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Crapo at Idaho Falls


Mike Crapo – Idaho's senior U.S. senator who chairs the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee and is second ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee – recently appeared before the City Club of Idaho Falls against the backdrop of a trade war worsening between the United States and China, global stock markets plunging and the annual U.S. federal budget deficit burgeoning beyond $1 trillion.

Crapo's City Club appearance coincided with a frenetic series of town hall meetings he conducted throughout Idaho during the August congressional recess in addition to other events, including a meeting in Boise with U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson.

Crapo told Idaho Falls City Club members at a well-attended luncheon that despite spirited debates and political battles under way in Washington, there have been bipartisan achievements and successes in Congress that have not been well-publicized.

Asked about his assessment of Donald Trump, whom he called “interesting,” Crapo said he agrees on concerns about Trump's frequent tweets, but he said he has enjoyed working with Trump at the policy level and called him one of the most open presidents with whom he has worked during his nearly 30 years in Congress. Crapo ranks 15th in overall Senate seniority in the 116th Congress.

Crapo recently split with Jim Risch, Idaho's junior U.S. senator running for re-election, by voting for a two-year federal budget deal endorsed by Trump and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that raises the national debt limit, removes automatic budget cuts, adds $320 billion in federal spending, allows a 4 percent increase in discretionary spending and prevents a government shutdown. The U.S. Senate voted 67-28 to enact the legislation pending Trump's signature.

Crapo said Trump returns calls and even answers the phone when the White House is contacted. The Trump administration has been very good for the U.S. West in terms of agenda and a willingness to work on issues, he said, mentioning the Senate is in the “personnel business” and must confirm an administration's 1,200 nominations.

Crapo criticized Democratic delays and blocking Trump administration nominations. While most nominations in the past have averaged taking only 2½ weeks to confirm, some of Trump's nominees have taken 2½ years, which he said is “a huge concern.” He added: “I don't think the president is trying to bypass Congress.”

Crapo, who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, praised Trump's confirmed U.S. Supreme Court nominees Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh whom he called outstanding justices and supporters of constitutional rule of law. He said he supports splitting the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and adding a third federal district judgeship in Idaho.

He called regulatory reform “a huge success” and noted 99,000 pages of regulations have been reduced to 66,000 pages, which enhances economic growth. Crapo also praised increased national defense spending, which he said was badly allowed to degenerate, encouraged increased aggression by other countries and caused major consequences with NATO allies, whom he said need to boost their defense spending.

Tax reform has triggered intense political battles, but has achieved a significant fixing of the federal tax code, Crapo said. While it has been attacked as a tax cut for the wealthy and causing an income deficit, he said it actually has reduced taxes across the spectrum and boosted revenues.

While growth in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) only averaged 1.9 percent the previous 10 years and 2 percent was considered “the new norm,” tax reform has enabled GDP growth to surge to 3.1 percent, Crapo said, adding that every tenth of a percent growth in GDP adds hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue, creating more jobs and capital.

“The tax cut has more than paid for itself,” he said.

The national debt will go up under any president, Crapo said. “The deficit is skyrocketing out of control. It is screaming toward pushing the U.S. into insolvency.” He noted entitlements are approaching 70 percent of all spending.

Crapo also cited bipartisan legislative successes in Congress, which he said have included compensation for 911 first responders, natural resource management, IRS and banking reforms, opioid legislation, energy policy and sex trafficking crackdown. Idaho will benefit from increased funding for nuclear research and development, including advancements in reactor technology, he said.

“More sanctions have been imposed on Russia than ever before,” Crapo said, noting the U.S. Senate banking committee has thrown its support behind them. Crypto currencies, personal data collection abuse and artificial intelligence also are huge issues confronted by the committee, he said, adding he firmly believes China has been engaged in currency manipulating.

Crapo said Russia has tried to interfere with U.S. elections by trying to infiltrate ballot boxes and change votes, but failed, but it is not the only nation to attempt it. Russia and other countries have been successful in influencing social media messages, he said. “It's harder to secure the First Amendment.”

