Progress: Eye to the Future

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Progress: Snapshot in Time 2014
Our Community Develops
Eye to the Future
DILLON
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Price $3.00 (all 4 sections)
BMI ships globally, helps locally ................ 3 The Green Economy runs like a Deere ......... 4 State Bank emerges strong ............................ 5 Stockman’s stays conservative .....................7 Longtime banker shares thoughts .............. 9
Greasing the economic wheels.....................10 Job numbers ..................................................... 11 School gets upgrade .......................................12 Couple develops North Montana lots .......14 Connected by flight.........................................15
2 | Dillon Tribune Progress Edition 2014
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Dillon Tribune Progress Edition 2014 | 3
Specialties Minerals Vice President and General Manager of Global Talc Kevin D. Porterfield and Barrett Minerals Inc. Plant Manager Julia Gwinn stand oustide the BMI plant south of Dillon. The company plays a major role within the community as the second top private employer paying top wages, and as an entity that pays the second highest property tax bill in Beaverhead Coumty. BMI is also active within the local community, most prominantly as the major contributer to the United Way. J.P. Plutt photos
BMI ships globally, bolsters local economy
By J.P. Plutt Dillon Tribune staff Barrett Minerals Inc. (BMI) is a small part of a large international corporation, but for Beaverhead County, the talc mine and processing plant is a vital player on the economic team. BMI ranks as the second top private employer in the area and second in the county in property taxes paid. BMI is a legal entity under Specialty Minerals, Inc., which is part of publicly traded Minerals Technology Inc. Specialty Minerals is based in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and Minerals Technology, traded under MTX on the New York Stock Exchange, has their corporate offices in New York City on Third Avenue in the heart of Manhattan. “Barrett Minerals is really a small piece in a bigger company,” said Specialties Minerals Vice President and General Manager of Global Talc Kevin D. Porterfield. We only mine talc here in Montana at two mines to the east of us – Treasure and Regal.” The company processes talc at the Beaverhead County plant and at a plant in Bay City, Texas. BMI sends product to over 400 customers in 30 different countries. BMI’s talc is used in paint, ceramics, plastics – polypropylene and polyethylene, construction materials, cosmetics, pharmaceutical tablets and paper. “These products go all over the world into these applications,” explained Porterfield. “This plant is certainly a global exporter of talc. The talc business is a good business for MTI. The financial performance is something that is pubic, but of that $1 billion in sales, talc is less than $50 million.” According to the MTI 2012 Annual Report, the talc division of the company accounted for 4.8% of the company’s net sales, or $48.1 million. Talc sales and business includes 40% international sales and 60% in North America. While the BMI profile is small within the global perspective of a company that does over $1 billon in annual net sales, the company looms large on the Beaverhead. According to BMI Plant Manager Julia Gwinn, the company has stabilized at 85 employees during her three years in Dillon. “We’ve had good growth as far as our production tonnage goes, but we’ve remained flat in our employment because of improvements in efficiencies and productivities that our team has done,” explained Gwinn, while acknowledging that the company has not made payroll information public. “We are, I believe,
In the lab
Technicians (left to right) Rob Miller, Dave Miller, Ed Nye, and Wade Ackerson perform quality control tests on Barrett Minerals Inc. talc products.
the highest paying jobs in Beaverhead County.” “We do have a lot of legacy employees,” said Porterfield of the numerous retirees from BMI, formerly, Pfizer Inc. “All you have to do is look out in the parking lot and see the type of rigs these people are driving. We do provide a good living and what we get in return is really hard work. We’ve got really fantastic people.” Of the 85 employees, 12 work at the mines and the rest at the plant. From the mines, the product is shipped to the plant by a third party contractor. “At the mine, you’re trying to bring it down to two-foot boulders,” said Gwinn. “At the plant it is crushed down to a product from one-half micron to eight microns. By comparison, a human hair goes from 20 to 160 microns, from finest to coarsest. “We make a very fine product and what is extraordinary about it is the consistency of the product that we make day in and day out with those employees.” According to Porterfield, talc is the softest natural mineral on the planet, while the hardest on the Moh’s Scale is the diamond. The unique traits of talc make it a product in demand for specific applications. Gwinn says talc is converted from marble through an interaction with water. She says the Beaverhead area is blessed with billion-year-old rock that had marble present and is now the talc reserves that the company mines and processes. The future of BMI in the Beaverhead appears to be secure. Porterfield admits that there is no number published in any of the company disclosures, but he’s heard the number of 20 to 25 years for the past decade. “In other words, we’re always trying to extend it,” said Porterfield. “We’ve been challenged to find enough reserves to take us beyond 50 years,” said Gwinn. “We’re not there yet, but that’s the belief the company has in this process and I think the capital investment that they are doing at this plant is evidence that they want it to go long into the future.” Both Porterfield and Gwinn began their professional careers far away from Dillon, Montana, but have found the area enchanting and a good place to make a home. Porterfield started with the company in sales out of California and started coming to Dillon 24 years ago. He began annual hunting trips and
