BEST OF BILLINGS
THE COVID PIVOT WEBINAR SERIES
GET TO KNOW BOARD MEMBER
IS S U E 2 6 | J U N E 2 0 2 0 - S E P T E M B E R 2 0 2 0
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table of contents
RESILIENCY AND INNOVATION: Industries Facing Highs and Lows
THE COVID PIVOT WEBINAR SERIES Toolkit for Businesses
CONVENER Leadership Billings and the Trailhead Leadership Academy
BUSINESS GROWTH A Look at the Helpers
NEXT UP WITH NEXTGEN Leaning into Resilience
EXIT PLANNING IN UNCERTAIN TIMES Eide Bailly provides guidance
BOARD INTRODUCTION 2020-2021 Board of Directors
4 JUNE 2020 - SEPTEMBER 2020 | LiNK BUSINESS QUARTERLY
THE COVID PIVOT WEBINAR SERIES
A LOOK AT THE HELPERS
2020-2021 BOARD OF DIRECTORS
TOP INVESTORS BIG SKY LEVEL
GRANITE PEAK LEVEL
DiA Events Holiday Station Stores NorthWestern Energy US Bank
BEARTOOTH LEVEL Albertsons All Around Roofing and Exteriors Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Floberg Real Estate Big Sky Economic Development By All Means CentiMark Computers Unlimited Crowley Fleck PLLP Denny Menholt Chevrolet Diamond B Companies Dovetail Designs & Millwork Inc. EBMS Entre Technology Services ExxonMobil Refining & Supply Co. Gainan’s Flowers & Garden Center Kampgrounds of America Kinetic Marketing And Creative Montana-Dakota Utilities Co. MSU Billings Foundation Northern Hotel Opportunity Bank of Montana PayneWest Insurance Phillips 66 Rocky Mountain Bank - King Sanctuary LLC Sibanye - Stillwater Spectrum Reach The Western Sugar Cooperative Vertex Consulting Group Walmart Walmart, Heights Western Security Bank, Downtown Yellowstone Valley Electric Co-Op, Inc.
Published by: The Billings Gazette Project Management: Dave Worstell Project Editor: Kelly McCandless Creative Designer: Brandy Dangerfield Project Support: Marya Pennington Advertising Sales: Contact Kelly McCandless at 406-869-3732 Kelly@billingschamber.com Photo Contributors: Billings Gazette Photographers, Billings Chamber, Visit Billings, Adobe Stock BillingsChamber.com PO Box 31177 Billings MT 59107-1177 406-245-4111 800-711-2630 Fax 406-245-7333
CATALYST Standing for Business During the Pandemic
PRiORiTY SPOTLiGHT Freight Industry Buoys Billings Logan Airport
BUSiNESS CHAMPiON Out On A Limb: Predicting How the 2021 Session Will Look
STAFF PROFiLE Jack Jennaway MONTANA’S TRAiLHEAD Destination Recovery: Guiding Visitation to Montana’s Trailhead
TRiPS ON A TANKFUL Exploring All of the Landscapes of Southeast Montana
EVENT SPOTLiGHT Bringing it all Back: Chamber Events Return
GET TO KNOW THE BOARD Jess Peterson
PRESiDENT’S LETTER One Day Closer
JUNE 2020 - SEPTEMBER 2020 | LiNK BUSINESS QUARTERLY 5
FROM THE PRESiDENT/CEO
ONE DAY CLOSER BY JOHN BREWER PRESIDENT, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER
s we wake up today, we are ONE DAY CLOSER to normalcy—or better yet –exceeding normal by reimagining improved methods to conduct business; more efficient, inspired ways to be productive; and creative approaches to growing our economy.
• Employees want to get back to work, but not by “business as usual.” Our people are our greatest asset and ensuring they are healthy and able to work in a safe environment should be of paramount importance. Additionally, many workers have embraced and are thriving in a remote work structure. Billings businesses may find it easier to retain and grow their workforce when flexible work schedules are permitted—more than likely your competitor will be considering what this looks like.
Already we have learned that we can “physically distance” without being “socially distanced.” New tools have enabled us to CONVENE differently. We learned to effectively work remotely, utilizing technology while becoming more efficient by eliminating our commute. Industry, goods and services evolved and innovation expanded or surged to serve market demand even while consumers were sheltered-in-place.
• Consumer’s need to feel safe. Consider taking the “Open & Safe” pledge by committing to keep our community healthy and our economy strong through your business practices. Consumers are paying attention to sanitizing, monitoring employee health and hygiene, and physical distancing requirements.
For Billings’ 8,000 businesses, it has been a tale of differing economics and degrees of pain points. For some this period has been a journey of entrepreneurship, reinvention and growth. Unfortunately for so many of our neighbors and local businesses, this continues to be a devastating emotional and financial hardship. But regardless of the path your business has followed, the Billings Chamber of Commerce is here to help you and to be the CATALYST for restarting our economy. Our business model is changing every day and we are exhausting all means to stay ahead of the needs of our area businesses. We have connected you to decision makers via our Tele-Town Halls, industryspecific Zoom calls to help you open safely, and provided a series of webinars. Working with local economic development organizations, elected officials and private business, the Chamber continues to be a strong partner in every aspect of the COVID-19 Yellowstone County Economic Recovery and Response Team.
RIGHT NOW WE WANT TO DO EVERYTHING WE CAN TO HELP YOU ACHIEVE A SAFE AND RESPONSIBLE REOPENING OF YOUR BUSINESS AND OF OUR ECONOMY. HERE IS WHAT WE KNOW AND WHAT WE ARE WORKING ON TODAY:
• Employers want to provide a safe environment for customers and employees, and to do so without fear of being liable should someone who visits their establishment become ill. Additionally, employers potentially face significant new local, state and federal regulations. We must be mindful of public health while watchful for federal and state overreach as new policies and laws are developed. • More than ever, people appreciate the important role small businesses play in our economy and local community. The value of Main Street businesses has been elevated. The impact of their temporary closure has been felt by every citizen and an awareness of how small businesses affect our economy, employ our neighbors and define our unique community character is stronger than ever. We are finding new ways to elevate their value while connecting them with opportunities to thrive. The Chamber has not lost sight of the long-game. We will continue to solve challenges in your business, such as growing workforce (early childhood education and development, diversity and inclusion, networks for women in leadership and young professionals); advocating for business-friendly candidates, supporting policy and funding needs in our community such as public safety; and investing in our infrastructure and environment to add to our tax base and make Billings a destination of choice. Businesses with a strong entrepreneurial spirit and ability to pivot (not once or twice, but frequently) may have a stronger tendency to thrive. “Normal” is gone. Things will never be the same, but returning to a normalcy that is being defined with a new benchmark of expectation is ONE DAY CLOSER.
Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives
2015 Chamber of the Year
6 JUNE 2020 - SEPTEMBER 2020 | LiNK BUSINESS QUARTERLY
STANDING FOR BUSINESS DURING THE PANDEMIC BY JENNIFER REISER, IOM, CCE CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER
n the midst of Stay-at-Home Orders, business closures, teleworking and general community disruption, the Billings Chamber team engaged with our membership at an unprecedented level. We worked hard to identify needs, continue programming and determine how best to serve our struggling business community.
Through the use of one-on-one communications, Tele-Town Hall meetings, social media, membership surveys, virtual meetings and interactions, industry specific focus groups, and an all-new educational webinar series, we continue to serve as the Catalyst for business growth, a Convener of leaders and influencers, and a Champion for our community.
site features Chamber members, important resources, relocation tools, community & Chamber calendars, online maps and links to other resources. All members have a profile in the searchable membership directory that includes detailed information, such as a contact name, phone number, description, directions and a hyperlink to their website. Members can also post Hot Deals for other members, as well as job openings they’re looking to fill. As businesses continue to reopen, we encourage you to commit to Shop Local, Shop Billings. Our website offers suggestions on how to help support local business and continue to be safe.
In addition, the Billings Chamber team was fortunate to maximize our well-established relationships with community and business leaders, and elected officials. We eagerly joined the Yellowstone County Economic Response & Recovery Team to help prepare our community for economic recovery and future growth. While physical distancing put a damper on our ability to gather in person, we rescheduled or offered alternatives for our committees, advisory boards, and program participants to connect. We look forward to meeting again in person, and are looking for ways to enhance our offerings by potentially including some of the technology and online connections we used during our time apart. Internally, our team has found new ways to connect through Microsoft Teams and Zoom. Additionally, we researched other ways of utilizing our systems and website to better serve our members. We developed a robust reopening plan committed to the health of our employees, members, volunteers, and community and turned it into a toolkit on our website for you to use as you reopen, too.
WE ENCOURAGE YOU TO STAY CONNECTED TO YOUR CHAMBER TEAM AND YOUR CHAMBER MEMBERSHIP BENEFITS. BillingsChamber.com sees thousands of visitors each month, and our
We know these times have been hard. More than hard. We’re all being challenged emotionally, mentally, and financially. We’ve faced differing opinions, fear, and more obstacles than we planned for. We’ve also witnessed kindness, strength, solidarity and an uprising of amazing community pride.
AND YOUR BILLINGS CHAMBER HAS BEEN THERE WITH YOU EVERY STEP OF THE WAY. During this time of uncertainty, we’ve been a reliable, trusted source for information, delivering access to leaders and decision makers, while convening industries to ask questions and secure guidance for opening and operating safely. We’ve hosted a strong webinar series connecting you with thought leaders and experts to help guide you as you pivot your business again and again. We’ve been a champion for business, advocating for you on federal and state legislation. And, we serve as the catalyst for action, sharing information on how to support all of you, our businesses, doing what we can to keep fear from getting in the way of commerce. And we’ll continue to be here with you every step as we move forward, safely and responsibly. We won’t stop working for business or for Billings. We have a long history of doing just that. We ask that you stay with us. Your investment in the Billings Chamber is what allows us to do all the important work we’re delivering. Thank you for your continued partnership!
JUNE 2020 - SEPTEMBER 2020 | LiNK BUSINESS QUARTERLY 7
PRiORiTY SPOTLiGHT PRiORiTY SPOTLiGHT
FREIGHT INDUSTRY BUOYS BILLINGS LOGAN AIRPORT BY KELLY MCCANDLESS, DIRECTOR; COMMUNICATION AND WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT
hen I think of an airport, some pretty consistent imagery comes to mind: crowds of people, suit cases clicking down wide, tile thoroughfares, security, and the general hustle and bustle associated with travel. I imagine planes with every seat filled, leaving little room for even an elbow or a knee to relax. And I think of the process that comes with air travel: locating the right airline, the correct gate, the assigned seat, and then the connecting gate, baggage claim, taxi pick-up, etc.
with a metric called ‘landed weight.’ Freight has, so far, kept our landed weight numbers even with last year,” detailed Ploehn.
