science Management at Rocky Mountain Laboratories (RML) in Hamilton. He also is Chief of the Biology of Vector-Borne Viruses Section. Rocky Mountain Laboratories is part of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health. Among other accomplishments, Dr. Bloom oversaw the development of NIH’s first biosafety level-four research facility, which was constructed on the RML campus. Since the facility opened in 2008, the program’s scientists have helped develop an Ebola virus vaccine and are making crucial contributions to COVID-19 treatment and vaccine developments.

    The KLJ Solutions Holding Co. Board of Directors announced the appointment of interim Chief Executive Officer  Barry Schuchard, effective January 1 The appointment follows the resignation of KLJ Engineering LLC CEO, Dean Anagnost. Schuchard has been with the company since 1983 and served in multiple project-related and leadership roles over the years, including Chief Production Officer for a number of years and most recently as the company’s Chief Value Officer. Anagnost began his career with KLJ in 1991 where he was responsible for the formation of the company’s Telecommunications practice, which remains a key component of KLJ’s business portfolio.

    The Montana Department of Transportation recently issued new load postings for the Spring Creek Bridge, two miles northwest of Greycliff in Sweet Grass County. The postings are part of a multi-year effort to update load ratings and postings on Montana bridges as mandated by the Federal Highway Administration. The FHWA mandate is in response to changes in the trucking industry over the last decade. Truck manufacturers are building specialized hauling vehicles, which are capable of legally carrying heavier loads than typical vehicles have in the past. SHVs are single-unit, short-wheelbase, multiple-axle trucks commonly used in the construction, waste management, bulk cargo and commodities hauling industries. Often times one or more axles can be raised or lowered as needed to comply with statutory weight limitations.  To comply with the mandate, MDT is currently updating load ratings for 4,500 public bridges across the state, including approximately 2,500 owned and maintained by MDT. This effort is expected to take about four years to complete.  

    The first and only Cat Café has been opened in Bozeman at The Market at Ferguson Farm. The Cat Show Cat Café is a lounge where people can work and adopt cats. Cat Show owner Josh Marks partnered with Heart of the Valley Animal Shelter to create a place where visitors can work, meet, and relax. People who want to visit the Cat Show can pay a single day fee or going a monthly subscription.

    The Gallatin Gateway School board passed a bond issue of $7 million to build a new school building or to remodel the existing structure. Gallatin Gateway is expecting to have at least 50 news students from the new subdivision development that is being built in the neighborhood. The new renovations will start in May 2021.

    Blue Dog RV has opened on US Hwy 2 in Kalispell. The Kalispell store is the 16th Blue Dog dealership in the Western U.S. and the first in Montana. The new Blue Dog RV store will offer travel trailers, fifth-wheels, toy haulers and motor homes, along with parts and accessories. The store will carry several brands, including Forest River, Keystone and Thor.

    There has been a 29% increase in the number of property-related documents processed by the Missoula County Clerk and Recorder’s Office this year. This increase means 803 more documents processed per employee in the Clerk and Recorders office.  The Clerk and Recorder’s office has updated  their website and processes to accelerate their work.

    Brandy Kincheloe has joined the Montana Primary Care Association as workforce development coordinator. The workforce development coordinator provides training to Montana’s Community Health Centers and Urban Indian Centers.

    Montana will be represented in the inaugural Small Business Majority’s Holiday Gift Guide by Sarah Calhoun’s business Red Ants Pants of White Sulphur Springs. Small Business Majority is a national organization that seeks to empower entrepreneurs. It’s holiday gift guide highlights small businesses from across the country in an effort to encourage shoppers to support local entrepreneurs.

    Parkland Corporation has agreed to purchase Story Distributing Company of Bozeman which operates Casey’s Corner gas stations and convenience stores. The company now operates in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Washington and North Dakota, with 12 convenience stores and about 175 employees. Parkland Corporation is the largest independent supplier of fuel and petroleum products in Canada and the Caribbean.