fishing excursions, eventually purchased a home here and now makes his primary residence in Beaverhead County. His responsibilities with the company has him acquiring frequent flyer miles with trips to Pennsylvania. Gwinn, the first female plant manager at a major plant within the company, applied for the job at BMI with a resume that included all the qualifiers, but she admitted, “I was dubious.” After spending most of her career in the eastern United States, Gwinn finds the Dillon area “pure heaven.” After three months on the job, she called Porterfield and profusely thanked him for the opportunity. An avid photographer, she has found the area a delight. “We recognize, not just our company, but I believe the industrial minerals industry recognizes that we need to be more diverse and we have made a strong effort whenever we have a management position we are recruiting for, we want to have diversity candidates in our final grouping,” said Porterfield. Above and beyond diversity in the work place, Porterfield says the company has two areas that are non-negotiable – the safety of employees and environmental responsibility. Porterfield says BMI is closing in on 1,500 days without a lost time accident. “We recognize that we are a mine-tomarket company,” said Porterfield. “For a company like ours to survive long term, we cannot have the failures of the mining industry of the past.” Gwinn’s experience with the company backs up Porterfield’s sentiment. “Mineral Technology has a very strong ethic on environmental responsibility,” she said. “The longevity of this operation form the 1940s or longer, is evidence of our commitment to sustainability. This is the landscape we want to live in and we take that responsibility very seriously.” The company also takes their role within the community as one of importance and has taken a leadership role with United Way. Company employees started the program in Beaverhead County, and BMI contributions account for almost 70% of the United Way funds that are given out to various non-profit groups in the area. “We are very excited that there is a legacy of prior management having the wisdom to create this important entity within Beaverhead County,” said Gwinn. “We match employee contributions and we give them time off to go and enjoy their community for having participated in United Way. We certainly recognize the unique nature of this community.”
4 | Dillon Tribune Progress Edition 2014
Merger working well for Dillon’s John Deere store
By J.P. Plutt Dillon Tribune staff In 2012, David Schuett faced a challenge and rolled with the will of the John Deere corporate model and merged his store – the Dillon Implement Company with Frontline Ag. He feels his customers have benefited from the business decision and the company is doing well. “The merger has turned out well for us,” said Schuett last week. “It has given us the availability to a lot more equipment than we could get through John Deere in the past. That part of it has been really, really good for the company.” The John Deere business model focuses on multi-store dealerships and Schuett found a good partner in Frontline Ag, based in Conrad. With stores in Cut Bank and Choteau, the four-store company met the demands of the corporation without interrupting the Dillon store’s operations. “They pretty much let me run this store as I see fit because I did stay in and agreed to be one of the partners,” said Schuett of his latitude regarding local control. “I very seldom talk to the main office in Conrad.” Schuett says other positives that evolved from the merger include the wider market to sell used equipment and the savings of effort in Dillon, with human resources in Conrad handling payroll and health insurance for the company’s 100 employees. Schuett employs around 20 people in Dillon. The Dillon store now has access to more employee training opportunities and can get parts from within the company. If needed, John Deere can ship parts by the next day. “John Deere wanted multiple store dealerships moving a lot of John Deere inventory,” recalled Schuett of the environment that led to the merger. “Now, instead of being a four or five store dealership, they want you to be a 10 or 15 store
Green economy
Dillon’s David Schuett (left) and Ken Wheeler of Conrad became business partners in 2012 when Schuett’s John Deere dealership, Dillon Implement Company, merged with Wheeler’s group to become a three-store dealership under the name Frontline Ag. J.P. Plutt photo
dealership. “Deere is actually at the front of this one, this is their business model. Whether you agree with it or not, you either go along or get left behind. The challenge for us going forward will be to get bigger.” According to Schuett, the John Deere model has left Montana with just two independent stores and there are no independent stores in Idaho or Wyoming. “It has changed the landscape,” Schuett said. “The Dillon market remains focused on 100 or 120 horse power tractors, round balers and swathers. “Basically, making hay and feeding hay to cattle,” said Schuett of his bread and butter. “Dillon’s core is still the cattle and hay, whether you feed it or sell it, it is all about the cow.”