Post (or mid) pandemic, the emotions felt when thinking of all these things have changed significantly. Instead of the excitement spurred by the anticipation of travel, many have paused plans to adventure far beyond their homes or communities. Airports themselves don’t actually have the hustle and bustle we’re used to seeing. Passenger air travel has dropped significantly, hopefully for only a short time.
The transport of freight occurs in a process not terribly different from that of transporting people. The planes, the largest of which are 757’s or Airbus 300’s, are the same as passenger versions of these planes, but the insides are wide open. Cargo is loaded in canisters organized by destination, so it can be handled in much the same way people are when they land and seek a connection. A freight plane landing in Denver, for example, will offload canisters to different planes to connect to their final destination.
What does that mean? It means the airport is continuing to receive landing fees, Edward’s Jet Center is continuing to fuel those planes, and the companies who employ people to work the freight continue to pay employees – all things that would not be supporting our economy right now without the freight.
“Our position as a hub for such a large region combined with our highway system makes Billings a very strong freight destination,” said Ploehn. The freight is easily offloaded to either long-haul trucks or smaller planes (through Alpine Aviation or Richland Aviation) and transported around the region.
Despite the drop in passenger travel, the Billings Logan International Airport has stayed busy through the pandemic. Not in transporting people, but in transporting packages. “Between FedEx and UPS, Billings lands 8-9 freight planes each day,” explained Billings’ Director of Aviation and Transit, Kevin Ploehn. “During peak season, in November and December, they will add 2 – 4 planes each day.” He also shared that on any given day, 50 – 100 people work at the Billings Airport to offload, sort and distribute the incoming and outgoing freight. That volume serves an even more important role as our community weathers the pandemic. “Airports measure their overall performance
This strong positioning has made freight a key part of the airport’s long-term planning. “10-15 years ago, as the consumer freight industry began ramping up, we expanded the cargo ramps for both FedEx and UPS, a move that has allowed us to grow with the demand. And, we have the plan in place to further expand these areas in the next 2-3 years to continue to meet demand and serve the freight companies that rely on Billings,” Ploehn said. The upside to our strong freight industry is clear: strong jobs, consistent commerce, quick delivery turnaround for both consumers and businesses (who can limit their inventory on hand with quick delivery times), and additional grant funds available to Billings through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). All these things add strength at a time when airports across the country are in a sit and wait pattern. But is there a downside? According to Ploehn, the answer is no. “If there is a downside, I haven’t found it yet.”
8 JUNE 2020 - SEPTEMBER 2020 | LiNK BUSINESS QUARTERLY
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JUNE 2020 - SEPTEMBER 2020 | LiNK BUSINESS QUARTERLY 9
OUT ON A LIMB: PREDICTING HOW THE 2021 SESSION WILL LOOK BY DANIEL J. BROOKS, DIRECTOR; BUSINESS ADVOCACY
ver the last three months our businesses have been laser focused on the near term. Navigating Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funding from the CARES Act so they can keep doors open and employees on payroll. Ensuring their business remains “Open & Safe” to instill local consumer confidence that it’s okay to get out and shop local because everyone is doing their part to keep others safe. Now that we’re in Phase Two of our restart, folks are settling into new routines. With immediate needs somewhat addressed, a few of our businesses are pondering the future. “What is the 2021 Legislative Session going to look like?” is coming up more frequently. To be honest, I haven’t given it much attention yet. We were laser focused as well, communicating the needs of our businesses with local, state, and federal officials, working to convene videoconferences with valuable information, and collaborating with other community leaders on our Economic Restart and Recovery Plan. Unfortunately, nobody has a good answer to the question about what will transpire during the legislature because so many things are still fluctuating. Looking at some of the data, I think we can make some solid predictions about two factors greatly affecting the 2021 Session: party control and the economic situation that will drive the legislative agenda.
Every election cycle brings the possibility of change. Votes cast a few months from now could bring a shift in the political dynamic between
Election Yr Democrats Republicans Net Gain
Election Yr Democrats Republicans Constitution Net Gain
legislative and executive branches that’s existed at the State Capital for the last decade. That is, a Republican legislature and Democrat governor. With the governor’s seat up for grabs, there is a very real possibility that Republicans will control the Senate, House, and Governor’s Office. Despite swearing off election predictions after 2016 and acknowledging there is very little data to evaluate voter preferences for this election cycle, I’ll take a small step out on a limb and say that Republican control of both legislative and executive branches is a likely result. The last 30 years of election history shows that if there is a large swing in legislative seats it favors Republicans, while Democrats tend to make smaller gains over longer periods of time. In the Senate, Republicans’ largest seat gain came from the 1994 elections swinging 11 total seats. While the top gain for Democrats came a decade later in 2004 with a six-seat net gain. Even with a stellar performance, the odds are stacked against Senate Democrats. Largely because Republicans already hold 14 of the 25 holdover seats and Democrats didn’t even field a candidate in eight of the 25 Senate races in this year’s election. Regardless of election results, 22 seats—nearly half—will not be going to Democrats. In order for the Senate to switch party control, Democrats need to win 14 elections, adding to the 11 holdovers and one uncontested seat, to total the 26 seats needed for majority control. Which means they can only lose two of the 16 Senate races in which they have candidates. Those are terribly long odds. Especially when Republicans have incumbents in five of the contested races. The Senate will stay in Republican hands. The House is a not-so-different story. All 100 districts are up for grabs every two years and can lead to some big swings in party balance. Historically, large seat gains belong to Republicans who gained 14, 14, and 18 seats in 1992, 1994, and 2010, respectively. Democrats did best in 1998, 2002, and 2012 with seat gains of 6, 5, and 7 respectively. Democrats would
Montana Senate Control 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014 2016 2018 30 19 16 18 19 21 27 26 23 22 21 21 18 20 20 31 34 32 31 29 23 24 27 28 29 29 32 30 1
Montana House of Representatives Control 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014 2016 2018 47 33 35 41 42 47 50 49 50 32 39 41 41 42 53 67 65 59 58 53 50 50 50 68 61 59 59 58 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 14
10 JUNE 2020 - SEPTEMBER 2020 | LiNK BUSINESS QUARTERLY
have to perform better than any time in the last 30 years, swinging nine seats from Republican to Democratic districts if they are to take control of the House, something Montana has not seen since 1991. Looking at the candidate filings for the House, there are 36 races in which one of the two major parties did not field a candidate, assumedly giving 28 seats to Republicans and 8 seats to Democrats. If we factor in the incumbency advantage and assume incumbents, whether Republican or Democrat, will win their races, we can chalk up 18 more seats to Republicans (46 total) and 23 more seats to Democrats (31 total). This means Democrats need to win 20 of the remaining 23 open races to take back the House. More incredibly long odds. The House will stay in Republican hands. The Governor’s Race is a harder prediction to make, partly because primary election results are still two weeks away, as of this writing. So, we don’t even know who the candidates will be. But what the heck, I’ve already taken a few steps out on the metaphorical limb, what’s the worst that could happen? Looking back at over a half-century worth of Montana governors, the trends would seem to indicate a general pattern of Montana voters favoring four consecutive terms for one party to hold the office. For instance, in the four terms from 1989-2005, a Republican was governor, after which voters sent a Democrat to the office for four terms, spanning the 16 years from 2005-2021. If voters follow this trend, Montana’s Governor’s Office will swap from Democrat to Republican control for the 2021 Session. Of course, repetition of this pattern is hardly a definitive indicator of who will win the governor’s seat in 2020. But a turnover in party power after consecutive terms would seem in line with national voting habits as well, ousting the status quo for the campaign promises of change.
ECONOMIC SITUATION The other factor affecting the next legislature is how our state’s economy is doing. Although there is no way to be completely sure of our situation, and predictions and estimates are just that, we can attempt analyzing and forecasting our future. And when I say “we,” I mean the expert economists in Montana. Patrick Barkey, with the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research (BBER) published a forecast study on the impacts of Covid to our economy. Acknowledging the uncertainty and possible bias
toward the negative, Barkey concludes, “[E]ven an optimistic forecast where growth resumes at the end of this year puts the state economy in a hole that takes years to refill.” Assuming that’s the optimistic case, and growth resumes at the end of this year, lawmakers will be heading to Helena with nearly a year of economic trauma at the forefront of their thought. If Mr. Barkey is correct, our citizen legislature may be seeing a more optimistic economic forecast at that time, looking at more favorable growth for 2021 and beyond. However, not only will legislators be looking at revenue reductions, as they proceed with their deliberations, it’s likely legislators’ rationales will be understandably affected by availability bias, our natural tendency to overemphasize the occurrence of recent events— in this case economic recession. So even if Montana is on the mend by the time legislators head to Helena, we can generally expect an emphasis on caution and preparedness throughout the lawmaking and budgeting discussions. The upcoming session will result in spending reductions and saving for the next rainy day.
LOOKING AHEAD The first legislative session I worked for the Billings Chamber was in 2017. In the months preceding and afterward, the narrative of the session revolved around compromise and congeniality due to a stressed and limited budget. I’m hopeful that is the case in 2021. Right now, there are a lot of unknowns. And with the unknown naturally comes fear. Like our businesses, people favor certainty. By no means should my predictions above constitute certainty. The aim is not to foretell—instead I want us to start considering the future and how we hope to shape it. I may tumble off the limb I’ve stepped out on, but that’s ok. I already feel better attempting to wrap my head around the unpredictable. Whether you agree or disagree with my conclusions, let’s consider what the next year has in store, and then focus on how we move forward together.
