The Billings Outpost

Business groups target workforce development

Big Sky Economic Development

Big Sky Economic Development, City College, Billings Chamber of Commerce and the Billings Job Service partnered to address the development of our future workforce through the Workforce Development 2023 Forum held this week at City College.

The Forum featured keynote speaker Dr. Anthony Zeiss, known as a national leader in workforce development, a target industry analysis presentation and two panel discussions focused on developing Montana’s workforce. Dr. Zeiss is the president of Central Piedmont Community College, the largest community college in North Carolina, serving approximately 70,000 students per year.

The forum covered topics from increasing opportunities for our underemployed to safety training and workforce education. The two panel discussions focused on workforce resources available from the local and state government as well as challenges private sector businesses are currently facing.

Workforce Development 2023 was successful in engaging a broad variety of community members and attendees left with a sense of direction from an engaging dialogue on workforce goals and next steps. As Steve Arveschoug, Executive Director of Big Sky Economic Development stated, “Today’s event was a great first step in starting our work on some very important topics in our community. Now we must be focused on finding ways to fulfill the current and future workforce needs of local and prospective businesses.”

Dr. Zeiss applauded the Billings community for pro-actively coming together: “Most communities just have an economic development strategy, without a focus on workforce development.

Billings will soon have a very contemporary strategic plan to address both the issues employers are seeing in the market today and those that they will face over the next ten years.”

Through the interactive presentation, people in attendance were polled electronically in real-time to provide feedback regarding elements of workforce development covered by both Dr. Zeiss and the panels. With the help of Dr. Zeiss, a draft vision statement was developed and those in attendance helped identify issues and strategies to achieve the vision.

The group together created a draft vision statement for their efforts moving forward: By 2023, the Billings region will be the premier business-driven workforce development hub in the Rocky Mountain West.

Additionally, the group created some potential strategies to accomplish the vision statement.

Some of those strategies include:

Convene education and business leaders to implement the strategies.

City College high school career academies via dual credit programs.

Teach job readiness certification to high school seniors, teach work ethics.

Actively identify and recruit under skilled, under employed, dislocated workers and veterans.

Businesses need to provide curricula advice and internships to educational organizations that produce their employees. Technical training should include industry-recognized certifications.

Market technical careers better.

Big Sky Economic Development is Yellowstone County’s economic development arm. The organization is a public-private partnership of two agencies. Big Sky Economic Development Authority (EDA), the public agency, evolved from the Montana TradePort Authority in 1989. Created by the Yellowstone County Board of Commissioners, the EDA is tasked with facilitating the development of business that supports our community and quality of life. Big Sky Economic Development Corp., the private business side, was started in 2002. The EDC’s mission is to recruit primary sector businesses and retain and expand existing Yellowstone County businesses that support our community and quality of life. Over 120 of the county’s top businesses are member-investor partners in the EDC.

Last Updated on Thursday, 21 March 2013 15:15

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Bill would change leases for renewable energy

By Deborah Courson Smith - Big Sky Connection

HELENA – A bill being considered by a pair of congressional committees would require wind and solar developers to compete for public land leases, and once those projects were up and running, they’d have to pay royalties. 

It’s modeled after oil and gas development, with the money to be split among states, counties and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, (BLM). Just over one-third of it would go into a wildlife and land conservation fund. 

Nic Callero, regional representative for the National Wildlife Federation, says it should boost this type of development.

“It’s a relatively new idea for renewable energy projects,” he explains. “It’s a system that we’ve already used on public lands for conventional energy projects, and what this does is, basically evens the playing field for renewable projects, versus conventional oil and gas projects.”

Callero’s group contends that a competitive leasing process also means developers will avoid controversial areas with critical habitat concerns, to save time and money. 

The bill has co-sponsors from both parties in eight western states, including Rep. Steve Daines of Montana.

Bob Rees, president of the Northwest Guides and Anglers Association, says hunters and fishermen have two big fears about energy development of any kind on public land - that it will damage fish and wildlife habitat and restrict access. But he says this bill addresses both concerns.

