As keynote speaker, Dana Kirkham – chief executive officer of the Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho (REDI) – launched the April 24 Eastern Idaho Outlook conference by firing off an impressive list of the region's accomplishments, attributes and amenities that have it poised for explosive growth.
REDI partnered with Colliers International and sponsors Idaho Central Credit Union (ICCU), Hirning Buick/GMC and Portneuf Health Partners to host what they hope will be an annual conference at the newly renovated Shoshone-Bannock Casino Hotel.
Kirkham told more than 200 area business and government leaders that Eastern Idaho played a key role in the fact that Idaho was the nation's fastest growing state in 2018, expanding by 2.2 percent or 37,000 new residents. Last year, the Gem State was ranked first for wage growth, plus eighth happiest and healthiest state.
From 2016 to 2019, Eastern Idaho's gross domestic product totaled $13 billion compared to the state's total GDP of $70 billion, Kirkham pointed out, adding all of the 86 health care facilities totaling 6,000 employees and 2,400 physicians between Rexburg and Pocatello expanded the past two years.
Idaho Falls ranked in the top 10 for cheapest places to live in Idaho, top 25 for safest cities for families in the United States and top 50 for best places to live in the U.S. Pocatello ranked second for best economic potential, third for high tech manufacturing growth, fifth for micro city of the future for affordability and in the Forbes top 20 for best small places for business and careers.
Eastern Idaho's unemployment rates also have been hovering at historic lows. Out of 395 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) nationwide, Idaho Falls ranked eighth with a 2.4 percent rate and Pocatello 27th with a 2.7 percent rate. Out of 3,219 counties nationwide, Madison County ranked sixth with a 1.7 percent rate; Bonneville County, 147th and Bannock County, 352nd.
Kirkham noted that Eastern Idaho has the second largest labor force in Idaho with 191,350 workers, and 50,000 students are registered at the region's universities. BYU-Idaho reported that about 30 percent of its graduates in Rexburg have decided to stay, live and work in the state. CNBC ranked Idaho as the fifth strongest economy in the nation, third for business friendliness and fourth for cost of doing business.
Major new multi-million-dollar construction projects under way in Eastern Idaho include the Northgate housing/commercial development and interstate exchange, and new LDS temple in Pocatello; Jackson Hole Junction and Snake River Landing in Idaho Falls; Rexburg multiple student housing; a new Madison high school; the Blackfoot Rose interchange exit and a new Chubbuck city hall.
Idaho is ranked fifth overall in the nation for lowest tax rates when property, sales, individual income and corporate taxes are gauged. Companies based in Eastern Idaho include Melaleuca, Premier Technology, BioLogiQ, Idahoan Foods, Klim and Amet. Its major sectors include health care, agriculture, advanced manufacturing, technology and energy.
“We cannot ignore agriculture,” Kirkham said, noting that sector employs thousands of workers. “Forty-four percent of all food processed in Idaho is done here.”
She noted potatoes are the nation's top produced crop – with most grown and processed in Idaho. Wheat comes in second as Idaho's second highest yield crop. Clark Seed of Idaho Falls is North America's largest producer of quinoa. Idaho also is the nation's largest barley producer with Eastern Idaho boasting three large malting plants, including Great Western Malting which recently doubled its capacity in Pocatello with a $100 million expansion.
Six percent of all Eastern Idaho jobs are related to advanced manufacturing, which pertains to the rapid transfer of science and technology to private food processing, energy and technology sectors.
ON Semiconductor has committed to investing $76 million into its Pocatello plant by 2021, Kirkham said. Premier Technology, which employs 300 at its Blackfoot plant, plans to add 100 more when its $15 million expansion is completed. ICCU and Melaleuca also are developing new major data centers in Chubbuck and Idaho Falls, respectively.
The FBI plans to hire at least 350 new employees at its new $100 million Pocatello data center and annually invest $65 million in Eastern Idaho. The Idaho National Laboratory, which employs 4,000, also is developing what promises to be one of the most powerful super computing systems in the world, Kirkham said.
Very few states can claim access to nuclear, hydro, geothermal, biomass, wind and solar energy sources like Idaho, Kirkham said. The INL is positioned in the forefront of developing revolutionary small modular reactor technology that will generate 3,500 construction jobs for four years and more than 300 permanent jobs over 40 years at the site. The Naval Reactor Facility on the Arco Desert also is undertaking a $1.65 billion expansion.
“There's a lot going on in Eastern Idaho,” Kirkham concluded – in what may have been the ultimate inadvertent understatement.
(picture: REDI Chief Executive Officer Dana Kirkham addresses the first Eastern Idaho Outlook conference at the Shoshone-Bannock Casino Hotel/by Mark Mendiola)