In 2021, in Billings for every one outbound move there were 3.9 in bound moves, according to moveBuddha, an online website that assists movers.

Montana had the highest net inflow of moves per capita in the nation, with 73 percent of moves inbound. Billings was the #1 destination with a 3.9 to 1 inbound to outbound ratio.

Comparing the level of interest of website visistor, year to year shows which cities are more popular as time passes. Billings saw more than a 120% increase in interest in 2021 vs. 2020 while Missoula had a massive drop in rates (-300).

While Missoula may have been impressively popular in 2020 with 7.1 inbound moves for every 1 out, 2021 still showed promise for the city with a strong rate of 4 moves in for every 1 out.

Moves into Idaho are leveling off compared to last year. Where inbound moves outnumbered outbound moves 3 to 1 in 2020, this year the ratio was 1.5 to 1.

Only 8.4% of Americans (27 million) reported moving this year making 2021 the lowest mover rate in over 70 years. However, long-distance, state-to-state moves saw an increase according to new census data.

Florida saw a sharp rise in net migration flow in 2021. The ratio of inbound to outbound moves jumped 43 percentage points from 2020 to 2021, meaning more than twice as many people moved into Florida than left it.

Moves into Idaho are leveling off compared to last year. Where inbound moves outnumbered outbound moves 3 to 1 in 2020, this year the ratio was 1.5 to 1.

Mass migrations out of California continue, other states seeing high rates of outflow include New Jersey, Illinois, and Connecticut. On the flip side, the state showing the highest rate of inflow vs. outflow was Montana, with 73% of total moves coming in. Small interstate moves (consisting of one small bedroom or less) were down 10% in 2021 compared to 2020, while every category of larger interstate moves grew.

When people move out of big cities, they tend to move to other, large cities. Among the 30 most populous American cities, departing residents relocated to cities that were, on average, 30% larger than where they were coming from.

By John Ostlund

METRAPARK, a multi-use complex, shall serve the entertainment, trade, athletic, educational and agriculture needs of the Region by providing quality facilities, programs, and events with complete and efficient services to the economic benefit of the Region.

METRA’s budget consists of $2,115,000 of tax revenue and the balance of the $8,000,000 budget is mostly fees for services, rent and, user services like Star-Plex and the Stage-Hands union.

METRA generates 150 million dollars of economic activity into our community annually. With that 2.1 million dollar injection of tax monies, the Taxpayers investment is returned over 70 times to our economy. This includes our hotels, taverns, retailers, restaurants, gas stations, etc. That two million dollars in tax revenue keeps our users rent down, supports community events like our 4-H program, the Nile Fourth Grade Education Program, the Marines Toys for Tots Christmas program, Flakes-giving, the Spay and Neuter Clinics, Law Enforcement Training, Community Shelter in place and helps many more great non-profits who add value to our community. Monies very well spent.  Here are some of the questions I believe we need answers to before a change can be considered. These questions should have been answered at the start of the discussion about privatization.

What problems in METRA management specifically led the Commissioners to look for a private firm to manage METRA?

What are the Commissioners goals and objectives for a private management company?

Do the commissioners want to remove all taxpayer subsidies from METRA’s Budget?

Do the Commissioners then want to rebate those Taxes to our residents?

Is the Mission Statement still valid?

How do we handle non-profit businesses and what will a private operator charge them?

If nonprofits are to still get a reduced rental rate will the County Taxpayers still provide the subsidy?

Will 4H now have to pay fees appropriate to sustain their operation?

How will Toys for Tots, Flakes Giving, Spay and Neuter Clinics, Festival of Trees, Nile, Riverstone Health, High School Association, etc., rentals be funded?

Will community shelter remain available when a crisis calls for it?

Will private management charge all renters and promoters actual costs for setup, tear down, dirt in and out of the buildings, clean up, user services, standard move in and load out days for the set up of shows and tear down of their event? Most events require 2-4 days for setup and tear down. Our METRA staff is complimented daily on their excellent performance.

The big equipment is owned by the County. Will the private management company rent the equipment at a standard rate and provide maintenance for said equipment and a capitol fund to replace that equipment at appropriate cycles?