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Post merger, the beat goes on at State Bank
By J.P. Plutt Dillon Tribune staff The year of 2012 was indeed the year of the merger in Dillon. “Economies of scale” was the hot button phrase. “It is going good,” said State Bank of Commerce Vice President and Branch Manager Mike Ferris of State Bank’s merger, now almost two years complete. “I think everything has settled out, most of the initial concerns have been met, and I think our customers and our employees are feeling more at ease with the transition.” The advantage to the Dillon bank in general was to get larger and consolidate the cost of regulation and compliance stemming from the federal government’s Dodd-Frank Act. “A small bank is having a hard time maintaining the staff and hardware and all that goes along with that to comply with the federal regulations,” explained Ferris. “So there is a definite economies of scale going on there as far as efficiency.” Ferris says the statewide total of banks in Montana has diminished over the three years since the implementation of DoddFrank. As a result of the merger, State Bank has gained advantages it otherwise wouldn’t have had. “There are definite advantages of being a larger bank,” said Ferris, of the institution that features agricultural loans as its featured business. “We are able to offer a wider variety of products and services at a lower cost. Banks are regulated to a lending limit to any one customer based on their size, so we can go after the larger ag loans now.” With lending in general, and in the post-merger world of the Dillon banking institution, little has changed for the customer at State Bank, according to Ferris. “Obviously, everything has to be approved by upper management, but we are still the same loan officers that were here before the merger and we still have the same relationship with our customers,” ex-
Dillon Tribune Progress Edition 2014 | 5
Same friendly faces
State Bank Vice President and Branch Manager Mike Ferris discusses the post-merger world at the Dillon financial institution. J.P. Plutt photo
plained Ferris. “It is just being scrutinized by management in a different place. That whole procedure hasn’t changed from when the Nocholases owned it to now the Bank of Commerce. You still have to loan money on sound banking principles. The likelihood of repayment has to be solid.” The bank still makes substantial contributions to local causes. Ferris says there is less flexibility to honor a walk-in request for a donation. The bank approves an annual budget with the donation item built in based on the foresight of the bank officers based on historic donations. “We have our annual people that we know we are going to support, the college, hospital, high school, it is a long list,” said Ferris. “The only difference is, we have to have foresight into what we want to do. If we don’t forecast well, it may appear that we are not as benevolent as we used to be.” Ferris says the Bank of Commerce gives significantly, not only in Dillon, but in small towns where they are based throughout Idaho. “They understand how important the bank is for these things in small towns,” said Ferris of the community commitment of the Bank of Commerce. On a personal level, Ferris admitted there is always uncertainty and concern when there is change. “At this point, it has all been above my expectations as far as the respect and trust the Bank of Commerce treats us with when we have input,” said Ferris. “It has been positive for me. My personal experience has been good. “I felt like I was part of the Nicholas family, and this has been good, too. I feel fortunate that we were acquired by the Bank of Commerce rather than another corporation that might not have kept all of the old employees.”
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Stockman Bank relies on conservative approach
By J.P. Plutt Dillon Tribune staff As with other banks, Stockman Bank is doing their best to deal with the burden of federal regulations as set forth by the Dodd-Frank Act. The group has been taking a proactive approach, making offers to acquire quality community banks whenever there is an opportunity across Montana. The bank is currently at 28 branches, and recently broke ground on a new facility at Manahattan. According to Branch Manager Shane Puyear, Stockman Bank has a major focus on agricultural lending, but covers all facets, from commercial and personnel to housing. Outside of the regulation burden, Puyear feels one area modern banking customers demand that an institution remains up to date in is technology. “Customers are demanding more techs on the phone; it just keeps constantly improving and we have the platform to stay on top of technology,” said Puyear. The elephant in the room regarding banking is dealing with federal regulations. “I think it is difficult for any bank, just because of the number of regulations and the compliance and trying to stay on top of it all,” said Puyear. “We have actually hired a number of people to keep us in compliance and keep us moving on a forward path. “They really put the onus on the branches to be compliant. We have folks who are constantly monitoring and digesting things that are coming out, and saying here is the impact on us and here is what we need to do to stay in compliance.” Puyear finds the task of a small community bank staying on top of the regulations, digesting them,determining what it means to the bank and implementing changes – while also pursuing new business and taking care of existing customers – an incredible challenge. One challenge Puyear faces at Stock-
Dillon Tribune Progress Edition 2014 | 7
Home on the range
Stockman Bank Branch Manager Shane Puyear, a Dillon native, returned to his hometown in 2011 with the opportunity at the bank. Puyear is one of a number of Dillon natives returning to their home town to raise their families. Puyear is pictured at Stockman Bank. J.P. Plutt photo
man Bank is the low interest rate situation. “There is competition out there these days,” said Puyear. “The competition will squeeze that margin. We keep talking about rising rates, but competition for the deal will bring that rate down.” Puyear feels the banks conservative approach brought the bank through the recent tough times in banking, and that approach will continue to serve both the bank and its customers. “If you’re not conservative, it will bite you in the end,’ Puyear said. Puyear feels the future is bright for Stockman Bank in Dillon. The second location at Van’s IGA better serves the bank’s customers, and Puyear feels that customer service is the key to the future successs of the bank. “I think the bright future we have here is the people we have on staff,” said Puyear. “They love working with customers and they love what they are doing.”
