Altanta FCU has been named Employer of the Year and Devon Davidson of MARS of Billings has been named Business Person of the Year by the Billings Chamber of Commerce.

Other award winners are Virginia Mermel, Ph.D., CNS, of Backpack Meals and Teen Pantries recognized for Customer Service Excellence and Jaidyn Simmons, Treasure Realty Group has been recognized as NextGEN Exceptional Emerging Leader. Billings Clinic is the recipient of the “Inclusion Award.”

 The award recipients were nominated by the public as outstanding businesses and professionals, and the winners were selected by a volunteer scoring committee.

 Earlier this year, the Chamber honored Kris Carpenter as the Legacy Award honoree and Bill Dutcher was recognized for Agricultural Excellence.

Award recipients will be honored during the 2022 Billings Chamber Breakfast event at MetraPark featuring Tony Hawk and presented by KULR8 and Billings Clinic on April 7. The event will be held from 7 – 9 a.m. with doors opening at 6 a.m.

Altana Federal Credit Union has served Montana for over 70 years with innovation, integrity, and an unwavering commitment to redefining what others say banking should look like. It started with nine refinery workers pooling $5 each to create a lending channel not otherwise afforded to them through traditional banking. Today, Altana’s 90 employees serve community members across seven Montana counties. Altana team members continue to uphold the promise of those nine founders by creating financial opportunities for all. 

Jaidyn Simmons of Treasure Realty Group is a Montana native, growing up in Laurel. She attended Montana State University Bozeman where she earned a bachelor’s in business finance. Jaidyn embarked on her real estate career in college, knowing that she wanted to be an entrepreneur. After a successful few years, Jaidyn launched her own real estate brokerage, Treasure Realty Group, thinking she could grow her business while also sharing her success with other agents and fill a passion for teaching others. Today Jaidyn has eight agents as part of the brokerage. With her continuing drive to grow, Jaidyn and her husband, Robert, purchased Rimrock Property Management to add to their services. With Robert as the contractor and Jaidyn as a realtor, they offer great expertise and tools to the property management business. They have five employees at Rimrock who help them manage approximately 350 rental units.

Virginia Lee Mermel, Ph.D., CNS of Backpack Meals and Teen Pantries holds both an MS and PhD in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from the University of California, Davis, and is a board certified Human Nutrition Specialist (CNS).  Ginny spent the majority of her career working in health risk management. She has taught college nutrition courses and written college nutrition and wellness textbooks.  For the past 16 years she has focused on school nutrition. During this time, she chaired the School Health Advisory Committee for Billings Public Schools (BPS) for 4 years and worked part-time as a School Wellness Consultant for Montana Team Nutrition, a division of USDA for 6 years, in addition to her volunteer work to reduce food insecurity.

Ginny grew up in a food insecure home.  Since learning that 35%-40% of students in BPS have the same experience, she has volunteered several days each week addressing food insecurity issues in Yellowstone County and throughout Montana.  She believes, “Every child should be fed, fit and ready to learn so that they grow to be self-sufficient adults ready to earn.” 

To help this happen, Ginny started the BackPack Meals and Teen Pantry Programs for BPS in 2009 and 2011 respectively, with support from key members of the School Health Advisory Council and VISTA, Kendell Coombs and seed grants from Montana Food Bank Network.  In the ensuing years, Ginny has helped other communities across Montana and the Intermountain west do the same.  She has consulted with MSU Billings and other Montana colleges on the development of student staff pantries.

Ginny serves on the steering committee for the statewide nonprofit Montana Partnership to End Childhood Hunger and has served as the nutrition lead for both the Best Beginnings of Yellowstone County and Healthy By Design of Yellowstone County committees.  She is on the Family Promise of Yellowstone County Board. This organization provides emergency shelter and complex case management to some of the homeless families receiving out-of-school time meal support.

Ginny’s husband Gary Mermel, MD, a retired anesthesiologist, is her chief supporter philosophically and financially.  Together, they decided her volunteerism was an important service to the community and adjusted their lifestyle to accommodate it.  Since the onset of Covid, Gary has been her only warehouse volunteer.  He has happily done the heavy lifting required to send weekend meals to over 250 elementary school students, as well as several hundred tweens and teens that use the middle and high school pantries each week.