Will the taxpayers be responsible for the capitol costs and upkeep on the facility and grounds? The buildings and grounds are County owned. What kind of a bond will be required to insure the public that if this experiment fails the Taxpayers will not be left holding the bag?

Will bonding be in place to ensure the Taxpayer is protected?

What assurances do our food and beverage vendors have that their contracts and percentages will be honored?

The booking contract already signed with Oak View Group has no appropriate escape clause, only a material breach can cancel it. If things do not go as planned with the next contract, will the Commissioners require a 30-day notification of cancelation from either party in the contract?

My fellow Commissioners have said this will still provide local control. That statement can only be accurate if the local control is prepared to provide funding for each request for reduced costs.

The Chamber supports privatization without a complete analysis of both public and private options. Will the Chamber with Bed Tax Monies backfill the tax dollars now used to subsidize METRA and reduce costs for all of our users, 4H, State High School Association, Nile, Chase Hawks, Wrangler Team Roping and many other users that drive economic growth in our community?

This is a small start to the many questions I have about this process that I believe should have been researched and answered prior to issuing a Request for Qualification & Information for private management. This board has the cart before the horse continually as we ram forward with no goal-oriented direction. I continue to express my concern about the lack of groundwork done to make a wholesale change this big in the way we do business. I fail to understand the fear my colleagues have with commissioning a third party consultant to complete a thorough review of both options to insure the path we are headed down is indeed the correct one.

Our Taxpayers deserve to know the answers before any decision can be made on any management change or privatization effort.

“When you have a dream that you have thought about for most of your life, you never really know you can achieve it until you step past fear and go for it! The Small Business Development Center gave my husband and I the necessary tools to get past the fear, dive into the numbers, and they surrounded us with an amazing group of talented people to support our dream of owning our own restaurant.”

Jen Marble, Co-Owner

With a lifelong love of food, Jason Marble became a chef and worked at several restaurants in Billings. In 2020, he and his wife Jen decided they wanted to open their own restaurant to turn their lifelong dream into a reality. Knowing that the combination of Jason’s culinary skills complimented Jen’s business mind, they decided to take a leap of faith in the middle of a global pandemic. Wanting to share their love for food in an environment filled with comfort, warmth, and a taste of home- cooked meals, they turned to the Billings SBDC for help.

SBDC Regional Director, Lorene Hintz helped them develop their business plan, cash flow projections, and provided them with additional resources. They were referred to a mentor who had expertise in marketing and communications to help them with an initial marketing plan.

With the help of the SBDC the business was able to obtain a $80,000 SBA loan along with personal investment of $196,000. A year later they received a $100,000 SBA 7(a) loan for their expansion and created 29 new jobs in Yellowstone County.

The Marbles found a location with restaurant fixtures already installed. Jen wanted to make sure the restaurant conveyed a charming atmosphere for her customers. With pandemic restrictions in place, Jen made the best of the situation by placing repurposed antique doors as dividers between the tabletops to make individual booths. Her ingenuity helped create the charm she had envisioned for The Marble Table. The uniqueness of the decor is coupled with hospitality; Jen and Jason make sure to greet customers, bring meals out to the tables, and visit with the diners.

When The Marble Table opened in November of 2020 they were only able to have nine tables. The Billings community showed up to support the business causing Jen and Jason to have to turn away over fifty tables a day. In May 2021 they needed to expand the size of the restaurant in order to meet the customer demand and grow the business. They expanded their footprint by renting the vacant space next door, adding more tables, and increasing sales.

Jen and Jason conquered their fears and continued to move forward in growing their business. “The community has been here every day supporting us. We wouldn’t be here without them! Don’t let fear drive your dreams. We are successful because we chose to muffle the negative voices and look to our future even in a pandemic” said Jen Marble.

“I loved working with Jen and her passion for making everyone at the table family! I can’t wait to see how this dream becomes the next hot spot in downtown Billings” said Lorene Hintz.

Montana’s unemployment rate hit a new record low in December, dropping another 0.3 percentage points to end the year at 2.5%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The number of unemployed Montanans is at its lowest level since BLS began the data series in 1976.

