After 100 years serving the families and businesses of North Dakota and Montana with a full range of banking, trust, investment and insurance services, Beartooth Bank, a division of American Bank Center, is changing its name to Bravera Bank. The new name, along with a new logo, tagline and visual identity, will launch this Fall. The change in brand does not reflect a change in ownership, as Bravera Bank is still employee- and director-owned. 

 In recent years, American Bank Center has grown, expanding its network of branches across North Dakota and Montana. Its growth represents a continued investment in the region’s strong future, competitively positioning the bank to serve customers with more resources, a greater geographic reach and a broader promise to new people moving into the area. The new name unifies the current network and creates a consistent banking experience all under one brand: Bravera Bank.

 “We are so proud to unite our banks under a new name and brand experience that reflects our bank’s strong future,” says Cill Skabo, American’s Chief Marketing Officer. “Bravera is a distinct and unforgettable name that captures our spirit and helps us stand out and connect with our customers and communities.”

 The word Bravera combines “Bravery” and “Truth” for a new name with strong ties to the pioneer spirit and honest values that define the northern plains. The new name will be accompanied by a new logo, look and feel that will touch every part of the bank’s experience, from signage in the branches and the bank’s website to brand communications and advertising.

 “The move to the Bravera Bank name is exciting and delivers on our mission of embodying a financial institution that supports the growth of the region’s future. From Bismarck to Billings, Dickinson to Devils Lake, we see tremendous opportunity in helping our customers forge success, under a single, powerful brand name,” says David Ehlis, American Bancor President and CEO.

by Evelyn Pyburn

I can still see it as clearly as if it were yesterday. The view from the second floor window of my high school, looking across the sprawling lawn and street, into the gravel parking lot. It was pretty much full of vehicles – mostly rather dusty, very used, older pickups of every make and color, the vehicles of teenage boys.

Standing there looking out the window —which I often did waiting for the after-lunch bell to ring — so common place was one of the things I could see, that I never once thought about it. It was something that if it existed for just one moment today it would generate absolute hysteria. Whatever my 16-year-old mind dwelt upon in those days, it never focused on the fact that in the back of every window of almost every one of those pickups was a gun rack with at least one gun hanging very visibly, for all the world to see. And every bit as amazing was the fact that probably not a single vehicle was locked.

As perilous a situation as one might be inclined to see it today, it is indeed astonishing that I do not recall a single problem ever occurring in school because of the guns or even because of the unlocked vehicles.

The fact is most high school boys either owned a gun or had access to at least one family-owned gun. Never was there any attention, that I can recall, paid to the fact that there were guns on the school grounds or anywhere else. As far as I know there were no school boards making rules about them or protocols in handbooks, but then we didn’t have any handbooks either.

It might have been considered a natural thing for a kid to show off a new gun to a friend, but I cannot recall ever seeing any such interactions nor conversations among the guys about guns, except for the occasional question of “Hey, do you want to go shoot gophers after school?”

If anything very significant had happened one would know, it was a small town where everyone knew most everyone else and not much excitement ever happened.

It was also very common, especially in the summer, to see two or three boys walking out of town toward the hills with guns swung over their shoulders going out to target practice or shoot gophers… although those two things were often considered the same.

Also, I grew up with three brothers and tons of frequently- visiting cousins on the farm, and all through our growing-up years, even though there was a gun rack in the living room with numerous guns and ammunition in a drawer below, and we were often with no adult supervision, never do I recall anyone wanting to fool with the guns. Not that they were model little boys, they simply were never interested.

They all knew how to shoot and what a gun was for. They did enjoy going hunting occasionally but they never viewed the guns as play things. So when I think about what life was like “way back then” I realize that whatever the issue is about when debating whether guns should be on campuses or school grounds, today, it has absolutely nothing to do with guns.

This is not to say I don’t “get” people’s concerns nowadays, it is to say that I realize we are talking about the wrong problem.

What has changed so much that the thought of young people having easy access to guns is alarming when it was never alarming before?

These kids weren’t saints, some were noted trouble-makers, but none of those troubles ever involved guns.

Nothing about guns has changed so we have to be more honest about the real problem. The change is in what we teach our children and the philosophical premises upon which they are raised.