Gary’s love of a good Cali-style burrito motivated him to return to his family’s food service roots and obtain the Qdoba Mexican Eats franchise for Billings in 2010.  The Mermels are now co-owners of three Qdoba franchises in Billings, Bozeman and Helena. 

They have two adult sons Matt and Kevin. 

Devon Davidson is originally from Froid, Montana. Devon is the owner of MARS of Billings. He is also the President of MARS Nation, the association of 19 individually owned MARS business across the United States. Devon has a bachelor’s of Business Administration from the University of North Dakota.

Devon’s professional goals include growing the business while offering the highest level of service to their customers. They strive to apply and install quality products from the best vendors in the industry, and want to help other MARS Nation affiliated grow their business as well. As for the team, they continue to cultivate a work culture and environment that is attractive and retains their great staff. The MARS of Billings mission says, “Fueled by our passion to help our customers enhance their vehicle, we go above and beyond to provide top-notch customer service, quality products, and expert craftsmanship.”

Devon is a highly motivated and driven individual. His leadership skills and business development background truly shape how he runs his business and empowers his team. His focus on relationships and his empathy for others helps to connect him with not only his staff members but also his customers. In 2019, Devon was named the Small Business Person of the Year for the state of Montana by the Small Business Administration.

Devon is married to his wife Kim Davidson of 25 years in June, and has two sets of twins: Bridger and Gentry who are 17 years old and Gavin and Paige at 15 years old.

Billings Job Service Employer’s Committee (JSEC) is offering Montana a chance for employers and seekers to shake hands and talk about career opportunities.

This event is held on March 16 at the MetraPark Pavilion in Billings, from 11:30 am to 6 pm with early entrance for Veteran’s, Guard, Reserve and their families starting at 11am.

There are thousands of employment opportunities in Montana and the Jobs Jamboree is the perfect hiring event. The Jobs Jamboree offers the chance to visit face to face with the employer and gain specifics on application processes, workplace cultures and employee benefits.  Interview over 100+ employers and discover their mission, professional growth opportunities, and their level of community involvement. Hiring opportunities represent nearly every industry across Montana to include entry-level, apprentice and internships to top career professionals.

The JSEC Jobs Jamboree has 29 years of connecting seekers with the right position and employer, for both current and future job openings!

* There is no cost for seekers to attend

* Whether you are currently employed or in transition, this is a perfect opportunity to find a career that fits your lifestyle and professional goals! 

* Discover your first job, next job, second job or part-time job

* Retirees, seasonal workers, high school/ college students, parents who want to get back in the workforce,.

* Come dressed to impress, ready to shake hands and wear a bright smile! Bring your resume or letter of interest.

* If you are an employer and did not get a chance to register this year, come down and see us.

* If you are a Veteran, in the Guard or Reserves or a family member of, the Mobile Vet bus will be onsite and available to visit with you.

* There are specialized presentations from area subject matter experts instructing on resume creation, interview techniques to include what to wear and social graces.

Call Billings Job Service for details 406-652-3080.

Together with the Department of Commerce, Governor Greg Gianforte announced the state has awarded $605,000 to Montana businesses and nonprofits for skills-based workforce training and apprenticeship programs. 

“When you couple the Montana work ethic with the tools folks need to thrive in the jobs of today and the future, the result is a highly qualified, highly skilled workforce that can only be found here in Montana,” Gov. Gianforte said. “With this investment, we’re ensuring more hardworking Montanans have the skills needed to thrive and succeed in good-paying Montana jobs.” 

In October, Gov. Gianforte announced the launch of the Workforce Training Grant Program (WTG) reimbursing businesses for costs associated with skill-based training for new and existing full-time workers. 

 Since the program’s launch, eligible businesses have been able to apply to the program and receive up to $3,000 per eligible employee, with a maximum allocation of $210,000. Each eligible employee must make a wage that meets or exceeds 170 percent of Montana’s current minimum wage, which today is $15.64 per hour. 

 “The growth of any business can only happen through trained and capable employees,” Montana Department of Commerce Director Scott Osterman said. “Workforce training grants are adaptable to evolving industry and market needs. The Montana Department of Commerce is excited to help businesses connect with grant dollars that will provide a real return on investment in terms of future growth and productivity.” 