“It just makes a lot of sense,” Rees says. “It develops energy that this country is going to desperately need in the future, and more importantly – most importantly, in some people’s minds – it’s green energy, you know. And that has a much smaller overall footprint on the environment.”

The National Wildlife Federation says since 2007, just over 40 renewable energy projects have been approved on public land in the U.S. – along with more than 7,000 oil and gas projects.

Last Updated on Thursday, 21 March 2013 15:14

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Unemployment rises

HELENA – Montana’s unemployment rate increased slightly by 0.1 percentage points to 5.7 percent in January, hitting the same level as November 2012 after a slightly lower rate of 5.6 percent in December.

Montana’s unemployment rate has been on a downward trend since the end of 2010. The national rate also increased in January by 0.1 percentage points to 7.9 percent.

“Montana’s economy has made strong job gains over the last two years, gaining back most of the jobs lost during the recession and adding wages for Montana’s workers,” said Labor Commissioner Pam Bucy. “The pull-back in federal funding and the expiration of the payroll tax break are expected to slow growth in the next few months, but I am confident that our economy will continue to move forward and add jobs throughout the next year.”

Both the payroll employment estimates and the total employment estimates (which includes payroll workers, the self-employed, and agricultural workers) posted small employment decreases from December to January of 500 jobs and 800 jobs respectively. Continued job losses in the public sector

offset gains in the health services industry. However, over the year job gains in both data series show strong employment growth of about 1.6 percent, or about 8,000 jobs.

Every February, the Montana Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recalculate the employment estimates for past years in a process called benchmarking.

The benchmarking process makes employment estimates more accurate, in addition to smoothing the data series and calibrating the data to new population estimates.

Benchmarked data indicates that Montana’s economy lost more jobs during the recession than first estimated, but the recovery since 2010 has been stronger than first thought. Revisions also reduced Montana’s unemployment rates during the recession. Montana’s unemployment rate hit a recession high of 6.8 percent in the last half of 2010 (compared to the initial estimates of 7 percent), and has since decreased to 5.7 percent. The highest historic unemployment rate for Montana was 8.8 percent in 1983.

The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) was unchanged for January, with prices falling over the last three months. Core inflation, measured by the all items less food and energy index, rose by 0.3 percentage points over the month, but was offset by declining gasoline prices.

Unemployment figures are seasonally-adjusted. The margin of error for the unemployment rate is plus or minus 0.8 percentage points at the 90 percent confidence level. All questions relating to the calculation of unemployment rates should be directed to the Montana Department of Labor and Industry’s Research and Analysis Bureau at 1-800-541-3904.

Last Updated on Thursday, 21 March 2013 15:12

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Business Briefs

Gieseke joins Rocky Bank

STEVENSVILLE – Bob Gieseke has joined Rocky Mountain bank as the new manager of the Stevensville branch.

Gieseke, originally from Litchfield, Minn., is a graduate of Montana State University with a degree in business marketing and management. As a resident of Corvallis the past five years, he has been involved in the community as past-president of Bitterroot Valley Kiwanis, a board member of United Way of Ravalli County and a Relay for Life team leader.

He has a background in commercial real estate sales and development and has been a commercial banker in Hamilton since 2008.

In addition, Rocky Mountain Bank promoted Jeff Fuller to vice president, retail sales manager.

Mr. Fuller joined Rocky Mountain Bank as vice president and business development officer in 2007 in the Stevensville office. His new responsibilities include leadership, sales management and business development for all 10 offices and communities that the bank serves.

Rocky Mountain Bank is a state-chartered banking group with more than $466 million in assets. Headquarters are at 2615 King Ave. W. in Billings. Visit www.rmbank.com for information.

EBMS names CEO

EBMS has named Thomas Partlow as the company’s new CEO, effective immediately.

For the past 25 years, Partlow has worked in the self-insurance/group health marketplace. He previously served as president of Delta Health Systems, a California-based service provider for self-funded health plan management, where he was instrumental in the development of a suite of wellness and disease management programs.

