by Evelyn Pyburn

Given the seasonal cynical comments, of all the ba-humbuggers, I suppose I should be embarrassed to admit that I like Christmas music.  But I do.  It’s joyful.

I have always liked Christmas music, especially when it is wafting through the corridors of a department store or mall.  I also enjoy the lights and all the corny gift ideas.  Even the crowds.  Without all those people bustling about, the celebration that is Christmas, would lack much of its excitement.

Part of my joy goes back to those rare events when, as a child, our family would allot one evening, in downtown Bozeman, to shop for Christmas.  Shopping was a much bigger deal for my brothers and I, than it probably is for kids, now- a -days.  We never “shopped”.  Especially, not as a family event.

It was usually cold and snowy. The ice and snow reflected all the brilliance of the Christmas decorations that adorned Main Street, scattering the lights into a zillion little pieces.  There was Christmas music seeping through every doorway, lights and displays sparkled from every window. And for kids from the country, the hustle and bustle of lots of people was nothing but heady excitement.

Mom and Dad would dole out a sum, to be spent on one another, and then set us free to explore the shops and stores to our heart’s content.  (Believe it or not, no one worried a whit about us being safe.  There was no reason to worry.)

It was great fun prowling the store aisles; sharing a significant find that was just right for one of us; sneaking about in making the purchase; keeping each other’s secrets; and wondering what gifts Mom and Dad were finding for us.

The highlight of the evening was eating dinner at the counter in Woolworth’s! Eating out was a big, big deal.  Eating out was even more rare than being able to go shopping. (Those who know what Woolworth’s was are showing their age; for those who don’t— it was a department store.) I can still smell all the wonderful smells, and I knew that Dad was going to order the turkey dinner plate. Can you imagine kids considering eating at the counter in a dime store as exciting, today?

Shopping has never been as much fun as it was then, but there’s still a joy and excitement of it that is part and parcel of the joy of the season -– I know that that’s true because people just wouldn’t do it, if there wasn’t fun in it, no matter what all the bah-humbuggers say.

When I look around a Christmas, I don’t see angry, frustrated people, I see busy, happy people.  And joy is all about, if you but look for it.  There’s the joy of children peering at store displays, as I once did, or the intent faces of those imagining the look of joy they hope to bring to someone’s face on Christmas morning.

One of the most wonderful Christmas experiences I’ve ever had wasn’t that long ago. It was the first time I ever saw a house decorated with brilliant lights, blinking in sync with Christmas music.  I laughed out loud with the sheer delight of it.  It was totally wonderful to see that someone worked so hard to create something, for no other purpose, than to make someone laugh out loud in appreciation of the joy that was dancing around with all those crazy lights and the beautiful music.  It was one huge exuberant expression of joy.

That’s what I see when I see the lights of Christmas trees peering from windows along a street.  Or even if it’s just one skinny string of lights along a porch railing.  It is someone’s expression of joy.  No matter how modest the decorations, they took some effort. If the decorations didn’t reflect some level of joy and good will, they wouldn’t be there.  I see that joy, and revel in the fact that so many people can find joy and want to share it.

May your Christmas be merry and joyful.

The Blue Angels will perform in Billings on August 12 and 13, 2023.

They are coming to Billings as the result of a year’s long effort by a group of Billings’s volunteers, who remembered the air shows of over twenty years ago and wanted to recreate the experience for a new generation and to showcase Billings.

The Blue Angels recently announced the schedule for what will be their 77th air show season. . The Blue Angels are scheduled to perform 62 demonstrations at 33 locations in 2023.

Demonstration sites are selected two years prior to the show season.

The idea of bringing the Blue Angels back to Billings, all started over breakfast at PAYS café, where two old friends reminisced about their youth growing up in Billings and what they loved and appreciated about their hometown.  As Jake Penwell and Matt McDonnell talked about it and as they went on to talk about their hope to be able to “give back” to the community they loved, they suddenly declared “why not!?” Why not try to bring the air show back.

Penwell shared how impactful the former air shows in Billings had been for him. “That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said, explaining that he had long been entertaining ideas of joining the military, but after seeing the air show he enlisted in the Navy. Today, Penwell’s son has become the third generation of Penwells to serve in the Navy.

As they committed themselves to bringing an air show back to Billings, “We decided that our best course of action was just to move forward until we hit a hurdle we couldn’t overcome. We never ran into that hurdle,” said Penwell.

They identified some other friends and community leaders and invited them all to lunch one day. Penwell and McDonnell put forth the challenge and asked their guests if they wanted to sign on. “Not one said no,” exclaimed Penwell, “They became our board of directors.”

“Now a year later, we have attracted the Blue Angels”

Penwell lauds their “board of directors” for their yeomen’s efforts. “You can’t do it on your own,” he said.

The Blue Angels is a flight demon-ration squadron of the United States Navy who fly Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets. Over the years they have performed for more than 500 million people. The squadron’s logistics support aircraft is the C-130J Super Hercules.

Founded in 1946 by the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Chester Nimitz, the Blue Angel’s performances assist in recruiting and retention goals for the military services, enhance esprit de corps among uniformed men and women, and inspire and educate young people. The team is stationed at Forrest Sherman Field, Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, during the air show season. The squadron spends January through March training at Naval Air Facility El Centro, California.

Getting the Blue Angel’s to come is just the beginning … there is much that must be done over the coming year and a lot more volunteers will be needed, as well as financial support— whether it is to become a sponsor or to buy a ticket.