When you think about it like that, the issue is far more terrifying than when you thought it was just about guns.

John Vogel recently joined Stockman Wealth Management as a Junior Portfolio Manager in Billings. His responsibilities include financial planning, investment account management, economic analysis, and business development.

Vogel brings over three years of financial industry experience to the position, which includes portfolio management and analysis. He holds his Series 7, Series 66 and Life and Health Insurance licenses and will be working towards the designation of Certified Financial Planner certification as well.

Vogel earned his Bachelor of Science degree in finance from Montana State University in Bozeman in the fall of 2018. He is located at 402 N Broadway and can be reached at 406-896-4853.

 Stockman Wealth Management is a SEC Registered Investment Adviser and a wholly owned subsidiary of Stockman Financial Corp., a family owned bank holding company serving the banking and investment needs of customers throughout the region.

In a recent study, 47% of employees who worked from home moved during the pandemic. Sky-high rent in cities like San Francisco and New York have driven remote workers to other parts of country – and business owners have to decide if hiring across time zones is worth it.

One small business owner shared his reasoning for hiring employees outside of his city: 

“In the field of digital marketing, I hire people outside of my city, and around the world all the time, depending on the skills I need. Challenges include aligning work hours across time zones, and communications.” -Dennis Consorte, Small Business Consultant & Expert at 

Another business expert shared the pros and cons of businesses hiring from different locations: 

“The pros are you are not limiting the talent pool to your geographic location, which means you can find a talented team member from virtually anywhere. The main con is that you physically can’t sit in a room to brainstorm and work through issues that you may have with a particular client. Zoom video calls are great, but there’s nothing that beats in-person meetings.

A business should definitely consider hiring people that can work remotely. Often, those people can be more efficient and effective (no water cooler gossip, no distractions from coworkers, etc.) If their home office is set up properly, I’ve found that team members that work from home actually get more done in less time.” -Sherry Bonelli, Marketing Professional & Expert at 

From Northern  Ag Network

The Producer Partnership has announced plans to open the first non-profit, federally inspected livestock processing facility in Montana.  It will be located 12 miles east of Livingston and able to process up to 300 animals per month when operating at full capacity.  The Producer Partnership was organized in April 2020 with the mission of farmers and ranchers working to end hunger in Montana.

To date, the Partnership has donated more than 80,000 pounds of hamburger to the Montana Food Bank Network (MFBN) to support individuals and families facing food insecurity across the state.

“We could have done twice that number if we could have booked more slots with one of the five federal processing facilities in the state.  From day one, it has been an uphill battle processing donated cull animals,” Producer Partnership Founder and President Matt Pierson said. “You know, every step of the way that we’ve taken, this whole project has been a milestone and the first of its kind. This is just the next step in the evolution of being able to control our own destiny.”

In March, Friesla (a Washington-state-based company) was contracted to build the modular processing facility.  These units operate at half the cost of the traditional brick and mortar facilities and are significantly less expensive to build.

“We’re honored to support Producer Partnership’s mission of working to end hunger in Montana,” Friesla Founder and President Bob Lodder said.

The total investment when the Partnership’s doors open is projected to be around $2.5 million.

“Last year, we turned away more live animals than I’d like to admit because we couldn’t find and kill and process date, so we were forced to go out of state and work with Yellowstone River Beef in North Dakota,” Pierson said. “I knew we needed something of our own to reduce processing fees, insure we could process animals on demand, and if we truly want to end hunger in Montana, at least with hamburger, we needed our own processing plant.”

Lodder added to Pierson’s statement, and explained the basics of the unit to be constructed for the Producer Partnership.

“Their modular Meat Processing System — proudly designed and built in the USA by our Friesla family — will allow them to take full control of their meat processing operations: from donation to harvest to distribution,” Lodder said.

Lodder said processing onsite will help the Partnership ensure meat quality and traceability, minimize transportation costs, and use less power and water than a traditional brick and mortar facility — ultimately saving time and money that can instead be invested in helping feed people in need.

The first service goal of the partnership will be to process at least 7 animals per week or a total of 140,000 pounds of hamburger for the MFNB.  Concurrently, to help offset costs and pay for the facilities’ operation, retail processing services will be made available to producers who are part of the Producer Partnership family.

