The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) reminds farmers and ranchers affected by the recent wildfires that disaster assistance programs are available to support their recovery efforts. With 400 square miles on fire in Garfield and Petroleum Counties, Montana had the largest fire in the nation. News late last week that the federal agency, FEMA, will help fund the firefighting, was welcome news after the feds rejected the first request from the Governor for a grant that would recover 75 percent of the state’s costs to suppress the fires. Called the Lodgepole Complex fire, it is made up of three fires, the Barker Fire, the South Breaks Fire, and the Bridge Coulee Fire, the first of which was reported on July 19.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated Blaine, Custer and Prairie counties in Montana as primary natural disaster areas due to losses and damages caused by a recent drought. Farmers and ranchers in the following counties also qualify for natural disaster assistance because their counties are contiguous. Those counties are: Carter, Chouteau, Dawson, Fallon, Fergus, Garfield, Hill, McCone, Phillips, Powder River, Rosebud and Wibaux.


The designation makes farm operators in those areas eligible for FSA’s emergency (EM) loans, provided eligibility requirements are met. Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of the declaration to apply for loans to help cover part of their actual losses. FSA has a variety of programs, in addition to the EM loan program, to help eligible farmers recover from adversity.


Montana’s unemployment rate remained at 3.9 percent in June.


The state Department of Labor and Industry reports that 6,700 jobs were added to the state’s economy over the past year, with 220 of those jobs posted in June. The state’s unemployment rate was a half percentage point better than the 4.4 percent national average. The national unemployment rate was .1 percent higher than the month before.


KLJ announced the opening of an office in Sioux Falls, SD. With 24 offices in six states across the U.S., KLJ has been in South Dakota for more than 15 years with an office in Rapid City. KLJ also has an office in Billings. KLJ, founded 80 year ago, is headquartered in Bismarck, ND.


In response to low tax revenues, Governor Steve Bullock announced he is going to cut state spending $97 million over the next two years.  Tax revenues fell far enough below projections to trigger the worst-case scenario. Public schools will lose at least $19 million, and Public Health and Human Services $26 million. The Governor will also transfer $30 million from the state’s reserve fund used to pay the cost of fighting wildfires. $39 million will remain in the fund to cover firefighting costs. Most state agencies are expected to reduce their budgets by a half-percent. Cuts will also impact tourism promotion, agriculture programs, and the state’s contract with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana to run its Medicaid expansion program will terminate.


Researchers at the University of Utah report that the northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park has been experiencing a swarm of earthquakes since June 12. Not to worry, though, the volcano that underlies the park is not ready to erupt. It is in fact acting quite normal for a volcano, according to the researchers. Typically, Yellowstone Park has between 1500 and 2000 earthquakes a year.


BBER will be hosting a group of Association for University Business and Economic Research (AUBER) Center leaders and others from around the U.S. for a working weekend over August 11th - 13th in the Gilkey Executive Education Building on the UM campus. The group will be working with Kate McGoldrick, executive director of the Center for Enterprise and Executive Development, as facilitator for the group’s discussions regarding the AUBER organization. Folks will be traveling to the UM campus from the University of Texas, Indiana University, University of the Pacific, University of Arizona, University of Georgia, University of Colorado, Penn State, University of Alabama, Georgia Southern University and the University of Central Florida.


MDU Resources Group, Inc.’s subsidiary WBI Energy, Inc. plans to expand its Line Section 27 natural gas transportation system in the Bakken producing area in northwestern North Dakota. The $27 million to $30 million expansion project will involve construction of approximately 13 miles of 24-inch diameter pipeline and associated facilities. When the expansion is complete, the transportation capacity on WBI Energy’s Line Section 27 will be over 600,000 dekatherms per day. The targeted in-service date for the project is fall 2018, which is the same timeframe for completion as WBI Energy’s $55 million to $60 million Valley Expansion project near Fargo, North Dakota. “The Line Section 27 Expansion is a good project, right in our backyard, that underscores the continued demand for reliable natural gas transportation service in the Bakken,” said David L. Goodin, president and CEO of MDU Resources. “This spring, we added significant new compression to our system in the Bakken and surpassed 1 billion cubic feet per day of subscribed firm capacity, systemwide, for the first time. With these new projects in the Bakken, our natural gas transportation volumes continue to grow, and will be further enhanced by our Valley Expansion project in eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota.”


The Sidney Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors Search Committee has named Susan Joy as its new Executive Director. As Executive Director, Joy will oversee the Chamber’s operations as well as work with its staff and volunteers to ensure Chamber programs and services run with the high degree of excellence that its membership expects. Before joining the Chamber, Joy served as the Executive Director of the Headwaters Science Center in Bemidji, Minnesota