Asked about his A+ rating by the National Rifle Association in light of the recent mass killings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, Crapo said he has been a longtime supporter of the Second Amendment and the individual right to keep and bear arms, but he is open to looking at all proposals. Legislation and restrictions on gun ownership are now in place, he said, adding he supports hardening schools against violence and strengthening instant background checks.

Crapo said he does not support restricting family members from transfering guns between themselves or creating a national gun ownership data base that would infringe on Second Amendment rights.

“If government can create a list, it's one more step to confiscate. I see a problem with government identifying guns,” he said. It must be ensured that a person's constitutional rights are not taken away by bypassing the judiciary and giving that oversight to administrators.

“Character assassination should not be the political weapon of the day,” Crapo said, addressing the nation's sharp divisions and illegal immigration crisis. He said he does not not believe anyone entering the United States illegally should be given advantages over American citizens.

(photo: Crapo shares a City Club of Idaho Falls lunch with Mayor Rebecca Casper and Mark S. Young/Mark Mendiola)

Britain’s ugly Brexit explained


Sir Xavier Rolet's explanation to the City Club of Idaho Falls about the significance of the controversial British exit (“Brexit”) from the European Union (EU) could not have come at a more momentous time. The former London Stock Exchange Group CEO addressed the club on Thursday, May 23.

The very next day after he spoke, a tearful British Prime Minister Theresa May announced at No. 10 Downing Street in London that she would resign on June 7 after three years leading the United Kingdom – primarily due to her failure to finalize Britain's divorce from the EU.

Rolet's talk also coincided with the start of European Parliament elections that weekend which saw far right political parties surge in popularity and gain a sharp increase in delegates, causing a seismic shift among the 751 members representing more than 512 million people from 28 European member states.

“A new Europe is born!” Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, the leader of the Lega Nord (League), declared after his far right political party won the majority of votes in Italy's shocking election. “I am proud that the League is participating in this new European renaissance.”

The Daily Mail of London reported: “The surprising result comes on a night of high drama. In France, Marine Le Pen’s right-wing group National Rally secured victory against Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche. Germany also saw leader Angela Merkle lose six seats, but continue to claim a majority. And in the U.K., the Brexit Party completed a historic win as the region’s split over leaving the EU deepened.”

(picture: Sir Xavier Rolet, right, discusses Britain's exit from the European Union with veteran Idaho Falls banker Park Price/Mark Mendiola)

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage tweeted following his victory: “Never before in British politics has a party just six weeks old won a national election. If Britain does not leave the EU on October 31st, these results will be repeated at a general election. History has been made. This is just the beginning.”

A French businessman, Rolet has been chief executive of CQS Management Ltd., a global investment company, since January. He was CEO of the London Stock Exchange Group from May 2009 to December 2017. As of April 2018, the London Stock Exchange's market capitalization stood at $4.59 trillion.

Rolet was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2015 and named as one of the best 100 CEOs in the world in the 2017 Harvard Business Review. His great grandfather was a founder of the French Foreign Legion.

Rolet owns property in southwestern Montana's Centennial Valley, which is part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, a 385,000 acre wildlife corridor that links the Yellowstone and Salmon-Selway Wilderness habitats.

Through the Centennial Valley Association, Rolet became acquainted with Jerry and Carrie Scheid, Idaho Falls residents who also own neighboring property in Montana. As a result, the Scheids – City Club of Idaho Falls members – invited him to address their organization.

Rolet told the club that if nothing of sustenance happens between now and October 31, the United Kingdom will be bound by law to leave the European Union on that date in what he called “a cold turkey separation,” deeply impacting Britain's position in relationship with the rest of the world.

In a June 2016 national referendum, the British voted by 52 percent for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. Rolet described the past three years as a time of “amazing contradictions,” calling May “a Remainer prime minister leading a deeply Brexiter party.” He commented that opposites often attract.

The British people generally believe political representatives made a mess of negotiating the Brexit process and have been disappointed in the political class, Rolet said. “The public in general is fed up that everything has been put on hold.”

The European Union, he noted, arose from the ashes of World Wars I and II. It was designed to prevent future wars in Europe by binding Germany and France initially in a steel and coal community, but expanding to establish economic and political unity on the continent.

