BILLINGS - Be kind. It sounds so simple, right?
And yet, some Montanans are struggling to get it done. So much so, that there’s now a Billings “tool kit” to remind people, to be nice.
The Be Kind Tool Kit, developed by the Billings Chamber of Commerce and Visit Billings, is filled with downloadable materials for local businesses to use online, on their walls, and with their employees.
On Thursday, Mark Evangeline, superintendent of airport facilities at Billings Logan International, taped up a reminder on a pillar near the check-in desks.
He’s worked at the Billings Airport for nearly 41 years and he’s never put-up signs asking people, to please be kind.
“I think it's just a little reminder that we're just here to serve the public,” said Evangeline, “help them get off on their journey or back. Remember, we're not responsible for every hiccup in their in their trip
It seems the current climate has opened the door for people across the community to take out their frustrations on the closest employee. Not only at the airport, but at businesses across the Billings area.
There’s one key igniter at the airport, and that’s the fact that employees are mandated to require people who come into the airport are masked up as soon as they walk through the doors.
“We've had some people just flat refuse, and if they do it before, TSA, they just don't make it any further,” said Evangeline. That’s because security shows up.
Alex Tyson, the executive director of Visit Billings, said the goal of the campaign is to educate, draw awareness, and hopefully prevent anyone from stepping over the line with employees across the community.
“It's pretty easy to see right now that people don't see eye to eye on things,” said Tyson. “And you know, you can't be naive to think that we're all going to hold hands and get along. We understand that. But we have 2.6 million visitors into this community every year. And on top of that, we just have amazing residents. So I think just remembering what we learned in preschool and kindergarten about being kind and that kindness matters is really the basis of the whole campaign,” she explained.
As he held one of the signs listing community resources, Billings Director of Aviation and Transit Kevin Ploehn said he’s glad Visit Billings and the chamber teamed up on the effort.
“We're going to give these to every manager at the airport and for TSA so they can all go into break rooms so this information’s available,” said Ploehn.
Evangeline, who oversees 17 custodial and maintenance mechanic employees, said it’s hard to hire right now, adding that one of his positions has been open for two years, and another for six months.
“The city has mandatory drug testing, that may be part of it,” he said, stressing that “the city has a great benefit package.”
The workforce shortage was one of the key considerations when the Tourism Business Improvement District Board and the Visibility Team decided something needed to be done to help local businesses and employees who are feeling the brunt of the negativity.
“As you walk into a storefront or a restaurant, keep that in mind,” said Tyson. “People are doing what they can to stay open right now.”
And as Visit Billings and the chamber moved forward, they realized they could lead the campaign with the fact that employees are working longer hours and shifts right now.
“But really, in reality, shouldn't we just be kind anyway?” said Tyson. “So maybe it's not just about the workforce, but just keeping in mind that we really need to be positive and create a positive environment and an experience for everybody.”
Evangeline says his employees do a good job of de-escalating possible confrontations up at the airport, and if things can’t be turned around, his employees are told to just walk away and call authorities.
“So, you know, kind of cut a little slack and understand that it's not our fault, but we're here to help,” he said.
We are Montanans after all.