He also was instrumental in the development of an Accountable Care Organization-based network in the Southern California region, comprising more than 4,000 physicians and 20 hospitals. During Partlow’s presidency, Delta’s revenue grew to greater than $30 million.

Partlow said he is excited to bring his broad scope of experience to EBMS. “Throughout my long tenure in this industry, I have watched and admired the Larson family as they built EBMS into a national industry powerhouse that is widely respected throughout the country and beyond,” said Partlow.

“To be able to join a company of this stature truly is the pinnacle of my career, and I am honored to be a part of such a talented and innovative team of professionals. I look forward to building on an established foundation of success as we work together to grow and expand EBMS to be of ever-increasing value in the healthcare marketplace.”

Y names finance director

The Billings Family YMCA has welcomed Jennifer Schroeder as the new finance director.

Schroeder graduated from Billings Senior High School in 2002 and graduated from Seattle University in 2007 with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting. She worked at Ernst & Young in Seattle as an auditor and upon returning to Billings in October 2011, worked at Underriner Motors.

A longtime, active Y member, she said, “there are not many organizations in Billings where I’d rather be working; the Y is a fun, exciting and healthy place to be.”

Scam targets employers

HELENA – The Montana Department of Labor and Industry is warning employers of a second scam targeting Montana employers. The Department has taken calls from employers who have received a letter allegedly from the Department of Labor requesting banking information noting that automatic withdrawals begin March 1, 2013. Neither the U.S. Department of Labor, or the Montana Department of Labor and Industry’s Unemployment Insurance Division have sent letters asking for banking information.

“This is the third time in less than six months that a scam asking for information has targeted Montana businesses. What makes this even more frustrating is the scammers are posing as the Department of Labor, and employers naturally want to comply with the information request”, said Labor Commissioner Pam Bucy. Bucy recommends that any Montana employer receiving this fraudulent request not reply with any information and call the Montana UID fraud investigator at (406) 444-1709.

Last Updated on Thursday, 21 March 2013 15:10

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Colstrip sued for pollution

By DEBORAH COURSON SMITH - Big Sky Connection

HELENA – The Colstrip coal plant is the subject of a federal lawsuit filed this month. The Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC) and Sierra Club filed the case, alleging the plant emits too much pollution and requesting fines of more than $37,000 a day. The case is based on the federal Clean Air Act. 

Anne Hedges, MEIC program director, said the pollution is not new. She explained that when modifications are made to older plants, they are supposed to be upgraded for better pollution control and go through a permitting process.

“This is a case we have been investigating for years,” she said, “finding that all four units at the facility have been modified in a way that required them to go through a permitting process, and they did not do so.”

The owners of Colstrip have stated that changes at the plant were routine maintenance, and therefore it was not required to be upgraded for pollution control under the Clean Air Act.

According to Hedges, the intent of requiring pollution controls is not only to protect public health, but also to even the playing field with newer coal plants that have to, by law, install pollution controls. 

“They can do better,” she said. “Other facilities are doing better, and we want them to do better, too.”

Puget Sound Energy is the largest owner of Colstrip, but other companies are also being charged in the case, including Avista, Portland General Electric, Northwestern Energy and Pennsylvania Power and Light.The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Seattle.

Last Updated on Thursday, 21 March 2013 15:04

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Tribal members honored in traditional arts

Jay Old Mouse, left, and Birdie Real Bird have honored for maintaining traditional skills

Whether a traditional Cheyenne courting flute or a bamboo fly-rod, the work created by the most recently endorsed Montana Circle of American Masters reflects its Montana connections and helps to deepen an awareness of what it means to be Montanan.

In December, the Montana Arts Council added to its distinguished roll of Montana’s Circle of American Masters (MCAM) in the Visual Folk and Traditional Arts by endorsing a bamboo fly-rod maker, a leather artist, a creator of traditional Cheyenne flutes, a Crow beadworker, and a bowyer. These five artists join the roll call of other Montana folk and traditional artists whom the program has honored.

