Shamrock Foods, the largest family-held foodservice distributor in the western United States, has acquired Valley Distributing of Montana (Valley) in Billings. With a location in Billings,  Shamrock Foods has been serving Montana since 2020, distributing products to the restaurant and foodservice industry.

“Throughout Shamrock’s 100-year history, our success is built on our absolute commitment to taking care of our customers and making it easy for them to do business with us,” said Kent McClelland, Shamrock Foods Company Chairman and CEO. “Valley strengthens our ability to serve our Montana customers and expands our footprint in the West.”

With this acquisition, Shamrock’s customer base benefits from a Montana-based warehouse with room for expansion. Shamrock will build upon its local team, led by Montana native, Warren Helmer, in welcoming Valley’s employees into the Shamrock family of associates.

“We are working closely with Valley to ensure a smooth transition for all employees and customers,” said McClelland. “Growth is a way of life at Shamrock and as we continue to reinvest in people, fleet, facilities and technology, we look forward to a strong future in Montana.”

Shamrock Foodservice Warehouse’s retail store is located in Billings Heights, which provides access to high-quality foodservice products to restaurant operators and the general public with no membership fees.

Established over 100 years ago, the family-owned and -operated company attributes its longevity to an unwavering commitment to growing the best people, products, and services.

Shamrock Foods Company specializes in the manufacturing and distribution of quality food and food-related products through its family of companies including Shamrock Foods – the largest independent foodservice company in the West and top five in the United States, and Shamrock Farms – one of the largest family-owned and operated dairies nationwide. Founded in 1922 with 20 cows, a truck and a dream, Shamrock has grown into a national leader serving customers coast to coast. Four generations later, Shamrock Foods Company is still family-owned.

The SBA’s 8(a) program is making a major change to social disadvantage narrative requirements in the wake of a court ruling influenced by the Supreme Court’s decision on affirmative action.

The Small Business Administration’s 8(a) Business Development program was meant to make available billions in government contracting dollars for “historically disadvantaged groups.” But in July, a federal judge in Tennessee struck down a provision of the program that equated race with social disadvantage.

The decision throws into disarray an SBA program that has served minority-owned small businesses for about five decades. Legal experts said it could signal trouble for other programs meant to help underrepresented groups win federal contracts, including veterans and women.

Under the new guidelines, being Black, Hispanic, Asian or Native American is no longer enough to automatically qualify as socially disadvantaged — a key step in making it into the program. Instead, in a mass email distributed Aug. 22 by SBA officials, business owners were instructed to submit an essay demonstrating that race had hindered their success.

On July 19, 2023, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee issued a ruling (Ultima Servs. Corp. v. Dep’t of Ag. (E.D. Tenn.) affecting the application process for determining eligibility for SBA’s 8(a) Program. 

All current 8(a) participants will receive additional, direct communication from the SBA detailing what, if any, additional information must be provided to SBA in order to continue Program participation. Potential participants who have already initiated an 8(a) application may continue to work on their applications but may be required to incorporate changes in the future. If that is the case, SBA will give them clear indication of the changes needed.

NFIB’s Small Business Optimism Index decreased 0.6 of a point in August to 91.3, the 20th consecutive month below the 49-year average of 98. Twenty-three percent of small business owners reported that inflation was their single most important business problem, up two points from last month. The net percentage of owners raising average selling prices increased two points to a net 27% (seasonally adjusted), still at an inflationary level.

“With small business owners’ views about future sales growth and business conditions discouraging, owners want to hire and make money now from strong consumer spending,” said NFIB (National Federation of Independent Businesses) Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg. “Inflation and the worker shortage continue to be the biggest obstacles for Main Street.”

Key findings include:

* Small business owners expecting better business conditions over the next six months deteriorated seven points from July to a net negative 37%; however, while still at recession levels, the reading is 24 percentage points better than that of last June, which was a net negative 61%.

* Forty percent of owners reported job openings that were hard to fill, down two points from July but remain historically high.

* The net percentage of owners who expect real sales to be higher decreased two points from July to a net negative 14%.

As reported in NFIB’s monthly jobs report, 40% (seasonally adjusted) of all owners reported job openings they could not fill in the current period. Owners’ plans to fill open positions remain elevated, with a seasonally adjusted net 17% planning to create new jobs in the next three months.

Fifty-six percent reported capital outlays in the last six months, up one point from July. Of those making expenditures, 37% reported spending on new equipment, 24% acquired vehicles, and 17% improved or expanded facilities. Eleven percent spent money on new fixtures and furniture, and 4% acquired new buildings or land for expansion. Twenty-four percent of owners plan capital outlays in the next few months, down three points from July.