Producers wanting to tap into the direct pasture to plate market are centralized to process, package, and distribute their products will be enrolled as partners.  While the program partnership is evolving daily, Pierson’s vision is to provide a fair priced retail processing facility to donors of cull animals and hamburger while serving the local farm to table meat business. Not only will the unit benefit the Producer Partnership for their own processing of donated animals for hamburger, but other producers eager to sell their own products as well.

“We hope to provide the MFBN with all its hamburger annually, support local producers with local processing of animals, and pay for the operation through donations and retail sales.  It truly is a meaningful and beneficial partnership at all levels,” Pierson added. “There’s multiple benefits to the entire Producer Partnership mission.  It started by soliciting cull animals for local producers, lining up processing of the animals and paying for the service, then facilitating the donation of hamburger by the producer to the MFBN and other qualified community centers.  A producer that donates animals may receive a tax donation benefit for the value of the hamburger.”

Other benefits of the Producer Partnership’s processing unit are employment and volunteer opportunities.

“We’ll need meat cutters, people to package the meat, a supervisor to run the plant…the whole nine yards,” Pierson said. “We’re looking for the right kind of people who want to learn while helping the community.”

Although the construction of a processing unit is a large step for the organization, Pierson said he’s already looking on to the Producer Partnership’s next steps.  During their Quiet Phase of a fund-raising campaign, the partnership has already raised $1,250,000 toward their goal.

Pierson went on to discuss other goals, hopes, and plans for the Producer Partnership.

“The goal, to start, is to be able to make it so that the MFBN will never have to buy any hamburger. After that, we want to go after every school in the state and continue to grow,” Pierson said with anticipation in his eyes.

With the opening of the Producer Partnership’s processing facility so quickly after the organization’s birth, it’s easy to say the sky is the limit.

“I’m excited…that’s the only way to describe it,” Pierson concluded. “I mean, we sent over the deposit for our own processing unit within a year of dropping off our first donation of beef. This organization has grown from just a simple spreadsheet on my computer to 501(c) status, and soon enough, our own processing facility – it’s crazy, overwhelming, and flat-out incredible. I cannot wait to see what’s in store for the Producer Partnership and how we will continue to end hunger in Montana.”

Montana State University and Montana Department of Transportation are collaborating in the development of a specialized concrete that is 20 times stronger than regular concrete. It will be used for the first time this summer to form parts of two 60-foot long bridges over Trail Creek near Wisdom.

MSU has been developing this unique concrete for over five years. It is special because it can carry up to 20,000 pounds per square inch.

Due to a specialized mixture that includes conventional concrete materials in addition to steel fibers, fly ash — a byproduct of coal-fired power plants — and chemicals that reduce the amount of added water, the material is roughly five times stronger than normal concrete, according to Mike Berry, associate professor in the Department of Civil Engineering in MSU’s Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering. It also cures rapidly, potentially reducing construction time, and resists corrosion, which will extend the lifetime of the structure, he said.

“It’s like normal concrete on steroids,” said Berry, who is leading the MSU research project. “If we could make all our bridges out of this stuff, it would be magnificent.”

The concrete is not new, Berry added, but until now its use has been limited due to high costs charged by companies that treat the mixture as proprietary, meaning only they can install it. The concrete developed at MSU uses the same principles but is non-proprietary and is designed to use locally available materials to further reduce costs.

According to Lenci Kappes, innovations and complex structures engineer in MDT’s bridge bureau, the MSU project could potentially cut the cost of the material in half. That would mean significant savings for the state not only with construction costs but also with reduced long-term maintenance due to the material’s durability.

The future cost savings are anticipated as MDT and contractors become more familiar with procuring, mixing and installing the material with MSU’s support, according to Kappes.

The MSU collaboration with MDT is part of a federal initiative to encourage states to adopt ultra-high performance concrete, according to Berry. Montana isn’t alone in its efforts, but “you can count on one hand the number of states that have actually developed and used this material, so we’re kind of unique in that way.”

