By Aikta Marcoulier, SBA Regional Administrator

The pandemic confirmed the essential role that small businesses play in our daily lives.  It sounds cliché, but locally owned small businesses truly are the heart and soul of our cities and towns. The holiday shopping season is a crucial time for small retailers and restaurants that depend upon the boost in sales earned between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Not so long ago, it was an annual holiday tradition to travel downtown and shop at one of the many locally owned main street businesses. Brick-and-mortar businesses would promote their best deals of the year in hopes of luring shoppers to make a purchase, or at least browse their shelves full of merchandise. Today, online shopping has quickly become the preferred way Americans buy their holiday gifts.  Recent estimates show that more than 80 percent of shoppers make regular online purchases throughout the year.  

Given the dramatic shifts in the retail environment over the last twenty years, those holiday scenes and traditions are in danger of passing into the realm of nostalgic folklore.

To better compete, small business owners have become very innovative in the way they sell and promote their products and services.  An encouraging transformation born out of the pandemic is that many entrepreneurs pivoted operating models to include e-commerce platforms, or changed product offerings, to meet the new demands of the online consumer. Some are even bringing back the retail traditions of the past by providing personalized one-on-one assistance to customers and the selling of locally produced niche items found nowhere else in town. Cottage businesses have started in record numbers as people realized their dream of small business ownership could begin in their basement or garage.

The success of this year’s holiday shopping season will have a huge impact here in Montana and across the nation. Montana’s 130,000 small businesses generate almost 50 percent of the jobs in our state, employing 253,000 Montanans.  As you shop locally at one of the 13,000 retail small businesses, you’re not only proving unique and memorable gifts, but you are also helping boost Montana’s economy and directly supporting local families. If you are leaning more towards creating memories verses traditional gift giving, consider one of the 7,000 small businesses that offer entertainment or recreational activities.

Small businesses are the backbone of our democracy, and the solution to our most challenging economic problems. If you’re an entrepreneur and need advice, please consider exploring the tools and resources of the U.S. Small Business Administration and its partners. SBA’s resource partners include the Montana Small Business Development Center (SBDC) network with 10 locations throughout the state, our statewide Procurement Technical Assistance Centers, the Women’s Business Centers in Bozeman and Missoula, and SCORE. Each of these partners can help identify strategies to become more competitive and viable in what will likely be an ever-shifting business landscape.

In addition to our formal partners, small business owners can get involved with local support organizations such as chambers of commerce, business districts, and neighborhood associations. These organizations are actively involved in coordinating events and promotions to attract foot traffic to their small business members including local bazaars and shop small/dine small/entertain small, focused festivals.

This holiday season, please join me in making at least one purchase from a locally owned small business in your city or town.  These business owners are the true heroes of our communities, and they deserve our support, thanks, and appreciation.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently announced a delay to the reporting requirement threshold for transactions on payment platforms including Venmo, PayPal, and Airbnb. The delay will keep a $20,000 transaction threshold for 2023 and introduce a new significantly lower threshold phased-in starting in 2024. Despite the delay, this new rule will add to the harmful tax-related paperwork burden for small businesses and increase government overreach.

After the phase-in year, the mandate will require payment platforms to send a Form 1099-K to the IRS and users if their transactions total more than $600 for the year. The new requirement raises concerns that the IRS will not be able to differentiate between money received as payment for work and money that was received to split the costs of goods or services, creating confusion.

“For example, if you buy concert tickets and your friend sends you money electronically to pay for theirs, the IRS may treat this as income to you and tax it,” explained NFIB President Brad Close. “Multiply this by tens of millions of transactions, and you can see the magnitude of the problem facing small businesses. Small businesses expect the additional confusion and lower threshold will add to their already harmful paperwork burden and increase government overreach.”

The IRS does not have the authority to pick the threshold – only Congress has the authority to remove or change the 1099-K reporting threshold. While the ‘transition year’ $5,000 threshold temporarily relieves an unnecessary reporting burden and confusion for some, what small businesses need is for Congress to provide a complete fix by removing the new $600 threshold rule that will start in 2025.

In March 2021, the American Rescue Plan implemented this $600 threshold. For the 2023 tax year, the IRS will require payment platforms to generate 1099-K forms using the longstanding threshold of $20,000. Small businesses receiving 2023 1099-K forms from these platforms will see them in the mail or electronically in early 2024, similar to the tax-related forms received from banks regarding savings accounts.