A net negative 14% of all owners (seasonally adjusted) reported higher nominal sales in the past three months, the lowest reading since August 2020. The net percentage of owners expecting higher real sales volumes declined two points to a net negative 14%.

The net percentage of owners reporting inventory gains declined four points to a net negative 7%. Not seasonally adjusted, 11% reported increases in stocks and 16% reported reductions. A net negative 5% of owners viewed current inventory stocks as “too low” in August, down one point from July. By industry, shortages are the most frequent in retail (9%), finance (7%), manufacturing (7%), and services (7%). Zero percent of owners plan inventory investments in the coming months, up two points from July.

The net percentage of owners raising average selling prices increased two points from July to a net 27% (seasonally adjusted). Twenty-three percent of owners reported that inflation was their single most important problem in operating their business, up two points.

Unadjusted, 12% reported lower average selling prices and 38% reported higher average prices. Price hikes were the most frequent in finance (52% higher, 7% lower), construction (51% higher, 6% lower), retail (45% higher, 11% lower), and wholesale (36% higher, 20% lower). Seasonally adjusted, a net 30% plan price hikes.

The frequency of reports of positive profit trends was a net negative 25%, up five points. Among owners reporting lower profits, 28% blamed weaker sales, 24% blamed the rise in the cost of materials, 15% cited labor costs, 10% cited lower prices, 5% cited the usual seasonal change, and 3% cited higher taxes or regulatory costs. For owners reporting higher profits, 45% credited sales volumes, 29% cited usual seasonal change, and 12% cited higher selling prices.

Two percent of owners reported that financing was their top business problem. A net 24% of owners reported paying a higher rate on their most recent loan.

The NFIB Research Center has collected Small Business Economic Trends data with quarterly surveys since the fourth quarter of 1973 and monthly surveys since 1986. Survey respondents are randomly drawn from NFIB’s membership. The report is released on the second Tuesday of each month. This survey was conducted in August 2023.

In two U.S. House committee hearings on July 18, 2023, NFIB Vice President of Federal Government Relations Kevin Kuhlman and Executive Director of the NFIB Small Business Legal Center Beth Milito advocated to ensure small business isn’t overlooked or harmed by upcoming legislation. (NFIB is the National Federation of Independent Businesses which is the only organization that represents small businesses in that its members must be business owners, who through regular polls set policies and goals.)

Kuhlman testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services Subcommittee on National Security, Illicit Finance, and International Financial Institutions in a hearing titled, “Potential Consequences of FinCEN’s Beneficial Ownership Rulemaking.” The hearing addressed the beneficial ownership information requirements for small businesses.

“NFIB has long opposed beneficial ownership information (BOI) reporting requirements because the regulations impact only small businesses under the threat of severe penalties,” said Kuhlman. “BOI reporting requirements were buried in an amendment as part of a large and unrelated bill. The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) has overreached in implementing the legislation, failing to both minimize reporting burdens on small businesses and provide clarity to small businesses. Finally, FinCEN is lacking in education and outreach to the small business community and few small businesses are aware of their requirements that begin in less than six months.”

The Corporate Transparency Act was signed into law in 2021 as part of the William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021. The Corporate Transparency Act is one of the most expansive small business regulations in history, affecting 32.6 million small businesses in the first year and five to six million small businesses every year thereafter, according to FinCEN’s estimates.

“Ultimately, NFIB believes Congress should repeal the Corporate Transparency Act and better target revised anti-money laundering laws,” said Kuhlman. “This legislation establishes a massive government dragnet with the personally identifiable information of 32.6 million law-abiding small business owners with the hope that criminal money launderers will fess up and admit that they are hiding behind shell companies.”

Milito testified before the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Workforce Protections in a hearing titled, “Cutting Corners at WHD: Examining the Cost to Workers, Small Businesses, and the Economy.” Milito spoke on the financial and negative impact government regulations and red tape have on small businesses. Milito also testified about NFIB’s latest white paper, “The Regulatory Flexibility Act: Turning a Paper Tiger Into a Legitimate Constraint on One-Size-Fits-All Agency Rulemaking,” on ways Congress could lessen the regulatory burden they’ve placed on small businesses.

“If the question is, how should Congress and the President respond to the challenges facing small businesses? We believe legislators should look to the example laid by the Democratic-led 96th Congress and President Jimmy Carter,” stated Milito. “In 1980, President Carter and Congress recognized the disproportionate impact of federal regulations on small businesses and unanimously approved the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA). Upon signing the RFA into law, President Carter stated, ‘This bill adds another piece to the far-reaching regulatory reform record that we and the Congress are building.’”