    Candace Carr Strauss, Big Sky Chamber of Commerce and Visit Big Sky CEO has announced her resignation from the organizations. She has accepted the position of president and CEO of the Sedona, Arizona, Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau. The Big Sky Chamber of Commerce and Visit Big Sky organizations will conduct a national search for CEO candidates.

    Walton Homestead Medical Clinic has received approval from the city’s of Bozemans planning department. The new building will be on a lot at the corner of West Oak Street and North 15th Avenue.  The two-story, 9,300-square-foot clinic will have 16 exam rooms.

    Miles Community College has been gifted with $25,000 from Northwest Farm Credit Services  to help fund the newly established meat processing program. The gift is part of the stewardship commitment to improve the lives of their customers and communities. The meat processing program is a one-year certificate degree offered at the college. It is comprised of both general and industry specific courses, available both online and on-campus, and includes several paid internships at local processing plants.

    The North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources has released oil and gas production figures for September 2020. The state hit a record for gas capture percentage at 93%, but gas production was far below the record levels it hit in November 2019. Here are the numbers: 36,649,997 barrels or 1,221,667 barrels/day — September 2020 oil production; $31.59 — Average price of a barrel of North Dakota oil in September 2020; 84,409,981 MCF or 2,813,666 MCF/day — September 2020 gas production; 78,479,791 MCF or 2,615,993 MCF/day — September 2020 gas captured; 93% — gas capture percentage; 88% — state mandated gas capture goal for September. The goal went up to 91% Nov. 1); 15,377 — Number of producing wells in September 2020; 51 — Number of drilling permits issued in September 2020; 43 — Number of completed wells in September 2020, up from 19 in August; 11 — Average drilling rig count in September 2020; 80% — Decrease in drilling rig activity between January and September 2020.

    White Raven Winery has opened their tasting room in Columbia Heights, near the junction of Hwy 2 and 206. The winery is owned by Columbia Falls natives Dan and Rebecca Murphy. White Raven turns out 12 different wines, four of which are Montana made.  The grapes used in White Raven’s Montana wines Marquette, Frontenac and L’Acadie Blanc are all cold-hardy varietals originally grown in cold mid-western states.

    The Gallatin County Resource Advisory Council approved fee hikes at 14 rental cabins, three campgrounds and the Rendezvous Ski Trails. 23 other increases have been proposed across for 15 other campgrounds, 14 cabins and lookouts. The rental rates for popular cabins close to Bozeman and Yellowstone National Park would jump from $30 a night to $65. Rendezvous Ski Trails would see a family pass rise from $75 for a family to $190. One cabin in the Taylor Fork area, which has yet to be added to the rental program, is set to cost $75 a night.

    Mike Sartwell, president and CEO of Preferred Restaurant Group, Inc., has opened the first Slim Chickens, a southern inspired chicken franchise, in Montana. With 43 years of restaurant and franchising experience and a Slim Chickens location in North Dakota, Sartwell opened at 1450 Prospect Avenue in Helena.

    The Montana BioScience Alliance has chosen Marshall Bloom, M.D., as its 2020 Hall of Fame honoree. Dr. Bloom is the Associate Director for Science Management at Rocky Mountain Laboratories (RML) in Hamilton. He also is Chief of the Biology of Vector-Borne Viruses Section. Rocky Mountain Laboratories is part of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health. Among other accomplishments, Dr. Bloom oversaw the development of NIH’s first biosafety level-four research facility, which was constructed on the RML campus. Since the facility opened in 2008, the program’s scientists have helped develop an Ebola virus vaccine and are making crucial contributions to COVID-19 treatment and vaccine developments.

    The KLJ Solutions Holding Co. Board of Directors announced the appointment of interim Chief Executive Officer  Barry Schuchard, effective January 1 The appointment follows the resignation of KLJ Engineering LLC CEO, Dean Anagnost. Schuchard has been with the company since 1983 and served in multiple project-related and leadership roles over the years, including Chief Production Officer for a number of years and most recently as the company’s Chief Value Officer. Anagnost began his career with KLJ in 1991 where he was responsible for the formation of the company’s Telecommunications practice, which remains a key component of KLJ’s business portfolio.