For the 2024 tax year, the IRS will require these platforms to generate 1099-K forms at a threshold of $5,000 in transactions. Based on the November 2023 IRS announcement, in early 2025, every small business that has more than $5,000 in transactions on platforms like PayPal, Venmo, and others, will start receiving 1099-K tax forms for additional tax liabilities.

NFIB is calling on Congress to remove the new, lower threshold and return to the longstanding $20,000 threshold for 1099-K reporting and will continue to advocate for a repeal.

By Tu-Uyen Tran, Senior Writer, Federal Reserve Bank of  Minneapolis

Trends in the Ninth District’s construction industry are splitting along clear lines: For industrial and infrastructure projects, business is up. But the same can’t be said for residential and commercial construction, according to a recent Minneapolis Fed survey.

“There has been a real drop off in single family homes,” a concrete subcontractor in Greater Minnesota said. High interest rates have made homes much less affordable for many people, he said.

Yet, the same survey respondent expects work to pick up outside of housing. Federal and state governments are “dumping a lot of money” into public works projects, he said.

In the residential and commercial construction sectors, more survey respondents reported lower revenue than higher revenue. But the opposite was true in the industrial and infrastructure sectors.

The survey was conducted in partnership with dozens of construction and other trade organizations in early November. More than 300 respondents took part in the survey.

Compared with a year ago, revenue decreased for 61 percent of the residential sector and 41 percent of the commercial sector. Only about a third of the industrial and infrastructure sectors said the same.

The residential sector began to diverge from the other sectors in the middle of 2022, around the time interest rates began to soar, according to earlier Minneapolis Fed surveys. The commercial sector soon followed.

Survey responses suggest that homebuyers and commercial developers are more sensitive to interest rate hikes. One reason the infrastructure sector is less sensitive is that the clients are often governments.

A Twin Cities architect said most of the revenue growth her firm has enjoyed has been from out-of-state federal government contracts. “If it were not for those we would be sorely under sales and profits, and likely considering layoffs.”

In some areas, government spending incentivized private spending. A supplier of construction materials in western South Dakota said commercial buildings and hotels are being built in anticipation of growth at Ellsworth Air Force Base. The Air Force plans to house its new B-21 stealth bombers there in the next few years.

The challenge of labor

When survey respondents were asked to name their top challenges, 66 percent in the residential construction sector pointed to high interest rates.

Far fewer respondents in commercial, industrial, and infrastructure sectors considered interest rates to be so challenging. In those sectors, labor availability was the top challenge for the largest number of respondents. Even in the slower-growing commercial sector, 44 percent said labor availability is a top challenge while 42 percent identified rate hikes.

This difference likely stems from hiring challenges. A majority of respondents in all sectors except residential said their firm is still hiring (Figure 3). These positions include new permanent workers, seasonal workers, and replacements for workers who quit. Workers in skilled trades are more in demand than those without specialized skills; respondents said skilled workers received bigger pay hikes.

“This is the biggest challenge we have had for the last three years that I can remember,” said a South Dakota general contractor specializing in commercial construction. “Wages are going up and people’s skillsets are declining.”

In the residential sector, less than half of respondents said their firm is hiring. Despite some warnings of potential layoffs, the majority of those not hiring are hanging on to the workers they have.

Inflation was a top challenge a year ago for a majority of respondents in all sectors. In this survey, it was only a top challenge for a majority of the residential sector.

Pessimism in the residential sector

Looking ahead over the next six months, optimism outweighs pessimism in all but the residential sector, where 46 percent don’t expect business to improve. The infrastructure sector reported the best outlook, with 48 percent expressing optimism. In the commercial sector, optimism narrowly beat pessimism 39 percent to 35 percent; the remaining responses were neutral.

The outlook is gloomy for homebuilders, because many may soon run out of work and new contracts are scarce. Sixty-seven percent of the sector said their project backlog had decreased. Sixty percent reported fewer requests for proposal (RFP) from private clients, who dominate the sector.

“We have no backlog currently,” said a Montana homebuilder. “In years back we had 10 to 20 houses in our backlog, which makes up about 10 to 20 percent of our yearly sales.”

Other sectors also reported decreased prospects for future work, but not to the same extent. In the commercial sector, for example, 44 percent said backlogs decreased and 51 percent said RFPs for private projects are fewer. The bulk of projects in the commercial sector are funded by private developers.

Public projects are much more stable. A majority of respondents in all sectors reported the same or greater number of public RFPs. That’s a boon to the infrastructure sector, where a large amount of public funding goes.