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Tom Welch assesses the current banking climate
Community banks struggling with federal regulations
By J.P. Plutt Dillon Tribune staff Pioneer Federal Savings and Loan President and CEO Tom Welch has been with the company for 39 years, the last 37 in Dillon. The banking institution started in Deer Lodge and added the Dillon branch in 1976, the year Welch moved to town. Welch has had a unique seat in following the local economy. “I was in the business in the early 1980s when we had the highest interest rates in modern history,” recalled Welch. “We were playing 16 and one-half percent on deposits and trying to loan money at 20 percent. Now, I’ve seen the lowest rates in modern history with loans at 3 to 4% and deposits at one-half of 1%. “Low rates were good for a while, but right now I think they are hurting the economy. Most people who were going to borrow or refinance have done so already.” Welch gives an illustration on how the interest rates are slowing the economic recovery. In the past if a couple had $100,000 in the bank, the interest paid in one year would be $5,000. Welch says the couple would go out to dinner a couple of times, make some home repairs, maybe buy a new car or take a trip. Under current conditions, the same couple would make around $400 on their deposit and basically will use the money to pay taxes. “The cycle of low interest rates has been too long,” said Welch. “I don’t want to see high interest rates, but I’d like to see loan rates and deposit rates come up.” Welch notes that people are still depositing their money, even though the interest rates are so low. “Why? Because they know it is safe and they know they can get it back,” said Welch. “There we sit with more money than we know what to do with.” Pioneer Federal is primarily involved in housing loans, but also does consumer loans – home improvement, automobile, personnel –  and has increased its activity in commercial loans. Across that spectrum, Welch is aware of the interest rate risk. Welch explains that, currently, the bank might make a home loan for 30 years at 5% interest. The loan is made at a time when depositors are getting one-half of 1% interest on deposits. The area of concern for banks, says Welch, is when deposit rates go to 6 or 7% and loan rates go to 10%, and the bank is still carrying that loan at 5%. A positive trend in the Dillon area Welch notes in the changing demographic. “I see young people, some of whom were raised here and have come back,” said Welch. “To me, there isn’t a better compliment that you can pay to your community than when your young people want to come back. “They have their families and they want them in the school system and they like the hospital and this and that and the other thing. Who said this 10 years ago? I think that reflects very well on all aspects of the community.” The two banks in the Pioneer Federal family – Deer Lodge and Dillon – total almost $96 million in size. That is similar to what State Bank was when it chose to merge with The Bank of Commerce. “If you go to the national convention, the experts will tell us, if you’re $100 million in size, you need to be $200 million to survive,” explained Welch. “Then they’ll turn to the $200 million bank and say you need to be $400 million to survive, and then they’ll turn to the $400 million bank and say you need to be $1 billion in size. Most community banks have the attitude that we can survive, that we’ll fight through it.” Welch explains that the changing regulatory environment has taken a toll on banking in general, and hit small community banks hard.
Dillon Tribune Progress Edition 2014 | 9
Experience pays
Pioneer Federal Savings and Loan President/CEO Tom Welch has had a seat at the banking table for 39 years, and has worked through a period in time with the highest interest rates in modern history and the current climate with the lowest interest rates in modern history. He feels Pioneer Federal will survive the tough regulatory climate that has burdened community banks, and continue to serve Dillon and Deer Lodge well into the future. J.P. Plutt photo
“It is not easy for anybody,” said Welch. “There are some economies of scale as you get bigger and you can do some things, but the regulatory burden gets to a lot of community banks because you just cannot stay on top of it. They keep pounding you, pounding you, pounding you, and they give you no quarter. Pretty soon, some people just throw their hands up and say it is not worth it.” Welch feels that community banks will survive, particularly in smaller communities, but the consolidation trend will likely continue in Montana where there are currently fifty-some banks. Welch says Pioneer Federal is committed to remaining an independent bank and says the institution will still be around in twenty years. “The regulatory burden is not getting any easier,” said Welch. “A whole new set of regulatory law for mortage lending came out in January of this year. There has been 6,500 pages of Dodd-Frank (financial reform) regulation published in the Federal Registry already, and there is another 5,600 pages to come, so we’re barely halfway through it. It is a different environment than it has ever been.” While some banks have chosen to merge with larger institutions to benefit from centralized departments to deal with financial reform regulation, Welch has spread the responsibility around the office. “When somebody asked me how many compliance people I have and I say 20, I say everyone that works for me is a compliance officer,” Welch quipped. “With everything you do, there is some part of compliance, and from a regulatory standpoint, it is absolutely overwhelming.” Welch says that 2010 through 2012 were tough years for community banks because of that regulation. Dodd-Frank passed in 2010, the most significant financial reform package in the United States since the time directly following the Great Depression. He added that 2013 was a better year and that, so far, 2014 has been okay. “We’re all looking for more loans,” concluded Welch. “Deposits are plentiful, loans are a little more scarce.”
