Over 5000 Women filled the streets of downtown Billings on Saturday last week for the 42nd Montana Women’s Run. Despite threats of rain women of all ages ran and walked the two-mile and five-mile events. With the mission of encouraging healthy life styles the Montana Women’s Run has over the years donated $1,637,500 to worthy causes that support women’s health and well-being. About a fourth of the participants and their families come to Billings from outside the county.

California Law Could Affect all States…

By Victor Skinner, The Center Square

North Carolina hog farmers could take a major hit from a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld a California animal cruelty law regulating pork sales in that state.

“Right now we’re still trying to digest the ruling to understand exactly what it says,” Roy Lee Lindsey, CEO of the NC Pork Council, told The Center Square. “It was a very complex opinion.”

Agriculture is North Carolina’s largest industry, and the state is home to the top two hog producing counties in the country: Duplin County with nearly 2 million hogs, and Sampson County with more than 1.8 million. Bladen County is 11th nationally for hog production, while Wayne County is 17th.

Overall, North Carolina consistently ranks in the top three pork producing states at about 4.2 billion pounds annually, behind only Iowa at about 13.2 billion pounds and Minnesota at about 4.6 billion, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest producer, operates the world’s largest plant in Tar Heel – a small Bladen County community between Elizabethtown and Fayetteville. The industry has economic output of more than $10 billion for the state and 19,298 jobs, according to 2019 N.C. State University data.

The Supreme Court, with a 5-4 decision that was nonpartisan, upheld a California animal cruelty law that requires pork sold in the state to come from sows raised with a minimum of 24 square feet of space.

The ruling seemingly outlaws common metal enclosures used in the industry for breeding pigs for producers who want to sell pork in California, significantly reducing capacity.

“It has an impact as a whole across the country,” Lindsey said. “Its impact is not going to be limited to one state or two states, it’s going to affect all of us.”

In a prepared statement released later in the day, Lindsey added, “Hog farmers in North Carolina do not understand how the State of California should have any say in how hogs are raised in NC. Every day, hog farmers across North Carolina work to provide the proper care for OUR hogs. Just as we have for generations, our farmers will continue to work on continuous improvement – being just a little better every day – in everything we do. That includes raising animals responsibly, producing safe food, caring for the environment, caring for our employees, and investing in our communities.

“This is not a message of doom and gloom. NC hog farmers, and hog farmers across the country, are resilient. They have faced challenges before and always found a way forward. Proposition 12 is just THE latest in a long list of challenges our farmers will overcome.”

The National Pork Producers Council predicts the ruling will result in higher prices for consumers and fewer small farms.

“We are very disappointed with the Supreme Court’s opinion,” said Scott Hays, a Missouri pork producer and president of the national council. “Allowing state overreach will increase prices for consumers and drive small farms out of business, leading to more consolidation.

“We are still evaluating the court’s full opinion to understand all the implications. NPPC will continue to fight for our nation’s pork farmers and American families against misguided regulations.”

California’s law stems from Proposition 12, approved by voters as an animal cruelty law in 2018 to allow sows room to turn around and lie down during gestation. The American Farm Bureau Federation and National Pork Producers Council challenged the law, arguing nearly all of the pork sold in California comes from hogs raised elsewhere.

The pork industry noted that nearly three-quarters of farmers raise sows in pens that do not comply with the law, which could cost the industry up to $350 million.

California produces one-tenth of 1% of the nation’s pork.

Justice Brett Kanvanaugh wrote within his dissent, “If one State conditions sale of a good on the use of preferred farming, manufacturing, or production practices in another State where the good was grown or made, serious questions may arise under the Import-Export Clause.”

The Humane Society of the United States was a party to the case and cheered the Supreme Court’s decision not to restrict the California law.

Kitty Block, CEO of the Humane Society, said, “It’s astonishing that pork industry leaders would waste so much time and money on fighting this common sense step to prevent products of relentless, unbearable animal suffering from being sold in California.

Westmoreland Mining Holdings, LLC  has announced a restructuring of its company and the launching a new enterprise called “WestMET” for Westmoreland Minerals, Energy and Technology.

