Like so many other events, this year the Montana Economic Outlook will be different. The Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana has announced that, rather than a half day packed full of presentations, it will be a two –day on line event, that will include multiple networking and discussion opportunities with speakers, sponsors and fellow attendees.

The 46th Economic Seminar, to be held Feb. 1 and 2, will have the theme “The Path Forward – How COVID-19 has Reshaped the Economy.”

Edward Gleaser, Fred and Eleanor Glimp Professor of Economics at Harvard University, will be a featured speaker, as will Neel Kashkari, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

Edward Glaeser has been influential in advancing ideas on economic growth and has been a champion of cities as generators of ideas and wealth. The question of how COVID-19 has reshaped growth patterns in ways that might be felt in a state like ours is certain to receive his attention.

Neel Kashkari has a seat at the table in making the decisions that have stabilized and supported financial markets during this extraordinary time. His remarks will address the factors and issues that continue to shape the regional and national economic outlook.

BBER economists will present national, state and local economic forecasts for Montana’s largest communities and industry experts will give their outlook for the state’s important sectors, including tourism, health care, real estate and housing, agriculture, manufacturing, high-tech and forest products. V

For the first time, the seminary will be hosted online. The program will offer attendees the ability to attend the sessions of their choice, as well as connect in a variety of innovative ways via our interactive online platform. There will be options for live text messaging and/or video chats with other attendees, presenters and sponsors.

More information is available at

The Billings Chamber has announced its “Keep the Cheer Here” campaign to encourage shopping locally. The campaign extends from Nov. 16 through Dec. 21. Shop Small Saturday is Nov. 28. The event features a board game for shoppers and many local small businesses will have special sales and prizes on Shop Small Saturday.

Have you heard of Plaid Friday?

Wearing plaid on Friday after Thanksgiving is another way to show support for our local economy. Plaid Friday celebrates the diversity and creativity of local and independent businesses. “It’s a fun and enjoyable alternative to the big box store ‘Black Friday’ consumer frenzy,” say its founders in Oakland, California, who created the concept “to bring back the times when shopping for friends and family was a pleasurable leisurely activity.”

Plaid Friday is celebrated throughout the nation as part of the Shop Indie Local Campaign. They encourage stores owners to participate by wearing plaid and taking pictures of customers who wear plaid and posting them, by making plaid –themed displays, and using plaid ribbon and wrapping paper or bags.

Rimrock Mall will host curbside pickup. “Curbside pick-up options for retail and dining is a great way to shop/order from your favorite locations and we want to make it easier and more comfortable for shoppers to enjoy their favorite stores and restaurants,” said Devin Hartley, General Manager of Rimrock Mall.  Also at Rimrock Mall, Nov. 29 is “Merry Little Kick Off Event” featuring the awarding of a free gift bag loaded with goodies to the first 250 guests that spend $50 or more at mall stores.

NOAA predicts that Montana can expect a cool, wet winter that could lead to heavy runoff next spring.

The forecast was made by the Corps’ Missouri River Water Management Division. Despite cold, snowy weather in October, precipitation was well below normal in much of the upper basin. The 2020 calendar year runoff forecast is 30.2 million acre-feet, 117% of average. This winter is setting up for a La Nina pattern, which typically means colder weather across Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas. Looking through January, the outlook is also for above normal precipitation in those states. February through April forecast is trending toward below-normal temperatures and above-average precipitation.

St. John’s Foundation announced it has received a $50,000 Challenge donation from Stockman Bank in support of the Nursing Apprentice Fellowship program to help address the growing demand for nurses to meet the health care needs of Montanans. Stockman will match donations up to a total of $50,000.  

The Stockman Challenge gift will help St. John’s Foundation meet its fundraising goal for the Apprentice Fellowship program, which makes it possible for students to pursue a career in nursing, receive on-the-job training, and graduate free from tuition debt. St. John’s President and CEO David Trost observes, “Many nursing students I meet struggle accepting tuition assistance that requires work commitments. Our apprenticeship offers a graduate the freedom to seek employment in the specialty of their choice.”

