mendiola
Mark Mendiola
Eastern Idaho

Idaho’s rugged mountain ranges, numerous lakes, rivers and streams, verdant forests, scenic deserts and abundant wildlife rival the beauty of any state, but for Karen Ballard, the Gem State’s exceptional citizens are what give its quality of life an edge over virtually anywhere else in the nation.

Ballard, administrator of the Idaho Department of Commerce’s tourism division, says the hospitality and warmth of Idahoans are as much key factors in the success of attracting visitors to the state as are diverse, stunning geography and numerous recreational opportunities within its 82,413 square miles.

Idaho’s $3.5 billion annual tourism industry has been and continues to be a crucial segment of the state’s economy. As of 2008, 26,000 Idaho jobs were in the tourism sector, representing nearly 4 percent of the state’s non-farm job employment.

Only about 11 percent of travelers come to Idaho solely for business purposes. Most combine business and pleasure in their trips. An estimated 81 percent of day trips and 84 percent of overnight trips are for leisure.

Of the money spent by those who travel to and through Idaho, about 29 percent is for lodging, 23 percent for food and beverages, 19 percent for retail purchases, 17 percent for transportation and 12 percent on a myriad of recreational options.

In 2008, nearly 32 million people visited Idaho with 57 percent or 18.2 million coming for day trips. The vast majority of visitors who come to Idaho live in the West – 85 percent. Ballard says the fact 35 percent of them are Idahoans who enjoy spending vacations in their own state speaks volumes about the state’s “enjoyable attributes” and friendliness of its residents.

Because of their conservative disposition, Idahoans tend not to be “gossipy or intrusive,” but they also are creative, which visitors like, says Ballard, who adds many visitors have indicated to her they appreciate the civility and graciousness of the state’s citizens.

“It is very rare for Idahoans to be resentful of visitors and not extend courtesy and be very kind,” she says, mentioning Europeans find Boise very manageable and safe. “Idahoans make my job a lot easier.”

Known for its parks, trees and landscaping, the state’s capital and largest city has a small town feel and big city amenities. The Idaho Shakespeare Festival convened at an outdoor venue along the Boise River is recognized by peers as one of the premier programs of its kind.

Producing great corporate giants like J.R. Simplot and Joe Albertson, as well as a high percentage of world class athletes, attests to Idaho’s underlying strength of character, Ballard says.

The fact there are 300 alpine lakes in the Sawtooth Mountains and 30 scenic byways coursing through the state makes Idaho a magnetic destination for travelers. “Pick any road and you will find something of interest,” Ballard says.

With more than one million acres, Idaho has more wilderness than any other state in the contiguous 48 states. Mountains soar above 12,000 feet in contrast to Hells Canyon, the deepest river gorge in North America. Thirteen national forests and extensive back country enhance fishing, hunting, hiking, backpacking and exploring.

For those who live in Idaho and are not outside visitors, the state’s diversified economy has been advantageous in securing a high standard of living. In addition to traditional industries such as agriculture, forestry and mining, growth sectors include high technology, manufacturing, retail trade, health care and information-oriented services.

On the basis of average housing costs, utilities, health care, transportation, groceries and other services, Idaho’s cost of living was the lowest of 11 western states in 2009. The combined total of state and local taxes on income, property, sales and vehicles in Boise was lower than the largest cities in 25 to 37 other states, depending on annual income ranges, in 2009.

“I feel we are really blessed to have so many lovely attributes available to us,” Ballard says.

Mark Mendiola is a Pocatello writer focusing on eastern Idaho issues.

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Idaho

The Puget Sound Business Journal lists in its new edition the largest employers in Washington state, and has put the top five on line. They’re worth a look.

The largest, at number one, is an employer which has tended to get more headlines in the last couple of decades for departures and scaledowns – Boeing. It may no longer be based at the Puget Sound, but it is much the largest employer in the state, employing about 82,000 people, more than twice as many as the next largest private employer, which is Microsoft.