The RFA was enacted to protect small businesses from one-size-fits-all rulemaking by federal agencies. Unfortunately, federal agencies routinely ignore the RFA’s requirements throughout the rulemaking process.

“The intent of the RFA was clear – when promulgating regulations, federal agencies must consider and minimize the impact of rules on small businesses. However, in the 40-plus years since the RFA became law, agencies have found ways to disregard or bypass many of the RFA’s requirements. In fact, NFIB’s Small Business Legal Center recently analyzed the Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Advocacy’s comment letters to federal agencies from January 2021 to January 2023 and found significant noncompliance with the RFA. In these letters, Advocacy highlighted 29 instances where agencies failed to adequately examine the economic costs of regulations.”

Now is the time for members of Congress to support small businesses by working to strengthen the RFA. Take Action: Tell your lawmakers to support the Prove It Act and why the RFA is important to your small business.

Ten years after opening its first North American store, Fjällräven, the Swedish-heritage outdoor gear retailer opened its first store in Montana, in Bozeman. Fjällräven (pronounced Fyall-rev-en) offers hiking and camping gear. Before 2020, Fjällräven was primarily known in North America for its popular Kånken backpacks.  

The Mexican family restaurant, Rio Sabinas, located at Shiloh Crossing, closed their doors for good September 24.

Montana State University’s fall student enrollment is the largest in its 130-year history, with 16,978 students pursuing the many benefits of higher education at the state’s largest university. The new enrollment is up 2% over last fall’s headcount, an increase of 290 students. MSU’s previous enrollment record of 16,902 was set in the fall of 2018. MSU’s enrollment solidifies its position as the largest university in the four-state region of Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas.

The Gallatin County residential real estate market saw continued strong demand in August.  According to statistics median sales prices in the single-family market increased 7.6% compared to last August, from $775,000 to $834,000. Closed sales fell slightly by 1.9%, from 107 to 105. The median number of days homes spent on the market decreased 41.7%, from 36 to 21 days. The average percent of list price received ticked up slightly by 0.7%, from 97.4 % to 98.1%. The median price per square foot sold increased 1.9%, from $373 to $380. Pending sales increased 1%, from 103 to 104. The number of new listings increased 11.8%, from 144 to 161. End-of-month inventory decreased 11.9%, from 413 to 364. The month’s supply of inventory fell 10.2%, from 3.86 to 3.47 months.

The Montana Chamber of Commerce has warned, “If a government shutdown does occur, it is likely to be significant in duration with no clear path for reopening the government.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation has announced that Cape Air will continue to provide Essential Air Service (EAS) from Billings to five communities in eastern Montana, which include Havre, Glasgow, Glendive, Sidney, and Wolf Point. The new four-year contract runs from January 1, 2024-December 31, 2027. Cape Air will continue to use its 9-passenger Cessna 402, Tecnam P2012 Traveller, and Cessna Caravan to serve the region.

With little private market interest, again tax dollars are subsidizing the installation of electric vehicle charging stations.  Montana State University’s first Level 2 EV charging stations were installed this summer on the west side of American Indian Hall and on the south side of Hyalite residence hall. A third station is slated for installation on the southwest corner of the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse parking lot later this year. MSU Parking Services said EV drivers will be able to access the stations on a first-come, first-served basis and will be charged $3 per hour to park, payable at the charging station. University officials will closely monitor station usage and other factors to determine where to best locate additional chargers in the future. They also will assess whether there is a need to provide chargers for electric bikes.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the approval of a Climate Vulnerability Assessment (CVA) project for the Smurfit-Stone Mill site in Frenchtown, Montana. CVAs help EPA project managers design Superfund remedies that are resilient in the face of a changing climate, taking drought, severe weather, temperature, wildfire and other factors into account. The site, a former paper and pulp mill located three miles south of Frenchtown, Montana, covers 3,200 acres and is divided into three operable units spanning agricultural lands, the former mill site and parts of the Clark Fork River floodplain. Efforts are currently underway to characterize and understand risks related to prior site activities and waste disposal practices.

Two environmental groups are suing the state of Montana over wolf trapping regulations they say violate federal law by failing to protect grizzly bears from unintentional trapping. At issue are Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks regulations that allow trapping of wolves in grizzly habitat. Traps set for wolves and other species like coyote and marten can unintentionally trap grizzlies instead. Grizzlies in the Lower 48 states are protected as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

Tamus Gannon and Lisa Gannon, owners of Swan River Gardens in Big Fork  are celegrating their 25th year in business. Swan River Gardens has four greenhouses dedicated to custom growing and another dedicated to deer-resistant plants.

