The Speakers

Our lineup of speakers include industry and economic experts focused on the U.S. and the state of Montana.

Patrick Barkey

Patrick Barkey has served as director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research since 2008. He has been involved with economic forecasting and policy research for more than 30 years, in both the private and public sectors. Before moving to Montana, he served as director of the Bureau of Business Research at Ball State University in Indiana for 14 years. He holds a B.A. and a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Michigan.

George Haynes

George Haynes is Professor and Extension Specialist in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Economics at Montana State University.  His primary line of research is in agricultural and small business finance. His instructional responsibilities include conducting financial training for low resource borrowers and educating farmers and ranchers on the agricultural policy issues.

Joel Schumacher

Joel Schumacher is an associate extension specialist and extension family and consumer science program leader at Montana State University. He holds a master’s degree in applied economics from Montana State University. His research and outreach programs focus on consumer economics, agricultural finance and rural economics. He has authored or co-authored more than two dozen educational guides and presented more than 300 educational outreach programs.

Samuel Scott

Samuel Scott is a Forest Economist with the Bureau’s Forest Industry Research Program. He holds a B.S. (University of Montana) in Forestry and an M.S. (Virginia Tech) in Forest Economics. Prior to the Bureau, Sam served as an Economist at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and worked in timber and silviculture with both the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. His primary research interests are statistical timber appraisal methods, employment and income impacts of the forest products industry across the West, and bioeconomic modeling.

Derek Sheehan

Derek Sheehan is an Economist with the Bureau of Business and Economic Research (BBER). Derek Sheehan joined the Bureau as an Economist in 2021. He holds a MA in economics from the University of Montana and holds a BA in economics from Virginia Tech. Before attending UM, Derek served as an Agroforestry Specialist in Peace Corps Senegal. Derek’s research interests include applied econometrics, natural resource economics, health economics, real estate, and spatial statistics.

Melissa Weddell

Melissa Weddell is the director of the Institute for Tourism & Recreation Research at the University of Montana. She holds a Ph.D. in Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management from Clemson University, an MBA from Southern Illinois University, and an undergraduate degree in Small Business Management & Entrepreneurship from Ball State University. She formerly served as the department chair and professor of Recreation Management at Appalachian State University.

Keynote Roundtable Speakers

Suzanne Tilleman

Suzanne Tilleman serves as the Sprunk and Burnham Endowed Dean of University of Montana’s College of Business. Prior to her academic career she worked in industry, and she joined the College in 2010 as faculty. She holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Georgia Tech, an MBA from Tulane, and a Ph.D. in Strategy from the University of Oregon.

Sonja Nowakowski

Sonja Nowakowski is the Administrator for the Air, Energy, and Mining Division at the Department of Environmental Quality. She has been with the DEQ since 2021. Prior to joining the DEQ team, Sonja worked for the Montana Legislature for 15 years. She served as a nonpartisan research analyst in the Legislative Environmental Policy Office and as the Research Director for the Office of Research and Policy. Sonja’s nonpartisan work for the Legislature focused on environment and energy policy.

Heather McDowell

Heather McDowell is the VP for Legal and External Affairs at Sibanye-Stillwater, a global precious metals mining and recyling company. She has done trial work at Crowley Fleck, handled legal matters at the Colstrip Power Plant, managed Wyoming utility regulatory work, and now leads Sibanye-Stillwater’s legal and stakeholder engagement strategies in the Americas.  Heather was raised on her family’s cattle ranch in Bridger and attended the University of Montana College of Business and Gonzaga University School of Law.

Chris Dorrington

Chris Dorrington serves as the Director of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Chris has set his agency focus on improving upon both the efficiencies and protections of industrial permitting and advancing energy policy programs in Montana. Since July 2022 Chris has also served as the Chair of Governor Gianforte’s Housing Task Force. Chris earned his bachelor’s of science in mechanical engineering from Gonzaga University, and a master’s degree in public policy from George Mason University.

Michael Freeman

Michael Freeman advises Governor Gianforte on environmental, natural resources, and energy issues. Prior to serving the Governor, Michael spent over a decade in Washington, D.C. in various legal and policy roles at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, the Department of the Interior, and the private sector. He is a native of Butte, Montana.