In North Dakota, a general contractor specializing in infrastructure said, “We can pick and choose our projects.”

Will the federal government open the gateway to confiscating the property of inventors and innovators in the US by giving itself the power to invalidate federally-funded patents upon a whim?

Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council (SBE Council) president & CEO Karen Kerrigan, commented, “President Biden’s proposed framework for march-in use under the Bayh-Dole Act amounts to an announcement that the U.S. government can invalidate patents and other intellectual property whenever it pleases. Make no mistake, the framework is not just about drugs, which is bad enough. It will chill innovation across the economy, dealing a major blow to small businesses and startups in particular, and across sectors.”

 “The 1980 Bayh-Dole Act was designed to ensure that federally-backed basic research wouldn’t just languish in laboratory archives, as much of it did before 1980. Thanks to the bipartisan law, businesses can license promising early-stage discoveries and develop them into revolutionary commercial products. Since Bayh-Dole’s passage, around 68% of licenses have gone to small businesses or start-ups.

 “The system created by Bayh-Dole has worked exactly as planned. The law has supported the creation of more than 15,000 new start-ups – many of them small businesses – while contributing an estimated $1.3 trillion to the US economy.

 “Until yesterday, the so-called march-in rights created under Bayh-Dole were conceived as an emergency provision. In cases where a company was either unable or unwilling to turn a licensed patent into a practical product, the government could revoke that license and reissue it to another firm better equipped to do the job. The circumstances justifying march-in are so limited that the government has never exercised the power in the more than 40 years Bayh-Dole has been on the books.

“Yesterday’s announcement is a sharp departure from decades of precedent businesses have come to rely on.

“If the Biden Administration finalizes this ill-conceived plan, the economic incentive to translate federally-funded science into commercial technologies will evaporate. Start-ups and investors won’t waste their time and money developing state-of-the-art products if federal officials can cancel their IP rights at will and without legal justification.

 “This proposal must be scrapped.”

VACOM, a German manufacturing company, is planning to establish its United States headquarters in Lewistown, Montana! VACOM is a producer of vacuum mechanics, electrical feedthroughs, vacuum measurement technology, vacuum optics, and cleaning technology. The company provides customers from throughout the world with precise vacuum technology for applications in research and industry – components that are provide perfect cleanliness for demanding high-end applications.

The company plans to invest an estimated $90 million in a new facility that will create up to 500 good-paying Montana jobs by 2029.

At a press conference on December 17 at the Yogo Inn in Lewistown, Gov. Greg Gianforte welcomed Jens Bergner, CEO of VACOM, saying, “Our state is made stronger when companies like VACOM choose to do business in Montana, providing our kids and grandkids the opportunity to thrive in a good-paying job, and raise their family in the community they love.”

“We are very looking forward to working together with Montanans,” said Bergner. “They are a great people!”

VACOM announced plans to open a 40,000 square foot production facility in Lewistown, located near the Lewistown Airport, which will serve as its American headquarters. The campus will include a daycare for employees’ children and an educational center to upskill employees.

VACOM plans to invest $20 million in the buildings and $15 million in equipment and technology for the first phase. They expect to ramp up to 100 employees by 2026 and 200 by 2027. The phases will give time to train and educate the people about the company’s vacuum technology.

Further investment by VACOM in Montana is possible, according to Bergner. They hope to invest another $50 million, eventually and add another 500 employees.

VACOM is also working on a smaller project, called Big Spring, that will launch sooner, with another $6 million and 30 employees.

Founded in 1992 in Germany, VACOM is an owner-managed family business and currently employs around 400 employees.

In order to increase production and add new agriculture products, the  U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing $3 million to the State of Montana. The funds are to support technology that will “place products in consumer markets” throughout the state.

A press release claims the state’s investments through Resilient Food Systems Infrastructure (RFSI) Program will create a food systems infrastructure to support competitive and profitable market access for farm products.

Montana’s Department of Agriculture is accepting pre-applications for this Infrastructure Grant funding through Jan. 8, 2024.

In May 2023, USDA announced the availability of up to $420 million through RFSI to strengthen local and regional food systems. Through this program, AMS has entered into cooperative agreements with state agencies, commissions, or departments responsible for agriculture, commercial food processing, seafood, or food system and distribution activities or commerce activities in states or U.S. territories. RFSI is authorized by the American Rescue Plan.

USDA Marketing and Regulatory Programs, Under Secretary Jenny Lester Moffitt said, “The projects funded through this program will create new opportunities for the region’s small and midsize producers to thrive, expand access to nutritious food options, and increase supply chain resiliency.”