Penwell said he is amazed at the generosity of everyone in sharing their time and expertise. Especially helpful has been those who produced past air shows. Also offering great insight and direction has been event producers at Metra Park and those involved with the Magic City Blues Fest. Also helping out has been Kendall Switzer of Bozeman who is a former member of the Blue Angel’s team. “He has been to countless air shows and he has been an incredible asset to us.”

As the board worked on the project, which started out as something of a secret mission, word leaked out, said Penwell and they were soon being asked by many people how they could help – especially from those in “aviation circles”. Everyone wants to make it “the best air show we have ever seen,” said Penwell.

Hosting the Blue Angels will undoubtedly draw attendance from throughout the region. The timing will be such as to afford an opportunity to show off the newly remodeled Billings’ airport which will have just been completed.  The air show is also an amazing opportunity to show off Billings, and to bring people to come and enjoy the city.

So amazingly has “the board” worked together, said Penwell, he hopes they may be able to formalize the group to work on other projects in the future that will give-back to Billings and showcase the city.

Those who have been part of the group striving to bring the Blue Angeles to Billings are: Kendall (Thumper) Switzer, Matt McDonnell, Tim Goodridge, Jake Penwell, Michael Sanderson, John Ostlund, Don Jones, Vu Pham, Robb Bergeson, Jay Jamieson, Ty Elkin, Reid Pyburn, Chad Ametoy, Chris Kukulski, Gary Blain, Kevin Ploehn, Jodee Etchart, Sara Young, Eric Finstad, and Alex Tyson.

By Evelyn Pyburn

Last week,  the regular meeting of the Board of County Commissioners was anything but typical as the commissioners considered an agenda item for requests for proposals (RFP) for the private management of Metra Park.

The public hearing was punctuated by loud voices, dissention among county commissioners, shouted outbursts from the crowded room, and standing applause.

Most of those in attendance were either opposed to the idea or were asking that more information be gathered before making a decision. Following public comment, the RFP request passed in a 2-1 vote. Commission John Ostlund voted in opposition.

Prior to voting against the RFP, Ostlund made a motion to table the issue until further information could be gathered. It failed for lack of a second.

Most of the public seemed to conclude that the RFP would finalize the decision, which both Commissioners Denis Pitman and Don Jones said was not the case.

Ostlund said that he was disappointed in what they were doing because they were “totally ignoring 100 percent of the user group asking them to slow down. We need a third-party evaluation.” He said that the commissioners sprang the idea on everyone… “they didn’t even notify users.”

He vowed to completely vet the idea which is the obligation of the commissioners, he said. “…and I’m going to see that we do that.” Ostlund said that if it was not vetted, his support for the Master Plan “is gone.” “I’m not interested in asking taxpayers to support it,” he continued without thoroughly knowing what it is they are supporting.

His comments elicited standing applause from the packed house and people from the audience began to shout comments to the commissioners such as “You should be ashamed of yourselves.”

Chairman Jones called for the audience to quiet and said he would dismiss everyone from the room if they did not.

Pitman said that requesting RFPs was part of the process that they needed to pursue in order to gather the necessary information, which is what the public was asking them to do.

Jones actually reworded the motion to be more specific that what they were voting upon was to include investigating the current management structure of Metra Park, employee skills, finances etc. Jones said that the Metra Park Advisory Board was completing a Master Plan that would take the county-owned facility into the next 50 years – “We need to make sure we have the best management structure to take us into the next 50 years.”

The request passed by the commissioners for RFPs requires that interested companies submit their qualifications by November 23, and that following a review and a public comment period, the commissioners would make a final vote on the proposal on December 7.

Pitman disagreed that this was “thrust upon people.” He said, “The vote we take today is to get information….You are coming to conclusions before the process even starts.” To do it any other way would be to not pursue the process of an RFP, which Pitman said would violate the commissioners’ policies and procedures.

Ostlund attempted to interrupt Pitman, but was chastised by Jones who said that Ostlund didn’t have the floor. When he was allowed to speak, Ostlund said ,“”I’ve never heard so much B.S. from Denis Pitman’s mouth.” Ostlund likened the RFP process to trying to get objective information from a sales person trying to sell something. “This is no process this is a railroad job,” he declared.

Jones reiterated a statement he had made before that they are not going to turn the issue over to a third party. He said that they were elected as commissioners to get information “from all sides and determine what is best course of action for the public” and to get public input. He conceded that while they had gathered some positive input about the benefits of privatizing the administration, they still don’t know the negatives.

He went on to explain that they would be talking and working with Metra Park administrators and employees to gather information. When he mentioned working with Manager Bill Dutcher, who has been at Metra Park for 40 years, Dutcher, who will retire on Dec. 31, pushed back saying that that he would have nothing to do with the process, that he would be gone. Dutcher said that he was at Metra Park for the people, pointing at those in the audience, for the employees and the users of the facility.

There were several speakers who expressed concern about what the controversy was going to do to the support for the Master Plan, which has been worked upon by the Advisory Board for two years. They pointed out that many people spent a lot of time building public support for the project and many had contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to help promote a levy to build the structures that will be recommended in an announcement expected in the next few weeks.

One speaker threatened that if Jones and Pitman continued on this track there would be a recall petition.

by Evelyn Pyburn

Outdoor recreation plays a bigger role in Montana’s economy than it does for any other state as a share of the total economy.

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) announced statistics regarding the outdoor recreation economy for the nation just last week, stating that the data show that the outdoor recreation economy accounted for 1.8 percent ($374.3 billion) of current-dollar gross domestic product for the nation in 2020. At the state level, outdoor recreation value added as a share of state GDP ranged from 4.3 percent in Montana to 1.2 percent in New York and Connecticut.