Jay Old Mouse, of Lame Deer, is considered by the Northern Cheyenne people to be the designated keeper and maker of the Cheyenne courting flute. The Cheyenne courting flute was handed down to him through the lineage of known keepers, from Turkey Legs in the late 1800s, to Grover Wolf Voice, then to his grandfather Black Bear and now to Old Mouse. The honor and the flute-making skills were bestowed on him when he was in his early 20s by his grandfather with a long list of cultural protocols to follow.

Old Mouse was a certified carpenter at the time he became the keeper and to this day, he uses the historical methods and protocols in making and playing the flute. The courting flute was originally used by a male suitor to attract a mate. It is also used in prayer, as a source of social entertainment, to honor individuals at events like funerals and birthdays, and as a tool to alleviate suffering. Old Mouse follows his grandfather’s teachings and plays when asked at funerals, graduations, in schools, in church and at weddings.

Because of his commitment to the protocols handed down to him and to providing comfort to his community through his performances, Old Mouse is highly regarded in his community. He is also concerned about teaching both natives and non-natives about the significance of the Cheyenne courting flute.

To teach about the flute, he has presented at Cheyenne Frontier Days,

the National Folk Festival in Butte, the Cheyenne Immersion Camp, American Indian Heritage day at Miles City Community College, the American Indian Housing Initiative at Penn State, and for 20 years for the Cheyenne Trailriders international guests.

Birdie Real Bird, who is a member of the Crow tribe from Garryowen, was raised on the reservation in a traditional family. Known throughout Montana for her exquisite beading projects and dolls, she comes from a long line of beading artists and learned to bead watching those elders work on projects. As she grew up, she began beading more complex projects under the tutelage of her grandmother.

While Real Bird was growing up, she and her grandmother sold beadwork medallions to the wives of the employees at the Bureau of Indian Affairs or the Indian Health Services to get gas money; and in college, she made and sold beaded jewelry. She uses correct Crow traditional designs and colors in her work, but when she travels she looks for examples of Plains Indian beadwork in museum collections. Her dolls, which reflect everyday dress styles worn by her mother Lucy Real Bird, are in numerous collections, including the Smithsonian Museum.

A retired middle school teacher, Real Bird now devotes most of her time to beading and teaching traditional Crow culture. She speaks at reservation schools where she shares information about traditional dress, tells stories, teaches language, native games and beading. In her work, she explains the significance of cradleboards and dolls to Crow culture, helping students realize the connections between the Crow, Yellowstone Park and their own community.

She also works with the Montana Historical Museum, OPI, and the Montana Arts Council and has demonstrated beading at events like the National Folk Festival in Butte.

In addition, artists endorsed for the Montana Circle of American Masters this winter are Glenn Brackett of Butte, who is widely considered to be one of the preeminent bamboo flyfishing rod builders of the current era; leather artist Howard Knight of Stevensville, who has collaborated with bootmaker Lisa Sorrell and other many other artisans; and Jim Rempp, a Missoula bowyer whose bows are coveted by both archers for use and collectors for display.

The Montana Circle of American Masters is a Montana Arts Council program designed to honor Montana’s rich heritage and to showcase the present day vitality of the folk arts.

For inclusion in this program, an individual must be a practicing visual folk artist and have a valid Montana address. Any Montanan who knows an eligible artist and wants to recommend him or her for inclusion in the Circle of American Masters is encouraged to visit the MAC website (www.art.mt.gov) and download the guidelines and nomination form.

For more information about the program or for help in the nomination process, contact Cindy Kittredge, folk arts and market specialist, at (406)468-4078, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Last Updated on Saturday, 16 March 2013 16:09

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Flu restrictions lifted

RiverStone Health and Unified Health Command partners Billings Clinic and St. Vincent Healthcare are seeing a decline in the number of reported influenza cases in recent weeks and have lifted visitor restrictions in hospitals; however, restrictions in the neo-natal intensive care units (NICU) remain in place.