Company officials say that the changes “will substantially enhance the foundations of the business by right sizing the Second Lien Debt Facility to align with the Company’s long-term strategic direction.” The new enterprise emerged from “innovative ideas and concepts that were ‘hiding in plain sight’ within the traditional asset base.” WestMET “encapsulates an exciting portfolio of sustainable products and services that will meet the needs and wants of the world today and in the future. By harvesting the latent value existing in and around former mining hubs and grid connections”

WestMET will consist of three core business segments, including a unique agriculture operation developed from one of the foremost humalite deposits in North America, an advanced skills and technology platform focused on large scale reclamation, and Earth Restoration Services (“ERS”), and a Renewable Energy incubator with the potential to optimize the highly prized real estate surrounding coveted grid interconnectors with new forms of power generation that will serve to galvanize the current energy transition.

While the two companies will emerge as separate entities with independent boards and leadership teams, Westmoreland will continue to provide as-needed back office and management resources for WestMET for the next 18 months, through a Shared Services Agreement.

Jeffrey Kukura, Westmoreland’s Senior Vice President for Organizational Transformation over the past two years, will transfer to WestMET after closing and take the lead in the future development of the new business.

“After an extended period of negotiations, planning, and hard work, I am thrilled to announce the successful closing of this pivotal restructuring deal with our investors. This move reinforces the strong alignment between all our stakeholders to ensure that our business adapts and evolves to the meet the challenges and opportunities that now face our industry,” said Westmoreland Chief Executive Officer Martin Purvis.

“For Westmoreland to have both the window of opportunity and ability to create a transformational new enterprise – while improving our balance sheet – is a noteworthy achievement for one of North America’s oldest mining companies.” “This is without doubt a compelling and timely transaction for our business” said Heath Hill, Westmoreland’s Chief Financial Officer.

 “Crossing the finishing line with our investors on what has been a relatively complex transaction really sets Westmoreland up for the future. This deal substantially enhances our creditworthiness and provides us with the financial flexibility to respond to shifting market forces and emerging growth opportunities that align with our robust skills, long-standing relationships, and unique asset base.”

Visit Montana has developed Montana Dinosaur Trail for visitors and travelers to Montana’s spectacular unspoiled nature, vibrant and charming small towns, breathtaking experiences and relaxing hospitality.

Dinosaurs have been a staple of American culture since the dawn of time, but a lesser-known American staple is Montana’s big imprint on Dinosaur discovery and today, the many ways for visitors to get their hands dirty uncovering a piece of the past for themselves. Plan your ultimate dino vacation on the Montana Dinosaur Trail, an extraordinary journey through time, where visitors witness the wonders of prehistoric life.

Winding its way through the state, the Montana Dinosaur Trail takes travelers back in time with 14 locations to learn about Montana’s prehistoric residents. While the trail starts along Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front and ends in Southeast Montana, dinosaur enthusiasts can explore the sites in any preferred order. As a bonus, many of the stops on the trail are home to fossils and artifacts that were unearthed locally, in Montana. The trail’s Prehistoric Passport makes it easy to visit them all—just like the dinosaurs did.

A day at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman is a must during a Montana adventure. It’s one of the world’s finest research and history museums, as well as a Smithsonian affiliate. Ideal for multi-generational visitors, the museum is home to an impressive fossil collection, permanent exhibits and planetarium shows, as well as a chance to view two of Big Sky Country’s most famous dinosaurs: Big Mike the T. rex and Big Al, a nearly complete Allosaurus.

Big Mike is one of the most complete T. rex skeletons in the world. While the original bones are on loan to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, a 15-foot bronze cast stands watch over the museum, greeting you upon arrival. A local family discovered the fossil in eastern Montana in 1988, catching the attention of a Hollywood film team who used the excavation to help produce Jurassic Park.

A four-hour drive north from Bozeman, through limestone bluffs carved by the Missouri River and sweeping valleys of farmland, leads to an area known as the Rocky Mountain Front. Nestled here in the shadow of towering mountain peaks are the small communities of Bynum and Choteau, both of which are prime destinations on the Montana Dinosaur Trail.