The share was 0.8 percent in the District of Columbia.

The news is probably not surprising to most Montanans who witnessed the great influx of tourism and increased use of outdoor attractions with the onset of the COVID pandemic two years ago.

Our national parks started reporting record visitations. In September, Yellowstone National Park reported that more than 882,000 visits were recorded— a 5 percent increase over last September and a 27 percent increase from September 2019.

And advance reservations for Montana’s public campgrounds skyrocketed, as RV travel and camping gained in popularity as people throughout the country began looking for escapes from shutdowns and turned to domestic travel and recreational opportunities. The Center for Western Priorities recently reported that the estimated occupancy of reservable campsites in Montana jumped from 46 percent in 2014 to 76 percent in 2020 —a 64 percent increase over the six year period, compared to 39 percent nationally.

And, most recently a focused study regarding hunting and fishing activity from the Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research reported that just in southwestern Montana, hunting and angling accounts for $167 million to the economy of Beaverhead County. 

In the report, BBER Director Pat Barkey stated, “Montana remains a premier location for outdoor recreation related businesses to attract significant spending.” 

Despite the significance it plays in Montana, nationally – and even in Montana — the outdoor economy has seen a decline, according to the BEA. Inflation-adjusted (real) GDP for the outdoor recreation economy decreased 19.0 percent from 2019 to 2020, compared with a 3.4 percent decrease for the overall U.S. economy. Real gross output for the outdoor recreation economy decreased 17.4 percent, while outdoor recreation compensation decreased 12.5 percent and employment decreased 17.1 percent. Employment dropped in Montana by 17.5 percent.

Outdoor recreation estimates were impacted by the issuance and lifting of “stay-at-home” orders by governments in response to COVID-19. This led to rapid changes in demand as consumers canceled, restricted, or redirected their spending. The U.S. government passed several laws to support and sustain businesses and individuals through the pandemic. The full economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be quantified in the outdoor recreation estimates because the impacts are generally embedded in source data and cannot be separately identified.

Outdoor recreation activities fall into three general categories: conventional activities (such as bicycling, boating, hiking, and hunting); other core activities (such as gardening and outdoor concerts); and supporting activities (such as construction, travel and tourism, local trips, and government expenditures).

In 2020, conventional outdoor recreation accounted for 37.4 percent of U.S. outdoor recreation value added, compared with 30.6 percent in 2019. The increase was due to higher spending on boating/fishing and RVing. Other outdoor recreation accounted for 16.8 percent of value added in 2020, compared with 19.7 percent in 2019. The decrease was driven by amusement parks/water parks and festivals/sporting events/concerts. Supporting activities accounted for the remaining 45.8 percent of value added in 2020, compared with 49.7 percent in 2019. Supporting activities, particularly travel and tourism-related activities, declined in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic as consumers traveled less and reduced spending at hotels and restaurants.

Additional value added by activity highlights for 2020 include:

* Boating/fishing was the largest conventional activity for the nation as a whole at $30.8 billion in current-dollar value added and was the largest conventional activity in 39 states and the District of Columbia. Florida ($3.8 billion), California ($2.8 billion), and Texas ($2.8 billion) were the largest contributors to U.S. value added for the activity (state table 2).

* RVing was the second-largest conventional activity nationally at $19.1 billion in current-dollar value added and was the largest conventional activity in five states. The largest contributors were Indiana ($3.4 billion) and Texas ($1.7 billion).

* Snow activities was the largest conventional activity in Colorado ($1.2 billion), Utah ($468.0 million), Vermont ($191.3 million), and Wyoming ($92.2 million) in current-dollar value added. At the national level, current-dollar value added for snow activities was $4.7 billion.

The outdoor recreation by industry data show the contribution of different industries to the outdoor recreation economy, including their impact on value added, gross output, employment, and compensation.

For the nation, the retail trade sector was the largest contributor to U.S. outdoor recreation value added in 2020, accounting for $101.9 billion (national table 6). At the state level, retail trade was the largest contributor to outdoor recreation value added in 35 states. The leading contributors were California ($11.6 billion), Florida ($8.8 billion), and Texas ($8.6 billion) (state table 3).

Additional value added by industry highlights for 2020 include:

* Arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation, and food services, the second-largest sector, contributed $86.8 billion in current-dollar value added to outdoor recreation nationally. At the state level, this industry was the largest contributor to outdoor recreation in 13 states and the District of Columbia.

* Manufacturing, the third-largest sector, contributed $52.8 billion nationally to the outdoor recreation economy. At the state level, this sector was the largest contributor to the outdoor recreation economy in Indiana ($5.3 billion) and Wisconsin ($1.9 billion).

plays a bigger role in Montana’s economy than it does for any other state as a share of the total economy.

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) announced statistics regarding the outdoor recreation economy for the nation just last week, stating that the data show that the outdoor recreation economy accounted for 1.8 percent ($374.3 billion) of current-dollar gross domestic product for the nation in 2020. At the state level, outdoor recreation value added as a share of state GDP ranged from 4.3 percent in Montana to 1.2 percent in New York and Connecticut.

The share was 0.8 percent in the District of Columbia.

The news is probably not surprising to most Montanans who witnessed the great influx of tourism and increased use of outdoor attractions with the onset of the COVID pandemic two years ago.

Our national parks started reporting record visitations. In September, Yellowstone National Park reported that more than 882,000 visits were recorded— a 5 percent increase over last September and a 27 percent increase from September 2019.