The gap in next-largest businesses in the state after those two is, well, large.

Also worth noting: Three of the top five are not private organizations – businesses – at all. The second-largest is the Joint Base Lewis-McChord; third is the Navy Region Northwest (mainly in Kitsap County); and fifth is the University of Washington.

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The Seattle Times has a perspective piece on the Washington state drought of Republican governors, none elected since 1980 – the longest such unbroken stretch in the country. The longest stretch on that side of the fence, that, is; the longest run either party has had for the office in any state has been the string of Republican governors in South Dakota extending back to 1974.

“Fundamentally, the Republican problem has been that the electorate, particularly in Seattle and King County, has grown increasingly Democratic,” the piece said.

The hook, of course, is this year’s close governor’s race, in which Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna is trying to snap the string. It is a close race, and McKenna might do it; but then, there have been close races before, notably in 1992 and (famously) 2004.

The other point is that the Washington Democratic string is longer than the other Northwestern states – which also have extended runs of one-party win – but not by all that much. Oregon’s is only two years shorter, dating to the 1982 win by Republican Vic Atiyah. Idaho’s is actually shorter than those, going back just to 1990 with a win by Democrat Cecil Andrus, but none of the Republican wins in Idaho since then have been close.

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Idaho isn’t ground zero for congressional campaign money. Its media markets are relatively small – political advertisers get more for the dollar in the Gem State – and its races aren’t ordinarily high-spending. When they are, spending levels aren’t always indicative of much. In 2010, Democratic 1st District incumbent Walt Minnick outspent Republican challenger Raul Labrador by about three and a half to one, and lost by a large margin. Money isn’t all. Often, though, people place their bets on prospective winners.

This year’s two Idaho U.S. House races offer an occasionally surprising overview of the landscape.

The Federal Elections Commission has a much-improved web site (at fec.gov) listing campaign finance disclosures, but most of what follows comes from the Center for Responsive Politics, at www.opensecrets.org. It is clear and well-organized, and easy to follow.

In Idaho’s first district, Labrador still hasn’t raised as much as he did in his (in the context) modestly funded campaign two years ago; he has (as of June 30, the date reflected in all these amounts) raised $551,568, and spent about two-thirds of it. Democratic challenger Jim Farris has raised $37,388, and has spent about two-thirds of that.

In the second district, Republican incumbent Mike Simpson has raised $955,983 and spent the bulk of it. Democrat Nicole Lefavour has raised $156,016 and disbursed less than a quarter.

Where did the money come from? The pairs of candidates from party rather than from district look most alike. None of the Idaho candidates is “self-financing,” or running the campaign out of personal funds; both are raising what they spend. Close to half of Labrador’s money comes from political action committees – PACs. Nearly all the rest ($271,274), all but a sliver, comes from what OpenSecrets calls “large contributions.” Simpson’s picture is similar – nearly two-thirds ($593,352) coming from PACs, and the bulk of the remainder ($302,128) from “large contributions.” Less than a tenth of donations for either candidate come from “small contributions.”

But the big contributors are different. In Labrador’s case, four gave $10,000 each. One of those is nationally well-known Koch Industries – the well-known Koch brothers Charles and David. (They were not among the top contributors to Simpson, though.) The others were Auld Investments of Boise, the Every Republican is Crucial PAC and LCF Enterprises. Simpson’s $10K-and-up top contributors were different: The increasingly controversial Monsanto Company (his top contributor, at $13,750), the Associated General Contractors, California Dairies, Lockheed Martin, the Potlatch Corporation and – get a load of this – the National Education Association. An eclectic group.

And the Democrats? They’re more reliant on small contributors, but not entirely. Farris got about a fifth of his money from PACs (the International Association of Fire Fighters gave $3,000), and about half of his money overall from “large contributions” (the New England Patriots was among them); the rest were small. LeFavour actually got even less from PACs, only $2,900. Of her funds, 55% was from large contributions (Microsoft Corporate was the largest, at $5,000, and Wells Fargo second at $2,500), and nearly all the rest from small givers.