With a population of 31, Bynum is a small town—even by Montana standards—with a big dinosaur scene. The Montana Dinosaur Center is home to impressive fossils, including remains of a recently discovered dinosaur species, but what truly sets this museum apart is its dig program. Varying from half-day to five-day dig programs, attendees work alongside paleontologists to unearth a piece of Montana’s rich dinosaur history for themselves. This unique program runs from May through September. Booking for a summer dig is available online here.

This area is also home to Egg Mountain, which became an important site in Montana’s dinosaur history after a Bynum local, Marion Brandvold, found the remains of juvenile dinosaurs. After showing her discovery to Jack Horner, a well-known paleontologist, Horner and his team unearthed 14 dinosaur nests. The original dinosaur fossils found by Brandvold can be seen on display at the Old Trail Museum in Choteau.

Continue along the trail through central Montana for more locally discovered prehistoric treasures. The Upper Musselshell Museum in Harlowton features “Ava,” an Avaceratops skeleton that was the first of its kind, as well as American Indian artifacts from ancient bison kill sites. The Depot Museum in Rudyard is home to the “Oldest Sorehead,” a fully jointed fossil of a Gryposaurus found nearby. Chinook’s Blaine County Museum houses numerous prehistoric discoveries unearthed in the Judith River Formation, a fossil hotbed deposited in this region 75 to 80 million years ago.

Following the Montana Dinosaur Trail east, adventurers will find five additional locations among the sweeping plains, river coulees and badland formations.

The Fort Peck Interpretive Center and Museum features a full-size cast of a Tyrannosaurus rex fossil named Peck’s Rex™ that was unearthed near Fort Peck Lake in 1997. It is one of the most complete fossils discovered in the world.

One of the most compelling communities on the Montana Dinosaur Trail is Glendive, with stops at Frontier Gateway Museum and Makoshika State Park. Today, Montana’s largest state park is home to hiking trails, stunning badland views and a chance to see fossilized remains of several prehistoric species, including Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops.

There’s also plenty of exciting events for all ages along the Montana Dinosaur Trail, including the 11th Annual Dino Shindig this summer at the Carter County Museum in Ekalaka. This family-friendly event attracts attendees from all over the world for fun activities and hands-on fossil digs.

Find more dinosaur adventures and ways to explore Montana’s history at visitmt.com.

Samuel Stebbins, 24/7 Wall St. via The Center Square

There are nearly 2,400 people worldwide whose individual net worth exceeds $1 billion — and more than one-quarter of them live in the United States. All told, there are over 250 cities and towns across the country that at least one of the world’s ultra wealthy calls home.

Using data from Forbes’ Real Time Billionaires list, 24/7 Wall St. identified the city in every state with the most billionaires. The combined net worth of the billionaires in some U.S. cities exceeds the entire annual GDP of many states.

The U.S. cities that are home to the most billionaires are often closely tied to the sources of their wealthiest residents’ net worth. For example, many of the wealthiest people in the country have made their fortune through some association a successful company — and these people often live in close proximity to these companies. As a result, many of the cities on this list have high concentrations of companies in well-paying industries like finance, tech, and oil.

In Montana, Missoula is home to more billionaires than any other city. A total of two billionaires live in Missoula with a combined net worth of $8.3 billion. Of Missoula residents with a minimum 10-figure net worth, Dennis Washington is the wealthiest, worth an estimated $6.3 billion.

Bozeman is the city with the second most billionaires with the highest combined net worth in Montana. There is one billionaire in the city worth an estimated $2.8 billion.

To determine the city in every state with the most billionaires, 24/7 Wall St. compiled data from Forbes’ Real Time Billionaires list. Data on residency and net worth came from the list, which is updated every five minutes to reflect changes in stock prices and private company valuations. In cases where the number of billionaires in two cities within the same state was a tie, the city with the highest total billionaire net worth was given preference. Data is current as of March 29, 2021.

Samuel Stebbins,  24/7 Wall St. via The Center Square

 Deciding where to go college is the first major life decision many Americans make. And while there are many factors to weigh when selecting a school – including cost and distance from home – many of the 16.6 million American college students today chose to enroll in the best school they could get into.

