The Billings Outpost

Silversmiths gets new look

Montana Silversmiths celebrates 40 years in business in 2013 by launching new products and collections inspired by the company’s history and heritage of the Old West.

Special product releases in 2013 include new design collections across all Montana Silversmiths product lines including western stock and trophy buckles, jewelry, Montana Lifestyles and silver trim.

To headline the new design collections, Montana Silversmiths is producing a square shaped buckle, engraved on front and back and sold in a wood display box etched with the 40th anniversary logo on the glass lid. Silver products produced during the year will be stamped with the 40th anniversary Montana Silversmiths identification on the back.

The 2013 Signature catalog, shipped to dealers in January, 2013, features new branding design and striking environmental, model and product photography. Special collections are displayed together for impact, in addition, company and product information is expanded to better aid retailers with customer service and sales.

New design collections will include products released throughout the year, including the annual Signature catalog publication as well as the Holiday catalog release in mid-summer.

Last Updated on Saturday, 29 December 2012 15:31

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3 recognized at EBMS

Marilyn Bartlett, chief financial officer for EBMS and a member of the EBMS Executive Committee, is the inaugural recipient of the Montana Society of CPAs Outstanding CPA in Business and Industry Award.

The award recognizes the achievements of certified public accountants employed in business, industry, nonprofit and government.

According to a news release issued by the MSCPA, Bartlett is a past-president and “much-loved” member of MSCPA, and received the award “because of the professionalism she has shown, as well as her many contributions to the profession.” The news release also said, “Very few CPAs are as respected or well-known by their peers as is Marilyn Bartlett.”

Reidun Johnston, a CPA from Missoula and chairman of the MSCPA Industry Group, said, “Marilyn is an inspiration to me and many others. She has forged the way as a leader in a profession that, until recently, didn’t have women leaders. She has made a difference for us all.”

Also at EBMS, Cheryl Lewis, a registered nurse and case manager, and Lori Buxbaum, a registered nurse and CareLink intake/coordinated care supervisor, both in the Case Management Program of the EBMS CareLink Department, have earned the Commission for Case Manager Certification credential, a news release said.

The CCM is the largest nationally accredited organization that certifies case managers, and is considered to be the most prestigious certification organization supporting the case management industry. Case managers at EBMS are CareLink nurses who act as patient advocates through an individualized program of care by providing advocacy services, such as: 1. Working with members and their physicians to assist in achieving treatment goals, thus ensuring that members receive the highest possible level of care;

2. Helping members navigate through the oftentimes complex and confusing maze of the healthcare system; and, 3) providing information needed to make prudent healthcare decisions. Both Lewis and Buxbaum have been with EBMS for more than two years.

Last Updated on Saturday, 29 December 2012 15:30

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Vice president named

Jeremiah Rouane has been named vice president for commercial banking at Rocky Mountain Bank.

Mr. Rouane will work with businesses, providing them with capital needed to grow their operations, invest in new equipment and create jobs to spur local economic development.

“We are excited to welcome Jeremiah to Rocky Mountain Bank,” said Stephen Casher, the bank’s market president. “His extensive banking background, with notable successes in commercial banking and other areas, make him a perfect fit for this vital role with us.”

Rouane brings 14 years of experience in commercial and business banking. Previously, he served as assistant vice president, commercial loan officer at First Interstate Bank.

He holds a degree in business administration from Montana State University Billings.

He serves on the Board of Directors for the Home Builders Association of Billings, the Society of CPAs and Family Service Inc. 

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 December 2012 15:29

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Study: Mine expansion aids growth

University of Montana...

MISSOULA – Montana’s economy could be significantly impacted by expansion at its existing coal mines and development of new mines, according to a study recently completed by The University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

Expansion of the Spring Creek coal mine near Decker would boost Montana jobs, household income and tax revenues, according to an economic impact study conducted by BBER economist Patrick Barkey.