Wallet Hub reports that Montana ranks four in the nation as states whose unemployment rates have bounced back the most. And, Montana ranks fifth among states with the lowest unemployment, based on Bureau of Labor data. It is among sixteen of the top 20 states reporting the most jobs recovered since COVID-related lockdowns began in March 2020 – all of which are led by Republican governors.

The State of Montana has not only recovered all jobs lost since the start of the pandemic, but also grown beyond that level, with 531,040 Montanans employed in December 2021 compared to 521,657 in March 2020.

Montana Governor Greg Gianforte credits his Montana Comback Plan. He said, “After just one year, our Montana Comeback Plan is working. Our unemployment rate is the lowest it’s ever been, and more Montanans are working than ever before in our state’s history. With lower taxes and responsible, responsive government, our economy is going again, we’re open for business, and Montanans are back to work. Great work, Montana!”

The number of unemployed Montanans also dropped to a record low of 13,689, falling by 1,719 from November.

Montana’s total employment hit a record high in December at 531,040. Total employment, which includes payroll, agricultural, and self-employed workers, grew by 3,137 in December, the largest single month gain in 2021. Payroll employment also increased by 3,200 with strong job growth in retail.

Since Governor Gianforte was sworn in, total employment has grown by 20,568 jobs.

Montana’s labor force increased to 544,729 in December, the third highest level in the state’s history. The number of available workers in Montana’s labor force, a critical metric during the current labor shortage, increased by 1,418.

The unemployment rate for the U.S. dropped to 3.9%. Overall, 24 Republican-led states reported recovering at least two-thirds of their lost jobs by December 2021, according to BLS data.

The nine states reporting the greatest percentage gains in recovered jobs are all led by Republican governors, according to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. In terms of percentage increases, Utah’s 142 percent was the highest, adding 200,000 jobs as of December 2021, surpassing the 140,000 coronavirus-related jobs it lost. The rest are Idaho, Texas, Arizona, Montana, Georgia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Florida. North Carolina, led by a Democratic governor, rounds out the top 10.

By sheer numbers, Texas reported the most jobs recovered – 1,542,000 by December 2021 – compared to the 1,452,600 jobs lost after March 2020.

Texas Greg Abbott credits Texas’ job growth to pro-growth economic policies, a predictable regulatory environment, and a young, growing, and diverse workforce.

Of the state’s job growth continuing to outperform the nation’s, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said, “Month after month, the data continues to show that freedom first economic policies create jobs and keep our economy moving. Our new businesses and workforce growth show that Floridians have the opportunities they need to thrive. We will continue to lead the nation in economic growth because we value the individual freedoms of Floridians and protect the ability for our citizens to succeed.”

According to BLS data, 12 states set new unemployment rate lows (series began in 1976). They include Arkansas (3.1 percent), Georgia (2.6 percent), Idaho (2.4 percent), Indiana (2.7 percent), Kentucky (3.9 percent), Mississippi (4.5 percent), Montana (2.5 percent), Nebraska (1.7 percent), Oklahoma (2.3 percent), Utah (1.9 percent), West Virginia (3.7 percent), and Wisconsin (2.8 percent).

California and Nevada, both led by Democratic governors, had the highest unemployment rates of 6.5 percent and 6.4 percent, respectively.

Overall, Democrat-led states reported an average unemployment rate of 4.9 percent, higher than the national average of 3.9 percent and the 3.4 percent average of 27 Republican-led states was.

The outliers are Alaska and Texas, with the highest unemployment rates of Republican-led states of 5.7 percent and 5 percent, respectively.

According to Wallet Hub Nebraska, Utah, and Oklahoma are the rank above Montana as state’s whose unemployment has bounced back the most, and it ranks New York, California, New Jersey, Nevada and Hawaii as states that have bounced back the least.

Governor Greg Gianforte recently visited Diehl Ranch Co. in East Helena to discuss the impact of pro-growth, pro-jobs policies on the state’s agriculture industry.

“For too long, Montana producers have had to pay taxes on equipment that sits around for most of the year, and it just doesn’t make any sense,” Gov. Gianforte said. “To protect the bottom lines of our hardworking ag families, we tripled the business equipment tax exemption, allowing producers to grow their operations and create more good-paying Montana jobs.”