According to Kappes, Montana has lots of bridges in need of replacement or repair, so the money-saving MSU mixture is a particularly relevant material coming at an opportune time. “This is really a learning experience,” he said. “We’re excited to take what we learn and apply it around the state.” 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved nearly $1.9 million in additional Public Assistance funding for the COVID-19 response in Montana. The assistance was approved by a major disaster declaration issued March 31, 2020.  FEMA has provided a total of $30.2 million for the Montana COVID-19 response to date.

The $1.9 million was provided to the Billings Clinic for COVID-19 associated costs, contracts, and facilities, which include work completed between March 17, 2020, and December 30, 2020.

This funding is authorized under the January 21, 2021, Presidential Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense & the Secretary of Homeland Security and Section 403 of the Robert T. Stafford Act.

For the COVID-19 response, FEMA has simplified the Public Assistance application and funding process to address the magnitude of this event and to allow local officials to receive eligible funding more quickly. These reimbursements play a critical role as state, local and tribal officials work tirelessly to assist their communities during this response.

Wyoming rancher Leisl Carpenter has announced that she is suing the Biden Administration and the Department of Agriculture for race discrimination under the US Constitution, in response to a “Rescue Plan” loan forgiveness program that explicitly bars her from participation because she is white.  

Carpenter, a 29-year-old rancher from Laramie, is represented by Mountain States Legal Foundation and the Southeastern Legal Foundation. The suit, Leisl Carpenter v Tom Vilsack and Zach Ducheneaux, was filed Monday in the United States District Court, District of Wyoming. She is seeking to be treated fairly and equally, without respect to her race.

In March 2021, the Biden administration signed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, providing $4 billion to forgive loans for “socially disadvantaged” ranchers and farmers. White ranchers are excluded, in violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of Equal Protection under the Fifth Amendment.  

 “Like a lot of farmers and ranchers, our client has struggled to keep her family ranch afloat through all the difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic, only to learn that she is ineligible to even apply for Biden’s loan forgiveness program solely due to her race,” said MSLF Associate General Counsel William E. Trachman Tuesday. “Instead of being rescued by Biden’s plan, she’s been excluded and discriminated against for no other reason than the color of her skin.”

 “The blatant discrimination in the American Rescue Plan Act, Section 1005, is ridiculous,” said Carpenter.  The government needs to bring an end to this horrendous practice of racial discrimination immediately and start treating Americans as individuals based on character and individual qualities, not based on the color of their skin.”

 Carpenter’s 2,400-acre Flying Heart Ranch is a family operation located in Wyoming’s Big Laramie Valley. The 500-plus head of cattle she runs, and grass hay sales are the sole source of income for her, her husband, and her 19-month-old son, Casen. Her maternal grandmother’s family originally homesteaded on the land in 1894. Unlike many family ranches, Carpenter’s outfit has been passed down mostly to daughters rather than sons. She’s proud to follow in a long line of women who work the land.  

 To avoid foreclosure and save her family’s ranch when she was 20 years old, Carpenter decided to take out an FSA loan from the federal government.  As was the case with many ranchers, the COVID-19 pandemic added to the financial difficulties Carpenter faces. When the Biden administration passed a $1.9 trillion COVID stimulus bill, it included a loan forgiveness program for ranchers. This might have been just the lifeline the ranch needed, but Carpenter and other white farmers and ranchers would learn that they weren’t eligible. The loan forgiveness program Biden signed into law excluded white ranchers and farmers, dashing the hopes of many in the agricultural community who believed Biden when he called it a “rescue” plan. 

 “Making skin color the basis of a government benefit is not only unconstitutional: it is also morally wrong,” added Trachman. “One simply cannot promote racial justice by perpetuating racial injustice.  The way to end discrimination is to stop discriminating.”

The Center Square

The Texas Public Policy Foundation and America First Policy Institute have sued the U.S. Small Business Administration, alleging a provision in the America Rescue Act requires the SBA to prioritize businesses owned by women and minorities to receive nearly $30 billion in COVID-19-designated relief money above other applicants.

Greer’s Ranch Café vs Guzman was filed against the SBA and its acting director, Isabella Casillas Guzman, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas. It is the first lawsuit filed by the TPPF and AFPI against the Biden administration.