What does all this tell you? It should give you some insight about who’s friendly with, and has strong relations with, who. And that tells you something about what these people do, or would do, in office.

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At the Coordinated Care workshop in Portland/Randy Stapilus

 

The word that has been bandied around is “tranformation” – as in, transformation of Oregon’s health care system. And what the new coordinated care organizations (CCos) are trying to do is major, and – if they work more or less as planned – they could lead to a big shift in the way health care is delivered, and how much it costs. Less, hopefully.

What some of this translates to as a more practical matter came a little clearer at the August 8 CCO workshop in Portland, led by the FamilyCare Health Plans, a local nonprofit which in its self-descriptions says it is “dedicated to creating healthy individuals through innovative systems. We offer affordable, high quality, patient-centered health plans to Oregonians receiving benefits through Medicare or the Oregon Health Plan.”

That’s what’s involved at this stage: Not all Oregonians but rather those using Medicare and the Oregon Health Plan. But a lot of them will be getting their health services this way, an estimated 81% of Medicare patients by September 1. The idea is that, instead of each medical provider being paid for whatever goods or services they bill for, a large lump sum will be spent on the system, apportioned out, with the idea of using it efficiently to do whatever’s needed to keep people healthier and out of emergency rooms.

Speaker after speaker, including legislators, state officials and care organization leaders: “There will be no turning back.”

Speakers referred several times to the walls between various types of providers, different organizations and types of organizations, different medical specialties, physical and mental health, and more. The CCOs are intended to serve as a central communications hub, bringing together the various groups in work for specific patients.

It’s a concept easier to grasp through example than description. One example raised was of an eight-year-old boy who had asthma, who experienced attacks that every other week, for months, sent him to an emergency room. Finally, a team of physicians and other social and health workers got together and worked out a set of changes that allowed him to better manage his problem; he stayed out of emergency rooms thereafter. The estimate has been been that 20% or so of patients – like this boy – account for 80% of health care costs (and some guesstimate, informally, about a 5%/50% ratio); catching those chronic cases in the early stages is a big part of what the new CCOs are supposed to do.

How exactly that will happen still seems to be a matter under development. The developers, like Bruce Goldberg, the director of the Oregon Health Authority, seemed to acknowledge as much, but stressed that a lot of what’s hoped for is emphasis on health outcomes rather than on process.

Sitting around a lunch table (as opposed to the head table’s speakers) with some of the people working in provider offices – the technicians, nurses, billing managers who work in the guts of the system’s bureaucracy, you hear some skepticism. There’s already been heavy paperwork so far this year, they point out. (Everyone acknowledges a work crunch this year, since legislation creating the change was passed in February, and the first CCO’s, like FamilyCare’s, cranked up August 1.) The paperwork will rise, they suggested.

The speakers, though, like Goldberg and FamilyCare CEO Jeff Heatherington, said that if the new system works as intended, the amount of paperwork will go down, as will be number of rules and rulemaking, and even the detailed state oversight, which would focus more on outcomes (and tracking the money) than on following the process. Goldberg said that there’ll still be accountability, but said the new law has a key insight built in: You can fill out a form perfectly and still have a terrible patient outcome.

“There’s no roadmap,” he said.

A specific part of the plan – a requirement for getting the substantial federal money that’s now been promised for the next five years – is that while health outcomes improve, less money is spent, or at least, the growth of spending slows.

And on that front, there were some blunt words. Heatherington: “The truth of the matter is that some people are not going to make as much money as they did before. That’s the only way you bend the curve.” There are too many specialist and not enough primary care physicians, he said.

