Following a year of records for low unemployment, labor force growth, and total employment, Montana’s unemployment rate fell to 2.8% in December as the state’s total employment and labor force reached an all-time high.

Governor Greg Gianforte said, “Thanks to the hard work of Montanans and our pro-business, pro-growth, pro-jobs policies, 2022 was a year of record-setting economic growth for Montana. In the year ahead, we’ll continue to cut red tape and other unnecessary burdens on small businesses, create good-paying Montana jobs, and invest in our workforce to ensure Montana workers have the skills they need to succeed and thrive.”

Total employment rose by nearly 1,400 jobs in December to a new record high of over 553,000 jobs.

Montana’s labor force also continued its strong growth in December, rising by some 700 workers to more than 568,800, another all-time high.

Montana added 2,800 payroll jobs in December, with broad-based job gains led by the professional and business services and retail trade industries.

Over the course of 2022, Montana set several records for low unemployment, labor force growth, and total employment.

At the start of 2023, total employment is at an all-time high in Montana, having grown by more than 15,300 jobs over the course of the year. Montanans have created nearly 33,500 new jobs since Governor Gianforte was elected. Total employment has grown in Montana in 22 of the 23 months Governor Gianforte has been in office.

Montana’s labor force is also at an all-time high, with thousands of workers rejoining the labor force since the COVID-19 pandemic. Montana’s labor force today is almost 22,000 workers larger than it was pre-pandemic.

Montana’s unemployment rate set new records in 2022, reaching 2.3% in March and April, the lowest level ever recorded. Montana’s unemployment rate has dipped below 3% in just 16 months since recordkeeping began. Fifteen of those 16 months have taken place during Governor Gianforte’s tenure.

Per the U.S. Chamber’s recently released State of American Business, the worker shortage trend is getting worse, with 10.5 million unfilled jobs. For every 100 U.S. job openings there are only 73 available workers. Manufacturing has been a stable economic factor for decades but with the growing skills gap and workforce shortages, innovation is key to sustainability.

Montana Chamber and the Montana Manufacturing Association are bringing together manufacturing leaders, executives, and employees alongside business associations and local chamber members and legislators for Manufacturing & International Trade Day, on March 16, in Helena, 10 am – 7 pm / $75 per person (includes reception

The event features solution-oriented seminars and keynotes from leading industry experts along with a Trade Show.

Registration information is available on the Montana Chamber website.

Nikki Dolan has been named the Food Insecurity Program Coordinator for the Education Foundation for Billings Public Schools (EFBPS). Dolan takes the newly created position to lead the BackPack Meals, Teen Pantry and Elementary Pantry programs that operate for Billings Public Schools students in need. Dolan started the position in August 2022, training with Dr. Ginny Mermel who started the food programs in 2007. Mermel ran the programs under the Foundation to benefit BPS students as a dedicated volunteer for 15 years. Upon her retirement, the Education Foundation created the Food Insecurity Program Coordinator position. Dolan has a degree in Business Administration/Marketing from the University of Montana. Her previous experience is working as the Special Events Coordinator at Billings Clinic and as an Account Executive at an Advertising Firm. “We’re thrilled to have Nikki on staff to lead these programs,” shared Kelly McCandless, Executive Director for EFBPS. “She has tremendous passion for ensuring the kids in our District facing food insecurity receive the nutritional support they need.” The EFBPS Food Insecurity Programs are currently responsible for feeding approximately 700 students each week. The program demand has grown significantly over the last two years, and the addition of a staff position to manage the programs is critical to the continued ability to care for students in need. “There are passionate people at every level of Billings Public Schools attending to needs far beyond academics for students,” explained Dolan. “I’m thrilled to be part of programs offering stability and certainty for kids who would otherwise face hunger.”

A study by finance experts Creditos En USA analyzed data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics on the “quit” rates in each state from July to October 2022. Quit rates being how many people quit a job and move on.

It found that Montana places third, with a 3.6% quit rate, which equates to a monthly average of 18,000 people quitting.

Alaska has the highest quit rates in the country, as on average 4.33% of people quit their job each month during the four months that were measured – considerably higher than the national average of 2.68%. That equates to 13,750 people in Alaska deciding to leave their job each month.