Admittedly, this analysis overlooks 3rd party candidates, Greens and Libertarians. Considering there is only one example of a 3rd party winning a legislative seat (Constitution Party, 2006), I assume the overall impact to this analysis to be negligible. Additionally, this analysis makes the imperfect assumption that incumbents will win their races. Though the eventual election results will likely provide a few counterfactuals to this assumption, it’s unlikely to affect either Party disproportionately. 1
JUNE 2020 - SEPTEMBER 2020 | LiNK BUSINESS QUARTERLY 11
POSITION: BUSINESS ADVOCACY COORDINATOR Describe your position in 5 words. In the business community’s corner What is one thing about the Chamber/Visit Billings you think most people don’t know? We care about all of Billings and strive to improve everyone’s quality of life. If you could make one change in Billings today, what would it be? If I could wave a magic wand, I would make Billings a denser, more walkable, more bikeable city. One adjective that describes you: Curious The dish you’re known for cooking? Tuscan Pork Tenderloin If you could have lunch with one famous person, who would it be and why? Teddy Roosevelt: If there is any president in US history who would have a propensity for fun storytelling—it’s him. Words you live by: If something is important to you, take responsibility for it. The TV show you can’t miss: Bob’s Burgers; my fiancé and I have very different media tastes, but that’s the one show we both like. What book is on your nightstand? Two Books: Why Nations Fail by Acemoglu & Robinson, and The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs. Tell us about your photo: “I am a very curious person; I love to learn. I’m also a huge fan of coffee. This picture is at one of my favorite coffee shops with some of my favorite books (all nonfiction), the book I’m reading now, and the book I plan to read next.”
12 JUNE 2020 - SEPTEMBER 2020 | LiNK BUSINESS QUARTERLY
A safer workplace is about ﬁve minutes away. No matter the work, safety works in Montana. But improving safety on the job doesn’t have to be as time-consuming or expensive as you might think. Our library of safety videos is full of simple strategies to protect yourself and your co-workers. And they’re short. So you can get back to work. Wherever that is. See them all at safemt.com.
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JUNE 2020 - SEPTEMBER 2020 | LiNK BUSINESS QUARTERLY 13
Destination RECOVERY MONTANA’S TRAILHEAD
GUIDING VISITATION TO MONTANA’S TRAILHEAD BY ALEX TYSON, IOM EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, VISIT BILLINGS
ravel and tourism at Montana’s Trailhead thrive on recreation, competition, exploration, learning, and networking. Travel restrictions and social distancing precautions due to COVID-19 left many people confused and unsure of travel. One data set shows over 50% of Americans less likely to resume travel until a COVID-19 vaccine is available or until they feel safer in public places (Destination Analysts, May 2020). The Visit Billings staff and Chamber/CVB and Billings Tourism Business Improvement District boards are committed to fulfilling the Visit Billings mission to grow visitation to Billings. Despite a new travel environment of restrictions, directives, and high emotions, tourism is as important as ever to help impact local economies and help people connect again. As Visit Billings continually adjusts operations, marketing, and sales strategies, we are also regaining momentum in visitor growth with innovation and ingenuity. Visit Billings is focusing on three phases of the pandemic: Mitigate, Restart, and Reimagine—all moving toward resiliency. These phases offer a strong framework to help play a role in recovery for the tourism industry.
THREE PHASES OF FOCUS presented by Destination THINK
VISIT BILLINGS IS WORKING THROUGH PHASES OF THE COVID-19 IMPACTS TO ASSIST STAKEHOLDERS, MEETING PLANNERS, TOUR OPERATORS, SPORTS OFFICIALS, TOURISM PARTNERS, AND VISITORS WITH TRIP CANCELLATIONS, EVENT POSTPONEMENTS, AND REVISING OF ITINERARIES. PHASES INCLUDE: MITIGATE, RESTART, AND REIMAGINE.
As any business or organization is experiencing, re-normalizing life with COVID-19 is challenging and is a process that demands some patience. We are adapting programming and budgets in order to continue to support the lodging community by marketing Billings as a preferred travel destination in leisure, sports, and business. As the world transitions from restrictions and people begin to travel, we are inviting people to Billings. There is pent-up demand to explore, and Visit Billings is responsibly marketing to those travelers who are looking for an open and safe destination with wide-open spaces and connectivity to nature. We are sharing that visitors can enjoy trails, outdoor venues like ZooMontana and the Montana Audubon Center, as well as museums, restaurants, and retailers. The message must convey safety along with the ability to re-engage in adventure under Montana's big sky.
14 JUNE 2020 - SEPTEMBER 2020 | LiNK BUSINESS QUARTERLY
VISITATION THROUGH COVID-19
RESPONSIBILITY, RELATIONSHIPS, RESOURCES, RE-EDUCATION, RECOVERY, AND RESILIENCY RESPONSIBILITY – From Governor Steve Bullock’s first directive, Visit Billings met the demands of the regulations. All messaging supported reminiscing and dreaming of the next adventure to Montana’s Trailhead, playing a responsible role in supporting the #TravelAwaits perspective. Today, Visit Billings marketing efforts are actively inviting Montanans to choose Billings for business, events, and leisure travel. RELATIONSHIPS – Staff made it a priority to communicate with stakeholders, tourism partners, and volunteers in a show of support. It’s also important for our team to support peers, colleagues, and neighbors. After all, Billings is Strong - #HospitalityStrong. RESOURCES – Communicating resources to potential visitors, including the COVID-19 section at VisitBillings.com, is a priority. Staff are fulfilling traveler information requests to ensure visitors feel safe about choosing Billings as a place to stay. The lodging community is taking the health of its customers seriously while other businesses also pledge to be open and safe. Visit Billings remains a key resource for travel planning and reassuring visitors. RE-EDUCATE – As people re-engage in travel, Visit Billings offers excitement to explore Montana and is working to re-educate the traveling public about choosing Billings as a destination. The team is responsibly encouraging Montanans to think of Billings as a place to meet, conduct business, compete, or enjoy a staycation. Marketing data shows people are opting for trips closer to home away from crowds, where they can social distance and enjoy nature. Billings fits this bill. The hashtag transitions from #TravelAwaits to #TravelResponsibly
RECOVERY – Assessing and reassessing the pandemic’s impact on Visit Billings’ budget, and on the industry locally and in the future, are a priority. The organization plays a key role in recovery, and in helping reset the economy by marketing Billings to potential visitors. In 2018, resident and non-resident travel to Billings impacted the local economy by $500 million (ITRR, 2019). Strong leisure travel during recovery is necessary and plans are in place to execute recruitment efforts accordingly. How does Visit Billings help rebuild visitor volume in a recovery? By operating effectively and communicating with visitors sensitively. During the 2008 recession, recovery efforts focused heavily on booking sports and hobbies, concerts and festivals and gradually growing from staycations to wider-market visits. Recovery from this crisis will likely be quite different and dependent on shifting attitudes toward travel and public gatherings, and respecting social distancing until a vaccine is available. RESILIENCY – Visit Billings, with tourism partners, community leadership and residents, will get through this collectively by supporting each other – together.
The mission of Visit Billings is to generate room nights for lodging facilities in the city of Billings by effectively marketing our region as a preferred travel destination. Visit Billings is managed by the Billings Chamber of Commerce. VisitBillings.com
JUNE 2020 - SEPTEMBER 2020 | LiNK BUSINESS QUARTERLY 15
g n i r o l p x E TRiPS on a TANKFUL
THE LANDSCAPES OF
SOUTHEAST MONTANA BY MEGAN HOFFMAN, MARKETING SPECIALIST
MAKOSHIKA HIKE, PHOTO BY CHUCK HANEY
ut here in Southeast Montana you never know what you’re going to see next. From badlands to canyons, to rolling prairies and rivers, lakes and trails, the views constantly change as you move from one mile to the next. As the weather turns warmer and we begin to venture out of our
homes a little more, the landscapes of Southeast Montana are just waiting to be explored. Venture into the history of the Big Sky State that began millions of years ago. Learn about the battles that shaped entire cultures. Get in touch with the buttes and prairies that make Southeast Montana so distinct.
LITTLE BIGHORN BATTLEFIELD PHOTO BY NATHAN SATRAN
Just a couple of hours away from Billings, these places offer the perfect excuse to get out for a day or two and explore what’s in your own backyard.
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HARDIN Discover Hardin, less than an hour south of Billings. The Big Horn County Historical Museum is much like a turn-of-the 20th century small town spread across 35 acres. Connected by boardwalks, the museum boasts original farm buildings from generations ago. Learn about the settlers who developed practices for living off the land. Inside the main building, follow the history of the Battle of the Little Bighorn and Fort Custer, established near present-day Hardin after the pivotal battle. Afterward, visit the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument just 15 miles south of Hardin. Walk the Reno-Benteen Entrenchment Trail and envision what it must have felt like to hold the line for more than a day in the sweltering sun or to be a warrior on the counter-attack, knowing the battle had long-term implications. Don’t forget about the great local eats. Places like the 3 Brothers Bistro will have you wondering why you hadn’t stopped in before. Or head into the Custer Battlefield Trading Post and Café for their world-famous Indian tacos.
STAFF MEMBER: MEGAN HOFFMAN Visit Southeast Montana recently welcomed Megan Hoffman to the staff as a Marketing Specialist. Hoffman is a Montana native, growing up in Billings. After graduating from high school, she attended college at the University of Hawaii for a year before transferring to the University of North Dakota.
DINOSAUR AND FOSSIL MUSEUM-GLENDIVE, PHOTO BY LYNN DONALDSON.
GLENDIVE If you’re looking for a trip for the whole family, Glendive is your spot. Just three hours east of Billings, start at Makoshika State Park, Montana’s largest, with more than 11,000 acres of land perfect for hiking, biking and camping. Sign up for a Paleo Experience in the park, or for one of Baisch’s Dinosaur Digs, where you could be the next to uncover fossils from a T-rex or Triceratops. Then, head to one of the museums in town to learn more about the area’s history. Choose from the Frontier Gateway Museum or Glendive Dinosaur & Fossil Museum. Be sure to bring your RV or tent and prepare for a night of gazing up at the sky—with limited light pollution, you don’t have to worry about missing out on seeing stars.
making, bottling, labeling and corking done by hand. Chances are, you may even score a personal tour and taste some grapes. Winning over 50 awards, you are sure to find your next favorite bottle of Montana made wine. Or mosey into downtown Miles City and talk to the locals about the Western spirit of the town, and learn why being a cowboy is a way of life out here.
Hoffman’s next job took her to Bismarck, N.D. Once again, she spent time reporting, anchoring and producing, including covering presidential visits, legislative sessions, elections and more. She also spent time working in the sports department, and traveled to Texas in 2019 to cover North Dakota State University in the FCS National Championship football game. Hoffman will be taking over Visit Southeast Montana’s social media channels, as well as monitoring coverage of the region from publications around the world. She will also assist in administrative duties.
