Local Workforce Report

In the coming year local employers say they expect to hire 1000 new employees. That reflects a $42 million increase in wages for Yellowstone County. Will they be able to find the workers?

Unlike many areas of the country, Billings and Yellowstone County face a labor shortage, a problem which if not addressed could negatively impact local business growth and discourage new businesses in locating here. The BillingsWorks Workforce Council has released a report about the state of Yellowstone County’s workforce, one which has been over two years in the making. The report sets goals and benchmarks against which to measure future strategies in meeting labor needs over the next decade.

“We are in one of the most economically dynamic areas of the nation,” said Steve Arveschoug, Director of Big Sky Economic Development, which led the collaboration of numerous community organizations in establishing the council and funding the report. “We want to make sure we are regionally strong and competitive,” he said, and that means “we as a community have to make strategic investments.”

Read more: Local Workforce Report

BSED Makes Bid for Veterans’ Business Outreach Center

Big Sky Economic Development (BSED) is putting in a bid to become the center for the Small Business Administration’s Veteran’s Business Outreach program for Region 8.

The program would be fully funded by the SBA, including the salary of a director. Veteran’s Business Outreach Centers, of which there are 15 nationwide, provide support services to veterans wanting to start or expand a veteran-owned business.  The center would function under the Small Business Development Center, which is also housed at BSED. It would serve a multi-state region (including Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah).

Read more: BSED Makes Bid for Veterans’ Business Outreach Center

Co-promoting Brings Business to Community

The significance of Metra Park co-promoting events was clarified by Sue DeVries, MetraPark's assistant manager, during the meeting of the Metra Park Advisory Board.

Following cudos for "hitting a real home run" with the landing of Motley Crue, (appearing July 26) which had already sold out before the end of January, Devries explained how much money Metra Park is making as a co-promoter.

Co-promotion for Metra Park is not so much about making money, said DeVries. "We aren't going to lose money and we will make some money, but the coup is getting the event and improving our relationship with the promoter who is responsible for a huge number of events," explained DeVries.

Read more: Co-promoting Brings Business to Community

Target Economic District Gets Stalled as Bypass Safety Issue Mulled

 In something of a surprise move, Yellowstone County Commissioners tabled – in a 2-1 vote — the issue of advancing the proposed Target Economic Development District (TEDD) for Lockwood, until the Lockwood community comes to some kind of resolution regarding another issue that could impact the prospects for building the Northend Bypass.

 Commissioner John Ostlund made the motion saying that he didn’t want to move forward in approving a Resolution of Necessity for the TEDD until the Lockwood community came together with a solution to remove a “cloud of uncertainty” over the Bypass, which was recently created with the demand by some Lockwood citizens to include a “bike trail” in its design. Addressing that issue could reopen the Decision of Record (DOR) for the Bypass which was reached after years of planning for what Ostlund called “the most important highway connection in the state.”

 Commissioner Jim Reno also voted to table the resolution for different reasons, having mostly to do with the prospect of the Lockwood School District and other taxing jurisdictions, losing future tax revenues with the implementation of a tax increment finance district, which would be part of the TEDD.

 Commissioner Bill Kennedy voted in support of the TEDD and in opposition to the motion to table the resolution, saying “I have a problem tabling the project and holding it almost as blackmail … a form of stopping everything until what one commissioner wants is passed.” He said he believes the TEDD is important to Lockwood to have planning and address future infrastructure needs.

Big Sky Economic Development Authority (EDA) Director Steve Arveschoug asked the commissioners to at least set a future date when they will revisit the issue. He suggested 30 days, and the commissioners said they would consider the request at a future meeting. The EDA has shepherded the proposal of a TEDD through the process to the point of asking for the Resolution of Necessity, which declares an infrastructure deficient area in the county, and calls for investment in that area to address the needs. The resolution is needed to move on to the next step in the process of creating a TEDD, which involves setting boundaries, developing a plan and imposing zoning. The action the commissioners were considering on Tuesday would not create a TEDD.

 The TEDD is viewed by EDA and other economic development proponents as necessary to help develop an industrial park in Lockwood, which would help entice businesses to locate and expand here in the future. EDA conducted a feasibility study to identify the best location for an industrial park in the county, last year. The Lockwood location, which would encompass the Trailhead Commerce Park, was identified as the preferred location based, in part, upon the fact that it will eventually be served by an access ramp of the proposed Bypass. Economic development of the area would be delayed if the Bypass DOR were re-opened, and several Lockwood business people wrote a letter of concern, to the commissioners, about that possibility.