Restrictions were implemented after the first of the year as part of a community effort to prevent and control the spread of respiratory disease.

“While it’s too early to say definitively that the influenza season has peaked, we have noticed a significant decline in reported influenza cases in recent weeks. Because of this decline, we have lifted visitor restrictions in hospitals,” said John Felton, Yellowstone County Health Officer and RiverStone Health president and chief executive officer. “This year’s influenza season has out-paced last year’s with more than 750 reported cases of influenza compared to last year’s total 119 reported cases.”

Visitors under the age of 18 years will now be permitted in hospitals. However, it is always a good idea to refrain from visiting individuals in healthcare facilities when visitors are experiencing symptoms and signs of illness.

Last Updated on Thursday, 14 March 2013 15:43

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Fact or fiction? Dealing with driving myths

ASK AARP

This question came from Ed in Billings during a recent AARP Driver Safety course:
Q: My 83-year-old father and I have an ongoing “friendly feud” about whether or not we should be changing our oil every 3,000 miles. Do you have any info that can help settle this once and for all?
A: Many widespread beliefs about safe driving rules are tried and true, such as buckle up, always come to a complete stop and use your turn signal. But some of the best driving practices are trickier. For example, how often do you need to change your oil? Is it really every 3,000 miles as many of us have been told time and time again?
Over the years, technological advances, crash simulators and expert analysis have debunked many common driving myths. However, many of us are still operating under the assumptions we learned when we first got behind the wheel.
AARP Driver Safety sheds light on three common driving myths and mistakes, to help you stay safe on the road – and save on unnecessary expenses.
• Myth 1: Change your oil every 3,000 miles. While vehicle maintenance is critical to driver safety, you no longer need to change your oil diligently at the 3,000-mile mark.
Modern engines and synthetic motor oils have changed the frequency with which you need to change your oil. Most cars need a change between 5,000 and 10,000 miles. Check your owner’s manual to determine how long your vehicle should go between changes.
• Myth 2: Warm up your car before driving. When the weather outside is frightful, many of us crank on our car engines for a few minutes before getting on the road.
Although it may make the interior of your car nice and toasty, “warming up” your car in winter has no technical benefits. According to the Discovery Channel, modern vehicles are equipped to start in cold temperatures, and idling for less than a minute before driving is sufficient. Idling for longer wastes fuel and can cause unnecessary wear and tear on your engine.
• Myth 3: Fill up with premium every once in a while. While most of us stick to unleaded fuel, some may believe that it is a good idea to fill up your tank with a higher octane fuel every now and then because it is cleaner and will make your car run more smoothly. But thanks to mechanical advancements, using high octane fuel is an unnecessary expense for most modern vehicles. Engines run based on the controlled explosion of gasoline and, back in the day, gasoline would occasionally explode at the wrong time. According to the Discovery Channel, this caused the car to have poor timing and run irregularly.
Higher octane fuel was invented to overcome this problem, but modern cars have gone a step further. Nowadays, a knock sensor prevents gasoline from combusting at the wrong time, so depending on your vehicle’s make and model, you may no longer need to fill up with more expensive fuel ... ever!
Myth 4: Red cars get more speeding tickets. There are many rumors about car color and its effect on things like car accidents and speeding tickets. For example, black cars are thought to be more likely to be involved in accidents at night because they are harder to see, and drivers with red cars supposedly get pulled over more often than others — perhaps because they are more eye-catching or because the color incites speeding. According to a study by Snopes.com, drivers of gray cars actually garnered more speeding tickets than other vehicle colors. White cars received fewer speeding tickets than they should have based on vehicle population, and red cars received no more speeding tickets than any other group.
For more tips on how to stay safe on the road, consider taking a driver improvement course, such as the AARP Driver Safety course, available in a classroom or online.  In Montana you are eligible for an insurance discount upon completion of the course.
For more information, visit www.aarp.org/safedriving or call 1-888-AARP-NOW (1-888-227-7669).