    The Montana Department of Transportation recently issued new load postings for the Spring Creek Bridge, two miles northwest of Greycliff in Sweet Grass County. The postings are part of a multi-year effort to update load ratings and postings on Montana bridges as mandated by the Federal Highway Administration. The FHWA mandate is in response to changes in the trucking industry over the last decade. Truck manufacturers are building specialized hauling vehicles, which are capable of legally carrying heavier loads than typical vehicles have in the past. SHVs are single-unit, short-wheelbase, multiple-axle trucks commonly used in the construction, waste management, bulk cargo and commodities hauling industries. Often times one or more axles can be raised or lowered as needed to comply with statutory weight limitations.  To comply with the mandate, MDT is currently updating load ratings for 4,500 public bridges across the state, including approximately 2,500 owned and maintained by MDT. This effort is expected to take about four years to complete.  

    The first and only Cat Café has been opened in Bozeman at The Market at Ferguson Farm. The Cat Show Cat Café is a lounge where people can work and adopt cats. Cat Show owner Josh Marks partnered with Heart of the Valley Animal Shelter to create a place where visitors can work, meet, and relax. People who want to visit the Cat Show can pay a single day fee or going a monthly subscription.

    The Gallatin Gateway School board passed a bond issue of $7 million to build a new school building or to remodel the existing structure. Gallatin Gateway is expecting to have at least 50 news students from the new subdivision development that is being built in the neighborhood. The new renovations will start in May 2021.

  • Montana Highlights December 1, 2020 +

    Acutech Metalworks of Columbia Falls has become a partner with Powerlift hydraulic Doors of Minnesota. The partnership is an extension of Acutech metal fabrication business throughout Montana and Idaho. Acutech is located on Montana Highway 40 in Columbia Falls.

    Hecla Mining Co. has completed the first phase of the reclamation of the Troy Mine. If the DEQ lives up to their obligation they should release almost $8 million dollars in reclamation bond money to the mining company. The next step in the reclamation process is the mill site.

    The Farm at River’s Bend near Whitefish is embarking on a plan to grow produce in storage units. The units are remodeled freight containers. The amount of water and nutrients used by the plants are computer controlled. The processes and remodeled container are products of Freight Farms located in Boston.

    Cascade County Commissioners have abused their discretionary powers by changing conditions which a lower board placed on Big Sky Cheese processing facility being constructed near Great Falls. Cascade County Zoning Board of Adjustment placed some restrictions on the cheese plant.. The County Commissioners threw out 9 of 17 conditions. They were reinstated by Lake County District Judge James Manley.

    Steps are being taken to repurpose the K-mart building in Glendive into a community fitness center. The projects planners will sublet the extra space in the building to other businesses who are looking for a community type location.

    110 health care workers who are part of an total of 200 to be deployed in the state until the end of the year have arrived in Montana. The registered nurses and respiratory therapists will help hospitals that are at or near capacity.  as part of a contract between the state and NuWest, which provides traveling health care workers. Benefis Health System in Great Falls, Billings Clinic and St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings, and Kalispell Regional Medical Center are the main beneficiaries of the traveling nurses.

    Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks saw their busiest Octobers ever. Yellowstone hosted more than 360,000 visitors, up 110% from 2019. The old record for October, set in 2015, was more than 252,000 visitors. The park has hosted 3,743,907 recreation visits so far in 2020 down 6% from the same period last year. The park was closed due to COVID-19 concerns beginning March 24, 2020. All five entrances have been open since June 1. Grand Teton National Park saw more than 351,000 tourists in October, up 88% from 2019. Glacier National Park also recorded a jump in October visitation. Glacier recorded more than 125,000 tourists compared to 78,000 in 2018 and an average of about 85,000 over the past three years.