After hearing from agricultural producers across the state, Gov. Gianforte worked with the Montana Legislature to triple the business equipment tax exemption from $100,000 to $300,000 through his Business Investment Grows (BIG) Jobs Act.

The tax reform measure removed over 3,400 businesses around the state from the burden of the business equipment tax. 

Mark Diehl, the owner of Diehl Ranch Co., told the governor how the BIG Jobs Act has helped the Diehl family invest in its operation.

“Ag producers rely on expensive, complex equipment and machinery throughout the year to get the job done. This tax reform measure by Governor Gianforte is a huge help to our operation and the ag industry,” Diehl said.

During the tour, the governor reiterated his desire to continue working with the Montana Legislature to further reduce the burden of the business equipment.

Existing OVG/Metra Booking Contract a Bad Deal for Taxpayers

By Mark Morse

Can we agree a booking agreement should mean additional shows at MetraPark? The current contract between Yellowstone County (YCM) and Oak View Group (OVG), signed July 28, 2021 does not do that. The commissioners got taken to the cleaners by OVG. 

Nowhere does the contract with OVG require them to do anything to receive money from MetraPark. OVG waits for MetraPark to pass a revenue benchmark and gets paid. Other than material breach, OVG cannot be fired in this contract. Read it for yourself. 

3.01(b) After achieving the Benchmark, … revenues shall be allocated… as follows:

(i) OVG shall receive the first Fifty Thousand ($50,000) of the Arena New Revenues in each contract year:

(ii) OVG and YCM shall split the Arena New Revenues between $50,000.01 and $300,000 split 45% to OVG and 55% to YCM; and,

(iii) OVG and YCM shall split the Arena New Revenues in excess of $300,001 split 50% to OVG and 50% to YCM.

To simplify, if MetraPark revenue exceeds $1.4 million dollars (the benchmark) in any of the next 5 years, OVG gets paid whether they book shows or not. OVG does not have to book anything to take profit which belongs to the taxpayers. This five-year deal can only be terminated if the benchmark is missed two years in a row, not counting the first year. Make the benchmark in year three, and OVG has a five-year deal that cannot be broken. OVG does not have to book anything to get paid.

Commissioner Ostlund, recognizing the Commissioners were out maneuvered on this booking arrangement wants any future MetraPark management contract vetted by a third-party expert. Taxpayers deserve a fully transparent process vetted by a competent third party to assure they receive the best deal. Unfortunately, if Jones and Pitman rely on their own evaluation, rather than a 3rd party expert, taxpayers will likely end up with a contract like this booking arrangement where an out of state, for profit corporation receives MetraPark funds for doing nothing.

I am sure OVG is willing to offer this same contract deal to the three businesses’ publicly supporting them. All sensible business owners will decline this offer. 

After this sleight of hand, Pitman and Jones are considering OVG to manage the entire MetraPark complex. This is the reason I, Commissioner Ostlund, and other taxpayers are asking Pitman and Jones to seek 3rd party expert vetting.

Mark Morse

(Running as a Republican candidate for Yellowstone County Commission.)

The Billings metro area has one of the highest motor vehicle theft rates in the United States, reports Center Square. According to data from the FBI, among metro areas, Billings ranks ninth in the nation. There were 998 vehicle thefts in the metro area in 2020, or 543 for every 100,000 people – far higher than the motor vehicle theft rate nationwide of 246 per 100,000 people. Due in large part to the higher than average vehicle theft rate, the overall property crime rate in Billings also exceeds the comparable national rate. There were 3,472 property crimes reported for every 100,000 people in the metro area in 2020, compared to 1,958 per 100,000 nationwide. In general, motor vehicle theft is on the rise in the US. There were a total of 810,400 motor vehicle thefts nationwide in 2020, the most in over a decade.

Motor vehicle theft, one of the most serious offenses tracked by the FBI, is on the rise in the United States. There were a total of 810,400 motor vehicle thefts nationwide in 2020, the most in over a decade.