And advance reservations for Montana’s public campgrounds skyrocketed, as RV travel and camping gained in popularity as people throughout the country began looking for escapes from shutdowns and turned to domestic travel and recreational opportunities. The Center for Western Priorities recently reported that the estimated occupancy of reservable campsites in Montana jumped from 46 percent in 2014 to 76 percent in 2020 —a 64 percent increase over the six year period, compared to 39 percent nationally.

And, most recently a focused study regarding hunting and fishing activity from the Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research reported that just in southwestern Montana, hunting and angling accounts for $167 million to the economy of Beaverhead County. 

In the report, BBER Director Pat Barkey stated, “Montana remains a premier location for outdoor recreation related businesses to attract significant spending.” 

Despite the significance it plays in Montana, nationally – and even in Montana — the outdoor economy has seen a decline, according to the BEA. Inflation-adjusted (real) GDP for the outdoor recreation economy decreased 19.0 percent from 2019 to 2020, compared with a 3.4 percent decrease for the overall U.S. economy. Real gross output for the outdoor recreation economy decreased 17.4 percent, while outdoor recreation compensation decreased 12.5 percent and employment decreased 17.1 percent. Employment dropped in Montana by 17.5 percent.

Outdoor recreation estimates were impacted by the issuance and lifting of “stay-at-home” orders by governments in response to COVID-19. This led to rapid changes in demand as consumers canceled, restricted, or redirected their spending. The U.S. government passed several laws to support and sustain businesses and individuals through the pandemic. The full economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be quantified in the outdoor recreation estimates because the impacts are generally embedded in source data and cannot be separately identified.

Outdoor recreation activities fall into three general categories: conventional activities (such as bicycling, boating, hiking, and hunting); other core activities (such as gardening and outdoor concerts); and supporting activities (such as construction, travel and tourism, local trips, and government expenditures).

In 2020, conventional outdoor recreation accounted for 37.4 percent of U.S. outdoor recreation value added, compared with 30.6 percent in 2019. The increase was due to higher spending on boating/fishing and RVing. Other outdoor recreation accounted for 16.8 percent of value added in 2020, compared with 19.7 percent in 2019. The decrease was driven by amusement parks/water parks and festivals/sporting events/concerts. Supporting activities accounted for the remaining 45.8 percent of value added in 2020, compared with 49.7 percent in 2019. Supporting activities, particularly travel and tourism-related activities, declined in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic as consumers traveled less and reduced spending at hotels and restaurants.

Additional value added by activity highlights for 2020 include:

* Boating/fishing was the largest conventional activity for the nation as a whole at $30.8 billion in current-dollar value added and was the largest conventional activity in 39 states and the District of Columbia. Florida ($3.8 billion), California ($2.8 billion), and Texas ($2.8 billion) were the largest contributors to U.S. value added for the activity (state table 2).

* RVing was the second-largest conventional activity nationally at $19.1 billion in current-dollar value added and was the largest conventional activity in five states. The largest contributors were Indiana ($3.4 billion) and Texas ($1.7 billion).

* Snow activities was the largest conventional activity in Colorado ($1.2 billion), Utah ($468.0 million), Vermont ($191.3 million), and Wyoming ($92.2 million) in current-dollar value added. At the national level, current-dollar value added for snow activities was $4.7 billion.

The outdoor recreation by industry data show the contribution of different industries to the outdoor recreation economy, including their impact on value added, gross output, employment, and compensation.

For the nation, the retail trade sector was the largest contributor to U.S. outdoor recreation value added in 2020, accounting for $101.9 billion (national table 6). At the state level, retail trade was the largest contributor to outdoor recreation value added in 35 states. The leading contributors were California ($11.6 billion), Florida ($8.8 billion), and Texas ($8.6 billion) (state table 3).

Additional value added by industry highlights for 2020 include:

* Arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation, and food services, the second-largest sector, contributed $86.8 billion in current-dollar value added to outdoor recreation nationally. At the state level, this industry was the largest contributor to outdoor recreation in 13 states and the District of Columbia.

* Manufacturing, the third-largest sector, contributed $52.8 billion nationally to the outdoor recreation economy. At the state level, this sector was the largest contributor to the outdoor recreation economy in Indiana ($5.3 billion) and Wisconsin ($1.9 billion).

Last week, the Biden administration asked a federal appeals court in New Orleans to lift a temporary order halting a federal COVID-19 vaccination mandate on private businesses, while warning employers that they should comply with the mandate despite the “stay.”

The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, on Saturday, temporarily halted the mandate on private sector businesses with 100 employers or more, citing “grave” constitutional issues. Ruling on lawsuits filed by Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, as well as a Louisiana businessman seeking to prevent the mandate from taking effect, the appeals court issued the stay saying, “Because the petitions give cause to believe there are grave statutory and constitutional issues with the Mandate, the Mandate is hereby stayed pending further action by the court.

The mandate, which could affect an estimated 100 million American workers, includes a Jan. 4 deadline for vaccination. The policy also imposes nearly $14,000 in fines per employee if businesses are caught letting their workers skirt the mandate. “Willful violations” could result in fines up to $136,000.

Republican-led states filed multiple lawsuits last week challenging the mandate’s legality. Louisiana businessman Brandon Trosclair with assistance from the Liberty Justice Center, a public interest law firm, and the New Orleans-based Pelican Institute for Public Policy, also filed suit.

Other lawsuits are pending, including an 11-state coalition, which includes Montana, filed in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals against OSHA. Montana is joined by Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

A similar lawsuit was filed in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by the attorneys general of Tennessee, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio, Oklahoma and West Virginia.

