ByTim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The three keynote speakers at the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting Wednesday had a common theme - jobs, jobs, jobs.
"It looks like a good year for Havre as far as the railroad is concerned," said Stephen Reinke, Havre superintendent of operations for the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Co.
Reinke said BNSF hired about 50 people in Havre last year, and expects to hire close to 60 more this year.
David Bernard, assistant chief of the U.S. Border Patrol Sector Office in Havre, said the Border Patrol has nearly tripled its operations in the state since 9/11, bringing many new agents to Havre. That could increase, with offices proposed for Glasgow, Chester and Cut Bank.
Cole Chandler, operations manager of Klabzuba Oil & Gas Inc. in Havre, said he wanted to tell "a relatively unknown story about oil and gas, and its impact on north-central Montana."
Chandler said the oil and gas industry and businesses that support it provide more than 260 jobs in Hill, Blaine and Chouteau counties.
Reinke said the railroad jobs pay an average of $60,000 a year.
BNSF doesn't plan seasonal furloughs of new employees because of the increased use of the northern rail line, and because BNSF doesn't want to lose the people it's hired, he added.
"We're going to keep everybody," Reinke said.
Typically, as demand drops in January and February, BNSF has furloughed many new employees. That creates a problem for the company because the Union Pacific Railroad hires the newly trained employees, he said. "When we furlough somebody, the UP picks them up immediately," Reinke said. He said rail traffic has increased tremendously. When Reinke started at Havre in April 2003, the tracks averaged 25 trains a day, he said. Now the rate is about 39 or 40 a day, and is expected to increase to 50 a day by the end of the year.
Bernard talked a bit about the increased number of Border Patrol agents and support staff and its impact on the economy. His main message, though, was that north-central Montanans should appreciate what they have.
He came to Havre because the federal government increased security on the northern border following 9/11.
"Good things come out of bad things once in a while," Bernard said. "Moving up here has affected my life for the better."
He said he spent 17 years in Laredo, Texas, living in a house with bars on the windows, security lights and a backyard fence made out of cinderblocks. The locks on his bedroom doors were more heavy-duty than the locks on his outside door in Montana, he said.
Montana was a real change. He said that shortly after they moved, his wife talked to a FedEx employee about having a package delivered.
She told the employee she wouldn't be home, so she would have to make arrangements. When the FedEx employee kept saying he would just stick the package inside the door, Bernard's wife finally said, "I won't be home. The door will be locked." The employee replied, "You're going to lock it?"
"Welcome to Montana," Bernard added.