So it has worked, through the market system: For example, specialists make more money than primaries. But if a system is developed in which money is apportioned based on the specific needs of specific patients, that money might be apportioned in some very different ways.

There are organizations, FamilyCare for one, which for some time have been using approaches like this in health care. (Oregon isn’t developing this completely from scratch, though it may wind up a leader in health care for such a large and varied jurisdiction.) Several speakers, like Heatherington, said it is more evolution than revolution.

All the same, a year from now a large part of Oregon’s health system may be forcibly wrenching into some very new – maybe much more practical and less costly – patterns. And if that happens, the spread beyond may in fact be irreversible, because the benefits may be too hard to deny.

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

There they stand in a photo sent to the state media – Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter and members of The Idaho State Lottery Commission proudly holding a large mock check for $41.5 million made out to the state. Governor Otter is clearly pleased with the yield from a regressive tax policy that relies substantially on the hopes of participants to hit the big one.

It is, however, another iteration of a myth that Idaho Republicans are the anti-tax increase, fiscally responsible party. In reality, the Governor peddles a bill of goods that relies on shell games and fiscal chicanery. He is betting most voters most of the time won’t see through the gimmicks which underfund education and keep kicking the day of reckoning down the road. He is probably correct, unfortunately.

All these anti-tax Republicans, who have taken the Grover Norquist pledge, for some reason exempt gaming from their list of taxes because an individual willingly pays this “tax,” which happens also to be a “sin tax.”

Taxpayers though are supposed to be happy that $17 million of that $41 million take will go to support the constitutional mandate to fund properly public education as if that will offset years of overall reductions in state support for public and higher education. But that is an integral part of the myth-making and shell games the Governor plays.

One has to concede the fiscal chicanery Republicans perpetrate gets lost in a sea of smoke and mirrors because it is complex, denies easy categorization and allows the GOP to paint a heavily biased picture that most of the time is not clarified by diligent journalists save the unusually perspicacious Marty Trillhaase of the Lewiston Tribune.

Another part of the GOP “starve education” plan started with Governor Dirk Kempthorne, who, along with many Republicans (the prominent exception being former Governor Phil Batt) started advocating borrowing against anticipated federal grant money to fund highway and infrastructure improvements. Proceeds from bond sales based on this premise became known as “Garvee” funding.

Then Republicans hit on the scheme of borrowing against anticipated sales tax revenue. This became “Star” funding.

Next, don’t be surprised if some Republican legislator doesn’t endorse the idea of borrowing against anticipated lottery revenue. Then we’ll have “Larvee” funding (Lottery Anticipated Revenue) to join with “Garvee” funding and “Star” funding, all coming under Republican governors and Republican dominated legislatures and all ways of borrowing against future anticipated revenues or federal grants. All are gimmicks to get around Idaho’s constitutional mandate not only to fund education properly but to do it with an honest balanced budget and not go into debt which mortgages the future our children inherit.

Borrowing against anticipated lottery revenue, however, compounds the “let’s pay for government mandates as much as possible on the backs of the tax-paying poor and the strapped middle class” philosophy many Republicans embrace by their actions if not also by their rhetoric.

Idaho also has a long history of flirting with and from time to time embracing slot machines and other games (including horse racing and dog racing with attendant betting) and many Idahoans have bought into the phony argument that the lottery is a simpler way for the state to help meet its fundamental responsibility to adequately fund k-12 and college education.

Instead of stepping up to the responsibility to fund adequately public education and decently pay teachers by allocating more sales tax funds when necessary, Republicans have led the way in granting numerous exemptions from the sales tax which has of course necessitated the development of gimmicks like supplementing education through allocation of some of the lottery take.

The logical action of removing some of the gazillion exemptions granted over the years, however, is viewed as “increasing taxes” and with Idaho having a progressive income tax that means everyone would have to pay something and we can’t have that can we?