    Marijuana is set to become legal in Montana on Jan. 1. Marijuana becomes legal to possess, use and grow for personal use on Jan. 1. The Montana Department of Revenue will begin accepting applications from existing medical dispensaries to open recreational dispensaries by Oct. 1, 2021, and those existing dispensaries will have 12 months to apply for licensing before it opens up to the general public. A study from the Bureau of Business and Economic Research report predicted that the 20% tax on recreational marijuana will bring in over $200 million in tax revenue between 2022 and 2026.

    Tumbleweed Teas in Big Timber, owned by Riza Gilpin and Laurie Rennie, recently received a grant from the Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund to shift the manufacture of their company’s tumblers from China to Manhattan, Montana to be manufactured by Plastic Design & Manufacturing (PDM). The company markets a custom-blend of teas across the country.

    The City of Belgrade is developing an urban renewal plan for its downtown that will allow the creation of tax increment finance district to revamp downtown city streets.

    The Montana Department of Transportation is seeking public comment on a proposal to resurface about 7.4 miles of Secondary Highway 421, near Joliet.  The project starts at the intersection of S-421 and US 212, and extends northwest for 7.4 miles.  The project is tentatively scheduled for construction in 2022.

    According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Montana currently holds the greatest decrease in the percentage of self-response rates in the latest Census. Montana saw a 4.2% decline in its self-response rates this year, down from 64.6% in 2010. The national self-response rate increased from 66.5% in 2010 to 67.0% in 2020. The Montana decline could mean a loss in federal program funding and a possible additional representative in Congress.

    Mugs Coffee has opened for business in Fairview, by owner Jess Serafin, with the assistance of her father.

    Gallatin County’s residential real estate market continued its recent pattern of strong sales activity in October, with increases in closed sales, pending sales and median sale prices in both the single family and condo/townhome markets.   Median sales prices increased 27.6%, from $458,600 in October 2019 to $585,000 in October 2020. Closed sales increased 59%, from 129 to 205, and pending sales jumped 78.1%, from 105 to 187. The number of new single-family listings increased 14.6% compared to October 2019, from 130 to 149. The average days on market increased 30.8%, from 52 to 68. Sellers received 98.5% of their list price last month, up slightly from 98.2% last year. 

    Passenger boardings at airports in North Dakota have increased 47% as that  experienced during the same month last year. This is also the highest monthly demand in airline passengers that North Dakota has experienced since the pandemic began last Spring.

    The Lower Yellowstone River Coalition reported that in August, “The governor announced that he is asking Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks to identify $4 million in general license funding that could be applied to the creation and improvement of numerous recreational resources along the river. This investment could be matched by other sources of state and federal funding, which would bring the total investment in new recreational infrastructure along the Lower Yellowstone to $8 million. This commitment is an important first step in securing funding for recreation in eastern Montana, but it will require the Montana Legislature to approve the use of these funds in the next legislative session which begins in January 2021.” Plans include boat ramps, campsites, restroom facilities, access roads, parks, and hiking trails along approximately 170 river miles between Hysham and Sidney.

    The Montana Free Press reports that a plan to reduce Amtrak service to three days a week will cost Montana $38 million. The passenger rail line has been used by out-of-state skiers for decades as affordable and dependable transportation to reach Whitefish’s ski slopes.  It also serves many other Hi-line towns in Montana, which otherwise have limited transportation options. The plan, to reduce costs for the publically-funded Amtrak, is to make stops in Montana only on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays traveling westbound, and Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays heading east. COVID has drastically cut Amtrak passenger numbers prompting the request for an additional $1.4 billion last May in funding, which it has not yet received.

    The Montana Department of Transportation is planning to resurface approximately 11 miles of US Highway 191, near Melville in Sweet Grass County.  The project begins south of the junction with Melville Road, at reference post  extends approximately 11 miles north ending at the Wheatland. The project is tentatively scheduled for construction in summer of 2021.

  • Montana Highlights November 15, 2020 +

    The Great Northern Historical Trail will be undergoing “Tunnel Vision 2021” a project to bring in artists from the community to paint murals on the entrances to the three tunnels. The three tunnels are located in a public right of way, so Rails-to-Trails had to work with the city of Kalispell and the Montana Department of Transportation to get the approvals to put the artwork in place. The city of Kalispell and MDT will have final say in the artwork selections.