It is generally believed that graduates of elite colleges and universities are better positioned for higher-paying careers later in life. And there is plenty of evidence to back this claim. According to one study conducted between 1996 and 2014, about 38% of Fortune 500 CEOs and 45% of billionaires attended elite post-secondary schools.

Because elite colleges and universities offer high quality and rigorous academic programs, they receive far more applications each year than they can accept. As a result, many of the best schools in the country are also the most selective. It is worth noting that those who graduate from top-tier institutions are high achievers to begin with, and therefore, any career success cannot be attributed to their college education alone.

Based on data from the U.S. Department of Education, of the six colleges or universities in Montana with available data, The University of Montana-Western, located in Dillon, ranks as the hardest school to get into. Only 33.3% of applicants for the fall 2021 semester were admitted, and the median SAT score among enrolled students in the 2020-2021 academic year was 1005 out of a possible 1600.

The average cost of attending The University of Montana-Western as a full-time student is $17,790 for one academic year. Average annual cost of attendance is only for full-time, first-time, undergraduates who receive Title IV aid.

All schools in each state with at least 1,000 applicants in fall 2021 were ranked.

By John Hines, NorthWestern Energy Vice President, Supply/Montana Government Affairs

The facts don’t lie. Rhetoric disputing those facts doesn’t add up.

That fact is NorthWestern Energy doesn’t have enough 24/7, on-demand generation to serve our Montana customers reliably during critical weather in an affordable manner.

The fact is NorthWestern Energy is responsible for providing reliable, safe energy service at reasonable rates for our Montana customers today, tomorrow and in the future.

Our plans are years in the making to mitigate the risk our Montana customers face. The fact is Montana should increase our energy independence, with more generation resources in the state dedicated to serve Montanans and end the grip of out-of-state energy policies.

The 175 megawatt natural gas fired Yellowstone County Generating Station was selected two years ago from a competitive project solicitation for resources to provide 24/7, on-demand generation our Montana customers need for reliable service in all weather conditions. The third-party solicitation evaluator recommended the project to meet that need reliably at the least cost. Wind, solar, storage, hybrid and other conventional technology projects were evaluated too.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality issued an air quality permit for the Yellowstone County Generating Station on Sept. 8. 2021 after a thorough review of our application that is consistent with state laws and reguaions.

On April 6, 2023, after more than 550 days of construction work, a Montana District Court judge vacated the permit and sent our application back to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality to analyze again. 

Now most of the 250 workers building the Yellowstone County Generation Station, including 190 union craft workers, are laid off. That is a tough blow to the workers and their families and the local and regional businesses supporting those workers and the construction of the plant. 

The District Court judge’s order faults the Montana Department of Environmental Quality for not adequately addressing the carbon effect of the plant. But carbon effects aren’t included in the criteria Montana requires to be evaluated for air quality permits. The judge’s order sets a new standard.

NorthWestern Energy’s contractors have worked for a year and a half in all weather conditions so that the Yellowstone County Generating Station will be ready to serve our Montana customers’ peak energy demands a year from now, during the hottest days of summer in 2024 and the coldest nights in winter in 2025.

We’ve spent more than $180 million on construction. The final expected $275 million cost of the plant may increase with this delay and it may not be available to serve our Montana customers next summer.

The negative economic consequences of the District Court ruling will reach beyond the Yellowstone County Generating Station project. Adding carbon effects as a new criteria for Montana air quality permits could impact subdivision development, land fill operations, cement plants and almost any other development in the state.

Those far-reaching negative economic consequences are the reason the Montana Legislature is considering two bills addressing this judge’s decision. NorthWestern Energy didn’t initiate either effort and if passed, neither will apply to the District Court judge’s order vacating the air quality permit for the Yellowstone County Generating Station. But the diverse group of stakeholders supporting the legislation recognize the chilling impact the order could have on development in the state and Montana’s business climate. 

To be very clear our Montana customers can’t afford this delay.

