Montana State University Billings announced that their Military and Veteran’s Success Center, opened in 2018, has hired  Shane Grantham as the interim director of the Center to aid in the continuation of veteran outreach on campus.

Grantham, a Billings-native, entered the U.S. Army after graduating high school and served for 20 years in active duty. Throughout his time in the military, Grantham mentored college-aged soldiers which is where he found his interest in guiding others. Following his retirement, he tried a few different career paths until landing a position for Veterans Upward Bound at MSUB where he regained his interest of mentorship through student interaction.

Dr. Patrick Barkey, Director of the University of Montana, Bureau of Business & Economic Research (BBER), will keynote MCF’s Montana Centers of Opportunity Forum, which will take place in person July 29, 11:30 m at the Hilton Garden Inn in Kalispell.

The event will feature a panel discussion with Michael Goguen, Two Bear Capital;  Bill Mosley, GL Solutions;  Scott Osterman, Montana Department of Commerce ; and Tom Stergios, ATG Cognizant, with moderator, Kelly Schwager, Oracle.

Montana Centers of Opportunity Forum will provide the latest on Montana’s post-pandemic economy.

Patrick Barkey has served as Director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research (BBER) at the University of Montana since 2008. He has been involved with economic forecasting and policy research for more than 35 years, in both the private and public sectors. for more information and registration email

* New housing starts pulled back from the fastest pace since July 2006, falling 9.5% from an annualized 1,733,000 units in March to 1,569,000 units in April, with rising construction costs and difficulties in finding talent likely taking a toll, particularly in the single-family market. Yet, residential activity continues to be a strength in the economy overall, and builders remain optimistic about growth over the coming months.

* Indeed, the housing permits data—a proxy of future activity in the sector—are consistent with stronger residential growth moving forward, exceeding 1.7 million units for five straight months and jumping 19.1% since February 2020.

* With that said, existing home sales fell for the third consecutive month, down to 5.85 million units at the annual rate, largely on low inventories of homes for sale. The median sales price for existing homes has jumped 19.1% year-over-year, up to $341,600 in April.        

* Meanwhile, the IHS Markit Flash U.S. Manufacturing PMI rose to an all-time high, buoyed by growth in new orders and exports that were the fastest on record. The service-sector also expanded at a historic pace, with the U.S. economy bouncing back as more Americans get vaccinated and activity accelerating on the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions.

* Yet, raw material costs and output prices soared once again at all-time high rates, and IHS Markit survey respondents continued to cite severe supply chain disruptions.

* Manufacturing surveys from the New York and Philadelphia Federal Reserve Banks produced similar findings. While manufacturing activity eased in both districts in May, the underlying data and the outlook remained strong overall, even with supply chain disruptions and soaring prices.

* Across the Atlantic, Eurozone manufacturing activity also expanded solidly in May, with hiring accelerating at the best pace since February 2018, according to preliminary survey results from IHS Markit. Like the U.S., input costs and product prices soared to new records, and the service sector has bounced back as more virus restrictions are lifted.

* Outside the Eurozone, the United Kingdom’s manufacturing sector expanded at rates not seen since January 1992. 

* Initial unemployment claims fell to 444,000 for the week ending May 15, the lowest since the week of March 14, 2020.

New York created the most net new manufacturing jobs in April. Just five states have produced higher employment in the sector since the pandemic began: Utah, Nevada, Alaska, Nebraska and Montana.

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:

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

Delivering on his promise to hold the line on new state spending and provide Montanans with broad-based tax relief, Governor Greg Gianforte today signed into law a fiscally conservative, pro-jobs budget.

“This budget lays out the roadmap to our Montana comeback, and will help unlock our state’s full, outstanding potential,” Gov. Gianforte said. “After more than a decade of out-of-control spending in Helena, we’re committed to being better stewards of taxpayer money, and our responsible budget brings much-needed fiscal restraint to state government.”

First introduced by the governor on January 7, the budget cuts hardworking Montanans’ taxes by over $60 million per year, and cuts $145 million in spending.

The budget also fulfills many policy priorities outlined in the governor’s Montana Comeback Plan, including investing $1 million per year in trades education and $2.5 million per year in incentives to increase starting teacher pay.

Importantly, the budget makes a historic investment in combating the drug epidemic through the HEART Fund. The program invests $25 million per year, using marijuana tax revenues, a portion of the tobacco tax settlement, and a federal Medicaid match, in community substance abuse prevention and treatment programs.