Georgia, Florida, and Alabama have also filed a lawsuit in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals arguing the new rules exceed the Department of Labor’s “statutory authority, fails to comply with the standards for issuing an [Emergency Temporary Standard], and conflicts with the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

“I am confident that the courts will see this mandate for what it truly is: An attempt to make laws while bypassing Congress,” Sarah Harbison, general counsel at the Pelican Institute, said in a statement.

The administration’s 28-page legal request to lift the stay, included OSHA’s claims that a stay would likely cost dozens or even hundreds of lives per day.”

The administration claimed the OSHA’s authority is grounded in its traditional role of protecting workers from workplace dangers, such as exposure to “substances or agents” that are determined to be toxic.

“The COVID-19 virus is both a physically harmful agent and a new hazard,” the court filing said.

“We think people should not wait,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was quoted by media. “We say, do not wait to take actions that will keep your workplace safe. It is important and critical to do and waiting to get more people vaccinated will lead to more outbreaks and sickness.”

A final ruling could come as early as Wednesday. If the Fifth Circuit permanently blocks the mandate, the administration could appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

By Eveln Pyburn

County Commissioners passed a resolution of intent to adopt interim regulations governing the sale and production of marijuana in the county, outside city boundaries. The temporary regulations will be in effect for a year, at which time state law requires that the commissioners adopt more permanent regulations – that is, if the county doesn’t put the issue on a county-wide ballot in the interim.

A public hearing and action by commissioners regarding the temporary regulations will be held on Nov. 23. The commissioners see a need for some kind of regulations because the law that made the possession, sale and processing of marijuana legal – HB 107 – goes into effect January 1 and the commissioners believe there needs to be guidelines for those planning to go into the business.

Commissioners are opting to adopt interim measures because the state — the Department of Revenue — which has final authority over regulations, has not issued its regulations. In the interim the County Planning Department, will be conducting the research and writing final regulations.

Another option for county commissioners, one which continues to be bounced around, is to put the issue of selling marijuana on the ballot for the county, like the city did. Comments have been made about how surprising was the margin that voters in Billings rejected the sale of drug in the city after having approved the initiative that made it legal. City voters passed the initiative by a 4,000 vote margin in 2020, but they rejected its sale within the city limits two weeks ago 18,045 to 14,696.

HB 107 allows cities and counties to put the issue on the ballot in their jurisdiction or to accept the results of their city or county voters in the 2020 election on the initiative that was passed statewide to legalize recreational or adult use and production of marijuana. The initiative passed county wide by 1100 votes, or 50.7 percent to 49.3 percent. City voters passed the initiative by a 4,000 vote margin in 2020.

In a November 2, 2021 election, voters in the City of Billings rejected allowing the sale or dispensing of marijuana within the city limits, but it remains legal for growers, manufacturers and laboratories to function. The City Council is in the process of writing regulations for those functions within the city.

County commissioners voted 2-1 in August not to put the issue on the ballot for reconsideration in Yellowstone County, however there is still time in state law for them to reconsider and call for an election.

Commissioners indicated that they expect conversation regarding that option to continue.

County regulations are only effective within zoned areas in the county. Outside those areas there is little regulation except that imposed by the state, which issues licenses for those entering the business.

How many businesses already exist in the county – those that distribute medical marijuana in the county which are already legal – is uncertain. The state doesn’t disseminate much information to local governments about the businesses. But, Nicole Cromwell of the planning department said she has explored the question and believes there are about 42.

The state law gives the medical marijuana purveyors an 18-month lead in getting the recreational license and to sell recreational marijuana.

The speculation is that most of the medical shops will disappear and the recreational sales will dominate the industry as changes are implemented.

There were those who spoke about changes they would like to see made in the law, which included limits as to the potency of the drug and amounts allowed in packages, and some said they would like to see a cap on the number of licenses that are allowed.

The county has little zoning and few controls for how the industry will operate  much of it will be dictated by the state Department of Revenue. In the parts of the county with no zoning at all, which is the majority of Yellowstone County, nearly any kind of business can set up shop how it likes.

The areas within the county that are zoned sit close to Billings city limits. In those areas, recreational marijuana storefronts must be separated at least 600 feet from schools, churches, youth centers and addiction recovery centers, and 350 feet from residential areas.

By Evelyn Pyburn

An Illinois-based regional company, Crash Champions has purchased Raisin Auto Body’s five Montana stores. The purchase, of what is more readily known as Big Sky Collision in Billings, is Crash Champions’ first venture into Montana.

Raisin Auto Body owner, Mathew McDonnell said that the sale was not part of the company’s ten year plan, but it is a great opportunity that they just couldn’t pass up. Part of that opportunity includes McDonnell continuing to represent Crash Champions as they acquire more stores in Montana over the next two years, as well as acquiring locations in North and South Dakota and Wyoming.

McDonnell explained that had it been in his plans to sell he wouldn’t have recently made a name change to Raisin Auto Body to unify all five Montana locations, and he adds with something of a bemused smile, he wouldn’t have bought such substantial new signage.

Crash Champions was started as a family- owned business in New Lenox, Illinois in 1999 by Matt Ebert, who began expanding the business in 2014. The company owns 132 stores in California, Colorado, Washington DC, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

The sale price of Raisin Auto Body’s five locations  was not disclosed by McDonnell, but he did explain that the transaction involves only the sale of the business and not the real property, which Crash Champions will lease from McDonnell. [MM1]  

There will be no disruption in the operation of the Raisin Auto Body stores in Billings, Laurel, Livingston, Bozeman and Manhattan, except to change the name to Crash Champions. McDonnell said that Crash Champions recognizes the value of having the businesses managed by Montanans for Montanans and to retain the knowledge and experience of existing employees.