A wind or solar project scaled to provide the on-demand, 24/7 energy generation equivalent to the Yellowstone County Generating Station would cost more than $2 billion and $4 billion respectively. Our customers can’t afford those project price tags.

Today up to 40% of the energy needed to meet our Montana customers’ highest demands is from the energy market, most imported from out-of-state. Market energy purchases are extremely costly for our Montana customers, increasing by 59% from 2021 and totaling $130 million in 2022. 

Energy companies across the West face risks to energy supply during the next decade. Energy resource concerns aren’t unique to NorthWestern Energy’s Montana customers, but rolling blackouts in the middle of extreme winter cold could be.

The fact is NorthWestern Energy is taking actions now to continue to provide the reliable, safe, cost-effective energy service we do today into the future. That is our responsibility to our Montana customers and it is in the best interest of our state.

The outdoor retail store, Sierra, opened in Big Bear Sports Center in Billings on Saturday, May 13, marking the first Sierra store in Montana. 

As part of the T.J.Maxx Family of Brands, Sierra is touted as the go-to retailer for those seeking epic savings on top active and outdoor brands for the entire family. With its wide array of apparel, footwear and gear – all available at up to 60 percent less than department and specialty store prices – it is a one-stop-shop for everything from hiking, camping and kayaking to running errands, yoga and travel necessities. 

“We are excited to officially open our doors this weekend and become the newest retail option for Billings’ shoppers, especially as this is our first opening in the state,” said Gennifer Hobbs, Vice President and Sierra Marketing Director. “In February, our sister brand – HomeGoods – opened in the Big Bear Sports Center and, given the warm response from the community, we couldn’t be more thrilled to be joining them with our incredible prices and quality active and outdoor brands.” 

In celebration of its arrival in the Billings community, Sierra has made a $10,000 donation to Family Promise of Yellowstone Valley, supporting the charity’s mission to rebuild lives with compassion by providing resources and services that prevent and end homelessness for individuals and families in the community. 

By Michael Marino, Yellowstone County News & Adea Sanders, graduate of the University of Montana

R.L. Schaff Concrete Construction in Shepherd changed ownership after nearly 44 years in business off Chicago Rd. As of May 1, they are now Solid Concrete. New local investors have taken over the company and are highly interested in serving the community with a much needed service; and – they’re hiring.

Jordan Hold, the new General Manager, said he was approached by the local investors who acquired the business, and asked to help take on the opportunity. With a background in construction, he and his wife, a realtor, were happy to take on the business and give back to his community alongside their local rental properties.

 Office Manager, Jenelle Donnes expressed the importance of local outreach, saying, “We’ve already been approached for a little donation at the school, so we’re excited to do that.”

Reaching customers in Shepherd, Huntley and Billings is a major focus for Solid Concrete as they provide ready-mixed concrete for local construction, as well as precast products such as speed bumps and septic tanks. They source all their materials locally from the Billings and surrounding areas. 

By Courtney Madany, Graduate assistant for University Communications & Marketing

Montana State University Billings Accounting and Finance Professor Ying Wang, DBA, recently published a study in the Journal of Finance and Accountancy. This study analyzed trends in local and state budgets. The public can now access Wang’s full publication online.

Wang says her study was inspired by the changing economic conditions in recent years. The study shows although state revenues go up and down with economic cycles, state expenditures are persistent and the effort to adjust expenditures according to revenue is not apparent if attempted at all.

“We expect our faculty to participate in scholarly activity and Dr. Wang always exceeds our expectations,” says Ed Garding, interim dean of MSUB’s College of Business. “In addition, she provides community service on behalf of MSUB with the many committees that she serves on, carries a heavy teaching load, and stays current on new accounting rules and provides that information to her students.”

Wang has worked at MSUB for 15 years and is honored to be part of a close-knit and welcoming community. “At MSUB, we contribute to the academic society and the public by publishing relevant, current research that helps understanding of the current economic situation,” Wang says.

The MSUB accounting program is demanding, and the students work hard and are in high demand upon graduating. Wang’s study will help provide insight into governmental accounting, which is important knowledge they need in their career, either as an auditor or working in a government role.

The public can access Wang’s full publication online.