In 1963 and 1967, Britain applied to join the Common Market, but it was rejected both years by France. In 1973, Britain entered the European Economic Community. Two years later, British people voted 67 percent in a referendum for the United Kingdom to remain in the EEC – the EU's predecessor. In 2002 when 12 EU countries introduced the euro as legal tender, Britain opted out, keeping the pound sterling as its currency.

For more than 40 years, Britain has been deeply integrated with the European Union, Rolet stressed. It at one time was one of the top economies of the Group of 8 industrialized nations, “but today it is the bottom of the pile.”

During the 2016 Brexit referendum, London was a “gleaming metropolis” bustling with business, the arts and other activities, but the rest of Britain's economy was hurting. Most of London's residents voted in favor of remaining in the EU, but following the financial crisis of 2008, “the United Kingdom was particularly left behind.”

He said the way for the EU to survive is to prosper, but some 22 million people are unemployed there. The majority of British voters who favored leaving the EU “were given the opportunity, pardon my French, to 'stick it to the establishment',” Rolet remarked, noting “even in the best of times, 'blue chips' do not create jobs.”

The economic consequences of Britain exiting the European Union remain to be seen, but some have feared they could be severe, he said. Belonging to the EU has hedged Britain's interest rate and foreign exchange exposures, Rolet added, emphasizing that extricating itself from the EU will be extremely difficult and “really, really complex” for Britain.

It will be left to the market to sort out hundreds of trillions of invested euro-denominated securities and 150 trade agreements signed by the EU that cover the United Kingdom, Relot said.

In history, nationalism always has arisen as a sign of decadence, he said. By 2022, it has been estimated that the United States and China will account for 52 percent of the world's gross domestic product and will own 75 percent of global financial assets.

The U.S. is by far the world's mightiest military power while Europe has virtually no military capability left, Rolet said, adding neither Britain nor France could put 50,000 combatants on the ground.

Rolet accurately predicted that Theresa May would probably be replaced by early June as Britain's prime minister because of her failure to finalize Brexit. The status of 1.9 million British citizens in the European Union, meanwhile, remains unsettled.

“There will be many, many more years, possibly a decade, for these issues to be resolved,” Rolet said, predicting the United States, China and Russia will be the dominant economic and military powers in the near future as the world moves from its post World War II binary status between the U.S. and USSR to a multi-faceted outlook.

“Don't be surprised if there is a peace treaty between Russia and the United States in the Middle East,” Rolet said, adding that reforms in Saudi Arabia also could lead to peace between the Saudis and Israelis. He also predicted the U.S. and China ultimately will sign a trade agreement, ending the increasingly hostile trade war between the two super powers.

Abounding with growth


As president and chief executive officer of Idaho Central Credit Union (ICCU), Kent Oram oversees operations of the 50th largest credit union in the nation and one of the country's fastest growing for five consecutive years. Its net income last year totaled $18 million, and its assets amount to $4.2 billion. Its 36 branches serve more than 353,500 members, making it Idaho's largest credit union.

During an informal presentation Wednesday night, May 22, Oram told a small group gathered at the Portneuf Brewing Co. for a Think B.I.G. (Bannock Innovation Group) fireside chat in Pocatello that ICCU officially opened on May 1 its new multi-million-dollar data processing center adjacent to its Idaho headquarters in Chubbuck, where more than 700 employees work.

The data center is replete with all-new infrastructure and hardware to manage more than 1,000 ICCU servers and countless electronic functions. “The complexity of all that is nuts,” Oram remarked, noting when he started as ICCU's data processing manager in 1985 “the world wasn't connected to anything. Our computer was connected to a wall.”

One of the largest employers in the Pocatello/Chubbuck region, ICCU has been rapidly opening branches throughout Idaho, most recently in the state's Panhandle, bringing its total work force to about 1,150 – a far cry from the few dozen on the company's payroll some 35 years ago. When Oram was promoted ICCU's top executive 11 years ago, the company's total employment was in the 260 range.