 “Even though Montana has 14 schools accredited by the Montana Board of Nursing, we continue to experience a shortage of nurses and certified nursing assistants in our state,” said Bill Coffee, CEO of Stockman Bank. “As Montana’s premier community bank, we are committed to supporting the health and well-being of the communities we serve.  We are honored to be a part of this Apprentice Fellowship program which will play a key role in supporting the need for health care professionals in our region, especially for our growing population of older Montanans.”

The Apprentice Fellowship program launched this fall with five students enrolled as nursing students at Miles Community College, Montana State University – Billings, and City College – Billings. “Miles Community College is so appreciative of our strong partnership with St. John’s. The Apprentice Fellowship Program is a wonderful opportunity offered to students who work to build their education and skills, ranging from Certified Nursing Aid to Licensed Practical or Registered Nurse. Miles Community College has an outstanding Associate of Nursing Science (ASN) Registered Nursing (RN) program, and our partnership with St. John’s has allowed our nursing students to gain valuable clinical experiences at St. John’s facilities,” said Rita Kratky, Vice President of Academic Affairs for Miles Community College.

 The Fellowship provides college tuition payment, along with health care clinical work experience at St. John’s United for exceptional students pursuing LPN, RN, and BSN degrees. Apprentice–Fellows are free to work anywhere after completion of their degree and will have no repayment requirements to St. John’s United.   

How to Donate

Donations for the Nursing Apprentice Fellowship program may be sent by mail to The St. John’s Foundation at 2429 Mission Way – Billings, Montana 59102. Or, gifting may be completed online – GIVING@STJOHNSUNITE.ORG.

Be sure to indicate that your gift is for the Nursing Apprentice Fellowship program.

“Help the Hurting”

Anticipating a drop in donations because of the pandemic, the Salvation Army has set aside a day – November 14 – to kickoff the Red Kettle bell-ringing season and to Help the Hurting in Billings.  

The public is invited to join the Salvation Army to help further their mission to provide hope and help to those who are hurting in the community by joining an all-day mediathon Saturday Nov. 14 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Donations can be made by calling 406-245-4659

A live Facebook event will be held at 6 p.m. featuring Mayor Bill Cole, Russ Palmer, Aaron Flint, moderator of Voices of Montana, officers of the Salvation Army and others. To join the livestream event go to

Donations can be made now at, click on the Kettle Kickoff tile.

Since March, the Salvation Army in Montana has provided more than 40,000 meals, 3,600 nights of safe shelter, and emotional and spiritual support to over 7,500 people in need. Now more than ever, they’re making it safer and simpler to donate in order to support the most vulnerable in Montana. The best way to ensure that these vital services continue is to enlist in Love’s Army with a sustaining monthly gift of $25 per month. To help ensure the safety of bell ringers, donors and partners, the Army has adopted nationally mandated safety protocols. Donations can be made digitally with Apple Pay or Google Pay at any red kettle in Montana. Donors can also ask Amazon Alexa to donate by saying, “Alexa, donate to The Salvation Army,” then specifying the amount. 

Donors can give any amount by texting “KETTLES” to 91999

Every donation provides help to those in need, and all gifts stay within the community in which they are given. Visit to donate or learn more about what the Salvation Army is doing in Billings.

Following developments in Washington that could stall NorthWestern Energy’s effort to buy a greater stake in Colstrip Unit 4, the Montana Public Service Commission announced that it will postpone its third scheduled listening session on the proposed transaction.

On December 9, 2019, NorthWestern signed an agreement with Puget Sound Energy, Inc. to buy Puget’s 25% interest in Colstrip Unit 4, including real estate, equipment, facilities, and energy production, for $1.00. That agreement was renegotiated after Talen Montana, LLC, exercised a right of first refusal to buy half of Puget’s interest. As a result, NorthWestern applied for Commission approval to buy a 12.5% interest in Colstrip from Puget, including 92.5 megawatts of energy production, for $0.50.