According to the federal government’s press release the program will fund projects that support the addition of new technology to increase production and add product lines for agriculture products, invest in business capacity to place products in consumer markets, build cold storage capacity throughout the state, and expand food distribution lines. “The state’s priorities are informed by stakeholder engagement and outreach to underserved producers to better understand their needs,” it claims.

Montana’s Department of Agriculture Director Christy Clark said in accepting the federal funding, “These grants support infrastructure to invest in capacity and the expansion of food distribution lines,” that will improve “Montana’s producers’ ability to innovate and grow their operations.”

Dylan Meccage recently returned to Stockman Bank as a Commercial Loan Officer at the Billings Downtown location. His responsibilities include developing and servicing commercial and construction loans and assisting clients with their lending and credit needs.

Meccage brings over four years of banking experience to the position, which includes commercial lending, credit analysis and business development. He began with Stockman Bank in 2019, serving in his latest role as a commercial loan officer. Prior to returning to the bank, he was an appraisal analyst. His background and past experience will be an asset to Stockman Bank and help expand their commercial loan portfolios.

Meccage earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration, with an emphasis in Management from Montana State University Billings, graduating Cum Laude. He is active in the community, serving as Vice Chair on the Board of Directors for Head Start Inc., and volunteering as a Varsity Boys Basketball Assistant Coach in Lockwood.

Michael Layman, senior advisor to the Coalition to Save Local Businesses (CSLB), issued the following statement highlighting CSLB’s rapid nationwide growth. Since its November relaunch, CSLB has driven almost 60 groups across 10 states to call on their state congressional delegations to support a bipartisan resolution to overturn the job-killing joint employer rule.

“Momentum is building to stop the job-killing joint employer rule,” said Layman. “Small and local business owners across America know this overreaching and unworkable regulation will kill jobs, shutter storefronts, increase litigation and make an already uncertain economic outlook that much worse. It’s encouraging to see the widespread support in communities across the country for overturning this disastrous rule.”

The NLRB’s final joint employer rule would expand 6he definition of joint employer, stripping small business owners of authority over their employees. This new joint employer rule expands on an old joint employer rule that destroyed an estimated 376,000 jobs, cost small businesses an estimated $33 billion, and led to a 93% spike in lawsuits in the franchise sector alone.  Proposed in Sept. 2022, the expanded joint employer rule was finalized on Oct. 26, 2023, was scheduled to take effect on Dec. 26, 2023 and has now been postponed until February 26, 2024.

Brad Griffin, CEO of the Montana Equipment Dealers Association said, “Agriculture is the lifeblood of Montana’s economy and supplying this vital industry with proper equipment is fundamental to its success. We oppose the joint employer rule, because it will negatively impact our dealer-member’s relationships with their agriculture partners. The Montana congressional delegation should absolutely support the effort to overturn this harmful rule.”

Earlier this year, a group of 72 organizations sent a letter urging Congress to use the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to overturn the NLRB’s final joint employer rule. Following the initial letter, organizations in Arizona, California, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, and North Dakota sent similar letters to their state congressional delegations.

U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and Joe Manchin (D-WV), Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC), chairwoman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, Representative John James (R-MI) and Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) introduced resolutions of disapproval under the CRA to overturn this new job-killing rule.

The Coalition to Save Local Businesses represents hundreds of thousands of local businesses and millions of American jobs through its membership and partner organizations.  The coalition’s goal is to raise the voices of everyday Americans who own, operate, work for and depend on local businesses for their livelihoods.

United Airlines has added two additional daily flights with direct service to Denver, Colorado. The announcement joins other recent announcements of additional air service for Billings.

United Airlines’ announcement brings Billings to five daily flights with direct service to Denver, according to The City of Billings, in partnership with the Visit Billings, the Billings Chamber of Commerce, and Big Sky Economic Development.

Expanded service will be in full effect on May 23, respectively, with the fourth flight being added as early as March 31, 2024.

Director of Aviation and Transit for Billings Logan International Airport, Jeff Roach said, “Billings Logan International Airport (BIL) is excited to see United Airlines continued commitment to our market with expanded daily service to Denver. United Airlines has been a great partner for the airport and the additional direct flights will enhance connectivity and provider increased business and tourism travel opportunities.”

