Havre Daily News/Lindsay Brown
A crowd gathers in the Duck Inn Olympic Room Wednesday to attend the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting.
The Havre Area Chamber of Commerce kicked off its 104th year with its annual meeting at the Duck Inn Olympic Room, including introducing its new president, wishing outgoing members well, and hearing from a slate of speakers on a variety of local topics.
Incoming President Jacob Lorang welcomed the audience and introduced new board members Stacy Mantle, Bonnie O'Neill and Mike Palmer. Past President Chandra Moomey introduced and thanked outgoing board members Brian Jenkins, Jim Kato and Kathy Palmer.
Executive Director Debbie Vandeberg also made comments on the 2012 Chamber activities and successes.
Those introductions, and the main speakers talks, started as dinner was served.
The speakers started with Montana State University-Northern Chancellor Jim Limbaugh, followed by a presentation by Havre BNSF Superintendent of Operations Steve Reinke.
Ron Brenna of Havre Laundry and Dry Cleaning gave a talk about the benefits and difficulties of operating an old-style family small business in Havre and on the Hi-Line — a business that started in 1904, operating in its original location — with Northern Montana Healthcare President and CEO Dave Henry finishing the program.
A railroad operations officer, citing work done and planned, new hires with more coming in the next months, and increased demand, said railroad activity in Montana and on the Hi-Line is steady and is likely to increase.
"We're going to be pretty busy this year on the BNSF …, " Burlington Northern Santa-Fe Superintendent of Operations Steve Reinke of Havre said Wednesday during the annual meeting of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce. "We've been pretty busy the last two years. "
Reinke said BNSF has hired 550 new employees for the Montana Division in the last two years — "That's a pretty big chunk for the BNSF system as a whole, " he added — and more hiring is going on now, including a class of 15 employees in Havre who are starting March 4 and plans to hire 20 new diesel shop employees in the coming year, plus more hiring across the upper part of Montana.
The company has invested $3.9 billion in capital improvements, including $122 million in Montana in 2012, with hundreds of thousands of new ties installed, miles of new track built and work done to clean the ballast under existing track.
There is plenty of work to go around, Reinke said.
"If you know somebody around who's here looking for a job — half of the class that we hired (for Havre) was from out of town — if there's somebody in Havre, we like to hire local, so they'll stay here and not fly the coop when they get some seniority, " he said. "Plenty of opportunity here in Havre, Great Falls, Glasgow, Whitefish, all over, as far as hiring goes. "
A large part of the opportunity comes from demand from the energy sector, from the Bakken formation and elsewhere.
Reinke said BNSF has the capacity to haul 1 million barrels a day from the oil fields in the Bakken and is now hauling 750,000 barrels a day.
That will increase as new infrastructure, already planned or being constructed, is completed.
He said each 100-car oil train hauls 66,000 barrels of oil.
"Now, if you figure that's averaging about $100 a barrel, that's about $6 ½ million a train, " Reinke added.
He said an interesting point is that oil pipeline companies are moving toward using the railroad more and more, including building new tracks and rail loading facilities.
Part of that is due to speed, and part is for flexibility, Reinke said.
He said a barrel of oil loaded on a pipeline in North Dakota would get to a refinery in Louisiana 30 days later.
"We can haul it down there in 12, so we're a lot quicker, " Reinke said.
And oil put in a pipeline can only go to one place — the other end of the pipeline.
With a rail loading facililty, "they can circle around and load these 100-car unit trains and ship them anywhere they want, and that's the beauty of shipping by rail, " he said.
If one location is paying $1-a-barrel more than the refinery at the end of the pipeline, with a train hauling 66,000 barrels, "a dollar a barrel adds up pretty quick, " Reinke said. "That's another benefit to ship by rail. "
The amount of oil being shipped by rail from the Bakken is creating a bottleneck that is impacting the Havre yard and reducing the number of trains coming through.
Reinke said Havre normally sees about 33 trains a day, but with the number going through the region of the Bakken, trains from Seattle to Chicago are being rerouted south. That has cut Havre's number to about 27 or 28 a day, he said.
"So we're a little bit down, right now, but as soon as we get (the infrastructure) built up in the Bakken we should see that traffic pick up again, " he said.
The number of trains coming through Havre from the Bakken also is picking up, and is likely to increase.
Reinke said that, at first, all of the oil trains were going south to Louisiana and Texas. Other refineries, in the east and to the west, did not have the facilities to unload trainloads of oil.
"But they are building them like crazy, " he said.
Oil trains now are rolling through Havre going to Washington state, to refineries near Fidalgo Bay.
"You'll see more and more as the refineries in California develop, " Reinke said. "You will see more of those trains coming through here and going south once they get out to Seattle. "
Other oil field development also will impact BNSF's operations. Reinke said work to develop extraction of oil from shale is happening in the Eagle Ford formation in Texas and the Niobrara formation in Colorado and Wyoming. Those will lead to rail loops where BNSF will send trains to haul oil, he said.
BNSF also is hauling coal, which also will increase. Reinke said the railway is hauling Powder River coal, and is working with Arch Coal to set up infrastructure to haul coal out of the Tongue River and Otter Creek areas.
When Montana State University-Northern Chancellor Jim Limbaugh came to Havre, speaking at the annual luncheon put on by the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce was one of his first official tasks. Wednesday afternoon, Limbaugh returned to fill everyone at the 104th Luncheon on what he's been up to since.
Starting with a second-hand factoid about Northern being the most rural university in the nation, by population density, Limbaugh continued with his pride in the economic impact that such a rural university has across Montana.