Or the logical action of expanding but still staying within sustained-yield the timber cut off of state lands. Proceeds from these sales go directly to the general fund to support public education. In Fiscal Year 2010 it generated $46 million for public schools and in FY 2011 it generated $53 million. Over the last 50 years it has generated over a billion dollars for public schools. Doesn’t that seem like a safer bet?

Bottom line is the lottery is not a painless gift to the people of Idaho. It is a false promise built on the misery of others and it is part of the myth-making Governor Otter and others make that they are prudent, anti-tax, budget balancing fiscally responsible folks. The facts say something very different as will history.

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Carlson Idaho

A short update is merited on the governor’s race, owing to some real change from the earliest posted numbers …

Democrat Jay Inslee has jumped to a substantial lead statewide over Republican Rob McKenna, and the real key here is King County.

McKenna has been an elected member of the King County council, and part of the rationale for his anticipated strength statewide has been a presumption that he would do much better in King than most Republicans.

Well, with 20% of the King vote in, Inslee is at 58.5%, and McKenna 35.4%. If those numbers roughly hold and each gains proportionately in the coming two-man race, McKenna will have a hard time racking up a large enough margin elsewhere to overcome King. So far the statewide patterns (Most of the Puget area including both Snohomish and Pierce going blue, nearly everything else red) show the two of them roughly matching what many Democratic statewide winners in recent years have done.

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So, in advance of viewing any news reports or spin (this is by way of the Secretary of State’s office rundown):

Not much by way of surprises. At this point. And they generally add up to more or less what people seem to be expecting for November.

In the U.S. Senate race, Democratic incumbent Maria Cantwell is at nearly twice the vote of Republican challenger Michael Baumgartner; she may not wind up in November with quite so large a lead, but it will be landslide, unless this early indicator is way off.

In District 1, which should be the hottest race in the state, John Koster, the sole Republican, is at about 47% of the total, which portends a general election running fairly close. Suzan DelBene, who has massively outspent everyone, seems to be shooting past what weeks ago looked like a lead for fellow Democrat Darcy Burner, and looks like she will be Koster’s sparring partner for the next three months. Again, no big surprise. (The same two are ahead for the one-month short-term election, so voters didn’t, evidently, decide to vary their selections much.)

Of some interest in the new district, District 10, based around the Olympia area: Democrat Denny Heck, who ran for the House two years ago and now seems ideally positioned for this new district, could have a closer run than had been expected. He’s ahead at this point, at 34% (second place apparently goes to Republican Dick Muri, at 29%), but if among the various candidates you add up all those on each side of the fence, you get an overall Democratic total of 51% Democratic and 46% Republican – suggesting that while Heck may enter the fall with an advantage, it will not be overwhelming.

And the big one, the hot governor’s race? Republican Rob McKenna (45.9%) and Democrat Jay Inslee (43.2%) are running close, and since Seattle is barely accounted for in these early returns, you can call this close. This has looked like a close, hot race for a long time now, and that still looks true.

At least for now. One thing clear about Washington voting in recent years is that unless a race is a runaway, be cautious writing anything office on election night.

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seagull
photo/Washington State Patrol

Okay, before we get into the Washington primary results tonight, consider this for just a moment from the Washington State Patrol …

Trooper Bart Maupin from District 7’s Bellingham Detachment responded to the report of a “Large Bird in the road” on Interstate 5 in the city of Blaine, a ¼ mile south of the Canadian Border on July 30th, 2012. Normally when troopers get dispatched for a live animal call, the “Animal” is often times gone or is moving under its own power away from traffic. This time, the bird needed our help getting off the roadway. It seems he was disabled with a broken wing and was sitting on the centerline waiting for help to arrive.

Trooper Maupin gave assistance to the seagull, removing he or she from the road and placing it in the rear of his patrol car where he transported it to the Northwest Wildlife rehabilitation center in Deming WA. While on the way to “get fixed” trooper Maupin warned the seagull to move to the shoulder or nearest branch next time to eliminate the chances for getting hit J. It’s not known how long the wing will take to mend.