 The first round of award recipients of the ARPA Workforce Training Grant Program are as follows: 

 Bozeman’s Acela, Inc. will receive $72,000 to train five new full-time and 19 existing full-time WTG-eligible jobs within one year. 

 Missoula’s Big Sky Life Support will receive $87,000 to train 25 new full-time and four existing full-time WTG-eligible jobs within one year. 

 Kalispell’s Code Girls United will receive $12,000 to train two new full-time and two existing full-time WTG-eligible jobs within one year. 

Bozeman’s Harvest Solar MT, LLC will receive $11,000 to train seven existing full-time WTG-eligible jobs within one year. 

Butte’s Montana Craft Malt Company will receive $36,000 to train 12 existing full-time WTG-eligible jobs within one year. 

Kalispell’s Tricon Commercial Construction, LLC will receive $117,000 to train 17 new full-time and 22 existing full-time WTG-eligible jobs within one year. 

Bozeman’s Williams Plumbing & Heating, Inc. will receive $210,000 to train 30 new full-time and 40 existing full-time WTG-eligible jobs within one year. 

The governor also announced the following ARPA Apprenticeship Training Grant Program recipient: 

 Helena’s Laborers AGC Apprenticeship, Training, and Work Preparedness Trust for Montana will receive $60,000 to provide construction-related apprenticeship training for 20 new positions and add more training staff.  

 The governor accepted the funding recommendations from the ARPA Economic Transformation and Stabilization and Workforce Development Programs Advisory Commission. ARPA advisory commissions comprise state legislators, agency leaders, and administration officials. More information about the advisory commissions may be found at 

 The Workforce Training Grant Program and Apprenticeship Training Grant Program build upon Gov. Gianforte’s success in expanding workforce development, a central element of his Montana Comeback Plan. 

In April 2021, Gov. Gianforte signed into law the Montana Trades Education Credit, or M-TEC. M-TEC provides $1 million per year in 50-percent credits to businesses for their employees to learn a trade. M-TEC will support as many as 1,000 scholarships annually. Under the program, employers and employees can decide on training that is best for the business and the employee. Representative Llew Jones (R-Conrad) sponsored House Bill 252, which creates M-TEC. 

 Last week, the governor announced a $6 milliongrant to Accelerate Montana, a collaborative partnership led by the University of Montana to establish a series of rapid retraining and upskilling programs. The programs will train up to 5,000 Montanans in sectors such as construction, health care, manufacturing, and infrastructure.

By Evelyn Pyburn

One thing about aging – events can become more meaningful and gain greater perspective. I find that is true regarding the Montana Constitution of 1972.

I was a pretty young reporter when the whole Con-Con event unfolded. I interviewed those who ran as delegates and followed the issues as a reporter for the weekly newspaper for which I worked, and then did follow up on the issues that seemed to be the most relevant changes, interviewing experts involved in those issues. I mostly just absorbed what I encountered, which has become more significant in importance as I look back.

I recently read where former Supreme Court Justice James Nelson called the revised state constitution the most “progressive” constitution in the country. It might be that. It would have very good reason to be. In interviewing the Con-Con delegates during the campaign to gain voter approval of the new document, some of the delegates gave a blow by blow account of their experience. I found perplexing some of what I heard about how the process unfolded and what governed it.

It was governed by the League of Women Voters. The whole issue of whether Montana needed to revise its Constitution came primarily from the Left. The League of Women Voters were the leaders of the movement – a group every bit as progressive then as now.

Now I don’t know how you might envision a constitutional convention to be conducted once launched, but I imagined the delegates sitting down with a copy of the Montana Constitution and perhaps a bunch of law books and other legal references within easy access. I imagined that the document would be broken down into segments and different “committees” who would tackle each part, with deep discussions and bantering about of ideas. There would be disputes, of course, to be aired publically, and eventually settled by a consensus of the body as a whole.

But that wouldn’t be quite right. There was little public discussion. And, I was told by the delegates that when they came to the table, placed before each seat was not only a copy of the Montana Constitution but also a “Model Constitution” produced by the League of Cities and Towns. It was that document that set the parameters of discussion, so it shouldn’t be the least surprising that the new Constitution would be “progressive”.