The outstanding success of the Ennis-area O’Dell Creek Restoration Project, which began 17 years ago, is recognized with a NorthWestern Energy-commissioned painting by renowned Montana artist Monte Dolack.

The original artwork “Restoring Our Waters” is on display at the Ennis Chamber of Commerce. All proceeds from the sale of prints of the work will be donated to Madison Farm to Fork, which in partnership with the Madison Conservation District and the Ennis School District, created the Gardens, Resources, Outdoors, Wildlife and Watershed (GROWW) program for youth.

The O’Dell Creek Project began in the early 2000s to repair damage that began in the 1950s when the area was ditched to expand usable land for agriculture. In doing so, a unique wetland was partially drained and damaged. 

Since then, more than 14 miles of creek channel has been restored and 815 acres of wetlands created, resulting in improvements to an important tributary to the Madison River. The results have included fishery improvements and a re-establishment of wetland obligate species.

“We all want to see an environmental win, which is what we have with this project,” said NorthWestern Energy Director of Environmental & Lands Permitting & Compliance Mary Gail Sullivan. “When the hydro electric dams were relicensed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the privilege of generating electricity on Montana rivers, there was an obligation to fund environmental and recreational projects.”

That funding, along with the need at O’Dell Creek and most importantly, willing partners in the landowners, were the ingredients for a successful project, Sullivan said.

“This has been a great journey and a great example of what cooperation can accomplish when all are working toward a common goal,” said Jeff Laszlo, the fourth-generation owner and managing partner of the Granger Ranches, one of two landowner partners in the project. “We are a working ranch producing cattle and crops, we continue to learn and work to improve operations in a synergistic way that serves both conservation and production agriculture.”

Dolack’s piece overlooks meandering O’Dell Creek from a bluff, with trumpeter swans, sandhill cranes and other wildlife.

“This is how it should be,” Dolack said. “We can all work together. I was delighted to be able to bring whatever I can to this project, so there’s at least a visual that ideally would sum up what we’re trying to do.”

Madison Food to Fork Chair Kaye Suzuki confirmed Dolack’s Restoring Our Water piece does just that.

“This makes me emotional, this is exactly what conversation work can be, should be,” Suzuki said.

“The heart of our electric generation in Montana is our hydro system that is an environmental, recreational and cultural asset for the state and indeed for the nation,” said NorthWestern Energy Chief Executive Officer Bob Rowe. “Our Montana electric generation portfolio is 69% carbon free. Hydro resources make up more than 40% of that portfolio. A NorthWestern Energy priority is being a good steward of natural and cultural resources at our run-of-the-river dams in Montana. Success depends on great projects like O’Dell Creek, that are made possible and made better through partnerships such as this one.”

There’s good news and bad news when it comes to how Montana compares with other states regarding its economic performance.

In the recently released “Rich States, Poor States” study conducted each year by the American Legislative Exchange Council  (ALEC), Montana ranks 15th in economic performance by three basic measures , but as the study projects into the future, Montana ranks a dismal 33rd in terms of the state’s economic outlook (based on 15 variables) —  which while a six point jump over last year, is still in the same range in which the state has hovered for the past 14 years.

The gist of Rich States Poor States 14-years of analysis is that “states that spend less and tax less, experience higher growth rates than states that tax and spend more.”

The state that shines the most is Utah, as it has for seven consecutive years. Other shining stars are Florida, Oklahoma, and Wyoming. Both North and South Dakota are in the top ten.

The state with the worst record is New York, which is only slightly bettered by Vermont, New Jersey, Illinois, Minnesota and California. Oregon and Washington are the only two western states ranked below Montana.

“I don’t think it is any coincidence that Utah has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation, one of the highest upper mobility rates, one of the lowest poverty rates, and in the pandemic this past year we were one of only two states that had increased in employment,” boasted Stewart Adams, President of the Utah Senate, about his state’s economic record. He further noted, “We have seen Medicaid reimbursements go down. We have seen poverty go down, and we have seen upward mobility go up.” And, he added that without a minimum wage law his state is above the federally proposed minimum wage of $15 an hour. He attributed it all to the state’s fiscally restrained tax policies that seem to go hand and hand with high performing states.

“Free markets work because freedom works,” declared Adams.