He said that the decision to accept Crash Champions’ offer had less to do with the sale price and “more about their desire to continue the culture of the business.” That Crash Champions is moving forward with the same Raisin teams is good news not only for Raisin employees but also for their customers, because of how well trained and equipped their employees are, said McDonnell, who since taking over Big Sky Collision in 2014 has focused on acquiring leading-edge technology and training employees to be very proficient in using it.

Big Sky Collision was started by Mathew’s father, Matt McDonnell in 1978 as a one-man shop. He grew the business into a successful enterprise. In 2014 he turned the business over to his sons. Mathew bought out his brothers on Dec. 31, 2014. One of his brothers continues to work for the business.

McDonnell said that it has been his goal with the business to be “clean, accurate and effective.” He explained that “There is not much room for error in the collision repair business,” given the computerized mechanisms and high tech programing that is part of all vehicles, anymore. As the company focused on streamlining operations, modernizing, becoming certified and acquiring training, the business has become one of the top 50 collision repair companies in the country – an achievement that has not gone unnoticed by companies like Crash Champions.

He said that Crash Champions representatives have said that they are impressed with the advanced status of Raisin Auto Body and with many of the operational procedures they have developed.

“Montana has hit a crescendo in the collision industry,” said McDonnell, “Small independent businesses will find that their businesses are worth more now than ever before” —  because companies like Crash Champions are buying them up as good investments that are recession proof businesses.” It’s a brief  window of opportunity that will change as the industry consolidates over the next few years.

 

By Evelyn Pyburn

We have a government right now that is trying to destroy America’s ability to create new wealth. That best explains everything that is happening.

That shouldn’t be surprising, because that is the only way to destroy the US. It is after all, our amazing ability to produce, and having the freedom to do so, that has made our country strong since its founding, and that remains the source of our power and influence in the world today.

Many people do not know that it was very much because of our country’s ability to gear up production and the people’s willingness to work tirelessly in support of our troops that won WWII. At root of that miraculous response was the freedom that people and industry had to react quickly and creatively and fervently, to produce all the things needed by the military. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, there was almost nothing in the US with which to conduct a war except for our production capability.

Our greatest defense of freedom, far more so than armies and government, has always been the ambition and spirit of workers to work and businesses to innovate and produce. It is in our DNA. Whatever else you have to say about Americans, we have been the greatest wealth generators on earth, in all of history.

Great generation of wealth is what has backed up the American dollar far more so than gold and silver.

No matter what insane policies have been put in our path, they have always failed to be as devastating as predicted because most analysts almost always failed to fully appreciate, or even recognize, the staggering level of wealth that this country produces and is capable of producing. Not that progressive policies haven’t been harmful, but despite intent, they have failed to erode the basics of our economic foundation, because we, the people, have always generated more wealth than what adversaries have ever been able to destroy.

And they DO try to destroy it. It’s been coming at us from all directions. We hear about it in the news, we feel it, we see it, but can’t comprehend that that is really what they mean to do.

Their first target of destruction is the individual’s right to choose in regard to how we want to live our own lives. If government can force you, as an individual, to get vaccinated, is there anything they can’t force you to do? If you accept the authority of government to do that, then for progressives the battle is won.

And, they win forever, if they target children in their most formative years, with a profound lesson of acquiescence to authority, which is happening right now with mandates to wear masks in school.

Eliminating our right to own firearms is a most important part of undermining our liberty and the individual’s ability to be self-sufficient. It is not only a means of self-protection but for hunting for food and defending our property.

The next step to destabilize the individual’s ability to create wealth, is to devalue and erode the means of exchanging value for value. They must destroy the strength of the dollar by spending money that doesn’t exist, to the tune of trillions and trillions of dollars. Flooding the economy with money that is based on nothing more than the value of paper smeared with green ink, such is an absolute guarantee to inflate prices of everything we use for producing. It is a huge tax that goes largely unrecognized as such by most citizens.

It is worse than normal taxes because it impacts everything indiscriminately. At least income or property taxes are something you pay only if you have an asset which generates the tax. Inflation impacts the poorest of the poor. It also devastates and disrupts markets, but most importantly it hugely cripples the ability of Americans to produce.

Beyond that there are policies and laws that are striking at the very core of markets, from the shutting down of pipelines to pushing farmers off the land; from forcing businesses to close or to reduce capacity, to forcing them to shut out workers from job opportunities because they refuse to get vaccinated; from encouraging workers not to work with infusions of largess of federal unemployment or child care benefits, to curtailing business conferences or gatherings where information and ideas are shared; by making travel difficult and limiting citizen interaction, by disrupting supply lines, to crippling distribution systems; by increasing production costs by curtailing energy production which pushes up prices, whether it is oil and gas or putting energy plants out of commission; by instilling distrust and fear to go shopping because of violent demonstrators who murder innocents and burn businesses. 

Is there any aspect of our lives that hasn’t been assailed by unrelenting and disruptive mandates that are placing life in turmoil? Not even individual efforts to be prepared for any catastrophe, most especially an overbearing government, are being overlooked. Why else would media belittle and demean people who raise, prepare and store their own food by urging people to distrust “preppers” as “extremists.” How can you be an extremist for being prepared for barren grocery store shelves? Or contaminated water supplies? Or power failures?