(photo: Idaho Central Credit Union CEO/President Kent Oram converses with a couple at the Portneuf Brewing Co. in Pocatello/Mark Mendiola)

In 2000, ICCU's board decided against moving the company's headquarters to Ada County, instead keeping it in Bannock County, prompting a director to resign. Over 36 months, ICCU invested $65 million in construction projects in the Pocatello/Chubbuck area, Oram mentioned, praising Chubbuck for its planned construction of a new city hall.

From 1985 to 1995, Pocatello suffered a “sour attitude about itself,” he said, adding the Gate City now seems much more upbeat and optimistic. “We've had enough negativity already.”

Oram said he believes the Northgate Project under development as a master planned community will prove to be a success and a major new LDS temple there will be a boon to the local economy. ICCU has committed to constructing a new branch there eventually.

Lamenting the lack of affordable housing in the area, he cautioned: “The housing shortage is very dire and real,” noting less than 100 homes are for sale in the local market. “Trying to find the labor and builders is so tough.”

Idaho Central re-invests up to $750,000 each year in local communities, charities and economies, a large amount his financial industry counterparts find astounding, asking how ICCU can afford to do so, Oram said.

When an ICCU employee told him that she could not afford tickets and a hot dog at an event, he said he was determined to resolve that issue. At the company's annual strategic planning session, it was decided that up to $4.5 million would be allocated annually so salaries and wages of ICCU employees could be increased. Most of them have been educated at Idaho State University (ISU), he noted.

Oram pointed out that Bank of America announced Tuesday that it will raise the minimum wage for its employees to $20 an hour the next two years, which he called “a very expensive proposition.” The bank also said it would freeze health care cost increases for lower-paid employees.

Oram said he regrets not addressing a weakness in ICCU's internal culture with his boss 20 years ago or sooner than he did after assuming its helm 11 years ago. The company, however, has made a dramatic turnaround and was voted the best place to work in Idaho for five years straight. “We could have been double our size if we had confronted a cultural change,” he said.

Calling himself a voracious reader, Oram said he typically starts his day reading Twitter news feeds while riding an exercise bike. He then goes to work where “Handle Daily Logistics” or HDL (pronounced “huddle”) meetings are held each day at 8:30 a.m. He estimates he attends 80 percent of them. An ICCU innovation department was created 3½ years ago in which seven employees pore over data and suggestions.

Reared in Blackfoot, Oram said he “grew up on a car lot washing cars” at his father's vehicle dealership and moved irrigation sprinkler pipes, which he called a character builder. His mother was a school secretary. Both his parents achieved only eighth and ninth grade educations, but three of their five children earned college degrees.

Oram attended Ricks College – BYU-Idaho's predecessor – for 1½ years and then transferred to ISU's College of Business, where he earned a degree in information systems management. “I would do it again 100 times over,” he said. “College provides critical thinking.” He recommended that high school graduates major in technology, health sciences or a combination of both.

Asked about his greatest achievements, Oram praised his wife of nearly 40 years, his three daughters and 13 grandchildren. “They're always the number one source of my pride and joy,” he said.

Eastern Idaho’s economic challenges


Panelists representing the region's largest employers discussed their companies' greatest challenges, hopes and frustrations when they participated in a recent Eastern Idaho Outlook conference at the elegant Shoshone-Bannock Casino Hotel in Fort Hall.

Sponsored by the Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho (REDI), Colliers International, Idaho Central Credit Union (ICCU), Hirning Buick/GMC of Pocatello and Portneuf Health Partners, the April 24 conference drew more than 200 government and business leaders from throughout the area.

Moderated by Jim Shipman, Colliers International's Idaho managing partner, the panel discussion featured:
Brian Berrett, ICCU chief financial officer.
Drew Facer, Idahoan Foods president and chief executive officer.
Amy Lientz, Idaho National Laboratory (INL) stakeholder and education partnerships director.
Dan Ordyna, Portneuf Health Partners chief executive officer.
Luke Stumme, U.S. government facilities chief.
Donald Zebe, Colliers International brokerage services vice president.
All of the panelists essentially agreed that Eastern Idaho is on the verge of explosive growth from Rexburg to Pocatello and discussed how that can be effectively managed and anticipated. In introductory remarks, Shipman noted that Idaho continues to boom as Californians and others keep migrating to the state. “It's on everybody's radar,” he said.