According to the report, “The Economic Impact of Increased Production at the Spring Creek Mine,” commissioned by the Montana Chamber of Commerce, a proposed increase of coal production by 20 million tons at the mine owned by Cloud Peak Energy would more than double output at the facility and require expansion in capital and equipment, labor force and new purchases of resources such as electricity and work uniforms.

The study found that with a status-quo, no-expansion scenario, by 2018 the project is expected to create 1,421 permanent jobs across a wide range of industries and occupations in all regions of the state. Income for Montana households would collectively increase by more than $58 million.

Projected state government tax revenues on coal production and growth in Montana’s tax base were estimated to reach more than $55 million per year.

BBER’s study found that the Spring Creek expansion also would generate higher rail volume across Montana. Rail and coal jobs pay significantly more in wages and benefits than the state average, and the spending by those workers combined with additional purchases by vendors and suppliers would support hundreds of additional jobs in industries such as construction, retail, health care services and public schools.

BBER director and study author Barkey notes that while a number of coal projects in the state propose new mines, Spring Creek is unique in that it represents growth of an existing operation.

“This is the first study we’ve done that measures growth as a result of coal expansion,” Barkey said. “The results demonstrate that whether we measure jobs, income or output, the economy of the state of Montana stands to benefit significantly from the project.”

BBER is a research center producing economic and industry data for Montana. For more information visit www.bber.umt.edu/.

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 December 2012 15:23

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MSU Billings student places in global competition

MSU Billings News Services...

Anyone who is a gamer or a natural competitor knows what it means to “level up” in a challenging environment. It comes with tougher encounters, harsher competition and — for those who succeed — a richer feeling of accomplishment.

Last month, a College of Business student at Montana State University Billings found all three when he found himself among the top five competitors in a global simulated business competition.

Tanner Lambert, a finance major from Columbus, participated in this semester’s International CapSim Business Simulations Challenge in the Capstone division, the top level. Of the nearly 1,000 participants worldwide, Lambert finished fifth, putting the MSU Billings student among some of the best business colleges in the world and cementing Lambert’s reputation as a star academic performer in the College of Business. 

Just this past spring, Lambert won the CapSim Foundation Challenge, the precursor to the Capstone challenge.

“I was the only undergraduate to make the finals,” he said in a recent interview. “It was a great experience.”

For Lambert, who turns 26 in January and is set to graduate in the spring of 2013, the Capstone challenge proved to him that he has the work ethic and determination to succeed in the business world. The online simulation had him managing a multimillion-dollar enterprise with multiple markets, labor challenges and financial issues. Decisions are made under deadline pressures, and one wrong assumption can sink an otherwise solid plan.

“How you allocate your resources is very important and your strategy has to be focused and spot on,” he said.

No other MSU Billings student has ever competed in the Capstone level. Lambert said while he was pleased with his overall performance, he especially proud of what the results showed about the level of support and expertise of the MSU Billings faculty.

“Since this was a higher level, it kind of motivated me to show others that we’ve got a good school here,” he said. “This really put MSUB on the map, especially in the business college world. No school our size is in the top 10.”

Lambert graduated from Columbus High School in 2005 and entered the Merchant Marine Academy. After an injury left him unable to complete the academy, he ventured in to the higher education arena, starting first at Montana State University in Bozeman and then transferring to MSU Billings for his business education.

He said he knew he finally found a college home his first semester in the College of Business.

“The faculty and the types of skills they have given me in four years are unbelievable,” Lambert said. “The education is practical and useful and this (the competition) shows the faculty are doing all the right things.”

The energetic and focused Lambert said when he decided to move up a level to the Capstone challenge this fall, he found overwhelming support from his peers and the College of Business faculty. Practice took place during the semester and the final, two-day online competition took place in late November. Lambert said his faculty mentors were with him the whole way. 

“They bend over backwards to help you succeed here,” he said.

The CapSim Challenge is broken into two groups: Capstone and Foundation. While similar in scope, the Capstone Challenge requires students to run a $100 million business whereas the size of the company in the Foundation Challenge is $40 million.