Limbaugh quoted a recent economic survey that found Northern directly adding 800 jobs and $260,000 to Havre economy, which grows into tens of millions of private sector dollars across Montana.
"That's an awful lot for an institution of our size, " Limbaugh said. "But there's more we could do. "
He explained to the crowd, half of which were Northern alumni as indicated by hand raising, the 18-months of review the university has ahead. The spring will be spent deciding whether to grow, maintain or cut back each program on the campus.
Ascendant programs mentioned included the only Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology-certified civil engineering degree in Montana, the only online nursing bachelor's degree, the only agriculture program integrating plant and animal studies, and the new criminal justice program, with particular focus on rural, border, tribal and online law enforcement.
He also predicted some newer, less traditional options being explored.
"Higher education is going through significant, almost cataclysmic, change, " Limbaugh said.
Northern is going to have to keep new developments in mind, like the Khan Academy or Massive Open Online Courses, where Internet users gather for free education.
Even in this tumultuous time, Limbaugh said he has faith in Northern's ability to not only survive, but thrive and grow larger and stronger than it has been in years because Northern, he said, has a rare collection of traits that will make it happen — a strong academic framework distributing four levels of degrees, physical space to grow, support from Bozeman and Helena, and a level of dedication from the community that Limbaugh said he'd never experienced before.
"Other chancellors would kill for any one of these, " Limbaugh said. "I get all four."
Havre business owners got an update on the health of the community from the biggest name in Hi-Line health care, Northern Montana Hospital CEO Dave Henry.
Henry began with a rundown of recent updates to staff and facilities from the past year, including new Care Center director Ronald Gleason, outgoing obstetrician Margaret Dow and the recently installed top-shelf MRI and CAT scan machines.
"You now have, in Havre, equipment that no one else in the state can match, " Henry said. "Billings comes close, but Great Falls is way behind us. "
Henry told the crowd that when doctors in Great Falls ask them to come down there for a scan, "tell them to go pound sand. Our guys do that here in Havre and can send it to them with a press of a button. "
He also offered an update on the status of Havre's branch of the Great Falls-based Sletten Cancer Institute that has been vacant for almost a year.
"Our job now is to try and get that back open, " Henry said. "Someone else owns the lease on that building and all the equipment.
"We just have to get past what Benefis has in mind for us. "
The last and largest portion of Henry's talk was filled with his words of warning about the approaching changes from Obamacare.
"We're now finding out what's in it, " Henry said, offering an example of complex changes in the financial responsibility of a companies large and small that was met with silence.
"We don't understand it either, " Henry said.
Speaking from experience, Henry said that the hospital currently pays $1.5 million in employee insurance premiums. Henry said it's going up to $2.5 million. Though if he didn't cover his employees, he would only be fined $1.2 million.
"The smartest thing for me to do, but Miles won't let me do it, would be to not cover, " Henry said jokingly.
What wasn't funny, according to Henry, was his vision of the next three or four years, plagued by reduced hours, skyrocketing insurance premiums from newly insured people overusing health care, and every business' increased costs being reflected in higher product prices.
"It's coming, and you need to see what it's going to do, " Henry said. "It's going to be real interesting to see."
More people are visiting Montana and more tourists are coming to Havre and the Hi-Line.
That was the good news brought to the Havre Chamber of Commerce annual meeting Wednesday.
And to convince more people to see the attractions the city has to offer, the new brand "Havre — take a look around, " will be launched.
The phrase was arrived at after nearly a year of study by Havre's Tourism Business Improvement District and its consultants, Wendt Agency of Great Falls.
That will be the theme on all kinds of advertising that TBID and other groups do to convince people passing through or coming near the area that they ought to stop and see Havre's attractions.
Chamber Executive Director Debbie Vandeberg said Havre may not yet have enough attractions to become a destination point for tourists — though she said H. Earl Clark Museum Board Chair Judi Dritshulas wants to make it a destination point — U. S. Highway 2 is full of visitors headed to Montana's No. 1 destination point, Glacier National Park.
Havre is attractive because it offers hotels, restaurants and other such attractions, she said. People will be encouraged to look around town, she said, to see what else it offers.
TBID will be doing print advertising, web-based promotions and Facebook enticements to get people to stop in Havre en route to the national park, said Vandeberg and Becky Miller, head of the TBID committee.
The TBID is funded by a surcharge added to the price of rooms at the four major hotels in town.
Havre Dry Cleaning is the oldest business in Havre, having been created more than a century ago.
It remains successful, owner Ron Brenna says, because it combines some modern beliefs with the business principles it has held for a century.
Brenna was one of five people who spoke at the Duck Inn Wednesday at the 104th meeting of Havre Area Chamber of Commerce. Brenna's business is five years older than the Chamber itself.
The business is at the same location it was when it was founded, and some of the same building remains.
The company's success and its challenges are due to both its small-town roots and its remote location, he said.
Beside his family, he said, he is passionate about hunting, wrestling and Havre Laundry.
Many of its employees have been there for more than 20 years, he said.
The company has overcome problems with the economy. One of the first things families cut when the economy goes sour, he said, is dry cleaning. But over the last decade, business has increased 178 percent.
That is largely because Havre is in "an oil sandwich, " he said. "There is oil to the east and oil to the west. "
He has capitalized on the boom in both major oil fields, he said.
Brenna admits to — and boasts about — not being tech savvy.
"People told me I should have a website, " he said. "I have one. I'm not sure why. "
And when it comes to marketing his business, he prefers a low-key approach.
"When we talk about mass marketing, we put gas in the car and go talk to people, " he said.