Today in New West news: Forbes’ list of Best and Worst States for Business 2016, an update on Chipotle’s board woes, U.S. Forest Service to analyze lynx for logging project in Montana, and the James Welch Google Doodle.
It’s that time of year again: Forbes has released its list of The Best and Worst States For Business 2016 and, following a trend, Utah has once again been named the best state for business. Indeed, Utah has been consistently ranked number one since 2010, with a brief upset by Virginia in 2013. From Forbes:
Utah scores well across the board, with particularly high marks for its regulatory climate and growth prospects, which are both second best among the 50 states. Governor Gary Herbert has made cutting red tape a tenet of his administration since he was elected in 2009. He’s eliminated or significantly changed nearly 400 regulations during the past seven years. Utah also boasts a business-friendly legal climate and a fiscally sound government – it’s one of only 10 states to hold a AAA bond rating from all three ratings agencies. One marker of fiscal responsibility: State government employment is down 11% over the past five years despite an 8% rise in the population.
Utah’s growth prospects are strong in part because of a burgeoning tech sector. Venture capital investment was $1.5 billion combined in 2014 and 2015 compared to $635 million the two years prior. In April, PayPal co-founder and early Facebook investor Peter Thiel, along with Mitt Romney’s co-led venture fund Solamere Capital, announced plans to invest $100 million in Provo-based Vivint Smart Home. In a nod to its neighbor to the west and Utah’s ski terrain, the corridor connecting Ogden, Salt Lake City and Provo has been dubbed “Silicon Slopes.”
Another New West state that performed well was Colorado, which came in at fifth.
Speaking of Colorado, we’ve been following reports of an apparent shake-up in Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc.’s upper echelons. Late October, we reported that “activist investor” William Ackman had bought shares in Chipotle, spurring rumors that he would use them as leverage to oust members of Chipotle’s board. This put Chipotle on the defensive, who reportedly started contacting investment and bankers for counsel. Indeed, a few days later, we reported another set of Chipotle stakeholders (acting separately of Ackman) had called for longtime Chipotle chairman Steve Ells to step down.
Now, according to the Denver Business Journal, Ackman is reportedly nearing a deal with the company regarding its board of directors:
The Wall Street Journal reported that the Denver restaurant chain (NYSE: CMG) is nearing a possible settlement with billionaire investor William Ackman and his Pershing Square Capital Management investment firm regarding a possible Pershing Square seat on the board.
Chipotle’s been under fire for its current board, with some activist investors this month calling for CEO Steve Ells’ removal as board chairman, because “an independent board chair is an essential part of curing the company’s governance and strategic failures that have become more apparent since last year’s foodborne illness crisis.”
The Journal pointed out that Chipotle board members have served an average tenure of 14 years, compared with the industry average of eight years.
Up in Montana, according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, U.S. Forest Service officials are beginning work on analyzing how a long-deferred logging project south of Bozeman will affect Canada lynx habitat—a species listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Officials hope the analysis will help lift an injunction issued against the project in 2013. From the Chronicle:
“We feel as pretty much all the pieces are there. We just need to go through the steps with the Fish and Wildlife Service,” Stoeffler said.
But the opponents of the project don’t think that can happen.
“If they do that then they violate the court order,” said Mike Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.
The Forest Service originally proposed logging south of town in 2010. Called the Bozeman Municipal Watershed project, it proposed logging and prescribed burning in parts of the Hyalite Creek and Bozeman Creek drainages, which the Forest Service and the city of Bozeman say would prevent a large wildfire and protect the city’s water supply. At about the same time, they proposed logging in the East Boulder River drainage, southeast of Big Timber.
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies sued the Forest Service over both projects. A U.S. District Court sided with the Alliance in 2013 because of another case that challenged how the Forest Service as a whole handled lynx critical habitat in its management plans.
In that case, the Cottonwood Environmental Law Center argued the agency was relying on a flawed set of guidelines that didn’t include thousands of square miles of designated critical habitat for the animals.
In 2009, the USFWS added about 37,000 square miles to its critical habitat designation for lynx, two years after the Forest Service adopted the previous guidelines, which didn’t include any critical habitat on forest land. The Forest Service didn’t consult with the USFWS after the 2009 designation, which Cottonwood argued violated the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. District Court agreed with Cottonwood, and Forest Service appeals of the project failed.
The Cottonwood decision isn’t linked to any specific project, but instead asks the Forest Service to reconsult with the USFWS on lynx guidelines across the northwestern region to include the newly designated critical habitat. The decision in the Bozeman Municipal Watershed case orders the Forest Service to comply with the Cottonwood decision before the project can go forward.
But Stoeffler said that doesn’t mean they need to wait for the agency to do a new analysis on all lynx critical habitat before they resume work on their local projects.
Finally, if you checked Google this morning, you might have been pleasantly surprised to see today’s Doodle, made in honor of Native American author James Welch. Welch, born in Montana, is duly celebrated for his novels exploring contemporary Native American life (Winter in the Blood, The Death of Jim Loney) and Native American history (Fools Crow, The Heartsong of Charging Elk).
Among the honors Welch received in his life include an American Book Award, the Pacific Northwest Book Award, the John Dos Passos Prize for Literature, a Chevalier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from France, the Western Literature Association’s Distinguished Achievement Award, and an Emmy Award for his involvement in the documentary Last Stand at Little Bighorn.
In addition to writing novels, Welch also wrote poetry (Riding the Earthboy 40) and one nonfiction book, Killing Custer: The Battle of Little Bighorn and the Fate of the Plains Indians.