MILES CITY If you haven’t had a chance to explore the public recreation lands in Southeast Montana, now is the time to start. Head two hours east of Billings to the Strawberry Hill Recreation Area near Miles City. The site earned its name for the reddish rock formations rising above the valley. Hike the trails or watch for wildlife. Try the Matthews Recreation Area for a picnic or bring the canoes and kayaks to put in the Yellowstone River (check river conditions before heading out). Pirogue Island State Park is a sanctuary for bird-watchers. Passerines, waterfowl, bald eagles, belted king fishers, shore birds and more call the area home. Miles City also features the Tongue River Winery and vineyard south of town. The business is family-owned, with all the wine-
Upon graduation, Hoffman started her career as a reporter for a local television station in Mason City, Iowa. During her first few months, she covered the lead up to the 2016 caucus in Iowa, meeting almost every presidential candidate in the race. She also worked with the sports department to cover high school, college and NFL athletics. Hoffman was also producing and anchoring shows, and spent several months as both the morning and noon anchor, and later anchored the weekend shows.
TONGUE RIVER WINERY
The mission of Visit Southeast Montana is to increase tourism to Southeast Montana by increasing awareness of our region, showcasing our cultural heritage, developing memorable experiences and educating our residents about the economic benefits of tourism. Visit Southeast Montana is managed by the Billings Chamber of Commerce.
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ih ghs& lows
RESILIENCY AND INNOVATION: INDUSTRIES FACING
BY KELLY MCCANDLESS, DIRECTOR; COMMUNICATION AND WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT
n just a few short weeks, the world as we know it was turned upside down. Things that formerly brought stability and an opportunity to relax became a source of fear or anxiety. In the face of COVID-19, the world buckled in and settled down to wait out the risk. While we as consumers waited, businesses everywhere shifted gears. They found innovative ways to deliver products and services while maintaining distance and following hygiene protocols, and created plans to ramp up business as soon as the proverbial doors opened once again.
Well, across Montana those doors are opening. As Phase II takes hold, some consumers are beginning to move through their fear and anxiety toward finding new ways to enjoy stability and relaxation in the ways they do commerce. But open doors and consumer activity looks different for every industry, and as we all continue to move forward, the outlook across the board is different. We reached out to industry experts across our community to gain insight into fourteen different industries impacting Yellowstone County. Each was asked four questions: 1. What is the state of your industry now? 2. What trends do you see continuing? 3. Where do you see your industry one year from now? 4. I f you had to rank the stability of your industry on a scale of 1 – 10 (10 being highly stable in the next 3-12 months), what number would you give it? (Stability Assessment) Read on to learn from these experts and gauge how you can support industries across our area in the coming weeks and months.
As a history museum, we are aware that the second wave of such a pandemic can be worse than the first. We are cautious until we can get a clearer focus – this may take several months and up to a couple years. The pandemic’s full impact requires time in order to fully assess our current historical situation. We are only in the beginning phase of dealing with this virus. A lot depends on the science for dealing with the pandemic and then the comfort of people to interact with each other in various settings – we will not be going back to normal. Each event of this type reshapes a different future. Until then, we will continue to look at new ways to monetize our on-line presence and programming.
HOUSING + CONSTRUCTION KIMBERLEY WELZENBACH Executive Director, HBA
Stability Assessment: 7.5 Residential construction, particularly in Yellowstone County, remained somewhat steady through April. However, most projects were underway Pre-COVID-19. Impacts on the next construction season this summer remain to be seen. While home buyers report slightly more optimistic expectations for future housing availability, there’s no commensurate improvement in their affordability outlook. Job losses stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to a decline in U.S. median income and housing affordability the first quarter of 2020, according to an NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index (HOI). NAHB reported 61.3% of new and existing homes sold between the beginning of January and end of March were affordable to families earning an adjusted U.S. median income of $72,900. This is down from the 63.2% of homes sold in the fourth quarter of 2019 that were affordable to households earning the median income of $75,500.
CULTURAL ATTRACTIONS KEVIN KOOISTRA
New home sales were down across all four regions: 41.5 percent lower in the Northeast, 8.1 percent down in the Midwest, 0.8 percent down in the South and 38.5 percent lower in the West.
Stability Assessment: 6
While we expect to see some further industry impacts, we remain confident housing will be a sector that will help lead the economic recovery.
Executive Director, Western Heritage Center
For institutions dependent on entrance fees and gift store sales there is clearly great concern. Most museums are dependent on the warmer tourist months of May through October to fulfill budgets. With tourism expected to decrease by 30% or more for the rest of 2020, proposed budgets will fall short. We continue to apply to state granting agencies, but expect and are already seeing far more competition for limited dollars. The question is: Will people come out and when they come out, will they feel safe?
MANUFACTURING BRYAN WOOD CEO, Woods Powr Grip
Stability Assessment: 4 today, 8 within 12 months Nationally, manufacturing has taken a tremendous hit, seeing a loss of 1,330,000 manufacturing jobs in April. Local manufacturers are selling
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to different customer bases in a variety of different industries. Because of this the level of impact on sales from one manufacturer to the next varies dramatically, from being completely shut down to no noticeable impact. Most of us are more dependent on the national economy than the local economy so if our sales have been impacted, we will continue to feel it until all states are able to open up more completely. Heightened sanitation practices and a general awareness of best practices to minimize transmission of viruses in the future will continue. Increased caution is also likely when considering capital purchases, especially until PPP loan forgiveness has been determined and everyone knows what additional debt load they have as a result of this economic slowdown. Despite current challenges, I anticipate that most manufacturing will return to near pre health crisis productivity levels within the next year.
RESIDENTIAL REAL ESTATE DEB PARKER President, Billings Association of Realtors Stability Assessment: Strong Billings and our surrounding area are experiencing a very active real estate market due to a few different reasons. Interest rates play a major role in a buyer’s ability to buy even though financing has become more restrictive and higher credit scores may be required. In addition, our housing market is considered more affordable compared to other Montana cities and we attract out of area home buyers due to a diverse business and industry base. Our growth is stable and we are not a player in the excessive highs and lows of other Montana Real Estate Markets. With an average sales price of $261,500 we have yet to see home sales falter through the pandemic. We have seen a 14% increase in sales year to date and a 3% increase in our average sales price. Home sales sit at approximately 800 from January to April of 2020 compared to roughly 700 last year. The obstacle we face is a lack of inventory for buyers. New home construction is strong in our area with the first 4 months of the year up over 2019. It remains to be seen how the Covid-19 crisis could affect our market in the future but fortunately we are weathering it well at this time and we should see a busy summer home selling/buying market.
BANKING/FINANCE BRIAN BROWN
on loans and deposits. That said, with the uncertainty in the markets there will definitely be some projects that are cancelled and/or delayed so loan growth will be flat. Banks that are positioned well to be able to adjust deposit rates will be able to try to hold their margins. Even though rates are low there is a prediction of more troubled businesses and therefore more troubled loans which will stress some financial institutions.
AGRICULTURE LIA BIONDO, JESS PETERSON, KELLY FOGARTY
US Cattleman’s Association Stability Assessment: Challenged, but improving The COVID-19 pandemic has left the U.S. beef and cattle industry reeling from a lack of prtocessing capacity. Retailers across the U.S. have begun limiting consumer purchases of meat, while producers are facing an oversupply of live cattle and other livestock. The pandemic didn’t cause these underlying industry issues, but it did highlight several key opportunities for the industry to improve the processing system. Consumers are seeking locally-grown meat right now to supplement what is currently available in the grocery store. We believe this trend will continue and Montana should be seeking opportunities to further connect local and regional food systems with consumers. Though we have a nearly one million head backlog of ‘fat’ or fed cattle, our hope is that we can work with Congress to help small- and mediumsized processing facilities beak down regulatory barriers that inhibit their ability to operate at or above capacity. There is much work to be done internally as we look to address needed market transparency and improvements in price reporting, which includes an effort to increase the cash negotiated trade of cattle procured by meat packers. In addition, advancing legislation that enables Montanainspected meat processing facilities to ship products across state lines could be a notable boost to both the Billings business community and the Montana cattle industry. There are additional efforts underway, but these are two critical policy items that need to be addressed.
LODGING/HOSPITALITY JORDAN CLAYTON
President, Yellowstone County Lodging Association Stability Assessment: 4
Market President, First Interstate Bank Stability Assessment: 8 (well capitalized banks with good asset quality); 4 (not well capitalized banks with poor asset quality) The financial/banking industry has been very busy helping get SBA PPP money out into the hands of the businesses in our community. The financial industry is cautiously optimistic that businesses will rebound, however, the truth is that we will see a large decline in our economic output (GDP) and our local and state economy will suffer to some degree. There will be businesses that will not recover in a lot of various industries…especially in the tourism/hospitality, food and beverage, and service industries. We have also seen commercial projects be put on hold for the time being. Interest rates are projected to stay low, even over the next 12 months, both
The current state of hospitality is best described as ‘fragile’. Property management would normally plan strategies for the month and quarter but currently we are planning and projecting on a daily and weekly basis. Booking windows are shortening to as little as day-of or day before. Some properties report higher bookings through third-party travel sites. In-person meetings are still being held, but with fewer attendees. Technological advances will most likely be at the forefront as a way of limiting human to human contact pushing hoteliers to discover new ways of providing a personalized service as advances bypass interaction with employees. Montana is ideally located for road trips to those who wish to see natural wonders! Because of this, we are confident that travel will be on the rise one year from now. We foresee vacations closer to home such as road trips or, if flying, destinations in which travelers can fly direct.
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ih ghs& lows Our industry is vulnerable and mirrors the strength of our economy. When the economy is flourishing, hotels are full and capturing revenue. Conversely, when the economy slows, travel for business and leisure is the first expense on the chopping block and the hotel industry sees immediate affects.
BUSINESS/PROFESSIONAL SERVICES GABRIELLE WALKER
continued demand for telehealth use. People appreciate the convenience and our providers have another way to take care of patients. COVID-19 has profoundly changed our industry, but at the same time it is critical that we keep providing the care people need and deserve. We can expect health care to continue to find new and innovative ways to care for patients while ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our staff and communities.