Now I must admit that not many people seemed perplexed by that table arrangement, but it left me in open-mouthed amazement. As young and naïve as I was, even I understood the flagrant bias of it. I knew the process was not as grassroots as everyone was being led to believe. One has to know that the League of Cities and Towns is a very “progressive” organization. The organization is totally dedicated to “improving” the function of government — advocating centralized, top –down controls even while giving lots of lip service to local control.

From what the delegates related to me, there was no corresponding materials provided regarding civil liberties , or what is necessary to secure and protect them, or even of what rights are. While some of the delegates were troubled about the process, others were not and they glowed with great satisfaction about what they had accomplished.

That there was little interest in the process should have been no surprise. Few things have been so totally heralded as the Second Coming as was Montana’s new Constitution. It was a complete whitewash in most of the media. While there was much written about the glory of it all, and much ado about voting for it – there was very little probing into the details. While the weekly publication I worked for sought out knowledgeable people about everything from taxes to water rights, medicine to transportation, hunting to education – it was very limited reporting compared to what one would have expected all of media to have been focused upon.

My full realization of how starved the public was for information, only came when an auxiliary group with which I worked, published a booklet which focused on the proposed Constitution. There had been so little information about it that we were bombarded with requests for copies of it from all over the state. We had to do a second printing. I most vividly remember delivering a box of the second printing to the Baxter Hotel in Bozeman. It was early evening and as I entered the lobby, a small crowd that had been waiting for the delivery, descended upon me. I was astounded. I heard comments all around me from people indicating the many communities who were anxiously awaiting copies of our booklet.

So indeed, Supreme Court Justice James Nelson is probably accurate in describing the Montana Constitution as the most “progressive” in the country, but I don’t know that that is anything to brag about given the antithesis of progressiveness to liberty. One thing’s for sure, another Constitutional Convention would not unfold so indifferently and casually today – so maybe that’s “progress.”

Yellowstone County and Billings’ tax abatement programs encouraged $410.8 million of investment in the community in 2020, involving eleven different businesses, supporting $126.7 million in payrolls and granting $3.3 million in tax savings, reports Steve Simonson, Senior Project Manager for Big Sky Economic Development.

Those totals include abatements granted to Phillips 66 and CHS. Simonson pointed out that the refineries account for two-thirds of all manufacturing that happens in Yellowstone County. Deducting refinery abatements, the total capital invested by other businesses came to $34.3 million who have total payrolls of $26.6 million. Their total tax savings was $154,679.

Simonson highlighted one company’s abatement program that concluded in 2019. Motor Power Equipment invested $2,530,000 in their business increasing its market value from $1,900,000 to $5,400,400, creating an increase of $3,500,400 of new wealth in Yellowstone County. The company’s beginning general tax bill was $42,555 and ended $75,319, an increase in taxes for the county of $32,764.

Other companies with on-going tax abatement programs in the county, extending as far back as 2011, also include Aspen Air, Billings Flying Service, Home 2 Suites by Hilton, Subaru of Billings, Montana Peterbilt, Northwest Scientific and Summit Resource International. In total the companies made capital investments totaling $445 million from 2011 through 2018 and generated 95 jobs from 2019-20.

There are two versions of the abatement program which the Montana Legislature has allowed to cities and counties, both of which strongly focus on job creation.

A five year program reduces tax on remodeling, reconstruction, and/ or expansion of existing real property when the cost of improvements exceeds $500,000.Tax relief comes with only an incremental increase in taxable value on the new value generated by the improvements or additions. The Remodeling, Reconstruction or Expansion Tax Incentive Program allows a reduction of taxes by 100 percent for the first five years after completion of the project. After the fifth year, the property is returned to its full taxable value.

The ten year program, called the New & Expanding Industry Tax Incentive Program, allows tax reductions on the taxable value of the real property up to 50 percent in the first five years, but only for businesses that generate at least 50 percent of their revenues from out of state. The abatement decreases ten percent a year from year six to ten, to the full 100 percent of tax liability in year ten.

In 2017 the state legislature allowed governing bodies the discretion to choose an abatement of either 50 percent or 75 percent in years one to five, and then decrease it 15 percent a year in years six to ten.