In second place is Georgia, which had a quit rate of 3.85% between July and October 2022 – meaning that on average 186,000 people in the state were handing in their notice every month.

Mississippi is in fourth with 3.58% of the working population quitting each month, ahead of Arizona in fifth (3.48%).

At the other end of the scale, New York had the lowest percentage of people quitting, with an average of just 1.7%. That works out as 161,500 people leaving their jobs in the state each month. It means that people in Alaska are 2.5 times more likely to quit their job than people in New York.

Washington DC ranks just above New York with a quit rate of 2%, while New Jersey and Connecticut are tied just above it on 2.08%.

On the national scale, an average of 4,082,000 Americans quit their job every month, but the latest figures show that year-on-year resignations are down – in October 2021, 4,132,000 quit their jobs, compared to 4,026,000 quitting in October 2022. That is more than 100,000 people fewer, and a fall from 2.8% to 2.6% of the population.

Commenting on the study, a spokesperson for Creditos En USA said: “It’s fascinating to see the considerable regional variations in quit rates across the country. The top three states where people are most likely to quit are all quite different in their geographies and demographics, but it seems they are united by a high proportion of people deciding to leave their jobs. Across the US, it’s remarkable to think that four million people each month choose to quit – that’s equivalent to the entire population of Oklahoma.”

By Chris Woodward, The Center Square

Montana will no longer allow state funds to go towards environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing.

Joining the Montana Board of Investments in his announcement, Gov. Greg Gianforte said recently his administration is committed to getting returns on $26 billion in investments of the state’s financial assets, but it “will not advance a political agenda.”

“As the State of Montana invests its financial assets, our priority is and should always be maximizing returns for our shareholders – the people of Montana,” the governor said in a press release. “On my watch, we won’t undermine taxpayers’ returns on investment in favor of the trend of activist, woke capitalism through ESG investing.”

ESG is defined by Investopedia as a set of standards that socially conscious voters use to screen investments. Critics say investment firms are using “activist” ESG policies regardless of what investors want. 

Stephen Soukup, who’s head of the investment consulting group The Political Forum, applauded Gianforte and the board’s move, saying ESG is a “top-down, anti-democratic, and coercive investment technique that takes power out of the hands of the people’s representatives and hands it to large, centralized multinational asset management firms who should be investing on behalf of their clients’ best pecuniary interests.”

“I think that state executives, treasurers, comptrollers, and pension boards should most definitely be willing to take back control of pension investment decisions from large Wall Street firms,” Soukup told The Center Square.  “The top-down, one-size-fits-all approach of the big firms misses and ignores state and local needs, beliefs, and investment goals and is, therefore, an unfit solution.” 

Soukup, whose books include ‘The Dictatorship of Woke Capital” and the upcoming “Other People’s Money,” thinks there is a lesson here for elected officials across the nation.  

“Governor Gianforte and the Montana Board of Investments are exercising their responsibilities as fiduciaries of the people of Montana,” Soukup said. “More politicians – right, left, and in between – should follow their lead and put the community interests of their constituents ahead of the ideological predispositions of the Wall Street mega-firms.”

By Derek Draplin, The Center Square

A new program launched by a Bozeman-based research group will offer privately-funded financial incentives to ranchers for brucellosis-related costs that might arise from allowing migrating elk on their land.

The Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) says its Paradise Valley Brucellosis Compensation Fund “will help ease the financial burden” for ranchers whose land is used for migrating elk, which can expose cattle to brucellosis and its costly effects.

Brucellosis is a contagious bacteria endemic to some elk and bison populations in the U.S., and transmission “has occurred in several cattle herds commingling with infected elk in the greater Yellowstone Park area,” according to the Merck Veterinary Manual. 

PERC CEO Brian Yablonski said the fund “is a creative market solution that allows conservationists to help reduce a major source of concern for the private stewards of elk habitat.”

“There is a significant opportunity for conservationists to privately fund and protect open space that migrating elk depend on in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem,” he said. “If these ranches were to be carved up and developed, it would be devastating for elk herds and everyone who loves them. 

The fund will begin in January as a three-year pilot program that any cattle ranchers in Paradise Valley can participate in, PERC said. There will be $100,000 to $150,000 available to participating ranchers, funding which will cover between 50% to 75% of costs associated with quarantining a cattle herd after brucellosis is detected. 