The only answer that can be, is that if everyone was prepared for food shortages and were able to provide for themselves, they would be impervious to threats, less compliant and more capable of continuing to produce. They are considered “extremists” because they would not be part of the middling, compliant crowd.

One of the lessons that we should all have learned with the shut-downs of businesses and stay-at- home mandates that took workers away from jobs, is how important everyone is and how vital every job is in contributing to a strong vibrant market place. There is no job so menial or career so mundane as not to be significant to the well-being of a community and the success of our society. It is these activities — most often taken for granted as just everyday life — that is the foundation of our liberty, secures our safety and sustains our economy.

It is every citizen’s ability to contribute, to produce and to provide for ourselves and our families that shores up freedom by making the power mongers irrelevant to our lives.

If citizens can generate wealth – everything they need – what do they need government for? Seekers of power over others cannot allow us to be self-sufficient. They see that citizens must be subjugated to the state and be of a mind to believe they need government. We must be convinced that we  need the wielders of power, for them to retain power.

The greatest defense we can put before the enemies of freedom is a determination to continue to be productive and self-sustaining.

Evelyn Pyburn

Utility companies in the US are concerned about potential power outages this winter according to a number of media including Bloomberg News and Epoch Times and Washington Post.

Bloomberg quotes the head of Xcoal Energy  Resources saying, ““We’ve actually had discussions with power utilities who are concerned that they simply will have to implement blackouts this winter.” 

Of greatest concern in the US are areas in New England and California.

“If markets don’t stabilize soon, especially as the northern hemisphere heads into colder months, we could be in for a very rough winter,” says yahoo!news.

The concern is one that Montana’s NorthWestern Energy officials share. In the last issue of Big Sky Business Journal the company explained that those concerns have spurred their decision to move up construction of a natural gas- fired power plant in Laurel to be used for backup generation.

Currently NWE supplies are not adequate to provide the energy needed during periods of peak demand. They must purchase the energy needed in a market that is very high priced; and given the demands and vulnerabilities of other states, is becoming increasingly uncertain. And, even if they can purchase the energy, they may not be able to get it to Montana because transmission capacity is also very uncertain. It’s a precarious situation for a state that regularly plunges into sub-zero temperatures in the winter.

The U.S. has enough gas to get through a normal winter, said James Shrewsbury, co-chief investment officer of e360 Power LLC, a gas and power hedge fund in Austin, Texas at EnergyNow.com. But sustained low temperatures could create gas shortages. “If we get a prolonged cold this winter, there will be problems.”

Having been forced to abandon many fossil-fueled energy sources in the US, with very little replacement, energy prices have escalated, as in keeping with the law of supply and demand. Natural gas and coal prices “just hit their highest levels on record,” said Tom Friedman in The New York Times. “Oil prices in America hit a seven-year high, and U.S. gasoline prices are up $1 a gallon from last year.”

Forbes reported that Bank of America has predicted the possibility that the price for crude oil could exceed $100 per barrel over the winter and “precipitate a global economic crisis.”

The shortages are not unique to the US, in fact the US has so far been “spared the worse” because the country is “an energy producer,” says the Washington Post.

“Energy is so hard to come by right now that some provinces in China are rationing electricity, Europeans are paying sky-high prices for liquefied natural gas, power plants in India are on the verge of running out of coal, and the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline in the United States stood at $3.25 on Friday — up from $1.72 in April.”

A common thread of media reports is that the shortages are the consequences of “pent up demand” brought on by COVID restraints on business. There is obvious reticence in the news reports to mention that another possible cause is curtailed production resulting from government mandates on utility companies, which are “green strategies” to deal with global warming predictions. But some reports do suggest that the situation is not just problems brought on by COVID.

The Washington Post states,  “Energy analysts argue that Europe moved too quickly away from fossil-fueled power, before ensuring that sufficient renewable sources could take up the slack in an emergency. Caught halfway in a transition that should take decades, they say, Europe is now scrambling to find coal and gas to burn in its remaining traditional plants.”

There remains many who refuse to lay the blame at the door of global warming policies that abandoned using fossil-fuels. Last spring when cars were lined up at gas pumps in the east, gas shortages were attributed to the “unintended and unexpected price of efficiency.” “The market-driven energy sector has spent a decade or more cutting costs, streamlining and digitizing,” accused an article in the Washington Post.

Another report points out “Texas and California have driven the price of electricity down by throwing out the old regulatory structure — the structure that made sure utilities earned enough to invest in backup resources.” So, when things go awry there is no backup.

While probably true, blame goes deeper than just the decisions of the “energy industry;” just to mention “regulatory”  means you are talking about the government in one fashion or another. In almost every case the industry has been functioning under political pressures and regulatory edicts that have dictated the adoption of alternative energy sources, while advocates of alternatives have shown little interest in addressing the shortcomings of those alternatives – most especially in developing backup resources.

Stated another report, the blame lies with industry that “has stripped redundancy out of its systems, at the risk of leaving customers in the lurch when things go wrong.”

The “Greens” of Europe and Russia are claiming that governments are manipulating crisis in order to “create a sense of urgency.” E.U. climate chief Frans Timmermans said those who blame the Green Deal are doing so for “ideological reasons”.

Rushing back to fossil fuels would be a mistake, they say. They want to double-down on green policies with no explanation on how to provide backup resources when temperatures plunge and wind turbines ice up as happened early this spring in Texas.

The Post quotes Timmermans saying, “The wrong response to this would be to slow down the transition to renewable energy. . .The right response is to keep the momentum and perhaps even look for ways to increase the momentum.”