Both competitions require participants to manage the business’s product development and finances, including selecting a strategy for their company, redesigning its product lines or creating new ones, as well as figuring out the company’s marketing and sales plans. In the Capstone challenge, developers throw in labor negotiations as well.

And just like the “real world,” during the competition, students have investors to answer to, sales goals to meet and competition to monitor.

The CapSim Challenge is also an opportunity for students to compete with other aspiring business leaders from around the world and to prove their own skills as a potential CEO or successful entrepreneur. This year’s event included over 1,600 students from several countries including Australia, Taiwan, India, Canada as well as the United States.

For more information on the MSU Billings College of Business and its programs, go to msubillings.edu/cob or call 657-2812.

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 December 2012 15:20

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Job growth top priority, Chamber survey finds

Montana Chamber of Commerce...

HELENA – Creating good jobs remains the top priority for Montanans, according to a new survey.

The Power Base (P-base) is an annual scientific survey of 600 Montana voters on a variety of business and political issues with a margin of error of 4.1 percent. The poll is commissioned by the Montana Chamber of Commerce and other business groups to determine what Montanans think about important economic issues facing our state. Here are some of the results:

Economic development

Without a doubt, creating good-paying jobs is the top priority for Montanans. A full 31 percent listed it as the top issue the Legislature should address this coming session, with lower taxes and a balanced budget a distant second at 16 percent.

For top pocketbook concern, healthcare costs continue to dominate with a plurality of 25 percent, and taxes coming in at 17 percent.

As in prior surveys, the P-base shows Montanans want to see more business growth, especially in high wage businesses like the natural resource industries.

For example, 83 percent of Montana voters want the state to encourage more timber, 77 percent want more oil and gas development, 71 percent want more coal development, and 71 percent want more mining.

In fact, the support comes from majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents polled on every industry category.

Montanans are still pessimistic about the national economy, but there are signs of improved attitudes. Half of voters believe the U.S. economy is on the wrong track (down from 66 percent last year) as opposed to 34 percent who think we are on the right track. A majority of voters believe the state’s

economy is better off with 52 percent saying we’re on the right track vs. 23 percent saying wrong track.

 State issues

Respondents in the poll stated they hope the Legislature rejects bills that force employers to have guns on company property or to allow concealed weapons in bars and banks. Both ideas were presented in bills last session and are expected to be introduced again.

Montanans are split on whether school funding levels are adequate with 43 percent saying they are adequate, 43 percent inadequate. A plurality of respondents favored a complete repeal of the business equipment tax – 38 percent support repeal while 25 percent oppose.

Federal issues

A majority of voters would like Congress to rein in or stop the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from implementing new regulations that affect new coal mines with 52 percent opposed to additional regulations and 36 percent supportive.

In addition, 81 percent of voters support free trade agreements with other countries that allow Montana commodities and products to get exported.

To see the results of the full poll, go to www.montanachamber.com/2012P-Base.pdf.

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 December 2012 15:18

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Jobless rate falls

HELENA – Montana’s unemployment rate dropped below the 6 percent mark in November, dipping 0.2 percentage points to 5.8 percent. The national rate also decreased by 0.2 percentage points to 7.7 percent.

“We are finishing 2012 with good economic news for workers during the holiday season,” said Labor Commissioner Keith Kelly. “There still is some uncertainty with federal spending levels and the national economic outlook, but Montana’s economy has gained momentum this year and our economic prospects for 2013 are strong. We continue to outperform the nation.”

Montana’s total employment, which includes payroll workers, the self-employed, and agricultural workers, increased by 522 jobs over the month on a seasonally adjusted basis.

Although payroll employment estimates indicated a 1,300 job decline over the month, these preliminary estimates are fairly volatile, and the three-month trend remains positive.

Over-the-month job losses of a thousand each occurred in the government and construction industries, with job gains in most other industries.

Even including the preliminary job losses posted this month, construction employment has gained over the last year, adding about 1,600 jobs.