Puget, meanwhile, sought pre-approval of the transaction from the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission. On October 2, staff for the Washington Commission recommended denying Puget’s request. If regulators in Washington deny the proposed sale, NorthWestern’s application for pre-approval from the Montana Public Service Commission could be rendered moot.

Because Washington’s pre-approval decision could alter or stop the proposed transaction, the Commission on Tuesday postponed the third in its series of listening sessions on NorthWestern’s application. If Washington grants pre-approval, the Commission will reschedule the listening session and consider scheduling additional sessions so Montanans can provide comments informed by Washington’s decision.

NorthWestern’s application has already generated significant interest from the public. The Commission has received more than 500 comments on NorthWestern’s application, including input from more than 40 Montanans who spoke at the Commission’s listening sessions on October 13 and 20. The Commission intends to provide ample opportunity for Montanans to provide fully-informed comments on NorthWestern’s application, and will continue to accept written comments, which can be submitted by email to or through the Commission’s website,

The HUB Drop-In Center in Downtown Billings with be closing its doors, effective October 1. The Board of Directors for the Mental Health Center made the difficult decision at its July meeting, after months of serious consideration of multiple alternatives.

The decision to close The HUB allows the Mental Health Center to maintain all other services at full capacity, said Board Chairman, Carl Seilstad, including the “Project to Assist in the Transition from Homelessness” or PATH program. That program will be relocated to the Center’s main campus on North 29th Street. The Mental Health Center serves many other vulnerable populations including military veterans, senior citizens, people with co-occurring mental illness and substance use disorders, and families with youth experiencing their first psychotic break.

The Region III Mental Health Center is a registered non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation dedicated to the establishment, development and maintenance of high-quality mental health and chemical dependency care in South Central Montana. The Mental Health Center has been serving the needs of our community since 1971.

The programs and services provided by the Mental Health Center:

—Program for Assertive Community Treatment (PACT)

The PACT Team helps individuals with severe disabling mental illness maintain independence and remain in a community setting.  From a psychiatrist and nurses to therapists and rehab aides, nearly 90 clients are visited daily by the PACT team.

—Projects to Assist in the Transition from Homelessness (PATH)

Previously located at The HUB, the PATH program will move to 1245 N. 29th St., located between the MSUB and hospital campuses. Clients in the PATH program receive extensive case management services and are actively working to overcome homelessness.

—Early Psychosis Intervention Clinic (EPIC)

The first psychotic break experienced by a teen or young adult can be traumatizing for both the patient and their family members. In partnership with Billings Clinic, the Mental Health Center offers a wraparound approach for youth 15-21 through the EPIC program.

—Regional Satellite Offices

Satellite offices in Columbus, Big Timber, Red Lodge, Roundup, and Lewistown provide services for individuals in our rural and frontier areas. Services include both mental health and addiction counseling. 

—Rainbow House Day Treatment Center

Seniors, people with disabilities and individuals with mental illness often utilize the Rainbow House as a safe space to gather, learn, eat and build relationships. The facility near North Park also houses CPR, Mental Health First Aid and other community trainings.

—Group Home and Community Apartments

The Mental Health Center operates a group home for a small number of carefully-screened individuals who stand to benefit greatly from a structured residential setting. The nonprofit also maintains a few apartments donated to the organization for affordable housing.

— Journey Recovery Program

Substance Use Disorders can cause long-term health problems and often interferes with relationships at work, school or home. Our Licensed Addiction Counselors offer clients a supportive environment and a pathway to recovery through evidence-based treatment.

—Outpatient Therapy

For some individuals, a few counseling sessions is all that is needed to regain control of their lives. For others, therapy can take longer to yield the same results. The Mental Health Center’s team of licensed clinicians is here to offer hope and share solutions.