RESTAURANTS/BARS/CASINOS SEAN GRAVES
Business Support Manager, Avitus Group Stability Assessment: 8
I believe businesses all around the nation will find creative ways to continue the work-from-home movement as a way to empower their teams... Our industry has had to adapt to a COVID-19 safe environment. Internally, safety for our employees has been the priority. We converted over 150 employees to work-from-home environments without compromising our service levels. Externally, we’ve focused on helping small businesses survive, which includes everything from stimulus loan guidance to navigating the new HR workforce laws. This pandemic forced many professional organizations to shift quickly to a remote workforce to survive. I believe businesses all around the nation will find creative ways to continue the work-from-home movement as a way to empower their teams, as well as to decrease the costs associated with commercial office space and the resources needed to support it. We believe our industry will recover well. The services offered within our service-model are specifically designed to help companies “get back to business” as quickly as possible. As the dust settles and business owners explore new ways to optimize their operations, the need for administrative service support is certain to be on the forefront of their minds.
Owner, Montana Brewing Company & Hooligans Stability Assessment: 3 The restaurant industry is on the verge of a major collapse. With limited seating, no events, no sports, and more people staying at home, your favorite bars and restaurants are hanging on by a thread to stay open. Only businesses that can be creative and adapt to new guidelines will survive. The community support has be overwhelming, but when our industry can only operate at 50 or 75 percent it will be very hard for many to make it through this. Stronger cleaning guidelines will remain in place forever. Takeout business will be a bigger part of all restaurant sales. People are getting used to takeout, and they love the ease of getting quality meals at home while supporting the community. One year from now I expect our industry will be hurting. We don’t anticipate having a profitable year. I anticipate numerous bars and restaurants to permanently close. The guidelines to control the pandemic handcuff most restaurants to be profitable and retain quality employees. Our community is doing a fantastic job of supporting the restaurant industry through this incredibly difficult time. The support has been out of this world. I gave the stability of the restaurant industry a 3 because we have the potential to be closed down at any time. If we go into another situation where we have to shelter-in-place, I don’t see most restaurants being able to reopen. A second closure would devastate our industry.
NON-PROFITS ERIKA WILLIS
HEALTHCARE DR. SCOTT ELLNER
Executive Director, Tumbleweed
CEO, Billings Clinic
Stability Assessment: Challenged, but building efficiencies
Stability Assessment: 8 Health care is constantly changing. Today, health care organizations across the country are thoughtfully and carefully adapting operations with COVID-19 as a part of our daily lives, even as questions remain about the pandemic’s lasting impact. Now more than ever, we must continue to care for patients while ensuring the safety of our staff and the communities we serve. Virtual care continues to see wider integration across health care and increased use from patients. It allows providers to securely meet with patients in their homes, using technology they already have. Billings Clinic has considerably increased our virtual care visits and we expect
Successful nonprofits are innovative and agile, able to pivot and respond to change. Overall, the nonprofit industry is adapting, however, there is a tremendous amount of uncertainty regarding resources. Many nonprofits rely on a community response to support their mission. With the loss of opportunities for fundraising events and changing financial situations for ongoing donors, the unknowns are many. The stresses and needs of vulnerable populations have also changed and increased. Nonprofits, specifically social service providers, are handling more clients with more intense needs with fewer resources, including staff resources. Many nonprofits, specifically in social services, have had to shift the way
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in which services are provided. This has created an incredible opportunity for the sector as a whole to evaluate where strong collaborations can be built and where to consolidate programs that are duplicated, leveraging resources in a more effective way. I see this continuing. I also see that high needs for vulnerable populations are going to increase as well as staff shortages.
whether the course is online or not. Having these shells already in place made the transition easier than other institutions who did not. Another trend I see continuing are campus activities and services remaining online permanently, such as virtual campus tours, virtual new student orientation, online advising and academic support appointments, and student telehealth appointments, to help limit the spread of COVID-19.
In a year, I see the sector even more efficient and collaborative. We will be forced to leverage resources in even more creative ways.
One year from now MSU Billings will still here and a vital resource for everyone and our workforce.
EVENTS TIM GOODRIDGE
RETAIL BRAD GRIFFIN
Stability Assessment: 5
Stability Assessment: Challenged but resilient
Assistant General Manager, MetraPark; Owner, Montana Blues Fest
President, Montana Retail Association
The event industry is coming out of hibernation and figuring out how to start holding safe events again. It’s all about risk management now. How do we begin to safely host the events where people gather to celebrate, cheer and enjoy communal experiences? Everything needs to be reimagined from the new safe capacity of a venue to the frequency of sanitation. Things we didn’t even think about in the past now need to be considered. The collaborative attitude that has emerged as a result of this crisis will result in the quick adoption of successful practices. Sanitizing venues and organizing the flow of people attending events will likely be a permanent change. This is a good thing and will improve the experience of events beyond the crisis. With all we will have learned, and after taking into account the results of the measures tried in a variety of venues across the country, I predict the industry will have stabilized a year from now and be in a position to plan strategically again. Where that will be is difficult to predict but it will be a way forward and a way forward is a gift.
HIGHER EDUCATION CHANCELLOR DAN EDELMAN MSU Billings
To say that retail is struggling would be an understatement. According to the US Census Bureau, retail sales in April were -16.4% from March. And March -8.3% from February. These grim statistics are historic month-tomonth drops and extremely damaging to the entire retail sector. However, it’s hardly a surprise since many non-essential stores were closed. There were some categories of retail that have experienced sales increases, most notably grocery stores and beverage stores (I’m assuming liquor stores) were up 13.3%. The other winner of course is online sales, which were up 21.2%. This is an extremely concerning development because as people were sheltering in place and ordering products from their favorite online store, the online shopping habit was only further entrenched. I am buoyed by the resiliency of the retail and the restaurant sectors. According to the National Retail Federation, the retail and restaurant sectors directly employ 111,000 Montana citizens with another 45,000 jobs supported. Their combined economic footprint is $3.5 billion in direct GDP and almost twice that, $6.9 billion in total GDP. These two sectors are extremely innovative and will pave the way towards our economic recovery in Montana. I encourage everyone to shop and eat locally to help our neighbors and friends in these industries get back on their feet. Our economy is depending upon you!
Stability Assessment: 4 The state of higher education is uncertain at this juncture. Typically, higher education does well in recessions since people return to school to retool their skills or move into a new career entirely to become marketable again. The Coronavirus pandemic, however, is not your typical recession and the ramifications have devastated and continue to devastate many higher education institutions. Many larger and reputable institutions with sizable endowments have had to close entire departments, layoff faculty and staff, or shut down entirely due to the pandemic. Higher education now needs to retool to remain competitive and marketable to people and the workforce. Online learning will get bigger and better. MSU Billings has been a leader in online learning in the state for over a decade and our transition to online courses mid-spring went much better than expected. This is partly because all our courses have an online learning “shell” or platform in place
The mixed outlook reflected here offers an excellent place to begin conversations. Differing experiences and opinions exists across like industries. As with all challenging situations, communication, shared experiences and understanding can go a long way. Look for these experts in future communications as we begin industry discussions and share outcomes and needs with the community. The Billings Chamber exists to support business, and we encourage you to do the same. As a community, it is more important than ever that we all work together to support businesses across industries to help ensure their survival and uplift our economy. Connect with these stories and more at BillingsChamber.com or by joining us on Facebook.
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BEST OF THE COVID PIVOT WEBINAR SERIES
Toolkit for Businesses BY MARYA PENNINGTON, PUBLIC RELATIONS MANAGER
6. The tone and tenor of business communication is changing daily so don’t be tone deaf. Stay in tune with the mood of the moment because the message used last week will not work this week.
hile recognizing that no one is an expert in pivoting during the COVID-19 crisis, there were many businesses who handled it with grace, insight and innovation. Here’s a peek into our webinar series sponsored by Wells Fargo, that gives a quick snapshot of the tactics and tools businesses used to shift during stay at home orders and social distancing guidelines.
MARKETING IN THE AGE OF SOCIAL DISTANCING
– DANA PULIS, KINETIC MARKETING AND CREATIVE.
Kinetic discussed the best ways to make a sharp transition with your marketing strategy moving forward. The current market environment demands we do some things differently. 1. Ensure your brand comes out of this stronger than it was before. Take action, don't just "ride it out." 2. Leverage every opportunity that presents itself. Act NOW. The prize will go to those who are more agile, responsive, execute on the move, fail fast and go to the next thing. 3. The best thing do is to nurture customer relationships. Don’t just maintain, go above and beyond. 4. Do not plan for your business to rely on what it relied upon before. 5. Communication is key. Keep your internal and external audience in the loop. Use your communication channels to your advantage: update, maintain, engage, and then repeat.
LEADING THROUGH TIMES OF CRISIS AND CHANGE - MEGAN KONGAIKA + HEIDI KNUDSON, ALTANA FEDERAL CREDIT UNION. Altana recognized early on that to pivot well for both their employees and their members, they needed to lead with empathy. Here are the ways they communicated this outwardly: 1. Their CEO maintained a calm presence in the midst of urgency to diffuse fear and uncertainty. 2. Using previously developed crisis tactics, they created a strategy to navigate the current crisis situation. 3. They decided to make intentional adjustments to value their staff through the crisis. a. Acknowledge that employees were feeling uncertainty and fear
b. Decided that no staff member would be let go or furloughed.
c. They recognized that not all circumstances are the same for everyone and that a blanket policy would not fit all of their employees. They made work plans and decisions on a case by case system that was best for both the staff member and organization.
d. They worked on a plan to invest in their staff through video trainings, morale boosting office games and contests, treat deliveries, and personal check-ins.
e. They cross-trained staff to do other types of work to help support other departments.
f. They focused on getting some larger, long-term projects completed.
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4. They collaborated with other organizations in the same industry to develop best practices, share information and discuss different approaches. 5. They communicated to their members the things they were doing to alleviate their concerns and fears, and still accommodate their needs.
MOBILIZING AND ENGAGING YOUR WORKFORCE
- SUSAN SHALD OF GALLUP, MIKE NELSON OF THE NORTHERN HOTEL AND JENNIFER REISER OF THE BILLINGS CHAMBER.
Susan Shald with Gallup explained what employees need most from their managers from the Gallup book, The Manager. The Northern Hotel and the Billings Chamber then shared the things they were doing that aligned with these suggestions. 1. Managers should demonstrate compassion and understanding toward their staff.
a. The Billings Chamber recognized unique needs and reached out to create a work plan that fit that staff member.
b. The Northern Hotel provided a hot meal for each of their employees and their families and allowed staff without childcare to bring their children to work. 2. Managers need to build trust with their staff, promoting respect and transparency.
a. Mike Nelson gave a “State of the Union” address each week to keep staff informed and updated about the business.