Motor vehicle theft can be either the theft or attempted theft of a vehicle, such as a car, truck, ATV, or motorcycle. Some experts attribute the rising rates of vehicle theft to the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to vehicles sitting unattended and unused for longer than usual. Additionally, vehicle theft is often committed for monetary gain, and the pandemic sent unemployment soaring and left many Americans struggling financially.

While motorists nationwide now face a greater risk of vehicle theft than they have in many years, in some parts of the country, car owners are far more likely to be victims of car theft than in others.

The Billings metro area, located in Montana, has one of the highest motor vehicle theft rates in the United States. According to data from the FBI, there were 998 vehicle thefts in the metro area in 2020, or 543 for every 100,000 people – far higher than the motor vehicle theft rate nationwide of 246 per 100,000 people.

Motor vehicle theft – along with larceny and burglary – is one of three criminal offenses that comprise the property crime category. Due in large part to the higher than average vehicle theft rate, the overall property crime rate in the metro area also exceeds the comparable national rate. There were 3,472 property crimes reported for every 100,000 people in the metro area in 2020, compared to 1,958 per 100,000 nationwide.

All crime data used in this story is from the FBI’s 2020 Uniform Crime Report. Limited data was available in the 2020 UCR for areas in Alabama, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Illinois, though these states were not excluded from our analysis. Only metro areas for which the boundaries defined by the FBI match the boundaries defined by the U.S. Census Bureau were considered.


Elementary School District # 8/Wegner Homes, 1532 S 64th St W, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $23,100

Gemstone Townhomes/Wegner Homes, 511 11th St W, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $4,500

Whal Propertes Lp/Empire Roofing Inc, 706 Daniel St, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $86,000

Alliance Management/Great States Construction, 4450 Altay Dr, Com Footing/Foundation $302,552

TDS Metroom LLC, 2215 3rd Ave N, Com New Other $142,000

Young Women’s Christian Association/Jones Construction, Inc, 856 9th St W, Com New Other, $2,800,000

Steve Widmeyer/T.W. Clark Construction, LLC, 2823 6th Ave N, Com Remodel, $193,500

Highland Rim Properties Inc/Foss Construction LLC, 2205 Grand Ave, Com Remodel, $10,865

KT Dental Properties LLC/Jorden Construction, 1601 Zimmerman Trl, Com Remodel, $10,000

Lain Properties, LLC/Wyman Construction, 1106 Main St, Com Remodel, $30,000

Wentana LLC/Cucancic Construction, 2311 Central Ave, Com Remodel, $250,000.00

Garsjo, Donna/T.W. Clark Construction, 1400 Poly Dr, Com Remodel, $1,100,000

Homes Unlimited Realty c/Villanueva’s Construction, 4 Lewis Ave, Com Remodel, $15,000

Yellowstone County/Hardy Construction Co., 217 N 27th St, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $12,000

WP5 Billings LLC/Langlas & Assoc., Inc. 2618 King Ave W, Com Remodel $2,000,000

WP5 Billings LLC, 2618 King Ave W, Com Remodel, $800,000

WP Billings LLC, 2618 King Ave W, Com Remodel, $800,000

Karen T. Laseur/Dale Jones Construction LLC, 825 Grand Ave Com Remodel, $3,500


Hill, Ron S Living Trust/CDH, LLC, 587 Winged Foot Dr, Res New Single Family, $329,166

CDH, LLC/CDH, LLC, 5216 Dovetail Ave, Res New Single Family, $241,566

McCall Homes/McCall Development, 6119 Johanns Meadow Ln, Res New Single Family, $325,745

WH High Sierra LLC/WH High Sierra 50 LLC, 566 Chino Cir, Res New Single Family, $260,570

Na/WH High Sierra 50 LLC, 2422 W Bonito Loop, Res New Single Family, $221,040

WH High Sierra LLC/WH High Sierra 50 LLC, 560 Chino Cir, Res New Single Family, $344,122

WH High Sierra LLC/WH High Sierra 50 LLC, 2414 W Bonito Loop, Res New Single Family, $260,570

WH High Sierra 50 LLC, 2408 W Bonito Loop, Res New Single Family, $344,122

WH High Sierra LLC/WH High Sierra 50 LLC, 2404 W Bonito Loop, Res New Single Family, $221,040

By Evelyn Pyburn

It all comes down to the conclusion that “we know better.” We know better than the general run-of-the-mill taxpayer rube.