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10 | Dillon Tribune Progress Edition 2014
Making the wheels go around in Beaverhead County
By J.P. Plutt Dillon Tribune staff Property taxes are what make local government go around. The top property tax payers are utility companies that are taxed based on miles of cable and numbers of support poles, and likewise telephone companies as well as cellular telephone conpanies taxed on the transmission towers. There is no surprise that Northwestern Energy is the top payer, with a 2013 tax bill at $591,507. Had the MSTI (Mountain States Transmission Intertie project been built, Beaverhead County would have been subject to a massive property tax relief project. According to the Montana Department of Revenue figures that appeared in the Montana Department of Environmental Quality “Draft” Environmental Impact Statement, Northwestern Energy would have been paying an annual property tax bill in Beaverhead County in excess of $4 million alone for MSTI. In December of 2013, Northwestern Energy sent their final letter to MDEQ, ending the project. Barrett Minerals Inc., with a large value on plant and equipment, ranks as the number two property tax payer in Beaverhead County for 2013 at $422,881. Union Pacific Railroad came in third at $174,347, with a rail line running the width of Beaverhead County. Large ranches are also prominent in the Top 20 list. Beaverhead County billed a total of $12,475,584.61 in property taxes for 2013. The bulk of that total fell under real property ($10,023,984.69), while almost $2 milllon fell into the “other” category, $311,169 under personnel property and $176,967 under mobile home taxes. Almost 70 cents out of every dollar collected goes to schools. The next largest expenses for county property tax dollarsd are for roads and public safety.
2013 Beaverhead County property tax payments top 20 1, Northwestern Energy 2, Specialty Minerals (BMI) 3, Union Pacific Railroad 4, Vigilante Electric Cooperative 5, Idaho Power Company 7, Matador Cattle Company 8, Clark Canyon Ranch LLC 10, LaCense Montana LLC 11, Big Fly LLC 12, David Schuett 13, Dcik Hirschy Cattle Inc. 14, Bresnan Communications LLC 15, Qwest Corporation 16, Harrington Company 17, NG Montana LLC 18, Ricex Nutrients Inc. 19, Centennial Livestock 20, 3 Rivers Telephone Coop Inc. $591,507.96 $422,881.11 $174,347.86 $172,163.79 $122,200.29 $108,078.00 $102,656.07 $63,805.08 $58,597.99 $50,894.43 $50,691.97 $45,869.58 $43,707.99 $43,306.06 $42,690.22 $41,940.30 $38,891.02 $37,491.13
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Census of Employment and Wages from Montana Bureau of Labor Statistics Entity Federal Government State Government Local Government Private 2001 226 288 376 2435 2002 241 284 373 2491 2003 243 336 373 2499 2004 236 334 375 2399 2005 221 352 383 2425 2006 216 369 371 2546 2007 200 338 380 2602 2008 206 289 369 2640 2009 215 290 370 2683 2010 215 317 371 2653 2011 210 318 370 2637 2012 199 318 368 2620
Top 10 Private Employers in Beaverhead county based on QCEW annual averages
2012 1, Barrett Hospital & Healthcare 2, Barretts Minerals Inc. 3, Great Harvest Franchising 4, KCI MedClaim 5, McDonalds 6, Parkview Acres Care & Rehabilitation Center 7, Renaissance Senior Care 8, Safeway 9, Southwestern Montana Family YMCA 10, Town Pump 1, Barrett Memorial Hospital 2, Barretts Minerals Inc. 3, Best Western Paradise Inn 4, Great Harvest Bread 5, McDonald’s of Dillon 6, Parkview Acres Care & Rehabilitation Center 7, Pizza Hut 8, R E Miller & Sons 9, Safeway 10, State Bank & Trust 2002
Stability and consistency mark Beaverhead economy
By J.P. Plutt Dillon Tribune staff Dillon’s economy is built on a solid agricultural foundation. Atop that foundation, the city and Beaverhead County, has built a diverse, steady economic engine that remains consistently steady throughout the ups and downs of the national economy. “The whole recovery in Montana, with a couple of exceptions, is slower than other times that we’ve had economic slowdowns,” said Pioneer Federal Savings and Loan President/CEO Tom Welch. “We didn’t fall as far as some parts of Montana. Beaverhead County is improving with a slow and steady recovery.” Welch feels the steady nature of the county’s economy is the diversity among the various economic entities. “Agriculture is very, very important here, without a doubt,” said Welch. “But you look at Barrett Minerals, you look at government services, you look at the hospital, the college, the schools – there is a lot of diversity to the employment here and there are a lot of other attractions. Recreation is a huge business here.” The strong public and private job census has created a healthy employment situation in Beaverhead County. According to the Montana Department of Labor, the February 2014 unemployment rate in Beaverhead County was 4.2%, with 4,927 employed and only 216 unemployed. Beaverhead County is Montana’s twenty-fourth most populous county, with an estimated 9,346 residents as of the 2012 census. Dillon, the county seat, is the state’s twenty-first largest city, with a population estimated at 4,201 in 2012. Other cities and towns in Beaverhead County include Dell, Glen, Jackson, Lima, Polaris, Wisdom, and Wise River. Beaverhead is the top cattle-producing county in Montana, making agriculture one of the staples of the county’s economy. Beaverhead County is also home to Barretts Minerals, one of the world’s largest talc mines. Gold and precious gemstones are also mined in the Beaverhead County. Dillon is known as the economic center for the region, being the largest city in a 60 mile radius, and having the only hospital (Barrett Hospital & Healthcare) within 65 miles to the north, 110 miles to the west, 140 miles to the south, and 120 miles to the east. Dillon is also home to the University of Montana-Western.