 Ostlund also voiced strong concern with the issue which was raised last week by Nic Talmark, Chairman of the Lockwood Pedestrian Safety Council. He said his group was alarmed in realizing there is little provision in the proposed Bypass plans to accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists. They were told that adding a separated lane for pedestrians would add about $7 million to the cost, which would have to be borne by the county.

 The concern comes quite late in the process of planning the Bypass, since the DOR— the official approval of the plan, which took many years — was issued last July, Ostlund pointed out.

 Ostlund said that there is little chance in getting the transportation agencies to cover the cost of a “bike trail,” given that the federal transportation bill lacks enough funding to meet all the needs, as it is. And, the county has many other demands upon its budget, including the need of building an addition for, and funding the maintenance, of the jail.

 Otherwise, Ostlund said, “I think a TEDD district is a good deal for Lockwood,” but so is the Bypass, he said – in fact the concept of the Bypass was started by Lockwood citizens.

 Reno commented, “You have the wrong audience. We are not a board of directors for a lending institution; we are the board of county commissioners for the taxpayers. We need to stop going down this road of asking taxpayers for the development of raw land.” He pointed out that just $10 million – a relatively modest sum — in improvements within a TIF, would mean lost revenue to the Lockwood School District of $109,409 a year. It would mean a loss of $31,605 to the Lockwood Fire District.

 “It is odd to hear private developers asking for government help,” Reno continued, “They normally ask for less.” He said that he thought development would come to the area without a TEDD. “Show me an urban area where business at an on-off ramp has not happened,” he said.

 “For me to get on board, I need letters of endorsement from all the taxing jurisdictions saying they support it,” said Reno.

 

 

Yellowstone County Considers Levy to Help Build and Maintain Jail

 

A public hearing has been set by Yellowstone County Commissioners to consider placing a levy request, for up to six mills annually, before the voters to help finance an addition to the jail, to help fund other improvements to the 28-year – old facility, and for its on-going maintenance and operation.

The hearing will be held on Tuesday, March 10, 9:30 a.m. in Room 403A of the county courthouse.

If the commissioners approve the resolution the election would be held by mail ballots, which would be mailed on May 20, to be returned by Election Day, June 9.

Read more: Yellowstone County Considers Levy to Help Build and Maintain Jail

Candidates Announce for Commission Seat

Yellowstone County Commissioner Jim Reno has announced that he will run for re-election in 2016. A Republican primary contender, Denis Pitman, a Billings City Councilman, has already announced his intention of challenging the three-term incumbent.

Reno said that he wants to "finish the job you hired me to do. . . There is a lot of work yet to do."

Read more: Candidates Announce for Commission Seat

Legislators Consider Crime Lab for Billings

The prospect of a second crime lab for the state, being approved by the State Legislature, to be located somewhere in Billings, is looking good, according to comments from state legislators during the recent mid-session break of the state legislature.

 Montana’s only crime lab is located in Missoula.

 The subject of HB 512 was discussed at a legislative update meeting with the Yellowstone County Commissioners. The proposal evoked much discussion, including the possibility of a new lab being built in conjunction with the proposed new science building at MSU-Billings. While rumors abound about whether the Chancellor and Board of Regents like the idea, the group seemed to think that there is support because of the educational opportunities it would pose, as well as the money it would save.

Read more: Legislators Consider Crime Lab for Billings

County Plans to Put Jail Levy on Spring Ballot

Plans to use one-time tax protest monies and other budget savings to build an addition to the county jail seem to have evaporated in the face of declining taxable property values in the county.

Yellowstone County will be dealing with a tightening financial picture in 2015, due to changes that have impacted taxable property values in the county. Facing, at best, flat revenues, next year, County Director of Finance Scott Turner cautioned County Commissioners about how they decide to spend $3.17 million in one-time disbursements from tax protest funds.

Read more: County Plans to Put Jail Levy on Spring Ballot

2015 Projected as Better Year for Yellowstone County's Economy

"We are an amazing community and have an amazing economy," said Jeremy Vannatta in addressing attendees of the Montana Economic Outlook Seminar, in talking about Yellowstone County. Vannatta, Director of Business Outreach, Recruitment & Marketing at Big Sky Economic Development was one of numerous speakers talking about the economic prospects for 2015. Vannatta underscored that Yellowstone County leads the state in most economic categories, often by a "wide margin."

Yellowstone County has benefitted considerably from the oil field activity in the Bakken, and as that activity slows because of declining oil prices, so will the economic benefit to the county decline. But, nonetheless, the rate of growth projected for Yellowstone County in 2015 is still expected to be stronger than in 2014, according to Paul Polzin, Director Emeritus, Bureau of Business and Economic Research, which presented the seminar.

Read more: 2015 Projected as Better Year for Yellowstone County's Economy

Market Update

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