Cynthia Koch, Three Rivers Bank of Montana’s Assistant Controller, has been named the 2023 Montana Independent Bankers Association, Outstanding Young Banker. This award is to recognize young, upcoming leaders in Montana’s banking community.

The BLM Montana-Dakotas State office will wrap up 2023 with a December lease sale in North Dakota. This was the first full year of federal leases offered under regulatory reforms championed by President Joe Biden. There were concerns in the fossil fuel industry ahead of the new rules that tougher leasing standards would discourage interest in low-production areas, like Montana. In June, Montana parcels nominated for a September sale were withdrawn following  concern by an environmental group that the new lease terms were being ignored. Yet lease sales continued .

Amy Watson, State Economist

As of the beginning of September, the Montana economy continues its strong expansion. Employment is at an all-time high, unemployment rates have reached record lows, and economic production continues to grow at a steady pace despite tight labor markets and inflationary headwinds. Extraordinary job growth and accelerated wage growth have strengthen Montana households and supported continued economic expansion throughout the state. Labor market highlights include:

• In 2022, Montana added 20,900 jobs – the most of any year in state history. Montana ranked 8th among states for employment growth in 2022, posting 3.9% growth.

• The unemployment rate fell to a record-low 2.3% the first quarter of 2023, with the number of unemployed Montanans also hitting a record low of nearly 13,000.

• Tight labor market conditions persisted in 2022, with nearly three job openings for every one unemployed person. The state’s aging population and increased retirements has driven long run declines in labor force participation, further exacerbating the state’s workforce shortage. The number of retirees in the state surpassed 200,000 in 2022.

• Record low unemployment rates have increased competition for workers and driven up wages. The average wage for Montana workers rose by over 6% in 2022, the 4th fastest among states. The average wage earned by Montana workers reached $54,525 in 2022. Inflation outpaced wage growth in 2022, resulting in real average wage declines of 1.6%.

• Montana’s labor force has never been larger, with over 575,000 Montanans working or seeking work. Strong wage growth and a significant uptick in in-migration has helped increase the available pool of workers for Montana businesses. Montana ranks 2nd in the nation for the largest percentage of in-migration from 2020 to 2022. Over 40,000 more people moved to the state than left from 2020 to 2022, translating to 3.8% of the Montana’s population. About 65% of people who recently moved to the state are either employed or actively seeking work, which is higher than the labor force participation rate of existing residents.

The strength of Montana’s labor market help support economic growth in the state. Business formation reached a record high, which propelled economic output to new heights. Continued growth in the Montana economy translated to more income for Montana households. Strong household balance sheets helped offset the impact of rising prices, allowing Montanans to continue spending to support the overall economy.

• The Montana economy grew by 1.6% in 2022, as measured by real gross domestic product. The economy contracted slightly during the first two quarters of 2022, as inflation and the conflict in Ukraine were a drag on economic growth. However, growth turned positive in the second half of the year as inflation moderated. The first quarter of 2023 shows continued economic strength, growing by 6% and ranking 5th in the nation for fastest growth.

• Business formation in Montana reached a record high in 2022, with new business applications

exceeding 20,000 in 2022. Montana boasts the 3rd highest rate of business ownership among states.

• Personal income grew by 3.1% in 2022 – ranking Montana 19th in the nation for fastest personal income growth. On a per capita basis, average income rose to $57,719 in 2022 – ranking 29th  highest among states.

• One of the primary headwinds to economic growth in Montana and across the U.S. during 2022 was inflation. Inflation reached a forty-year high of 9.1% in June of 2022. Since then, changes in monetary policy and easing of supply chain bottlenecks have caused inflation to moderate. As of June 2023, inflation has fallen to 3% over-the-year.

• Montana ranks 8th among states for fastest home price appreciation since 2020. The typical home value in Montana averaged $440,000 in the first quarter of 2023, up 51% from three years earlier.

Montana’s economy has shown strong expansion over the last few years. Although rising prices and tight labor markets have dampened economic enthusiasm, Montana’s labor market has continued to grow.

Workers continue to enjoy plentiful opportunities for high-wage jobs and businesses continue to thrive. Through productivity improvements, investments in worker training, and tapping into underutilized labor sources, Montana’s economy will continue to flourish

Montana’s colleges offer research facilities that could benefit the agricultural industry

In a website,, states are rated according to which are considered most highly educated. Population numbers seem to impact the outcomes, which leaves Montana is ranked 36th.