The ARPA, which passed along party lines and was signed into law by President Joe Biden, appropriated $28.6 billion to a Restaurant Revitalization Fund to be dolled out to applicants. Section 5003 of the bill requires the SBA to prioritize applicants who are women, veterans, and socially and economically disadvantaged business owners.

The SBA defines socially disadvantaged individuals as those “who have been subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice or cultural bias within American society because of their identities as members of groups and without regard to their individual qualities. The social disadvantage must stem from circumstances beyond their control.”

Economically disadvantaged individuals are defined as those whose “ability to compete in the free enterprise system has been impaired due to diminished capital and credit opportunities as compared to others in the same or similar line of business who are not socially disadvantaged.”

The lawsuit asks the court to determine whether the government has the right to deny Americans access to federal assistance based on their ethnicity and gender. The groups argue the government’s policy “is wantonly illegal, unconstitutional, and immoral.”

“These race and sex preferences are patently unconstitutional, and the Court should promptly enjoin their enforcement,” the complaint states. “Doing so will promote equal rights under the law for all American citizens and promote efforts to stop racial discrimination, because ‘[t]he way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.’”

TPPF’s Chief Counsel Robert Henneke said, “For over 125 years, the United States Supreme Court has recognized that the Constitution forbids discrimination by the government against any citizen because of his race. This lawsuit will enforce that guarantee.”

The lawsuit calls on the court to block the enforcement of any policy that would discriminate against certain classes of people in order to “promote equal rights under the law for all American citizens and promote efforts to stop racial discrimination.”

As of May 12, the RRF has received more than 147,000 applications from women, veterans, and socially and economically disadvantaged business owners, requesting a total of $29 billion in relief funds, representing nearly half of the applicants.

Guzman argues the SBA “is helping thousands of restaurants and other food and beverage businesses across the country get the help they desperately need to recover and rebuild from this pandemic. The numbers show that we’ve been particularly successful at reaching the smallest restaurants and underserved communities that have struggled to access relief. These businesses are the pillars of our nation’s neighborhoods and communities. We are making progress, but we have much more work to do as we continue reaching our underserved entrepreneurs.”

Overall, the SBA received more than 266,000 applications representing over $65 billion in requested funds. During the first week of the program, it received applications from 76,183 women business owners, 6,093 veteran business owners and 42,284 economically and socially disadvantaged individuals.

A total of $2.7 billion of relief funds have already been distributed to 21,000 restaurants since the fund opened May 3, 2021, the SBA reports.

Rocky Vista University (RVU), the proposed medical college for Billings, has received approval from the American Osteopathic Association Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA) to move to the next phase of development.

RVU expects to admit its first class of 80 students in the summer of 2023, with the first round of clinical clerkship rotations beginning in July 2025. Upon completion, MCOM will be housed in a 135,000 square foot, technologically advanced facility on a 12-acre campus on in the West End area of Billings.

David Forstein, DO, FACOOG, Provost of Rocky Vista University, commented, “We are thrilled that the COCA has approved RVU’s application to develop the MCOM, marking the next exciting step forward in the Billings development project. We are grateful for and encouraged by the strong support we have received from the community. We look forward to continuing to work with the local medical and business community to utilize our expertise to bring superior outcomes for students and benefits to Billings and the greater Mountain West region.”

MCOM will become the third RVU campus in the Mountain West region, in addition to locations in Colorado and Utah.

This project is completely privately funded, and the projected direct and indirect economic impact of this new medical school during the two-year start-up period (2021-23) is expected to total $78.6 million, provide 350 jobs, and add more than $1.2 million in taxes to communities in the region.

David J. Park, DO, FAAFP, FACOFP, Founding Dean of MCOM, said, “Our goal is to bring innovative and high-quality medical education to the region with an inclusive mindset. We look forward to the opportunity to work collaboratively with the community and all the healthcare providers and facilities in the region to further the common mission of improving the lives and health of people.”

RVU has a strong record of establishing or assisting healthcare facilities in developing post-graduate residency programs, having helped create 18 new residency programs yielding 327 residency positions to-date. RVU will use this experience to develop more post-graduate residency positions in Montana.