Stumme moved to Pocatello about nine months ago from Washington D.C., where he lived for seven years, calling it the best decision he has ever made. He is overseeing the FBI's $100 million expansion of its Pocatello data center. He said Pocatello reminds him of Boulder and Golden, Colorado. He earned a bachelor of science degree in engineering from the Colorado School of Mines.

The FBI plans to hire at least 300 new employees in Pocatello the next two years and annually invest $65 million in Eastern Idaho. Stumme predicted Pocatello will become “Headquarters West” for the FBI, which employs 10,000 people in Washington – where it is getting to be exorbitantly expensive and highly congestive to live. The FBI's training academy is situated on 547 acres at the immense Marine Corps base near Quantico, Virginia.

In February 2018, the FBI announced it would shift about 2,500 jobs across four states, including Idaho, from its Washington headquarters. The Pocatello FBI data center will be the most energy efficient data center in the Justice Department, Stumme said.

Last November, the FBI said it would move 1,350 personnel and contractors to Huntsville, Alabama, and eventually expand its site there by between 4,000 and 5,000 jobs. About 300 are employed there now. A $350 million support building is expected to be completed there by 2021.

The FBI has 39,000 employees worldwide and the highest retention rate of any federal department or agency, Stumme said. Many FBI employees are coming to Pocatello from Washington, but those hired externally must pass background clearances, which can be difficult, he pointed out.

“One of our biggest challenges is background screening where there is only a 30 percent pass rate,” Stumme said, which can be alleviated by hiring contractors who already have security clearances. There also are limits for staff funding, he said, mentioning the FBI is increasing the number of agents hired while support personnel numbers are decreasing.

Stumme praised the relatively close proximity of Idaho State University and BYU-Idaho in the region. “People from here want to stay here because of the whole area,” he said, adding those who move to Idaho can afford housing as opposed to heavily populated places where “you can sit in a car for 40 minutes to go eight miles.”

Ordyna said Portneuf's top priorities are recruiting and talent management. “Burnout” is the biggest concern in the health care industry as “Millennials” put greater emphasis on maintaining a work life balance rather than work 24/7 at a “365 days shop,” the medical center CEO said.

Portneuf's biggest impediment for retaining qualified personnel is when nurses graduate most of them must move and live outside Idaho because there are no jobs for their spouses and pay is greater in states like Utah, Ordyna said. “Nurses can get jobs wherever they go.”

He said without question the general sentiment seems to be: “Don't tell anybody about the secret gem of Idaho” because otherwise more people will move here, and it will become a California. He said Eastern Idaho must be smart about its growth because growth is still needed.

Ordyna said Portneuf and its board of directors are committed to making a significant investment in 20 acres of the Northgate Project under development as a master planned community that is designed for housing, a technology park and a shopping district. ICCU also has committed to constructing a new branch there.

“Eastern Idaho's going to blow up,” he remarked, noting housing costs are getting terribly expensive in Utah and people there will be looking for a cheaper living alternative. Conditions also are exceptional for attracting good companies, Ordyna added.

Colliers International's Zebe observed that construction of a major new LDS temple in the Northgate district also promises to propel economic growth. He noted that construction of such temples in Layton, Utah, Meridian, Twin Falls and St. Louis all attracted businesses like magnets.

Seventy-five homes in the upper $400,000 range under construction at Northgate have all sold, with 55 expected to be completed by the end of June, Zebe said. “There's a housing shortage in the whole region. We've got to address it.”

Berrett said ICCU's main objective is to sell itself as a company to potential out-of-state recruits who also consider an area's culture, outdoors, traffic and school systems. Low unemployment numbers make it more difficult for businesses to hire qualified prospects when those individuals get two or three job offers, he said.

“It's difficult to find good employees,” Berrett said, noting a company can offer generous salaries and benefits, but the area's housing shortage can prove to be a disincentive. “We've lost a few potential candidates.”