“By sharing the costs that come with providing habitat, this novel approach can increase landowner support for living with wildlife, build trust within the community, and help ensure migration routes and winter range on private lands remain open and avoid subdivision development,” Greater Yellowstone Coalition Executive Director Scott Christensen said in a statement.

What is the Outdoor Economy and how big is it?

In Montana it is really big – bigger than most may realize. Sure, everyone in Montana talks about their outdoor activities but is it really that different than what people everywhere do?

According to data from the Department of Labor and Industry, Montanans far exceed in their recreational activities what people in any other states do. Based upon the value of goods and services sold for outdoor recreation as a percentage of all production, Montana is way over the top. As a percentage of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) Montana goods and services for outdoor recreation is 4.4 percent compared to the second highest states – which are  Wyoming, Alaska and Maine – at 3.6 percent.

It’s least in New York and Connecticut at 1.3 percent.

Logan Hendrix, Senior Economist for the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, writes, “Enjoying the outdoors can be as simple as going on a walk. Yet even simple pursuits involve ontributions from multiple industries. For example, fly fishing involves fly rod manufacturers, retail sellers of those rods, and fishing guides. There are also often transportation and lodging costs associated with getting someone casting. The outdoor economy encompasses all economic activity generated from outdoor recreation, including core and supportive activities. Outdoor recreation makes up a substantial component of Montana’s economy, generating $2.5 billion of annual gross domestic product (GDP) and accounting for 4.4% of total GDP in 2021. Only Hawaii has a greater concentration of outdoor recreation. Montana’s location in the Rocky Mountain West contributes to the state’s high concentration of outdoor recreation production. Other states in the region, like Wyoming and Idaho, also experience high levels of outdoor recreation.

Outdoor recreation production consists of both the recreational activities themselves (skis and lift tickets) as well as the supportive activities that make them possible (transport to the mountain and construction of chair lifts). About half of outdoor recreation production comes from recreational activities, generating $1.3 billion in GDP. The other half of economic activity comes from supportive activities such as lodging, food, transportation, and construction.

The largest activities are RVing and boating, generating $160 million and $110 million in GDP. These activities aren’t necessarily the most popular, but they generate the largest amounts of economic production due in part to the high equipment prices. The outdoor recreational activities that contribute the most to GDP are similar in Montana and the US— Montana just does relatively more of each activity.

Many outdoor activities increased in their economic production during the COVID pandemic, which could reflect increased popularity as people turned to outdoor opportunities for recreation. Several water activities had especially large increases. Canoeing and kayaking GDP more than doubled over these two years. RVing and tent camping GDP were both up over 30%, though RVing is a much larger component of GDP. Guided tours, hunting, shooting/archery, and biking all saw similarly large increases from 2019 to 2021.

The GDP associated with several activities fell in transporta tion GDP across the state during this from 2019 to 2021, including recreational flying, timeframe. 1 Rising fuel costs and supply chain sailing, and snow activities. The lack of widespread disruptions resulted in a drop in transportation vaccine availability in early 2021 disproportionally production in the state, especially for non-hurt winter outdoor activities like skiing and essential services like vacation travel, snowboarding. Economic activity from large Despite declines in outdoor recreation outdoor gatherings also remained depressed in transportation GDP, the number of out-of-state 2021 compared to 2019. Outdoor events like visitors has held steady. The Institute for Tourism festivals and concerts reported a 30% drop in GDP and Recreation Research (ITRR) estimates a over the two-year timeframe. similar number of visitors in 2021 as in 2019,

According to a new University of Montana study the TV series “Yellowstone,” has brought in an estimated 2.1 million visitors and $730 million in spending to Montana in 2021. The show was also responsible for 10,200-plus jobs across a wide spectrum of industries, including tourism-related sectors.

Missoula’s Denny’s, at 2922 Brooks Street across from Southgate Mall, is “permanently closed,” according to a handwritten sign posted on the door.

In response to a bounty hunt that turned fatal in Butte, Troy Downing, Montana’s auditor and commissioner of Securities and Insurance, wants lawmakers to rein in rogue bail bond agents and “Wild West” tactics sometimes used to nab fugitives. The bill that would require bail recovery agents to be trained and licensed and notify police of planned apprehensions.