That attitude by public officials at every level of government is one with which we have all become far too familiar.  Such has been the attitude of many city officials over the years, as they pursued what they absolutely knew was illegal, and was an act hugely disrespectful of the citizens they were supposed to serve and represent.  And, most amazingly, which some still continue to hold as they drag out a costly legal battle over the illegal franchise fee, to absolutely no worthy end.

That the city lost the suit filed against them is totally just. It’s a shame more individuals couldn’t be held personally responsible for what they perpetrated upon the community.  Again, we see what happens when individuals are not held accountable for their actions and choices.

It is indeed a no-win situation that the taxpayers must pay, no matter the outcome of the case, so let’s make sure that there is at least a “win” in demonstrating what justice looks like and underscoring the honest role of government. Since it is going to “cost” no matter what, the court should make the city responsible to reimburse ratepayers as a statement of culpability of all those involved.

Perhaps they thought there was a great need for revenues for the city and believed that taxpayers would reject a mill levy. It is true that a majority of the public can be wrong, but sooner or later they get it right. True statesmen know that, accept it, and have respect for the process and the public.

It is not the role of leadership to find ways to sidestep the people and to attempt to dupe them. It is to try to lead them to what one believes is the right answers and to accept the electorate’s conclusion at the polls. 

The average citizen may indeed lag behind issues and may not be fully informed and unaware of political gamesmanship, but in the long run they have a better track record of understanding than do the dictates of the politicians and power seekers. It is often, in fact, that understanding that the elitists most abhor.

Given the opportunities the city had to lessen the harm to the taxpayers, which they rejected, and the fact that the farce continues still, demands loud and clear condemnation from the court. There were good people inside and outside of city government, from the very beginning, who said that this was an illegal tax. Over the years, the plaintiffs voiced many times their concerns, before being forced to file suit. And, even after filing suit, understanding the imposition to taxpayers, they offered to drop it for $20,000 and a statement from City officials to never do it again. Arrogance again prevailed, and city officials and their attorneys rejected that offer, as well as similar opportunities to minimize harm to taxpayers. And, so the case continues, today, mounting millions of dollars in greater attorney fees.

The court has already decreed that which the city would not affirm: that they won’t do it again, but for the court to require some degree of restitution will say loudly and clearly that which MUST be said, that this kind of government cannot be allowed to stand. It will say that city officials SERVE THE PEOPLE, and that even when administrators, bureaucrats and elected politicians believe they are smarter than the general public, they must still bow to the public. It’s called the democratic process.

This is a moment in time, that justice and the rule of law demands that those who believe themselves to be above the law to be totally castigated for their deceit and for their disdain of the citizens of Billings.

Newly released economic figures from the Commerce Department showed that the U.S. economy grew more than expected last quarter. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased 6.9% in the last quarter of 2021, exceeding the experts’ predictions of 5.5 percent growth and far outpaced the previous quarter’s 2.3% increase.

“The acceleration in real GDP in the fourth quarter primarily reflected an upturn in exports, accelerations in private inventory investment and PCE, and smaller decreases in residential fixed investment and federal government spending that were partly offset by a downturn in state and local government spending,” the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) said. “Imports accelerated.”

Center Square reported that the increase in economic growth from October through December led to a healthy growth year in 2021, despite weaker growth earlier in the year.

“GDP growth dramatically outpaced forecasts made a year ago. Most forecasters expected the economy to grow 3 to 4 percent this year,” said Jason Furman, former advisor to President Barack Obama and senior fellow at the Peterson Institute. “Instead it has grown 5.5 percent. That is more than a percentage point faster than even the most optimistic forecast was expecting.” The federal agency said COVID-19 is still a significant factor affecting economic increase.“The increase in fourth quarter GDP reflected the continued economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the fourth quarter, COVID-19 cases resulted in continued restrictions and disruptions in the operations of establishments in some parts of the country,” BEA said in its release of the numbers. “Government assistance payments in the form of forgivable loans to businesses, grants to state and local governments, and social benefits to households all decreased as provisions of several federal programs expired or tapered off.”