     A new bike ride has been announced for Whitefish on August 21, 2021. Called the “Last Best Ride” the ride offers two routes which will use the gravel roads around Whitefish. One route is 48 miles and the other is 78 miles.

    Voters in the Missoula Urban Transportation District approved a 20 mill levy increase that will provide Mountain Line with $3 million per year to increase services. The bus system plans to increase frequency on heavily-used routes and plans to convert its fleet from diesel to all-electric. Mountain Line provides more than 1.5 million rides annually, and ridership has increased since the debut of zero-fare rides.

    The sixth annual SnöFlinga Winter Festival is scheduled from January 21thru 24, in Butte. After communication between the board of directors of SnöFlinga and the Butte-Silver Bow Health Department, the popular winter festival will move forward with adjustments to stay within the protocol set for COVID-19 safety. SnöFlinga was founded by the Butte Community Fitness Foundation to highlight the everyday winter fitness opportunities in the Butte area. These activities include cross country skiing, ice skating, hockey, curling, fat bike riding and walking trails. There were 17 events and nearly 3,000 attendees in the 2020 festival.

    Helena has a variety of new or soon to be open new businesses: Slim Chickens restaurant will open soon at 1450 Prospect Ave; the Floral Cottage will move from their current location at 1900 Last Chance Gulch to a new building between Cedar and Custer on Sanders Street. They hope to open the new location in January 2021; Mariposa Massage has opened at 1221 Echelon Place – Ste D; Sassy Nails has opened at 1005 Partridge Place – Ste 2.

    District Court Judge Kathy Seeley has overturned a rule by the Montana Lottery which required any business that wished a have a sports betting license under the sports betting law to have a Montana State liquor license. The judge found that the legislature had not inserted any language to require a liquor license.

    Bridger Bowl Ski Area has discontinued selling some season passes in a move meant to limit capacity and prevent the spread of coronavirus. The ski area will continue selling day lift tickets. Reservations are part of the ski area’s plans for the season amid the pandemic. Daily limits for the number skiers of allowed on the mountain will also apply.

    The B. Sanderson Gas plant going up west of Williston has continued construction during the market downturn in North Dakota. The gas processing plant is now over 75% complete.

    The Williston Basin Chapter of the American Petroleum Institute to has cancelled its 2020-21 awards banquet. The event had been scheduled for Jan. 8 at The Well at Williston State College. The awards banquet is usually held in early November, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the organization to postpone and to finally cancel the event.

    Cannabis promoters are pointing out that for Montana and the other states which have legalized recreational use of the drug, there is potential for job growth. Each newly legal cannabis state will need to build a new supply chain – from seed to sale – due to the continued Schedule I designation that prohibits moving cannabis across state lines. As a result there “We can expect to see a massive expansion in the number of cannabis farms, manufacturing centers and retail stores. This means Montana (alongside Arizona, New Jersey and South Dakota) can anticipate tens of thousands of new jobs as licenses are granted and regulations are adopted.”

    Oboz Footwear, the True to the Trail outdoor footwear company headquartered in Bozeman, has been named to Outside Magazine’s Best Places to Work in 2020. The list honors businesses and organizations that demonstrate a commitment to welcoming environments that prioritize work-life balance and employee engagement.

    The Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport reports that their travel numbers are at about 70-75 percent. In April, at its worst point of the pandemic, the airport saw just 3-3.5% of its usual travel numbers.

    The Montana Grain Growers Association (MGGA) announced that executive vice president Lola Raska will retire from the organization at the end of this calendar year. The organization also announced that Alison Vergeront has been hired as MGGA’s new executive vice president, effective January 1 Lola Raska has been on staff at MGGA for 21 years, serving as the organization’s farm policy associate and website manager before being hired as executive vice president in 2006. Alison Vergeront was raised on the family farm near Polson, that was homesteaded in 1910. She has served as agricultural liaison and field representative for U.S. Senator Steve Daines for the past six years, regularly meeting with producers and other stakeholders across the state.