Most of the cylinders in Idaho’s economic engine appear to be firing – with virtually all sectors throughout the Gem State showing improvement to varying degrees as a widespread recovery gains traction.
Gynii Gilliam, chief economic development officer for the Idaho Department of Commerce, says her main objective – in addition to recruiting new companies to the state and enhancing existing businesses – is to create jobs for the 60,000 Idahoans still pursuing work.
During a television interview on “Business Dynamics,” a Pocatello cable access program, Gilliam said nine prospective companies employing 10 to 100 people are a definite go for Idaho and should be announcing their plans soon. They entail agriculture, manufacturing and business services.
Another nine projects are engaged in property negotiations across the state, deciding whether to lease or purchase. Twenty other promising companies are each deciding between two locations, including sites outside the state. In June, the Idaho Commerce Department fielded 10 to 14 new leads from prospective employers, Gilliam said.
Gynii Gilliam served as Bannock Development Corporation’s executive director for six years before moving to Boise last January to work for the Idaho Department of Commerce.
Idaho’s unemployment rate is tracking below the national average with the farming and manufacturing sectors running strong. “Across the board, agriculture and food processing are doing very well,” she said, adding state exports now total $6 billion annually or about 10 percent of the Gross State Product with semiconductors dominating.
Gilliam said the future looks bright for Micron Technology, Hewlett-Packard and ON Semiconductor – large electronics employers that play significant roles in Idaho’s economy – because the demand for technology will continue to surge. Smaller partners in the tech sector also will benefit.
“Micron will recover,” she predicted, adding that ON is doing quite well with acquisitions and partnerships. It remains to be seen what impact H-P’s announced reorganization and layoffs will have on its Boise operations.
Gilliam was executive director for Bannock Development Corporation in Pocatello for six years prior to assuming her Commerce responsibilities in Boise last January. Before departing the Gate City, she helped secure Allstate Insurance and ATCO operations for Pocatello.
Allstate employs more than 200 at its Pocatello center with plans to expand its work force to more than 500.
Canadian-based ATCO hopes to hire 150 at its modular housing plant inside the Gateway West Industrial Center, which Gilliam called a “jewel” with its immense square footage, high bays and large overhead cranes. SME Steel is doing subcontract work for ATCO, which has vowed to procure materials from local providers.
ATCO’s modular housing is destined for Canada, North Dakota and Wyoming. ATCO President and CEO Nancy Southern announced at the company’s recent Pocatello grand opening that the company would provide Idaho State University with five scholarships. ATCO’s parent corporation, an energy conglomerate, is worth an estimated $12 billion.
Gilliam also played a pivotal role in Hoku’s decision to locate a polysilicon plant in Pocatello. Despite Hoku’s layoff of 100 employees, leaving a skeleton crew of 30; its delisting from Nasdaq, its shares plummeting to three cents a share and rumblings of imminent bankruptcy, Hoku’s managers remain confident the company can resolve its issues as the price of polysilicon gradually rises, she said.
“They have so much passion I personally have not given up on them,” Gilliam said.
Idaho’s new Leadership in Nuclear Energy (LINE) committee chaired by Idaho Commerce Director Jeff Sayer is tasked with strengthening the state’s ties with the Idaho National Laboratory, where contractors have laid off 600 employees the last six to nine months, with more job cuts looming. The INL is the nation’s leading federal site for nuclear energy research and development.
Annual mining wages in Idaho average $66,000, making it one of the state’s strongest sectors. “Our state is called the Gem State for a reason,” Gilliam said, noting its silver, phosphate, molybdenum and cobalt rank as world class. “There has been a significant increase in exploration.”
In the past six months, Gilliam estimates eight companies have been exploring for minerals in Idaho with core drills showing extremely high quality. Idaho officials have emphasized to the companies the importance of complying with environmental regulations, she said.
Tourism also is showing an increase after suffering through the depths of recession, Gilliam said. “Heads and beds” are on the rise as foreigners and out-of-staters enjoy the state’s many recreational and geographic opportunities. Idaho tourists also are staying closer to home as gasoline prices remain high, turning their vacations into “staycations.” Major sporting events also have given the state positive exposure.
One of Idaho’s significant selling points is the fact the state remains solvent when many other states are struggling with billion-dollar budget deficits, Gilliam said. Idaho’s surplus funds are being plowed back into its education system, and its corporate tax has been reduced slightly.
“The fact is we’ve lowered our as others raise theirs,” she said, noting many companies are eager to leave states where taxes are escalating and relocate. Idaho is looking increasingly attractive to them, she adds.Share on Facebook