Bank of Idaho President and CEO Park Price strongly encourages eastern Idaho’s three economic development organizations – Bannock Development Corp., Bingham Economic Development Corp. and Grow Idaho Falls Inc. – to effectively flex their collective clout by merging into a single regional force.
Speaking at a recent Rotary Club of Pocatello luncheon, Price noted the three organizations have been discussing the possibility of consolidating into a single entity, which he said would pay dividends for years to come throughout the region.
The Idaho Falls bank executive – who holds an economics degree from Dartmouth, ran a successful Pocatello car dealership for many years and has been engaged in economic development for more than 30 years – noted the Pocatello/Idaho Falls region boasts a population of 250,000 and a work force of nearly 130,000, the second largest in Idaho behind Boise.
Price praised successful economic development efforts in the Magic Valley where communities and counties in the Twin Falls area cooperate as a cohesive unit. The Southern Idaho Economic Development Organization (SIEDO) has wracked up several impressive achievements, including $800 million in industrial projects built or announced since November 2012, creating more than 1,200 jobs.
Those projects include Chobani’s massive $100 million yogurt plant near Twin Falls, Glanbia’s $15 million cheese innovation center, Frulact Group’s $40 million fruit processing plant in Rupert adding 100 jobs, a new $160 million Clif Bar plant employing 250, McCain Foods’ expansion adding 150 jobs in Burley, Monsanto’s Wheat Technology Innovation Center in Filer with 30 jobs, Gossner Cheese’s $20 million investment in a Mini-Cassia plant, etc., etc.
“Major private investors in Bannock Development and Grow Idaho Falls with whom I’ve spoken are in favor of a regional approach,” Price said, noting the Salt Lake Valley and areas around Bozeman, Billings and Missoula, Mont., pose the greatest competition to eastern Idaho for jobs that pay living wages. “The competition is no longer other communities in Idaho.”
Price warned the trend of companies incorporating technology in all their processes and emphasizing automation to remain competitive does not bode well for low- or semi-skilled workers, whom he said are part of the long term unemployed.
He mentioned that in September he toured the J.R. Simplot Co.’s new 380,000 square foot plant in Caldwell, which has brought about the closure of Simplot plants in Aberdeen, Caldwell and Nampa.
“The three older plants employed about 1200. The new plant will employ just 265. The plant is a fine example of technological efficiency,” Price said, adding there are not fork lift operators, sorters or other laborers employed there, only employees who operate computers or maintain equipment.
Bank of Idaho President and CEO Park Price gestures as he makes a point with Pocatello Rotarians Dick Sagness and Bill Stratton. (photo/Mark Mendiola)
“The downside to all this automation … is that robots and computers don’t buy anything. When 70 percent of our GDP is driven by the consumer, if we continue on this road too long, our economy will not be able to grow much beyond population growth, which is running between 1 percent and 2 percent.”
Since the depths of the recession in 2008, 97 percent of the jobs lost in Idaho and Idaho Falls have been recovered; 91 percent in Pocatello. U.S. unemployment stands at 7.3 percent, but Idaho’s rate is 6.1 percent and Pocatello’s rate is 5.6 percent, Price said, defining the unemployment problem as more structural than cyclical, which he blamed on declining skills of the American work force.
“The baby boomers are starting to retire in greater numbers. They take with them years of experience and skills that are difficult to replace,” he said.
While the Gen X and Millennial generations have many talented, productive workers, they generally don’t have the educational attainment that their counterparts in other countries have, especially those in Asia, said Price, who sits on the Idaho Business for Education’s board of directors.
The IBE and leaders of all post secondary educational institutions in the state support the Idaho State Board of Education’s goal for 60 percent of all of the state’s young people between 24 and 34 to have some level of post-secondary education by 2020. Now, only 30 percent in that age bracket do.
“It will be very hard to get a job without at least a technical or professional certification or an associate’s degree,” Price said, noting the top three job sectors in Idaho and Pocatello are government, health care and retail trade.
“Retail is the only sector where you can get a job without some sort of post-secondary education. Unfortunately that sector pays the least. In Bannock County the average earnings per job is $41,518. For retail, the average job pays
$27,254,” he said.
The combined labor force in Bannock, Bingham and Bonneville counties is down about 600 workers to 129,891, underscoring the need for a regional economic development effort, he said, praising the technical training at Idaho State University and the Eastern Idaho Technical College.
“I believe Idaho’s workers are willing to enroll in programs that will provide them with the skills if we can attract the employers,” Price said.Share on Facebook