The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) declined by 0.3 percent in November due to a 7.4 percent fall in the gasoline index.

The energy index dropped 4.1 percent, while the food index increased by 0.2 percent. Continued increases in food prices are expected due to widespread drought this year. Core inflation, measured by the all items less food and energy index, rose 0.1

Last Updated on Saturday, 29 December 2012 15:19

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Funky Shark to pay fine

HELENA – Bozeman resident Scott Wacker and his company, Funky Shark, have been fined $40,000 for illegally selling investment opportunities, according to a news release from Commissioner of Securities and Insurance Monica J. Lindeen.

Wacker also agreed to pay back more than $834,000 to investors to resolve a restraining order Lindeen’s office filed against him in October. The restraining order stopped Wacker from soliciting new investors or spending any of the investment money he had already raised.

Last September, Wacker began recruiting investors for his penny-auction website, FunkyShark.com. By the end of October, Wacker had raised more than $1 million from investors across the world.

The flurry of transactions in Wacker’s personal and business accounts led his bank to file a suspicious activity report, which was referred to Lindeen’s office. After reviewing the report, investigators suspected Funky Shark was a pyramid scheme and requested a restraining order to prevent additional investors from getting involved.

On Oct. 30, Wacker posted a notice on Funky Shark’s website explaining that its investment program “may violate certain securities laws in the United States.”

In the two months it operated, Funky Shark paid nearly $378,000 in commissions to participants who recruited new members.

Those commission payments left Funky Shark unable to repay all of its participants in full, so Wacker agreed to pay $270,000 out-of-pocket to make investors whole.

“Mr. Wacker stepped up to the plate and repaid his investors,” said Lindeen.  “Often when we handle these types of cases, there’s simply no money left to repay participants. But for a number of reasons, this case is unique. Mr. Wacker didn’t understand what he was getting into, and he has expressed his commitment to setting things right.”

In August, Lindeen’s office issued a consumer alert about a penny auction pyramid scheme called ZeekRewards. More than 1,200 Montanans had invested $3 million in that scam before the Securities and Exchange Commission shut it down.

Last Updated on Saturday, 29 December 2012 15:19

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Farmers at fiscal cliff

By DEBORAH COURSON SMITH - Big Sky Connection...

HELENA – Months ago, farmers were the first to see what’s over the so-called fiscal cliff of budget cuts and tax hikes. That’s when the Farm Bill expired, leaving many agriculture programs without funding, including conservation titles, rural development and beginning farmer initiatives. 

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says there will be no new Farm Bill until sometime next year. 

Chuck Hassebrook, executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs, says, however, that Congress really needs to address the problems that Farm Bill “limbo” has caused. 

“Congress will need to at least pass an extension of the Farm Bill before it goes home, he said, “and even in the extension there are going to be important decisions about the pie gets divided, about how the federal government invests in rural America.”

Hassebrook predicts there will be reductions in spending in the new Farm Bill, but he says he hopes they will be targeted in ways that don’t harm mom-and-pop operations.

“By capping farm payments and crop insurance premium subsidies to mega-farms, subsidies that essentially subsidize them to drive smaller operations out of business. And secondly, it can cut by reducing crop insurance subsidies to folks who are tearing up marginal grasslands.”

He says the failure to pass a Farm Bill has created uncertainty for rural communities, especially with the lapse in rural economic development components in the bill.

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 December 2012 15:13

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Billings native gets post

James Souza, a Billings native, has assumed the position of vice president of medical affairs for St. Luke’s in Boise, Idaho, and the Treasure Valley.

Dr. Souza graduated from Billings Senior High School in 1984. He received a degree in biology at the University of Montana and was a WWAMI scholarship recipient.

He completed medical training in pulmonary and critical care at the University of Washington Medical School in Seattle.

He was named Teacher of the Year by the WWAMI Regional Medical Association and Physician Leader of the Year by the Idaho Medical Group Management Association.

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 December 2012 15:11

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