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12 | Dillon Tribune Progress Edition 2014
The path forward
A pedestrian moves up the walkway from the new entryway to the Dillon School District #10 campus, which gained a substantial amont of new interior space and a great deal of new educational capabilities with an ambitious building project completed in 2012. M.P. Regan photo
Dillon School District #10 helps expand young minds with its expanded North Cottom Street campus
By M.P. Regan Dillon Tribune staff In linking the two schools on its North Cottom Street campus with an ambitious recent building project, Dillon School District #10 greatly increased the quantity of its interior space while also bolstering its ability to offer its students a quality education. Completed just before the start of the 2012–13 school year, the $9.4 million construction and renovation project connected Dillon Middle School and Parkview Elementary School with a common area that created an indoor passageway between the two schools, along with 35,000 square feet of additional interior space on the campus. That space allowed SD #10 to add eight classrooms, a new gymnasium and locker room, a music room and performance area, a library large enough for students from both schools to use, a computer lab, a concession area, a counseling area, more storage rooms and a larger staff workroom and lounge. “The main goal of the project was to bring our facility up to what we needed to create an effective 21st-century learning environment,” said SD #10 Superintendent Dr. Glen Johnson. “By the time we were done, we got everything we thought we needed to accomplish that.” A big part of that update was a significant upgrade to SD #10’s technological infrastructure. Johnson said SD #10 now pipes in “30 megabits of bandwidth, the most bandwidth in town,” and boasts the capacity to add more bandwidth as it becomes available. That upgrade will enable SD #10 to efficiently administer the new computerbased Common Core tests, now required in Montana but beyond the technological means of many of the state’s school districts. “With the new online testing that the state is starting to require, we are one of few school districts who can handle it because of the bandwidth we have,” said Johnson, a University of Montana Western alum who came back to Dillon to lead SD #10 in 2008. “A lot of schools don’t have that technological backbone and bandwidth. They will have to test a few dozen kids at a time. We can test 300 kids at the same time. “It’s not perfect, but we are ahead of the curve.” Local students’ scores on those Common Core tests may well get bumped up due to SD #10’s new 30-station computer lab and rolling cart of 25 laptops that can access the Internet from anywhere on campus. The new tech has helped teachers help students update their computerbased learning, research and testing skills, which are essential to 21st-century academic achievement. “Our teachers do a great job helping students learn how to responsibly do academic research and school projects on computers,” said DMS Student Council President Sam Telling. “As our technology has improved—and I still think that it can improve a lot more— students have been doing more work on computers. That’s helping our students prepare to use technology in ways that they will be required to in high school and in college.” The additional space created by the building project also allowed SD #10 to accommodate its students who spend a lot more time with their hands in finger paints than on computer keyboards. With the start of the last school year, the District’s nearly one hundred kindergartners migrated from the Mary Innes School in downtown Dillon into four of the new SD #10 campus classrooms. “Before, we had to bus the kindergarten kids over here from the Mary Innes for lunch—three buses, back and forth, every day. Not having to do that saves us at least ten thousand dollars a year,” revealed Johnson, who said the building project updates are also helping SD #10 save money through more efficient water and energy usage, with the District coming in about fifteen thousand dollars under budget in gas heating costs last year. In addition to helping the District’s bottom line, the move has helped raise the bar for kindergartners in their development goals. “I think it’s a real advantage for the kindergartners to be able see the older kids every day,” said Kim Parke, a firstgrade SD #10 teacher who has taught for 27 years, 19 of them in kindergarten. “They don’t notice the older kids so much at first, but they really start watching them toward the end of the year. They see the kids who are a year or two ahead of them doing the things they’ll be doing, and realize they’re going to be okay,” added Parke, who said seeing the older kids also provides a boost for the kindergarten teachers. “It’s neat to be able to catch up with your past students. When we were down at the Mary Innes, we didn’t get to see them very often. But now you see them a lot and they wave or come over and give you a hug,” said Parke. The new library, which is used by both the middle school and elementary school students, also aids in the process of students helping each other develop. “The younger kids get to see the older kids on a regular basis now, and the older kids have really stepped up to serve as role models,” observed Dillon Middle School Librarian Melissa Bockting, who sees DMS and Parkview students interact every school day in the new joint school library she manages with Parkview Elementary Librarian Jan Mock. “Even in the hallways, you can see the older kids trying to be respectful and watch out for younger kids and make sure they show them a better way of behaving.” Telling said the new gym and music facilities also add a lot for SD #10 students, aged kindergarten through