3. Managers should provide stability for their staff by building their confidence.
a. The Northern Hotel continued to pay their staff as well as their insurance payments when they were unable to do so.
4. They must create hope that there is a plan with a direction for the future that staff
can follow, and they need to know their strengths and talents to set reasonable expectations for them. a. The Billings Chamber clearly communicated the plan going forward for the organization and staff. They demonstrated trust in their employees to do their jobs with excellence, using their own particular talents to move forward.
PIVOTING YOUR SALES APPROACH
- NICOLE GRIFFITH OF WELL PARED + RANDI BARBER OF GO UNITE.
Well Pared, a quick and healthy restaurant, and Go Unite, a social events company, pivoted their businesses effectively during the COVID-19 shutdown period utilizing collaboration, communications and innovation to their advantage. Here are some ways they did this: 1. Brainstormed and collaborated with other local businesses to find a new normal.
a. Decided to combine their efforts to benefit all and utilize cross-promotion.
b. Pivoted to a joint marketing strategy and different ways to order, receive the product, or engage with customers.
2. They became more outwardly focused.
a. Decided to change what they were offering based upon what their customers needed during the crisis. b. Relied on the community and their core customer base for support and to help them continue operating.
3. They created something new that would be sustainable long after the crisis was over.
a. Not just a crisis solution, but a new way of operating that created new profitability options for the business that were previously not thought of.
FRAUD AND SCAM AWARENESS/ PREVENTION - H ANNAH STIFF FROM THE BETTER BUSINESS BUREAU.
1. Fraudulent behavior and scams prey on fear, which the coronavirus provided in waves. Here were the most popular pandemic scams:
a. The grandparent scam: Convinces senior citizens they must send money for a family member dying in the hospital from the virus.
d. Price gouging: Unethical price spiking of goods or services.
e. Compromise of business emails: Emails that look to be from the boss asking for money.
f. IT issues: Directs the user to download a computer program or install malware and then ask for money to fix the issue.
2. Signs you are being scammed include:
a. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
b. You can’t verify the information.
c. They threaten or urge you to “act now.”
d. They ask for strange forms of payment, such as wire transfers or gift cards.
2. Report or locate scams at BBB.org/ scamtracker
ADJUSTING YOUR ONLINE PRESENCE
customers to ask questions and get answers quickly. Facebook Messenger is an easy option for implementing this.
f. Post a comprehensive online FAQs page with a strong search functionality and update it regularly to ensure relevant content.
FACILITATING EFFECTIVE AND EFFICIENT MEETINGS - JENNIFER REISER OF THE BILLINGS CHAMBER.
Effective and efficient meetings should be developed with intention. The need for the meeting should be clear and the facilitator should ensure everyone involved understands the purpose, the goal, and the expectations so that it serves the entire group. 1. What to think about when planning an inperson meeting
a. Organize the space.
- A LLYN HULTENG OF REBEL RIVER CREATIVE.
b. Organize audio and visual materials.
1. The pandemic created a new baseline of innovation adoption, replacing fear with necessity. Virtual became the new global standard for consumers, and it was not just convenient but essential.
c. Decide on food and beverage options.
d. Control the atmosphere - music, lighting, takeaways.
2. Brands need to optimize the entire online customer experience, through dynamic e-commerce, virtual resources, and real time communication that solves the consumer’s problem. 3. Six ideas that will help your business do that:
a. Build e-commerce functionality on your website.
2. What to think about when planning a virtual meeting. a. Prepare and practice how you will facilitate remotely.
b. Be familiar with the technical tools and requirements.
c. Eliminate distractions to remain focused during the meeting.
d. Establish common etiquette.
e. Plan ways to engage the participants.
b. Offer quick and inexpensive delivery to customers.
3. What to do if you are facilitating a combination of an in-person and virtual meeting.
b. Government loan or stimulus check scams.
c. Add functionality allowing users to book virtual appointments.
a. Balance the conversation between the inperson and remotely connected people.
c. Bogus insurance policies: Offer virus medications or testing, flight insurance, or cancelled health insurance claims.
d. Offer webinars in place of face-to-face presentations.
b. Allow time for each group to contribute.
c. Be intentional with those not physically present.
e. Implement an online chat tool for
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LEADERSHIP BILLINGS AND TRAILHEAD LEADERSHIP ACADEMY BY JENNIFER REISER, CCE, IOM CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER
LEADERSHIP BILLINGS Each year, dozens of local business leaders and executives join the Billings Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Billings Program. This program facilitates the sharing of knowledge and expertise among leaders of area businesses and organizations. Through this valuable eight-month course, participants gain clearer business climate and community perspectives. The Billings Chamber is committed to developing leaders.
THE GOALS OF LEADERSHIP BILLINGS ARE TO CONNECT, LEARN & SERVE. • To CONNECT participants to area leaders, community issues, and meaningful interactions with their peers. • To LEARN about their current leadership skill-set, to enhance their abilities, and how to maximize their contribution to their business/organization. • To create opportunities to SERVE our community through engagement in volunteer roles, leadership, and education. With keynote speakers, panel discussions, team-building exercises, problem solving, and site visits, participants have an opportunity to: • Gain insight into the local economy • Explore Billings’ history • Interact with community leaders • Build and develop individual leadership skills • Learn more about pressing community issues Not only do participants learn more about the ‘insides’ of the local business community and climate, but they also build relationships that,
in the end, create a stronger business voice for the city. Group members explore opportunities to work together as a community, which is extremely important as the city moves forward. The last two months of this program year was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but we were able to provide online education for April’s Health & Wellness Day, a virtual Community Work Day information session, and postponement of the actual work day until we could gather in small groups to volunteer for important community organizations. We are grateful to our sponsors Clark Marten Photography and Opportunity Bank for their continued support of our programming. Registration for 2021 is now open for programming that will run from October 2020-May 2021. For more information, go to www.BillingsChamber.com/events-2/getinvolved/leadership-billings.
TRAILHEAD LEADERSHIP ACADEMY The Trailhead Leadership Academy is an exclusive opportunity for Leadership Billings Alumni to build on their foundational community knowledge and their leadership skill set. This course dives deeper into the successes, challenges and opportunities facing Billings. The programming is interactive, includes special projects and problem solving, yields high level connections, and puts leadership into action. This year the participants focused on issues related to homelessness, increasing career readiness and creative placemaking as a tool for workforce development. Watch for the new Leadership Billings Alumni Network coming soon.
THANK YOU PROGRAM SPONSORS
24 JUNE 2020 - SEPTEMBER 2020 | LiNK BUSINESS QUARTERLY
s t n e v E
BRINGING IT ALL BACK: CHAMBER BY MARYA PENNINGTON, PUBLIC RELATIONS MANAGER
e have all been weary this spring, and we miss the green grass, warm sun, and connecting with other Chamber members and colleagues. Somehow, virtual calls are not quite the same! The Billings Chamber is working hard to find ways for you, our members, to connect and have the opportunity to see friends and business colleagues, all in a safe and thoughtful manner. Hereâ€™s a look at some of our upcoming events. Looking Ahead!
CHAMBER OPEN GOLF TOURNAMENT June 19th
Presented by Entre Technology Services Briarwood Golf Club
We would like to extend a huge thank you to Entre Technology Services, the presenting sponsor of our first big event of the season, the CHAMBER OPEN GOLF TOURNAMENT. What better way to spend a warm day in June than with other Chamber members, hitting the links and reconnecting!
CHAMBER AM: STATE OF THE CITY & COUNTY June 24th
Presented by Entre Technology Services Join us via Zoom
Join us for our CHAMBER AM event featuring the State of the City/ County address. City and county officials will discuss things happening right now and in the future that affect the business community and the path moving forward. Thank you to Entre Technology Services and the Northern Hotel for sponsoring our annual Chamber AM series.
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CHAMBER BREAKFAST & ANNUAL MEETING September 10th
Presented by KULR8 and PayneWest Insurance MetraPark
Lastly, be sure the save the date for our rescheduled CHAMBER BREAKFAST & ANNUAL MEETING hybrid event. It is shaping up to be a stellar event with special guest speaker Tony Hawk. Learn more about these events and register at BillingsChamber.com.
We want to be sure that our members know we are committed to the health and safety of every participant at our upcoming events. Proper cleaning and disinfecting protocols will strictly be adhered to. It is our highest priority to offer quality events that are safe and enjoyable for everyone.
With the addition of Territorial Landworks, Inc., IMEG is now proud to offer full-service engineering with Civil, Structural, and MEP team members across the state of Montana. Learn more at imegcorp.com.
CIVIL surveying Technology
JUNE 2020 - SEPTEMBER 2020 | LiNK BUSINESS QUARTERLY 25
A LOOK AT THE : THE PEOPLE WHO WENT ABOVE AND BEYOND DURING THE CRISIS BY MARYA PENNINGTON, PUBLIC RELATIONS MANAGER
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always be able to find people who are helping. - MR. ROGERS
n the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, the Billings business community rallied to support and encourage one another, as well as provide valuable resources, services, and products to help navigate struggles they were experiencing related to the pandemic. These are just a few examples of those individuals and businesses that went above and beyond to “be the people who are helping.” ALPHA-OMEGA DISASTER RESTORATION AND MARS OF BILLINGS joined together to volunteer their services to clean and sanitize the Billings Police Department’s police cars at no cost.
BACKPACK MEALS mission is to meet the needs of hungry children by providing them with nutritious and easy-to-prepare food to take home on weekends and school vacations when other resources are not available. With the school closures, the program had to get creative in how to distribute meals to students they serve. Additionally, the school district fed breakfast and lunch to an average of 1,800 students each day during the closure. From March 30-April 10th backpack meal kits went home to students, and then from April 17th-June 26th the school food service began providing weekend food as well. BIG SKY CUSTOM HOME BUILDERS offered free desserts to anyone ordering takeout or delivery for an entire weekend from local restaurant Sophie’s Kitchen. They gave away a total of 50 desserts.