The situation is one that is resurrecting interest in coal.

The International Energy Agency says that the US is “poised” to increase its use of coal, noting that currently most of the demand for coal comes from China and India.

EnergyNow.com reports more coal is being used, which is “now in short supply.” Contributing to the shortage is that regulatory threats on the coal industry has made suppliers reluctant to invest to maintain or to increase production.  “Now, U.S. utilities’ stockpiles are shrinking and it’s not clear whether U.S. miners will be able to meet their increasing calls for more fuel. . . U.S. utilities are switching away from gas and expected to burn about 23% more coal this year,” said EnergyNow.com.

yahoo!news adds, “urging energy prices will likely add further inflationary pressures to the global economy, as the rising cost of shipping and travel gets passed onto consumers around the world. The increased costs and disruptions will also contribute to shortages in a wide range of products

TotesNewsworthy.com announced that consumers at the wholesale and retail levels can expect this winter shortages of electronics, vehicles, clothing, furniture, and food.  Rising energy costs contributing to increases in transportation costs will augment scarcity of materials and a lack of employees for “a one-two punch for consumers”.

According to Forbes magazine, food price in general has increased 3.4 percent in one year, meat is up 5.9 percent, milk is over 6 percent more expensive.

Other shortages expected include furniture prices have already risen almost 9%, jewelry is over 10% higher, and major appliances prices are up more than 12%.

The shortages won’t be as severe in the US, speculates yahoo.com, because  the US produces a lot of natural gas, “making us less dependent on foreign supplies of energy. That self-sufficiency should insulate us from the worst of the energy turbulence around the world, at least for a while — though inflation, already running high, could still end up dampening the economy more broadly.”

RVU Launches New Medical Culture for Billings

The first medical college in Montana held a groundbreaking ceremony on Monday. Rocky Vista University (RVU) officials were joined by dozens of Billings’ civic leaders to celebrate the construction of the medical school’s third location and the first such education center in Montana.

RVU, a private education enterprise, will build an almost $80 million four- year medical school in Billings at the corner of Monad and Shiloh. Langlas Construction has already begun construction of the 135,000 square foot school. Steel girders already tower over the 12-acre campus of RVU’s Montana College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Speakers at the groundbreaking, including Gov. Greg Gianforte and several RVU leaders, lauded the Big Sky Economic Development team led by Director Steve Arveschoug for recruiting and assisting RVU’s efforts to locate in Billings.

“You worked tirelessly to get here,” said Gov. Gianforte in congratulating everyone involved. “Thank you,” he said, adding that the project is the kind of private investment Montana needs and he hopes that this project will encourage more such investment.

Also, “It will save lives,” he asserted.

“We need to raise up a new generation of doctors,” said the Governor, noting that the benefit to Montana is in being able to improve medical care in the rural areas of a state that has an aging population which will need more access to medical care, in the future. Having a medical school in Montana means more doctors for the state, he said, explaining that studies have shown that doctors tend to stay in the states where they go to school and train.

While RVU graduates pursue the full spectrum of medical specialties, the majority choose primary care, and many of them practice in underserved and rural areas. RVU graduates become lifelong learners prepared to meet the diverse healthcare needs of tomorrow through innovative education, relevant research, and compassionate service, according to RVU leaders which included speakers, Dr. David Forstein, RVU’s president and provost; and Dr. David Park, RVU vice president and founding dean of the Billings campus.

RVU will also be a benefit to Montana students who will be able to stay closer to home while going to school. And, of course, RVU will attract other students from out-of-state to the Billings community.

RVU expects to graduate its first class in 2027.

Gov. Gianforte pointed out that Montana ranks 30th in terms of physicians per capita – and “COVID has exacerbated this problem.” Also underscoring the state’s critical need for more doctors is that only 13 percent of Montana doctors are under the age of 40, and more than a third are over 60, according to Gov. Gianforte.

The Governor extended his support to RVU as they move forward. He later said that he wanted to “roll out the red carpet” to them and to let them know that “Montana is open for business.”

Elsie Arntzen, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, said that RVU presence in Billings will not only add to the culture of the community but will help develop a health culture – and it will add more to K-12 education “than ever thought before.”

Underscoring that RVU is privately- funded, Dr. Park said that they will not be asking the community for money. In fact, it is estimated that the college will pay over 3 million dollars in taxes every year. “What we will ask the community to donate,” said Dr. Park, “is time – time in supporting us and learning about us and in talking about us. Time in developing a culture of medical education.”

Besides being a game changer in the realm of medical care and  health care access, in Montana, RVU will also have a significant economic impact. The college will provide 350 new jobs and will generate $67 million annually in economic activity. It may also be a stimulus for other similar kinds of ventures.

RVU’s first campus was founded in 2006 in Parker, Colorado and a second campus was developed in 2017 in Ivins, Utah, graduating its first class in 2021. RVU is accredited by the American Osteopathic Association Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA), Higher Learning Commission, Accreditation Review Commission for the Physician Assistant, and the American College of Surgeons.

RVU is supported by healthcare partners, including St. Vincent Healthcare/SCL Health, and RiverStone Health. They and other Montana hospitals statewide will be engaged by exploring the development of clinical rotations for the 3rd and 4th year students beginning in 2025 and further development of Graduate Medical Education (GME).

Dr. Park has been with Rocky Vista University in key leadership positions since 2015. Dr. Park received his DO degree from the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1998 and is dual-board certified by the ABFM and the AOBFP.