Tester meets with businesses

The Great Falls Tribune

by Kim Skornogoski

In the months ahead, Congress has a big job to carefully craft leg¬islation that regulates the indus¬tries whose collapse led to the economic meltdown, while also spurring new job creation.

To get ideas on how to walk that tightrope, Montana Sen.

Jon Tester Tuesday met with 14 people representing northcentral Montana businesses as disparate as Party America, Central Plumb¬ing and Heating and Montana Alberta Tie Ltd.

Bill Johnstone, president and CEO of D.A. Davidson, said small banks and brokers continue to have to compete against big com¬panies that received government bailout. Meanwhile, since the economic recession, the company has added employees if only to clear the additional regulatory hurdles.

“It’s a big problem, I certainly don’t have an answer,” Johnstone said.

Sandy Thares, owner of the O’Haire Motor Inn, summarized what needs to be done with the motto: “Regulate big business, but leave small business alone.”

Tester held similar meetings Monday and Tuesday in Kalispell, Missoula, Billings and Helena.

Some of the people questioned stimulus spending, while others touted the jobs created by it. Some spoke against astronomical spending to reform health care, others said without it, the country will go bankrupt. Likewise, peo¬ple both supported and opposed efforts to make it easier to union¬ize.

While it may be hard to get a finger on Montana’s pulse on such hot button topics, Tester said he did walk away with some concrete ideas that make it easier for businesses to create jobs.

Rick Burt, with Northwestern Energy, and MATL regulatory vice president Bob Williams sug¬gested that regulatory agencies be given deadlines to speed up the process to build power lines — a key driver behind building wind farms.

Tester also liked the idea of getting grant money directly to cities and counties to build things such as industrial parks, multi¬use convention centers and other infrastructure that can drive a community’s economy.

Gene Thayer, owner of Mon¬tana Milling, said Congress should give businesses a tax break spanning a minimum of three years if they add employ¬ees. Doing so will increase jobs with little impact on tax revenue.

Tester said from the meetings he’s gleaned that consumers’ lack of confidence continues to be a statewide concern and no one has a silver-bullet solution.

But he’s also heard positive feedback about growth in the housing, construction and auto industries — thanks to the cash for clunkers and first-time home¬owners’ tax credits.

“We’re going to keep meeting with folks like this until the econ¬omy is moving again,” Tester said. “Even then, we’ll probably keep doing it. You learn some¬thing at each one.”