AN “ART IN ISOLATION: RESPONSE TO COVID-19” SUBMISSION, MENDING BY MANA LESMAN
BILLINGS GAZETTE launched their Local Marketing Grant program to offer matching marketing funds to local businesses whose livelihood had been impacted by the COVID-19 virus. To date, the Billings Gazette has worked with more than 100 local small businesses and non-profits to award more than $250,000 in marketing grants ranging from $300–to $15,000 in the Billings Gazette and through their other digital agencies. BILLINGS MUTUAL AIDE NETWORK began as a grass roots effort organized by Nina Hernandez and Kendra Shaw to connect people in the community who were in need of critical resources. Billings Mutual Aid expanded to an even larger network, adding pods focused on supporting healthcare workers, the community’s vulnerable population (that was instrumental in the installation of a handwashing station in front of Billings First Church in downtown Billings), and on food insecurities. Their goal is to continue this widespread effort in the community far beyond the current COVID crisis. BILLINGS IS STRONG CAMPAIGN was created by Visit Billings for the hospitality industry. The Billings Is Strong graphic on posters and window clings were made available for hotel entry ways and store fronts to promote solidarity and strength for the tourism and hospitality industry in Billings.
BILLINGS FLYING SERVICE had a trio of engineers, Peter Yegen, Mikale Lynch and Tom Decker that built a working ventilator in their shop using a design provided by Rice University in Houston, as a backup plan for the community.
Billings Strong T-shirts designed by MONTANA CORRECTIONAL ENTERPRISES were sold to support the Billings Family YMCA, Boys and Girls Club of Yellowstone County, and the Billings Clinic as they addressed the needs of local healthcare workers, essential workers and first responders by providing much needed childcare.
BILLINGS CLINIC NEUROSURGEON DUSTY RICHARDSON AND LOCAL DENTIST SPENCER ZAUGG AND HIS SON COLTON designed the 3D printed face mask, dubbed the Montana Mask, that was downloaded and shared all over the world. They also did laser cuttings required for some of the Billings Flying Service ventilator components.
BILLINGS STRONG YARD SIGNS was a grassroots effort begun by Jonna Jones of Wendy’s, Dan Carter of Exxon, and Leif Welhaven of LW Consulting, to build a sense of community spirit and pride for Billings. All proceeds from the sale of the signs benefited the COVID-19 Community Response Fund with the Billings Community Foundation.
BILLINGS COMMUNITY FOUNDATION AND UNITED WAY OF YELLOWSTONE COUNTY collaborated to raise and distribute funds for the COVID-19 Community Response in Yellowstone County, providing funds to the Yellowstone County Continuum of Care to meet shelter and homelessness emergency housing needs.
BILLINGS SYMPHONY offered free online concerts for the public to enjoy while practicing social distancing. As of this writing, they have posted 12 connection concerts with more scheduled, and a 1.5 hour virtual fundraiser. Their concert videos were viewed by over 12,500 people!
26 JUNE 2020 - SEPTEMBER 2020 | LiNK BUSINESS QUARTERLY
AN “ART IN ISOLATION: RESPONSE TO COVID-19” SUBMISSION, DOING OUR PART BY TINA FRY
EIDE BAILLY created a webinar series to answer questions and ease concerns for businesses about taxes and business solutions, from Payroll Protection Plan information, minimizing financial impacts, and things for non-profits to consider. EXXON MOBIL donated 84 buckets of liquid hand sanitizer to Yellowstone County’s disaster and emergency services department, made a call for PPE donations from employees, partners, and other organizations, and donated $32,000 in fuel— an estimated 16,000 gallons—for various community front line workers, first responders and healthcare workers. HOWL FOR BILLINGS is a Facebook Group created by Misti Gaub as a way to thank and recognize health care workers. The group encouraged residents from the region to howl or cheer loudly from their windows or private yards beginning at 8 p.m. every evening. The page was filled with videos documenting tears, laughter, cheers, howls and togetherness from their over 21,000 members. GIRL SCOUTS OF MONTANA AND WYOMING donated 8,000 boxes of cookies to 13 hospitals in both Montana and Wyoming through their “purchase to donate” program for “hometown heroes.” GRAPHIC FINESSE created a Billings Takeout Bingo card featuring 25 locally owned restaurants to encourage community members to continue to support local restaurants during the shut-down. Participating restaurants and businesses donated over $900 in gift cards for the weekly and grand prize winners. KAREN GROSZ OF CANVAS CREEK TEAM BUILDING offered ways for businesses and entrepreneurs to pivot their goals during the time of crisis through videos on social media, “By Damn” calls, and webinars. Grosz had over 2,000 participants and businesses from 5 states that tuned in, and has now created an online training program because of the popularity of her series. MICHAEL HASS ALLSTATE INSURANCE returned 15% of policy costs back to all of his policy holders in an effort to be a small part of fiscally giving back to the local community.
JONNA JONES AND DAN CARTER OF THE BILLINGS STRONG CAMPAIGN. COURTESY DANIEL SULLIVAN, YELLOWSTONE VALLEY WOMAN MAGAZINE
SCHOOL DISTRICT 2 TEACHERS navigated the challenges of remote learning and how to keep their students engaged and supported. They spent hundreds of hours on video chats, phone calls, texting and emails to continue academic instruction with their students, as well as participate in creative parades through students’ neighborhoods in order to say connected. SIMPLY LOCAL MAGAZINE compiled a list of area restaurants that are offering pickup/take-out options, food delivery services, and online gift card sales on one handy landing page. TRAILHEAD SPIRITS joined the ranks of distilleries nationwide helping to fill the hand sanitizer shortage by developing hand sanitizer from distilled ethyl alcohol used to make vodka or gin. WESTERN HERITAGE CENTER sought submissions of art created by Montanans in response to the COVID-19 Crisis for an online exhibit, “Art in Isolation: Response to COVID-19.” The exhibit went live on April 24th with 145 submissions totaling 166 separate artworks, from artists ranging in age from 5 months to 91 years old.
MAINTAINING CHAOS BY ATHENA RENOVA. AN "ART IN ISOLATION: RESPONSE TO COVID-19" SUBMISSION,"
We would be remiss if we did not also extend a huge thank you and shout out to all of the first responders of our community, who put themselves at risk each and every day as they gave extraordinary amounts of time, energy and resources to fight the COVID-19 virus and take care of those that were infected. Our community can never thank you enough – you are true heroes! Sometimes we forget or don’t notice, but all you have to do is look. When we, as a community, band together for the betterment of our city, we are truly Billings Strong.
JUNE 2020 - SEPTEMBER 2020 | LiNK BUSINESS QUARTERLY 27
NEXT UP WITH
LEANING INTO RESILIENCE
NEXTGEN IS SPONSORED BY
BY BRIAN HAFNER, UNIVERSAL LENDING, CO-CHAIR NEXTGEN
hink about the last time you picked up a rock along the edge of a body of water. What does it feel like? Most likely, it’s smooth; it slides easily in the palm of your hand, with no threat of slicing your skin. What has it been through to get where it is? Rolling through the Rocky Mountains, perhaps tumbling through the Yellowstone River or at the bottom of Rock Creek. The stone you hold in your hands has gone through turbulent times to get to where it now rests. Because of what it has been through, it is now smooth, and maybe a little softer than it was before.
Right now, we are in a turbulent, uneasy time. Our perseverance, grit, and resilience are being tested. We’re being tossed about during this uncertain and unprecedented time in our lives. But something else is happening. We’re still moving forward. What we are experiencing and how we react is shaping us, challenging us. We are stronger today than we were yesterday.
We’re finding ways to move our businesses forward. We’re supporting each other more than ever. And we’re finding empathy in new places. Life will continue to challenge us, but the strength and resilience we build now will serve us well in the future. NextGEN embodies this spirit. As our group begins its sixth year, we’re taking the time to look back at where we started and plan for our continued growth. Each year brings new opportunities to grow, evolve, and smooth our edges. We’re excited to welcome new members to our Leadership Team, while we extend our sincere appreciation to those that have served us well and are looking toward their future NextGEN involvement. We’re setting new goals and continuing to serve the important programming NextGEN is known for. And, we’re celebrating a great year of new events, like our morning networking CoffeeHours and social events like our family friendly Halloween Party and Ax Throwing night. We have plans for a bigger and better NextGEN for the coming year! NextGEN is well used to change and growth. We seek it out, because we know it makes us better. Whatever our edges, smooth or rough, we will push forward to a new level—together.
CHAIR BRIAN HAFNER
CO-CHAIR CATHY GRIDER
LEARN CO-CHAIR SHANNON CHRISTENSON
LEARN CO-CHAIR WHITNEY GRIFFIN
GROW CO-CHAIR ANDREW ZIMMERMAN
INSPIRE CO-CHAIR COLTON WELHAVEN
INSPIRE CO-CHAIR ABBEY WINK
CONNECT CO-CHAIR JAIDYN MILLIRON
Our sincere thanks to outgoing co-chair, David Mitchell, for his leadership and dedication over the last year. DAVID MITCHELL
GROW CO-CHAIR D'VAUGHN HAYES
Kayla Vokral and Jason Leininger for their service to NextGEN.
28 JUNE 2020 - SEPTEMBER 2020 | LiNK BUSINESS QUARTERLY
WORKING FROM HOME (WFH): LETâ€™S TALK DATA SECURITY BY MICHELE FLANAGAN, ENTRE TECHNOLOGY SERVICES
he impacts of COVID-19 have forced the nation to make a shift in the workplace. Aside from essential employees, many companies have restructured the workplace with an emphasis on working from home (WFH). As such, employers, as well as employees, need to be aware of best practices for working remotely. If the IT side of a business is configured correctly and employers and employees follow appropriate security requirements, telecommuting can be safer, more reliable, and ensure data security.
OPERATING FROM SECURE WIFI NETWORKS Be sure to express to employees that they must be accessing company information only when connected to a trusted and secured WiFi network. Companies may want to consider updating their remote access policies to reflect this.
OPERATING SECURE PERSONAL DEVICES When working from home, employees may be logging in using their PCs. This may leave room for more entry points and intrusions. Ensure that all team members using a personal device have the same level
of security as company-owned devices. Entre recommends when choosing a screen sharing application, ensure it also offers Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) for an added layer of security.
THE NEED FOR SECURE LOGINS Implementing strong password policies in concert with 2FA mitigates the risk of security breaches when employees are remoting in. We recommend updating your passwords every 60 to 90 days and using a password manager that safely stores this information.