Matthew Monforton, a former GOP lawmaker is backing changes to Montana’s citizen-led ballot initiative process. Citizen-proposed ballot initiatives must reach a certain threshold of voter signatures before they can appear on the ballot. The 2021 law requires those initiative petitions to first go before a legislative interim committee for review and a vote before they can go out for signature-collecting. The attorney general’s office also gets an opportunity to weigh in, deciding whether they would be bad for business and whether they might be unconstitutional.

A group of Bozeman residents filed a lawsuit to the city about a fraternity that took over a single-family home in their neighborhood. The city will consider a zone text amendment request that would limit where Greek organizations could set up a house. The Community Development Board had on their recent agenda a zone text amendment that was requested by a group of neighbors in the university neighborhood near Montana State University. Many of the residents live near 411 W. Garfield St., which recently became the home of the Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity.

The Bozeman Whole Foods Market that has been anticipated for over two years is finally set to open its doors in February. Located off West Main Street near the Gallatin Valley Mall, will open Feb. 1. The Bozeman location will include an outdoor patio with heaters and a local, coffee bar Treeline Coffee Roasters.  The store will employ approximately 130 people.

The Purple Cow restaurant in Hardin was demolished recently. The owners of the property, the Good 2 Go Company, claimed to be exploring opportunities.

The multi-billion-dollar gas-to-liquids (GTL) complex slated to be built in Williams County remains on track, according to a Cerilon GTL ND spokesperson. The Canadian company reportedly was provided $9 million in combined loan assistance from the ND Department of Commerce and Williams County.

San Diego-based Dvele, a California company that makes modular homes plans to build an $80 million, 450,000 square-foot facility at the Montana Connections Business Development Park in Butte. The project could employ up to 150 employees the first year. Officials with the company announced the plans recently. Acco9rding to the officials they chose Butte in large part because of its connecting interstates and its people.

The Montana Department of Transportation will be taking action in Glendive to help alleviate congestion on West Towne Street around the CTAP industrial yard. According to state officials there will soon be significantly more signage in that area, giving local officials more enforcement power to keep the roads clear.

Les Kleinman has opened Brooklyn Bagels on Nucleus Avenue in Columbia Falls in the new Ruis building. Kleinman also owns a Brooklyn Bagels in Missoula and owns several Firehouse Sub franchises across Western Montana and Idaho. The bagels are imported from New York from Ess-a-Bagel, where are they already boiled and par-baked.

TDS Telecommunications LLC (TDS) will be delivering its all-fiber network to Helena, Butte, Missoula, Lolo, and Great Falls, Montana this year.  In these communities, TDS has commenced final build preparations and will break ground on its fiber network in 2023. TDS will eventually connect more than 100,000 homes and businesses. When construction is completed, TDS will deliver symmetrical internet speeds up to 8Gig, TDS’ all-digital TV service, TDS TV®+, and a variety of phone options for residential and business customers.

Governor Greg Gianforte directed Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) to develop a new wolf management plan for the state.

The Made in Montana Tradeshow for food and gifts will be held March 10-11,  in Helena.  The Tradeshow is a unique selling opportunity for Made in Montana companies as it incorporates a “Wholesale” day and a public “Retail” day.

“Given the public and legislature’s engagement in wolf management, it is an appropriate time to revisit the Wolf Plan,” said Gov. Greg Gianforte in a letter to FWP Director Hank Worsech, as he provided direction to form a new Wolf Plan. The state’s current Wolf Conservation and Management Plan was finalized and approved by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in 2004. Congress delisted wolves in 2011, and since that time, Montana has retained statewide management authority.

Move Buddha shows people moving to Idaho from other states are starting to lose momentum.  The site tracks data from companies that rent moving trucks.  Arrivals have been running at more than three to one of the departures, but the site now claims the difference is no more than a couple of dozen newcomers for every 100 people leaving.  Per capita, Coeur d’Alene is the most popular destination for incoming moves.  Californians remain the greatest imports. • 1 in 3 moves in are coming from California in 2022, according to move Buddha’s data.  #1 Coeur d’Alene is the city in Idaho seeing the most inflow in 2022, to date. Data shows there are over 223 moves in for every 100 moves out. Other popular cities to move to include #2 Eagle (176 to 100), #3 Twin Falls (136 to 100), #4 Lewiston (132 to 100) and #5 Boise (124 to 100). • One solitary city has seen massive exits in 2022: Rexburg, ID.