eighth grade. “One of the highlights of the new gym is how many people it can comfortably accommodate for community concerts,” said Telling, who holds a non-voting seat on the SD #10 School Board, which just approved $6500 in upgrades to the gym’s sound system. “The gym is excellent and I really like that the public has another facility it can use for community events,” said SD #10 Board of Trustees Vice Chair Kathy Hilton, who attended Dillon schools from the age of five to the time she graduated from Beaverhead County High School. “I believe, and this has been borne out by my several of my colleagues who have toured our facility since it opened, that the community of Dillon and its taxpayers got pretty good ‘bang for their buck’ with this project,” said Johnson. The bucks for that bang came from local voters passing a $9.5 million levy in the autumn of 2010 that allowed construction to get going the following spring, with Swank Enterprises serving as the project’s general contractor. A half million dollars of that $9.5 million was held back to deal with unforeseen costs, which showed up early. Work on a firewall between the new structure and old structures revealed that the old walls, while up to the snuff of the codes in the 1960s when they were built, were not seismically stable, per 21st-century building standards. “We could have left them that way, but the School Board decided that it didn’t want to read in the paper years from now that there had been an earthquake and one of those walls had fallen down and hurt or killed a child,” said Johnson, noting the walls in question were strengthened through extensive renovation work that ran into six figures in cost.” School safety also got bolstered by updates to SD #10’s keying, computer and phone systems. “If we have an emergency and need to lock down the building, I can sit at my desk and push three buttons and now everyone in school will know about it. Before, it would take five minutes to make the announcement; now it takes 15 seconds.” In addition to helping secure its current students, Johnson said the building project also helped secure SD #10’s viability for future students. “Our student population has held pretty stable for the past decade, with about 700 kids. But we have the capacity now to add another 100 to 150 students to Parkview and not have to squeeze them in there. Setting us up for the future was a big part of the building project,” said Johnson, who, along with the rest of his administrative staff, moved from the Mary Innes to the SD #10 campus with the completion of the building project. “Communities are often judged by their schools,” said Johnson, shortly before the September 2012 grand opening of the expanded and renovated SD #10 campus. “The idea was to give the children of Dillon an up-to-date place to learn, and to give the people of Dillon something else they can be proud of.” Hilton said Dillon earned that pride. “To pull off a project this big in a town this size,” said Hilton, who served on a committee of community members who helped design the SD #10 project, “that took some really impressive teamwork from the whole community.”
Dillon Tribune Progress Edition 2014 | 13
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14 | Dillon Tribune Progress Edition 2014
Threadbare to thriving
A once barren section of North Montana Street now buzzes with business activity
By M.P. Regan Dillon Tribune staff Thousands of people who passed by it every day didn’t see much but the weeds and the railroad tracks in the background when looking at the narrow, unoccupied stretch of land just west of North Montana Street in Dillon. Situated across from The Mini, O’Reilly Auto Parts and the Sundowner Hotel, the parcel shoehorned between the street and the railroad tracks sat vacant until Dillon resident Greg Leonardson recognized it in 2008 as a great place to do business—for multiple businesses. “The location is excellent for business,” said Leonardson, who sees thousands of cars—occupied by potential customers— pass by the location every business day while operating The Computer Guy, his Internet and computer servicing business that sits just south of that land on the same side of North Montana Street. After buying the approximately 38,000 square feet of land on North Montana Street’s west side, between Butte Street and Franklin Street, Leonardson then worked through the subdivision process to separate it into four lots, each 191 feet long and 50 feet deep. Sitting on a parcel less than an acre in size, those four lots now serve as home to five local businesses. Attracted by the high volume of vehicle traffic that travels that stretch of North Montana Street every day, Don Heffington, of Butte, placed his self-service Sunshine Laundromat on the land’s northern-most lot, at 505 N. Montana, where opened for business early in 2013. He joined his neighbor just to the south, Dillon Video, which had relocated to its current 447 N. Montana location from its previous home in downtown Dillon. Susan McRae C.P.A. became the new kid on the block in September 2013, when she opened her own business at 411 N. Montana in the building formerly occupied by Chance Bernall’s Prudential Montana Real Estate office, after Bernall moved into the old Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center building on Reeder Street. The North Montana Street structure now also serves as home to Beaverhead Title, Inc. and Verso Skin Spa. The five businesses and three attractive buildings they occupy have all added up to an impressive surge of real estate transactions, construction and business activity on a parcel of land that still shows up as vacant on Google Street View. Leonardson began to see the potential of that stretch of land after purchasing a lot just south of it for his own Computer Guy business in 2006.