That is exactly the lesson that the study is hoped to convey, by its authors, Dr. Arthur B. Laffer, a Reagan Economist, and Stephen Moore, FreedomWorks Economist. In a recent discussion with Adams, and with Jonathan Williams, ALEC Chief Economist, they said that they hoped that the study would be seen as the results of 50 laboratories of economic experience. It’s an amazing opportunity to benefit from the experiences of other states, as they pursue different strategies, demonstrating what works and what doesn’t. The puzzle is why so many political leaders doggedly ignore the lessons, often doubling down on policies that make their economies worse.

And, tax rates matter! What people have to pay in taxes, one kind or another, matters when it comes to where they choose to live, work and start a business. In fact, being able to choose where they live and work is predicted to be more the reality now – now, that people have the ability to work remotely.  With that increased freedom, people will make changes that will impact states in a significant way. The results of the 2020 Census demonstrate that most dramatically, as some states lost representatives to other states, as people “voted with the feet.” Laffer said that that he expects to see them voting with their feet faster than ever before as many states double down, while others take advantage of lessons learned.

Laffer quoted Dr. Richard Vedder, an Emeritus Professor of Economics at Ohio University, in saying that “high taxes don’t redistribute income, they redistribute people.”

Montana was noted in their discussion as one of the three states that will likely benefit the most from people seeking quality of life in their moving about. Montana, Utah and Idaho are the fastest growing states, they said and are attracting people “now that physical proximity to their jobs” is less of an issue.

Williams noted that a state without an income tax should also be attractive to remote workers.

Moore predicted “you will see a real divergence in policies in many cases between red states and blue states. Blue states need to start rethinking their policies and processes. A lot of progressive policies are not working in blue states. They are putting themselves in deeper holes .. that is why you have hundreds of billions dollars in bailouts.”

Montana rates a respectable 15th place in terms of its economic performance because in 2020 its gross domestic product was 5 percent, population grew by over 6 percent or by about 50,650 people, and employment growth was the 20th fastest in the nation. These are economic indicators are considered a bell weather since they are readily impacted by legislative policies.

Montana is one of the states that the authors of the study lament as suffering from not taking advantage of the lessons learned by other states.

Montana has some factors working in our favor. Not having a sales tax is one of those factors. States that avoid one of the three most common taxes – sales, property or income – always seem to have an edge in comparison to those states who impose all three. Montana ranks the very best in the nation when it comes to minimizing the impact of sales taxes on citizens.

But in both the other taxing areas, income and property, Montana imposes severe rates with a vengeance that plummets the state right back to the bottom. When it comes to top income tax payers Montana is 32nd, which means that wage earners will fare better in 31 other states than in Montana, with the top marginal personal income tax of 6.9 percent.  In general Montanans pay $18.34 per $1000 in income, ranking it 42nd worst in the nation. And, in other kinds of taxes Montanan’s pay $20.94 per $1000 in income, ranking the state as 39th worst.

Montana ranks 38th in terms of high property taxes, with taxpayers paying $36.38 per $1000 of income.

The State’s most recent changes to tax law in 2019 and 2020 added 15 more cents in taxes per $1000 of income – creating  another dismal ranking of 23rd in comparison to what other states are doing.

Another economic positive for Montana is the State has little debt.  Montana has a debt of 4.5 percent as a share of tax burden, which elevates its ranking to 8th in terms of low debt.

Montana taxpayers also pay a lot of public employees. The number of pubic employees per 10,000 people is 573.1, ranking the state at 39th in the nation.

In terms of liability risks the state is ranked 7th best, and 23rd in terms of its minimum wage at $8.75.

Montana ranks dead last because it is not a Right to Work State, which means employees can be coerced into joining a union.

By Bethany Blankley, The Center Square

More children are likely to have increased access to educational options after state legislators across the U.S. advanced a slew of bills this year expanding school choice, according to several state-by-state surveys.

“This is a banner year for the educational choice movement. Hundreds of thousands of children nationwide will now have greater access to educational opportunities,” Jason Bedrick, director of policy at Ed Choice, a national nonprofit organization that promotes state-based educational choice programs, told The Center Square.

At least 50 school choice bills have been introduced in 30 states so far, designed to create or expand vouchers, tax-credit scholarships and education savings accounts, among other measures.