A funny side note is while trooper Maupin was en route to the Wildlife rehab place, another trooper had a driver run from him. The seagull went for a ride along while trooper Maupin responded to and helped out with containment until the guy (Suspect) was caught.

It is not known if the seagull is a Canadian or American citizen. It refused to give information.

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idahocolumnn

In remote mountains at about 7,000 feet, above the small Idaho farm town Grace – there must have been some crooked smiles among purveyors of the illicit as they passed through – developed one of the largest and more sophisticated criminal enterprises Idaho has recently seen.

A mass coalition of law enforcement agencies, even including the state national guard, last week swept into the Carbou County backcountry and found an estimated 40,000 marijuana plants. Street value estimates in such cases often are inflated, but it had to have been large. There was law enforcement talk of possible connections to a Mexican cartel; the size of the operation would argue in favor of that theory.

That was not the only big pot bust recently. Southwest of Jerome, 1,100 marijuana plants were found (in an aerial recon), also last week. The week before, they found another 6,500 plants in a Gooding County field.

The fact of these big recent grow finds isn’t proof of major recent growth of an Idaho marijuana industry. But it feels like evidence.

Could even be some cause and effect. Barring coincidence, if large organizations really are behind these big grow operations, what’s happening in neighboring states may have something to do with it.

Eight states may have marijuana-related measures, all aimed at liberalizing pot law, on their ballots this fall. In Oregon and Washington measures to legalize, tax and regulate have hit the ballot, and have a fair chance of passing. Colorado voters will consider a similar option. In these states, if the measures pass, there’ll be a big tussle with the federal government, whose anti-pot laws will not have changed at all. But there’ll also be further growth, probably a balloon, in above-the-table grow operations. In Oregon, there already are a number of large farming businesses openly growing marijuana, under the state’s medical marijuana law. Their formal status is pretty gray-area, even apart from the federal law, but passage of the state ballot issue almost certainly would mean an expansion.

Is it coincidence that more hidden grow operations are turning up in Idaho? Nationally, the Drug Enforcement Agency reports seizures overall fell 35 percent from 2010 to 2011. It may be that more of the pot traffic in Oregon and Washington, and some other states, is becoming internalized as it becomes available through near-conventional means. In Idaho, where even a modest proposal to legalize hemp (which has no psychotropic effect but does have many other marketable uses) has gone nowhere, the underground is, well, deeper underground. There may be less Oregon marketplace for traditional criminal lines of traffic, but these connections are relatively unchanged in Idaho.

State laws matter. When Washington liquor sales moved, some weeks ago, from state stores to private retail sales, prices bounced up. That’s probably a short-term phenomenon, but for the moment at least it has led to heavy traffic in lower-priced Idaho state liquor stores, presumably from Washington residents. (The same thing has happened on the Washington-Oregon border.)

What sort of ongoing effects might Idaho seat if there’s a sorta-kinda pot legalization, and marketplace, west of the Idaho line, and none to the east?

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Idaho Idaho column

As the only major-office Republican in Oregon for, well, quite a few years now, Representative Greg Walden has for some time been an obvious checkpoint for his party’s nomination for a higher in-state office, say governor or senator.

There’s been some expression of interest in his part in the past, but not for quite a while now. And maybe less in the next few years.

Here’s an item from today’s Daily Kos political roundup:

GOP Rep. Greg Walden has long been viewed as interested in moving up the House leadership ranks, so any chance that he might run for governor or senator in 2014 always seemed slim. Now, that looks even less likely, since he’s prepping a bid to become chair of the NRCC next cycle. The job is currently held by Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, who had some positive things to say about Walden, and no one else really seems to be in the mix, so I’d guess Walden is quite likely to wind up with the gig.

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Mark Mendiola
Eastern Idaho

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.

 

DGynii Gilliam
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.

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