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JUNE 2020 - SEPTEMBER 2020 | LiNK BUSINESS QUARTERLY 29
GET TO KNOW THE BOARD
BUSINESS: WESTERN SKIES STRATEGIES / J2 BAR CATTLE & LAND
Tell us about your photo: It’s been a long journey to finally get based back in Montana. A big thank you to each and every Chamber member that has helped make Billings, Yellowstone County and Montana a great place to live and work. Our family is all smiles as we blend country and city living…Chloe (youngest) Cadence, Laura and Jess…Paladin & Marley look on…
Why did you initially choose to get involved with the Chamber? I am a Roberts / Red Lodge kid who moved to Washington DC to work on agriculture policy in 2004. Through the years I traveled back and forth to manage a cowherd and grazing operations. In early 2018 my wife and I had a chance to move our family and be based in Montana. As soon as I moved a portion of our business to Billings, I made the easy and rewarding decision to join the Billings Chamber. It’s been an incredibly positive and productive journey every step of the way.
Words you live by: Be the change you wish to see in the world. - Gandhi
If you had a super power, what would it be? The ability to fly—who doesn’t want that?!
One adjective that describes you: Driven
Favorite book or movie or television show and why. The Autobiography of Waylon Jennings. Buddy Holly told Waylon to never let folks categorize his music as pop, country or rock. There is no argument Waylon did just that. Working in politics and policy folks always try to put you in a category—I follow Waylon’s principle and it hasn’t let me down yet.
The snack always found in your desk/office:
As a board member, you have the inside scoop. What would you share about the Chamber that other members may not know? This group hustles. A passionate, selfless group of folks that are committed to both the growth and well-being of our community along with the growth and prosperity of business and development. I work on politics and policy at the national level—I joke that I am the bitter cynic when it comes to this stuff—yet spending time with the Chamber and working at the local level melts my cynical heart and revives the enthusiasm and motivation that we all share to improve the world and community that we live in.
30 JUNE JUNE2020 2020--SEPTEMBER SEPTEMBER2020 2020 || LiNK LiNKBUSINESS BUSINESSQUARTERLY QUARTERLY
You get to make one change for the Billings community today – what would you do? Improve the budget setting for our schools. People should be leaving Wall Street because the pay is so poor compared to a teacher’s salary. Advance business development in Billings, and do whatever it takes to continually improve on our educational system. Superintendent Greg Upham, colleagues and teachers are doing an incredible job. Let’s get them the support they need.
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PLANNING IN A TIME OF UNCERTAINTY: HOW COVID-19 IS AFFECTING YOUR EXIT PLAN BY EIDE BAILLY’S TRANSACTION SERVICES TEAM
uring times of market volatility and economic uncertainty, business owners are concerned about how the current or lingering effects of this environment will impact their organizations and their future transition to retirement.
In the wake of COVID-19, it is a good idea for business owners to think longer term about their exit plan, whether they need to develop one or reassess their current plan to ensure they are optimally positioned and prepared for a smooth eventual transition.
CREATE OR REVISIT YOUR EXIT PLAN Your exit plan is an ever-evolving strategy that should constantly be reassessed and modified for changing market dynamics, such as COVID-19. A comprehensive exit plan encompasses every aspect of your transition, including upfront wealth management and retirement planning, preparing your company for a future transition, and evaluating potential exit strategies. If you did have an exit plan in place, here are a few things to consider: • Has the change in the merger and acquisition environment impacted who would be your most likely buyer? • Has your timeline to exit changed? • Is your management team prepared to navigate market volatility? • Have you found yourself with more key customer or vendor reliance? If you didn’t have an exit plan in place prior to COVID-19, it’s not too late. Now is a great time to see how your organization, and your personal financial situation, will fair under varying conditions. It’s also a great opportunity to model various scenarios and how they will impact your intended outcomes.
INTEGRATE IT WITH A WEALTH PLAN A key to any exit plan is to understand the impact it will have on your overall wealth plan. A wealth plan is a detailed strategy for how to transition your wealth, whether through inheritance, investments, gifting and more. Even in times of uncertainty, such as now, it’s important to consider the impact on your wealth plan. A key aspect of an optimal wealth plan is to identify your objectives and goals. Identify timelines that best fit you, your family, and your business. Understand needed financial resources for your retirement, including future cashflow needs and needed retirement funds that will support your retirement. Preparing for these aspects years in advance of an exit will allow business owners to navigate volatility and uncertainty by focusing on important, controllable variables.
STRATEGIES TO PREPARE FOR EXIT There is no formula or magic metric that can define the “perfect time” to begin looking for a buyer. Rather, you must look at your own longterm business and personal financial goals. Evaluating these factors will provide a base strategy for your exit plan, which can be adjusted and evaluated in response to external factors like COVID-19. Regardless of timing, preparing your company for a transition is an important step of the exit planning process. Factors to consider while planning for a business sale include: • GAAP Compliance: Clean financial statements are critical to any method of transitioning a business. Early verification that internal bookkeeping is GAAP compliant will ensure a smooth exit process later down the road. Identifying GAAP deviations and understanding their impact prior to transitioning your business will help prevent unfavorable “surprises” during the exit process. An early understanding of normalized EBITDA and working capital, key metrics evaluated in a transition, will provide insight from the perspective of a potential buyer.
CONFIDENT IN TIMES LIKE THESE, IT CAN BE HARD TO SEE THE ROAD AHEAD
A comprehensive exit plan allows you to adapt to prevailing conditions, achieve your long-term business and personal financial goals and give you peace of mind about the future. 32 JUNE 2020 - SEPTEMBER 2020 | LiNK BUSINESS QUARTERLY
• Transition Key Relationships: All exit plan scenarios will evaluate how a business will operate without its founder. Take steps to decrease founder dependency by transitioning key vendor and customer relationships to key employees. Development of a deep management team is an attractive characteristic that will alleviate stress on the business in your transition. • Key Employee Retention: Understand how your workforce will react with a different leader in charge of your company. Take early steps to incentive key employees to stay for the long term by providing transparent and achievable performance goals, that will be honored by you and your replacement.
estate and use less of your exemption. Additionally, it may be beneficial to lower tax obligations to employees, family or sellers when values are lower. Employee Stock Ownership Plan An Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) is a qualified retirement plan for the benefit of employees that invests primarily in employer stock, thus making all employees “owners.” ESOPs are generally exempt from income tax and provide other special benefits due to Congress’ desire to encourage employee ownership, loyalty, and productivity. Similar to financial buyers, ESOP trustees and lenders will likely increase scrutiny of near-term performance.
EXPLORE YOUR OPTIONS
THE IMPORTANCE OF PLANNING EVEN IN TIMES OF CRISIS
There are several ways to exit your business. These include:
It’s important to continue to plan, even in times of market volatility and uncertainty. A comprehensive exit plan will allow you to adapt to prevailing conditions and achieve your long-term business and personal financial goals, even in the wake of COVID-19.
External Sale of the Business The direct and indirect implications of COVID-19 on the M&A market aren’t perfectly clear at this point, but conditions are broadly expected to slow over the short term. Newly announced acquisitions are anticipated to take a pause as many strategic buyers focus on internal operations and managing cash reserves, while private investors and their lending partners work to figure out how current conditions will impact lending capacity to pursue new deals. If you are beginning to think about a potential sale of your business, now is still a great time to assess how well your business is prepared for your eventual transition. This may include addressing any personnel needs or transitioning key customer relationships to other key team members to ensure the business can operate as usual in your absence. With record levels of investable capital and cash on hand at the end of 2019, both strategic buyers and private equity groups will likely and aggressively re-engage M&A discussions once society returns to normal and economic confidence is restored. When this happens, and the time feels right to sell your business, you will be glad you addressed these items now instead of waiting until the last minute. Gift and Estate Planning Short-term operational disruptions may result in lower company valuations. This provides an opportunity to move assets out of your
CONTACT EIDE BAILLY BILLINGS OFFICE
RONALD J. YATES, CPA Eide Bailly Billings Partner-in-Charge 406.896.2423 RYates@EideBailly.com DEBBIE POTTER, CPA Eide Bailly Billings Partner and Tax Department Head 406.896.2498 DPotter@EideBailly.com
Printed with permission by Eide Bailly. This insight originally appeared on EideBailly.com.
ADDITIONAL RELATED AREAS OF EXPERTISE: •Business Evaluation •ESOP •Gift & Estate Planning •Mergers & Acquisitions •Sell Side Advisory •Wealth Planning
What inspires you, inspires us. 406.896.2400 | eidebailly.com
JUNE 2020 - SEPTEMBER 2020 | LiNK BUSINESS QUARTERLY 33
Welcome BOARD iNTRODUCTiON
2020-2021 BOARD of DIRECTORS
CHAIR MIKE NELSON,
CHAIR ELECT NICHOLE MEHLING,
TREASURER JULIE SEEDHOUSE,
PAST CHAIR BRIAN BROWN,
St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation
Century21 Hometown Brokers
First Interstate Bank
DR. SCOTT ELLNER,
11:11 Presents/Pub Station /Yellowstone Valley Brewing
2O 2O ~2O 21 JOHN BREWER, President/CEO
HEATHER MCDOWELL, Sibanye Stillwater (not pictured)
to our outgoing board members. We appreciate your dedication and service to our organization:
Coldwell Banker Commercial CBS
Western Skies Strategies
DR. DAN EDELMAN,
Yellowstone County Commission
City of Billings
Billings Cultural Partners/Downtown Billings Alliance
School District 2
Valley Credit Union, Representing Chamber Ambassadors
STEVE ARVESCHOUG, Big Sky Economic Development
34 JUNE 2020 - SEPTEMBER 2020 | LiNK BUSINESS QUARTERLY
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Five Stars. Two Years in a Row.
Quality Matters. St. Vincent Healthcare is proud to be among the 6% ofHealthcare U.S. hospitals for overall quality. St. TOP Vincent is proud to be among the The five-star rating from Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is due to TOP 6% of U.S. hospitals for overall quality.
the countless hours of work and unmatched commitment by our doctors, advanced The five-star rating from Centers Medicare Servicesjob (CMS) is due to care professionals, nurses, and for staff. Together,and theyMedicaid do an exceptional in meeting the countless hours of work andofunmatched commitment doctors, advanced the health and wellness needs families across our region. by Weour extend our thanks to for all they nurses, do as well as to ourTogether, communitythey for the you show care them professionals, and staff. doconfidence an exceptional job in in us. meeting
the health wellness our region. We extend our thanks to Qualityand Matters. Andneeds qualityof is families found atacross St. Vincent Healthcare. them for all they do as well as to our community for the confidence you show in us. Quality Matters. And quality is found at St. Vincent Healthcare.
Learn more today at svh.org/5star