To date, 10 states have proposed five new programs and 10 states have expanded existing programs, Bedrick told The Center Square. They include the legislatures of Indiana and Nevada creating Educational Savings Accounts for the first time in their states, as well as Kentucky and Missouri creating tax-credit-funded Education Savings Accounts for the first time in their states.

Kentucky’s bill was the first school choice bill ever proposed in its legislature. And the majority of legislators passed the bill twice – first to make it to the governor’s desk, and second, to override the governor’s veto, creating the state’s first school choice program.

Arkansas’ legislature also created its state’s first tax scholarship program. In April, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed the bill designed to help low-income families.

Arkansas is now the 20th state in the nation to adopt a tax-credit scholarship program.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice also signed into law “the most expansive school choice program in the country, a nearly universal option for education savings accounts,” the Heritage Foundation also reports in its analysis of states’ legislation.

“The events of the last year have demonstrated to many families that public schools are not always the reliable institutions many thought they were,” the Heritage Foundation reports. “It also opened their eyes to just how powerful the teachers unions are,” and as a result, legislatures responded to parents requests by undertaking one of the biggest expansions of school choice in history.”

Critics, particularly teachers unions and their supporters, that school choice programs drain resources from public school systems.

Several states expanded their existing voucher programs this year, including Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, and Maryland. Likewise, several states expanded their tax credit scholarship programs, including Florida, Indiana, Montana and South Dakota.

Notably absent on the list is Texas, whose Republican-controlled legislature has failed to advance school choice legislation.

Most of the Texas bills have been held up by the Calendar Committee Chairman, Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, who by not scheduling bills for committee assignments or votes ensures they never see the light of day.

Unlike Texas, “Even in California, hardly a school choice mecca, there is rumbling,” the Clarion Institute reports. “A revolutionary universal education savings account initiative is in the works for the November 2022 ballot. The ESA would give parents control of the money the state spends on educating their child. The funds would be spent on the school of their choice, and any money not spent would accumulate and could be used for college or vocational training.”

In March, a bill was read a second time in the California Assembly, AB 300, and referred to the Committee on Education. It would create a tax-credit funded Education Savings Account under an existing California education program to fund scholarships for private school tuition, online learning programs, tutoring, special needs therapies, transportation, textbooks, testing fees, and computer hardware and software.

And California State Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, R-Rocklin, proposed “Cal Grant K-12” earlier this year. The privately funded grant program would “help parents who have been forced to pay out-of-pocket expenses to keep up with their children’s remote learning.” According to Kiley’s office, the bill “incentivizes individuals and businesses to make donations that will provide eligible students scholarship funds they can use for approved expenses to help reduce pandemic-induced learning loss.”

A new study from the University of Arkansas suggests that the more a state provides parents with freedom to choose their child’s school, the better the state’s students’ score on the National Assessment of Education Outcomes.

Ryan Siemsen has been promoted to Assistant Vice President, Branch Manager for Stockman Bank Worden. His responsibilities include overseeing bank operations, management and employee supervision, and all lending activities in Worden.

Siemsen, who grew up in Huntley, brings 20 years of experience in Ag and Ag business to the position, which includes 11 years of Ag lending. His extensive background will continue to provide valuable resources not only for customers and potential clients, but for the community as well. He has been with Stockman Bank since 2018 and most recently served as an Ag loan officer for the Billings market.

Siemsen earned his Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Business from Montana State University in Billings and an associate’s degree in Farm and Ranch Management from Frank Phillips College in Borger, Texas. He is active in the community serving as the President of Young Rider Series and will continue to be involved in Stockman Bank related activities.

He may be reached at 967-3612 at Stockman Bank Worden.

Representative Rosendale introduced the Direct Primary Care Accessibility Act, a bill that would protect the ability of Americans to purchase health care from their doctors without going through an insurance company first.  

Direct primary care plans allow consumers to pay a monthly fee to doctors in order to access a broad variety of health services in the event that they become sick. It is viewed as a method to enhance access to preventive care by smoothing out the costs of going to a physician or getting basic medical treatments.

Representative Rosendale championed direct primary care as a tool for reducing rising health care costs while he served in the state legislature, and again as State Auditor, paving the way for the recent passage of Senate Bill #101, which was signed into law by Governor Gianforte.

“We’ve all heard that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Representative Rosendale said. “If the law can help people get to the doctor more quickly and cheaply with direct access to primary care physicians, then we have a good chance of seeing healthier Americans. It’s an approach that’s just gone into law in our state that I think will work nationwide.”