Do you have a question for AARP Montana? Send your question to “Ask AARP Montana” at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 30 W 14th St., Helena, MT 59601 or call our toll-free hotline at 1-866-295-7278.

Last Updated on Thursday, 14 March 2013 15:42

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Tax training provided

Department of Revenue

The Montana Department of Revenue provides assistance on individual income tax matters through its Internet website, call center, and statewide local offices. But did you know that they also have an income tax specialist who will offer state side training for the volunteers that enter tax returns?

Brian Olsen has been traveling the state of Montana for eight years, meeting with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) folks and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) to train the volunteers who assist the primarily elderly and/or lower income citizens of Montana with their tax returns.

In addition to training the volunteers on tax preparation, Mr. Olsen also meets with paid tax preparers and accountants to go over law changes, rule changes and any recent legal decisions.

He typically trains in Helena, Billings, Butte, Missoula, Great Falls, Kalispell, and Bozeman, but has been known to make a side trip to a smaller area if he happens to be nearby, such as stopping in Stevensville after providing training in Missoula.

When asked why he performs this onsite training, he said, “I like that it brings questions to us that the tax preparers see. The face-to-face interaction is great!”

For questions, or to discuss these training sessions with Brian Olsen, contact him at (406) 444-2994 or email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Last Updated on Thursday, 14 March 2013 15:40

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Top 5 ways to add value when selling home

(StatePoint) Selling a home in today’s aggressive marketplace can be challenging. The good news is there are a few tweaks that can give homeowners a serious leg up on the competition.

With the warmer months being the most active time of year to buy and sell real estate, it’s important to ensure your home is seen in the best light possible.

“Despite the influx of homes for sale this season, the process of buying and selling a home can be simple, efficient and enjoyable,” says Wendy Froehlich of Homes.com, one of the nation’s top online real estate listing and lifestyle resources.

According to Homes.com, the top five projects that improve home equity are:

Bathrooms: If adding an additional bathroom isn‘t an option, upgrade existing ones.

Adding a dual vanity to a master or secondary bath improves functionality, allowing multiple people to use the space. Change out fixtures like faucets and shower doors to increase aesthetic appeal. If you’re on a budget, replace light fixtures or switch plates to help refresh the space.

When working with a small space, highlight storage options with shelving and update or remove wall decor, paint or wallpaper.

Kitchen: Kitchen renovations can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000 and more. If that’s not in your budget, upgrading cabinetry and paint does wonders to liven up even the most outdated spaces.

Add crown or decorative molding to “shape out” the kitchen cabinets and modernize the space. Repaint cabinets, or add new hardware to add visual interest and brighten dark spaces.

Outdoor Spaces: Curb appeal adds immediate interest to any home’s exterior. According to Remodeling Magazine, improving outdoor spaces can increase a home’s resale value dollar-for-dollar.

Frame the front walkway with items that add visual interest, like flowers, potted plants, large rocks of various sizes and solar-powered lights. If yard space is scarce, hanging plants are another great, low-cost option.

Extend outdoor projects to the backyard – power-wash decks or patios and clean screened-in areas.

Basement: Basement improvements can optimize livable space and protect the home from extreme weather, mold, moisture damage and mites. Whether transitioning the basement to a home gym, office or family room, the basics remain the same: insulate well and waterproof.

Maximize space by including shelving and storage units. If the opportunity exists, make the space feel open and inviting by creating an open stairwell, a trick that visually connects the upper part of the house with the lower, and filters natural light into the space.

Mudroom: Mudrooms ensure families stay clutter-free and have a dedicated space to drop stuff as they come through the door. They can also make potential homeowners feel welcome upon entry.

While knocking out a wall to create a mudroom is expensive and labor-intensive, you can make a “drop zone” by simply anchoring a bench to an empty wall and hanging labeled storage units.

Making homes stand out in a sea of real estate listings isn’t always easy. More tips can be found at www.Homes.com.

Last Updated on Thursday, 28 February 2013 18:10

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