Whole Foods Market announced they are opening its new store location in Bozeman Feb. 1, the first Whole Foods in Montana. The Bozeman location will include an outdoor patio with heaters and a local, coffee bar Treeline Coffee Roasters.

Great Falls has one of the highest crime rates compared to other communities of  comparable size in the nation. A report says that the chance of becoming a victim to either violent or property crime is 1 in 20. According to the Great Falls Police Department (GFPD), over the last 8 years, some crime has been rising; specifically crimes against persons and aggravated assaults. 

Two former mayors of Bozeman were recently quoted: “If we woke up tomorrow to 1,000 brand-new housing units, they would be snatched up by the same people who are snatching them up today: 20 percent would go to wealthy people from Bozeman who can afford to move up or invest; fifty percent would go to wealthy newcomers; and the remaining thirty percent would go to out-of-state investors.”

North Dakota’s commercial service airports finished calendar year 2022 with a statewide total of 1,028,159 airline passenger boardings. This is a growth of 141,350 passengers and a 16% overall increase from calendar year 2021. In 2022, the airports also tallied 1,023,816 passenger deplanements for a grand total of 2,051,975 passengers.

In North Dakota, Williams County approved a loan of $10 million to Cerilon GTL ND to construct a 24,000 barrel per day Gas-to-Liquids (GTL) plant with carbon capture and sequestration. The plant will have the lowest carbon footprint of any GTL plant in the world. It will convert natural gas into high value and low emission synthetic energy products, including ultra-low sulfur diesel, naphtha, and lubricant base oils. It creates a platform for the production of other valuable products such as ammonia and fertilizer. Cerilon GTL ND’s parent company is based in Alberta, Canada. The project will bring 1,000 construction jobs and 95 permanent jobs.

Every year, nearly 2 million school-age children and young adults are injured playing sports. However, sports are getting safer, reports Quote Wizard News. Analysts found that sports-related injuries have declined 31% since 2017. Football is the most dangerous sport for children under 15. Basketball, skateboarding, and football are the most dangerous sports overall. Skateboarding is the only sport where injuries have increased, going up more than 100%.

Montana Governor Gianforte has named Chris Gallus to be the next commissioner of political practices, replacing Jeff Mangan.

While still a sellers market the real estate market in Gallatin County is nearing more typical numbers, reports the Gallatin Realtors Association. Compared to December 2021, median sales prices increased 8.5%, from $725,000 to $786,951. Closed sales fell 38.5%, from 117 to 72. The median number of days homes spent on the market jumped 366.7%, from 12 to 56. The average percent of list price received by sellers fell slightly by 1.1%, from 99% to 97.9%. The median price per square foot sold increased 10.3%, from $331 to $365. Pending sales decreased 28.4%, from 74 to 53. New listings dropped 47.5% from 59 to 31. End of month inventory increased 147.1%, from 102 to 252. The month’s supply of inventory, which is an estimate of the time it would take to sell off the existing inventory, jumped 301.4%, from 0.9 to 3.5 months.

A California company that makes modular homes plans to build an $80 million, 450,000 square-foot facility at the Montana Connections Business Development Park in Butte that could employ up to 150 employees the first year.

BauerFinancial, Inc., the Nation’s Premier Bank Rating Firm, has once again awarded Stockman Bank of Montana, its top (5-Star) rating. “It’s important to impress, this award is not granted; it is earned,” emphasizes Karen Dorway, president of BauerFinancial. “And, having earned 5-Stars for 40 (or more) consecutive quarters, Stockman has earned an even higher designation as an Exceptional Performance Bank.” 

Bauer rates every federally insured U.S. chartered bank with the same strict standards, and reports that Stockman Bank continues to excel in areas of capital adequacy, profitability, loan quality and more. This marks the 57th consecutive quarter it has done so – since January 2009.