The report says, about Montana:

* Population: 1,084,225

* Percentage holding advanced degrees: 10.5%

* Median household income: $55,328

While the state might not be overflowing with a demand for advanced degrees, Montana still offers a lot to students. There are nearly a dozen higher education establishments here, with Montana State University apparently the best of the bunch. While it ranks 263rd on US News’ list, it reportedly boasts a ton of unique research facilities.

As might be expected of a state that highly favors agriculture, these facilities also focus around this industry. They include things like the Plant Growth Center and the Center for Bison and Wildlife Health. While advanced degrees aren’t always a necessity in Montana, having one in this field can still prove beneficial to help push the industry forward.

Montana is so suited to farming that advanced degrees are less of a necessity.

When it comes to population figures, some states rank much higher than others. Montana is one part of the United States that doesn’t fare highly in this regard. Only a handful of states have a smaller population than this western state. Why is this? Well, the prominence of agriculture might have something to do with it.

This industry has had the biggest impact on the state’s economy for centuries, with the land perfectly suited to farming. Again, this might explain why Montana doesn’t rank amongst the most educated states in the US. With its biggest industry not typically requiring advanced degrees, it makes sense that only 10.5% of the population holds one.

With 20.3% of the population holding advanced degrees, Massachusetts ranks at the top of the list for most educated.

The Montana Chamber of Commerce will hold its annual membership meeting in Billings on October 24, beginning at 3 pm, at the Northern Hotel. It will feature presenters from Governor Gianforte’s administration and Moore Information Group, a public opinion research firm.

Evan Wilson, Moore Information Group Vice President, will speak on “Tax Outlook: A Montana Perspective.”

Billings businesswoman, Courtney Kibblewhite is the Montana Chamber Chairperson. Todd O’Hair, Montana Chamber President & CEO, will discuss goals and interim priorities.

The conference will focus on the prospects for Montana’s economy and the roll of the Montana Chamber’s Envision goals.

Outstanding achievers in the state’s business world will be recognized during the Titans of Business Oro Y Plata Awards Ceremony at 5:15 pm.

A networking reception will be held at 5:45 pm—7:00 pm.

Lattice Materials in Bozeman has announced a new general manager, Travis Wood.

Lattice Materials provides custom-grown and machined silicon and germanium materials, serving top defense, technology, security, research and renewable energy companies.  

Lattice is one of the only U.S.-based companies in the world capable of custom-growing optical silicon and germanium crystals, which gives them tremendous opportunity to bring economic growth to the region, especially considering recent reshoring trends and new germanium export restrictions from China.  

Given this pivotal moment in the industry and Wood’s background in growing and scaling businesses, it is an opportune time to bring Wood on as General Manager to utilize his expertise to scale Lattice’s operations, according to company officials. According to Scott Bekemeyer, TPC co-chairman and founder, a partner company of Lattice, Wood “comes to Lattice with 20 years of experience growing and scaling advanced manufacturing companies. He has a deep understanding of the industries that Lattice currently serves, including aerospace, defense, electric power, and electronics.”

“Travis joins Lattice Materials at an opportune time in the industry when there is a growing demand for the specialized manufacturing solutions that Lattice provides,” remarked Bekemeyer. “Under his leadership, Lattice will continue to grow as a world leader in providing mission-critical solutions to help solve pain points in the defense and broader commercial industries.”

By Samuel Stebbins, The Center Square

The U.S. defense budget topped $850 billion in fiscal 2022, more than the combined military spending of the next 10 countries combined. This money goes to fund a wide range of obligations, from operations to payroll for troops and civilian defense personnel. The bulk of the U.S. military budget, however, is spent on contracts with companies in the private sector.

The Defense Department does more business through private contracts than all other federal agencies combined. The Pentagon relies on contractors for services including research and development, weapon systems procurement, facility maintenance, and equipment repair. Outsourcing to third parties in the private sector allows the government to more rapidly and effectively adapt to changing circumstances and needs – though reliance on contractors also raises the potential for waste, fraud, and abuse.

The latest available government data shows that the Pentagon spent $246.8 million on private sector contracts in Montana in 2021. No company in the state received more federal defense dollars that year than S & K Technologies, which brought in $65.7 million in military contracts – or 26.6% of all contractor spending in the state.

Other major defense contractors operating in Montana include Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, James Talcott Construction, Inc., and T & L Sales, which received $25.1 million, $13.7 million, and $12.4 million, respectively, in 2021.