Facing a May 20 Republican primary election challenge from Idaho Sen. Russ Fulcher of Meridian, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter touted the state’s economic advancements under his leadership when he spoke at an April 29 Greater Pocatello Chamber of Commerce breakfast.
Fulcher, Senate majority caucus chairman, hopes to derail Otter’s drive to secure a third term as the Gem State’s chief executive. During his morning speech to a crowd of about 400 at the Red Lion, Otter said after his 99-year-old mother urged him to run for re-election, he helped her fill out her absentee ballot.
Otter paraphrased Anglo-Irish statesman Edmund Burke who said all that needs to happen for a good organization to go bad is for good people to do nothing. “Idaho is in pretty good shape,” he said. “The economy in the state continues to grow.”
Publications such as the Wall Street Journal and Forbes have ranked Idaho as the fifth best state in which to do business. The top five states are all governed by Republicans in the West, with Utah topping the list, Otter said.
While much has been said of North Dakota’s oil and natural gas boom, it is not well known that Idaho is now a natural gas producing state with 4.2 million cubic feet a day of “sweet gas” pumped in southwestern Idaho’s Payette County, where Idaho Power runs the Langley Gulch Power Plant capable of generating 300 megawatts of power, the governor said.
In 2008, Otter launched “Project 60” to boost Idaho’s Gross Domestic Product from $51.5 billion in 2007 when he took office to $60 billion last year. The state’s GDP is projected to hit $62.4 billion this year, creating jobs and broadening the tax base, he said. “We’re running ahead of economic projections a little bit.”
Idaho’s unemployment rate went from 2.7 percent about seven years ago to a peak of nearly 9 percent about four years ago before declining to its existing rate of 5.2 percent, which is 1.5 percent better than the nation’s jobless rate, Otter noted.
Governor Butch Otter converses with Heidi Clark, a Bank of Commerce assistant vice president, following his breakfast address in Pocatello. (photo/Mark Mendiola)
He pointed out about $300 million in taxes have been cut during his term as governor, including personal property, corporate and individual taxes. The Legislature this year appropriated $83.5 million in new education funding, which he conceded partially was “backfill” for sharp cuts in state spending for schools, colleges and universities over recent years.
When he first took office as governor, business leaders told Otter that they could not hire Idaho high school graduates because of their poor remedial skills. “We were not getting the best bounce for the buck,” he said, later commenting that a well-educated citizenry is the best line of defense against any form of tyranny.
Otter said that when he was lieutenant governor, Gov. Cecil Andrus charged him with boosting Idaho’s international trade because of Otter’s extensive global travels as an executive for the J.R. Simplot Co., which provided french fries for McDonald’s fast food outlets in 82 countries. Idaho’s exports have burgeoned from $700 million to $6.5 billion a year, he said, estimating he has been on 18 or 19 trade missions.
Otter said there are more realistic opportunities in the business pipeline than ever for Idaho with companies now deciding on locations before they officially announce. In the last 14 months, the Magic Valley has enjoyed $800 million in new capitalization.
Chobani boosted its original plan to invest $225 million in the world’s largest yogurt plant near Twin Falls to $428 million, Otter said. Clif Bar & Co. decided to build its first ever plant at Twin Falls at a cost of $160 million. Together, both companies will employ more than 1,000.
Glanbia Foods is opening a $15 million new cheese innovation center and corporate office in Twin Falls. Frulact Group of Portugal is expected to start constructing in May its first U.S. fruit processing plant at Rupert, investing $40 million.
“We need to grow around a well-educated and motivated work force,” Otter said.Share on Facebook