“With the Federal Reserve raising interest rates at breakneck speed, it may be tough for some banks to keep pace,” cautions Dorway. “But, with high capital cushions and an established track record, Stockman is well-positioned to continue to thrive and be a source of strength for the communities it serves.”

By Rachel Cone and Nicole Rolf, Montana Farm Bureau Federation

Week four of the 68th Montana Legislature is working to accomplish the peoples’ business and we saw many bills continue their journey this week.

A Montana Farm Bureau member, Christy Clark, was confirmed by the Senate Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation Committee to serve as Director for the Department of Agriculture (DOA). Her confirmation now move to the Senate floor for a full confirmation vote Clark, who Governor Gianforte appointed last January, has served the DOA since 2015 in a variety of roles such as deputy director, agricultural science administrator, and interim director.

 This week we saw several bills supported by MFBF advance through the legislature, some without any opposition. HB 212 Increase business equipment tax exemption sponsored by Josh Kassmier (R) HD 27 which increases the business equipment tax exemptions from $300,000 to $1 million passed through the House Taxation Committee with no opposition, bringing this important legislation one step closer to helping small businesses acquire more or better equipment. Following its passage out of the Taxation Committee, the bill was referred to the House Appropriations Committee, where MFBF and many other business groups supported it in a hearing again this week. In the Appropriations Committee, the fiscal impact of the legislation is considered. After further vetting, we expect it to continue its advancement through the process.

Other bills that advanced this week include HB 245 Revise tax credit for trades education and training sponsored by Sue Vinton (R) HD 56. With around a quarter of farms and ranches in Montana hiring out-of-family labor, the tax credit provided by HB 245 gives these farms and ranches a great incentive to provide training and education to those workers while bringing in more jobs to rural communities.SB 58 Increase landowner payment cap for block management sponsored by Steve Hinebauch (R) SD 18 also advanced this week. With a proud heritage of hunting in Montana, SB 58 is set to continue to support that history by doubling the block management program cap from $25,000 to $50,000 giving landowners more incentive to provide sportsman access to more hunting land. SB 58 passed through the Senate Finance and Claims Committee without any opposition.

This week saw the first of what we expect could be several pieces of legislation regarding foreign ownership of agriculture land. SB 203 Revise law for transfer of critical infrastructure and agricultural land sponsored by Kenneth Bogner (R) SD 19 prevents an entity from selling, leasing or renting agricultural land to a “foreign adversary.” This year, several Montana Farm Bureau members shared their concerns over agricultural land being bought by foreign governments, particularly those with strained relations with the United States. We support this bill as it fits within our grassroots policy and represents our membership’s concern over the ownership of agricultural land by an adversary foreign government

Red Tape Removal. A big theme of the session has been reducing the regulatory burden for all Montanans. Many of the bills we have supported in the 2023 Session have been under the Administration’s “Red Tape Relief Project” and we are very thankful to each department that took an in-depth look at their various sections of Montana Code Annotated to review what is outdated or cumbersome.

The Department of Livestock (DOL) has presented many bills that remove outdated language. For example, HB 153: Generally revise laws related to livestock markets sponsored by Brandon Ler (R) HD 35 updates language in regards to livestock markets to include the use of online markets since today, online auctions are a common way to market livestock. Advances of new technologies should not be hindered by legislation that was developed many years ago and this is just one example of the DOL’s work in this project. MFBF supports this initiative and applauds the many who are making it possible.

The Department of Agriculture, Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, and the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks have all brought forward bills of similar nature to update and modify legislation that benefits agriculture.

Water Rights. The Montana Comprehensive Water Review took place between the 2021 Legislative Session and the 2023 Legislative Session, focusing on two main key challenges: Final Decree Transition, and Changes, Mitigation and Exceptions. Through this process, two bills were created to address the challenges and both bills have strong support from Montana Farm Bureau.

Grizzly Bears. Montana Farm Bureau supported SB 85: Require management of delisted grizzly bears at sustainable levels sponsored by Mike Lang (R) SD 17. Removing grizzly bears from the Endangered Species List is of utmost importance to MFBF members. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) has proven they are capable of properly managing grizzly bears and should be the primary manager of this species, not the federal government. This bill outlines how MT FWP will manage the bears after delisting and shows the federal agencies that Montana is more than ready to take back state management.