Growing Family, Growing Business
Local entrepreneur Greg Leonardson stands with his wife and son in 2009 front of his then-vacant parcel of North Montana Street land that he has helped transform into a thriving business sector in Dillon that now serves as home to three buildings and five local businesses.
Operating out of its small, new log cabin structure, The Computer Guy continues to do big business at its 343 N. Montana St. location. “Business is doing well,” revealed Leonardson, who said that one main aspect of his operation has thrived to the point where it’s left him less time to tend its other main aspect. “The Internet side of my business has been taking more of my time, so my availability for computer services has diminished.” With thousands of cars passing by every day and business activity increasing every year in that part of town, Leonardson sees great opportunities for growth for The Computer Guy and the five businesses he can see outside his window on the small stretch of land on North Montana Street he played such a key role in transforming from a vacant lot into one of Dillon’s shiny, new, booming business sectors.
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Today in Dillon The 2014 version of a picture on North Montana Street shows the development of the property originally marketed by the Leonardson’s. J.P. Plutt photo
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Flying into the future from the Dillon Airport
By M.P. Regan Dillon Tribune staff With its recent navigational upgrade and imminent corner improvements, the Dillon Airport is growing into the future as it continues to play a key role in Dillon’s growing economy and culture. “The Dillon Airport is a great tool and asset for the community that all the businesses and people in Beaverhead County benefit from,” said Randy Bailey, who, along with his wife, Clare, manages the airport as a co-owner of Dillon Flying Service. “Not many communities in as rural a setting as Dillon have this fine of an airport. It’s a real testament to the great foresight of the Beaverhead County Commissioners and members of the Airport Board,” commented Bailey, who has flown in and out of airports all over the world in his 30 years as a professional pilot. “When people come to the area to do business or to enjoy its great fishing and hunting, and they own or can charter an airplane, Dillon is an easy money bet for them because the town has such a nice airport.” That bet just got even safer, with the airport’s recent addition of a GPS-based area navigation (RNAV) approach. “Moving forward, everybody is pointed at principally utilizing GPS since it can be used for all phases of flight. It’s much more accurate and a much safer way to arrive at the airport. It also offers the capability for planes to land in substantially worse weather than before,” offered Bailey, who said the airport continues to also employ the Omni Directional Radio Range (VOR) system it has used since the 1960s. With two asphalt runways—one 6500feet long and 75-feet wide, the other 3600-feet-by-60 feet—the airport can accommodate the smallest aircraft to the largest corporate twin-engine jets, which now stretch 100-feet long and weigh over 100,000 pounds, according to Bailey. “Airplanes are getting bigger,” said
Dillon Tribune Progress Edition 2014 | 15
Touching down
Randy and Clare Bailey purchased the fixed base operation in 2013 at the Beaverhead County Airport and are operating Dillon Flying Service. The couple are shown in front of the business located just five miles from Dillon. J.P. Plutt photo
Beaverhead County Commissioner Tom Rice. “Our runways are in good shape and taxi ways are in good shape. We have a project this summer to fill in corners, so bigger airplanes can turn around more easily,” added Rice. The improvements should enhance the Dillon Airport’s already important role in the area’s economy, medical services, agricultural industry and recreational culture. “The airport is a huge asset for the area. It’s very beneficial for commuter people who fly in and out of Dillon for business, and for people who come here on vacation to fish and hunt. All the area’s agricultural spray planes go in and out of the Dillon Airport to land and load,” said Rice, noting that patients in need of high-level, emergency medical attention get flown out of Dillon Airport on LifeFlight. Bailey agreed that the airport gets use from a wide variety of visitors and business people, including a man who services coffee machines in various communities in Montana. “We got hammered a few weeks ago when people came in from all over the country for the Sitz bull auction,” added Bailey, who said that while the county airport generates great economic dividends for county residents, its current annual budget is funded by revenues generated at the airport by activities such as fuel sales, fuel flow fees and hangar rentals. “The airport is the first point of contact for those folks, so we try to make sure they have a good experience,” said Bailey, who, along with his wife, owns and operates the Dillon Airport Fixed Base Operation that provides airport users with vital products and services, such as fuel, maintenance, charter service and flight instruction. Bailey said his work as a flight instructor at Dillon Airport allows him to give people the grand experience of flying over southwest Montana in an airplane. “You get to see more of our beautiful area in an airplane than you ever could from the ground,” said Bailey, who can take a person from novice to licensed pilot in as little as a month. “You could hike up a mountain in the Pioneers one day and get a great view, but you get a thousand of those great views during an hour in a plane.”
16 | Dillon Tribune Progress Edition 2014
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