This week’s announcement immediately follows numerous successes at the Billings airport, including new seasonal service from Sun Country Airlines to Minneapolis, direct, seasonal service to LAX via Allegiant Airlines, and a community air service event where attendees were updated on the airport’s construction plans, the state of the air service industry, and continued strategy to increase air service were discussed.

The Air Service Committee, comprised of business and community leaders, continues to strategize on air service goals to expand and improve air service for leisure and business travel for our community.

Allegiant Airline has also announced a new flight service connecting Billings to Los Angeles, California.

This strategic expansion by Allegiant signifies an exciting milestone in enhancing travel options for residents and visitors alike, stated The City of Billings, in partnership with the Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID), the Billings Chamber of Commerce, and Big Sky Economic Development in making the announcement.

Scheduled to commence on May 16, 2024, the new flight service will offer unparalleled convenience and accessibility for travelers seeking seamless connections between Billings and Los Angeles. With this addition, passengers will enjoy exploring new opportunities for travel and business. This service will undoubtedly elevate the overall travel experience for all flyers.

Roach said, “I am very excited that Allegiant has chosen to add non-stop seasonal air service to LAX next summer. Allegiant has been a great partner with Billings and we look forward to this new chapter in our journey together.”

Launching flights from California to Billings is a game-changer for our tourism economy. Meeting the demand from this market to explore our diverse attractions, from our National Monuments to access to Yellowstone National Park, bolsters our status as a premier destination,” added Aly Eggart, Leisure Marketing Director for Visit Billings and the Billings Chamber of Commerce.

The introduction of this flight service comes at a pivotal time, catering to the increasing demand for accessible, efficient, and comfortable travel options. “Los Angeles is a desired destination for our business leaders, especially in the private sector and retail industry, to continue to grow their economic partnerships in California. We’re pleased to see Allegiant’s investment and continued partnership in Billings” said Ashley Kavanagh, Senior Director of Recruitment and Community Development at Big Sky Economic Development. Tickets for this new flight service are now available for purchase through Allegiant’s website and mobile app. For more information or to book flights, visit

Tickets for this new flight service are now available for purchase through United’s website and mobile app.


Cogburn Holdings LLC/ Dick Anderson Construction, 6767 Tun Tavern Rd, Com Remodel, $4,000,000

Billings Logistics Center One LLC/ Bauer Construction, 3218 S Frontage Rd, Com Remodel, $320,000

Billing Real Estate Holdings LLC /Intermountain Wind and Solar LLC, 600 S 27th St, Com Remodel, $384,087

Homefront/ Safetech, Inc,  511 N 26th St, Demolition Permit Commercial, $17,845

Fitness Properties LLC/ Donahue Roofing & Siding LLC, 777 15th St W, Com Fence/Roof/Siding $155,753

Charter Communications Inc, 1860 Monad Rd, Com Remodel, $765,000

Black Hills Federal Credit Union/ Langlas & Assoc., Inc,.4002 Montana Sapphire Dr, Com Remodel, $15,000

Lana M Craig Trust/ J & T Roofing LLC, 920 Central Ave, Com Fence/Roof/Siding ,$36,000

236 N 9th St Trust /Neumann Construction, 50 24th St W, Com New Restaurant/Casino/Bar, $800,000

Edward E & Doris L Jones Trust/ Burnett Enterprises LLC, 1032 N 29th St, Com Remodel, $174,550

Black Hills Federal Credit Union/Langlas & Assoc., Inc., 4002 Montana Sapphire Dr, Com Remodel, $660,000

Darcey Frewin/ Carter Construction, 300 S 24th St W Com Remodel $50,000


Comstock, Anthony & Suzette /S Bar S Supply Contractor, 144 Monroe St, Res New Accessory, $20,000

Infinity Home LLC/ Infinity Home LLC, 509 Montecito Ave, Res New Single Family, $237,729

Buscher Construction/ Buscher Construction Ltd, 3129 Falcon Cir, Res New Single Family, $420,000

Infinity Homes/ Infinity Home LLC, 953 Ortega St, Res New Single Family, $247,609

Schott/ Mueller Contracting, 3035 Donegal Ct, Res New Single Family, $325,460

Na /Infinity Home LLC, 503 Montecito Ave, Res New Single Family, $244,996

John Haman/ HD Building Inc, 1410 Anchor Ave, Res New Single Family, $234,889

Trails West Homes LLC/ Trails West Homes LLC, 5733 Bear Track Trl, Res New Single Family, $227,838

Dirk Arnold Construction/ Dirk Arnold Construction, 1312 Emma Ave, Res New Single Family $340,000