—Psychiatric Services

Once someone is diagnosed with a mental illness that requires pharmaceutical intervention, the prescribers at the Mental Health Center offer medication management at an affordable rate that is covered by many different insurance carriers, including Medicare and Medicaid.

 The Region III Mental Health Center is a registered non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation dedicated to the establishment, development and maintenance of high-quality mental health and chemical dependency care in South Central Montana. The Mental Health Center has been serving the needs of our community since 1971. Our compassionate, caring staff is experienced in a wide variety of counseling services including individual and family counseling and psychiatric services. Our ultimate goal at the Mental Health Center is to help people of all ages overcome the roadblocks that keep them from enjoying a healthy, happy, productive life. 

After an exciting inaugural event last August, the goal of organizers this year was to make Dig It Days bigger and better, so it is with great dismay that Yellowstone County News and Dig It Days sponsors and volunteers, have decided it is best to cancel the event this year because of the uncertainties associated with the COVID-19 virus.

The very first Dig it Days was launched last summer by Yellowstone County News as a unique fundraising event that offers a wonderful experience for the whole family— fun, educational and entertaining.

With the biggest display of static heavy equipment, trucks, farm equipment, and emergency services vehicles ever assembled in Yellowstone County, kids explored, inspected, crawled around, climbed on, up and over the equipment, taking pictures and pretending to operate, unimpeded by time restraints or silly “rule-making” adults.  They were able to operate a back hoe for real and play to their hearts content in a mountain of sand, with lots of toys. Booths offered other fun activities and food. There were free t-shirts, and admission was $5 per person with the proceeds going to local non-profit organizations for children.

Sponsors, which included Northwestern Energy, RDO, Knife River, and Exxon Mobile Pipeline Co, remain excited about the opportunity Dig It Days offers to introduce children to the world of construction on the way to shaping future careers and an understanding of the world. Despite this year’s disappointment they too are looking forward to producing an even greater event next summer.

Dig it Days is the kind of event that Jonathan and Tana McNiven, owners of the Yellowstone County News, have always wanted to be part of. “It’s educational, family wholesome, constructive and supportive of business and the community,” said McNiven.

The Platinum Anniversary of Business Days at the Capitol is coming on January 6 & 7 at the Best Western Premier, Helena Great Northern Hotel. It begins with lunch at 12 pm. Seminars are held from 2 to 4 pm. From 6 to 9 pm will be a Lawmaker Appreciation Reception & Banquet. On Tuesday, Jan. 7 the program will begin at 7:30 with Eggs & Issues Breakfast, followed by seminars and with The Last Word Closing Luncheon. For more information contact

The Montana Outfitters and Guides Association is hosting their 45th Annual Winter Convention, January 9-11, in Bozeman. MOGA’s yearly convention draws more than 100 outfitters and guides for education, advocacy and networking. This year’s conference also includes a Gubernatorial Forum on Saturday, January 11, with all leading candidates for the upcoming race for Montana Governor participating. All events will be held at the Best Western Plus GranTree Inn and Holiday Inn, in Bozeman. https:// 2020mogaconvention/ browse/ fixedPrice

The 45th Annual Economic Outlook Seminar will be held in Billings on February 4 at the Northern Hotel. This year’s half day seminary, annually presented by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research will focus the challenge of finding good workers. “The economic success of local communities and the entire state depends on making the best match between workers and workplaces. Montana has some advantages in attracting talent, but there are plenty of things we could do better.” The event will is held in ten Montana communities. Details are available at http:// www. economicoutlookseminar. com/ s

The Montana Society of Certified Public Accountants will hold their annual industry conference in Helena on March 18 and 19. Registration information may be accessed at professional_ development/ course/ 0320/ industry_ conference

The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) will hold an open house for the sidewalk and shared-use path project proposed in Columbus. The open house will be held January 14 from 6- 8 p.m. at the Columbus City Hall, Council Meeting Room, 2nd Floor (408 East 1st Avenue North).