More tech jobs are required due to companies needing larger information technology departments, the ICCU CFO said, adding a company's “selling process” takes time. He discouraged the attitude of telling people to stay away from Idaho. “We have to be willing to grow. Otherwise, we are slowly deteriorating or dying.”

Lientz stressed it was her opinion that INL's energy and security priorities will spawn new companies in the region, especially as the Naval Reactors Facility's $1.6 billion expansion gets under way, and INL focuses on developing small modular reactors, micro reactor technology and the Versatile Test Reactor, which is critical for innovative nuclear fuels, materials, instrumentation and sensors.

INL is reaping benefits of partnering with area universities and community colleges, she said, mentioning it also is getting more involved in developing high performing computers. As its technology advancements are being watched on the world stage, INL must recruit top world scientists and engineers, making them feel welcome, she said, advocating nature conservancy and land trusts as a means of attracting qualifying personnel to the region.

Facer said productivity is key to Idahoan Foods' success. Based in Idaho Falls, it specializes in the production of dehydrated potato products and employs more than 500 people at the height of its production cycle.

Many new employees are hired from publicly traded companies and want to make a difference in the world, he noted. His company requires every imaginable business discipline and must develop its own labor pool. Idahoan Foods is recognized as a top growth leader in consumer packaged goods (CPG), Facer said.

“It comes down to culture and company packages and opportunities,” he said, emphasizing that CEOs must be their companies' chief recruiting officers. Geography is not necessarily the main reason new employees commit to a company, he said.

The eastern Idaho economic boom


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)

On southern Idaho newspapering


During a week that saw major news outlets announce the layoffs of some 1,000 editors and reporters nationwide, including many veteran journalists, the president and publisher of Adams Publishing Group newspapers in eastern Idaho discussed the daunting challenges confronting his industry when he addressed a large crowd at a City Club of Idaho Falls luncheon on Thursday, Jan. 24.

The Florida-based Poynter Institute, arguably the world's most influential school for journalists, called Wednesday, Jan. 23, “another brutal day for journalism” after Gannett, which owns USA Today and 109 other local media companies, began slashing jobs throughout the country. “The cuts were not minor.”

Gannett's massive cost-cutting move impacted the Arizona Republic, including Pulitzer winning cartoonist Steve Benson; the Indianapolis Star, the Knoxville News Sentinel, the Tennessean, the Record in North Jersey, the Westchester Journal News, the Ventura County Star, the Citizen Times, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, S.D., the Fort Myers News-Press, the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, N.Y. and USA Today’s travel section.

(Adams Publishing Group Regional President and Publisher Travis Quast, right, converses with longtime businessman Park Price at recent City Club of Idaho Falls luncheon. photo/Mark Mendiola)

CNN reported: “This week reaffirmed just how dire things have gotten within the industry, with about 1,000 jobs in media lost as the result of layoffs announced at BuzzFeed, HuffPost and Gannett -- the nation's largest newspaper chain. BuzzFeed announced Wednesday that it would lay off 15 percent of its work force, or about 220 employees; Verizon announced it would cut 7 percent or approximately 800 jobs from its media division, which includes brands like HuffPost, AOL and Yahoo News; and Gannett slashed dozens of jobs at newspapers across the country.”

It was noted at the City Club of Idaho Falls function that the newspaper industry's annual advertising revenue has plunged from $60 billion to $20 billion since 2000.

Travis Quast was appointed the Adams Publishing Group's regional president and publisher of its East Idaho Group last April, overseeing 10 newspapers, including the Post Register in Idaho Falls, the Idaho State Journal in Pocatello, the Standard Journal in Rexburg, the Teton Valley News in Driggs, the Preston Citizen, the Montpelier News-Examiner and the Herald Journal in Logan, Utah.

Prior to joining Adams, Quast served as publisher for five years at the Times-News in Twin Falls, a Lee Enterprises newspaper.

In October 2017, it was announced that the Seattle-based Pioneer News Group was selling its media division assets to the family-owned Adams Publishing Group, including 22 daily and weekly newspapers in Idaho, Montana, Washington, Oregon and Utah. The transaction was finalized the following Nov. 1, making Adams Publishing a dominant media voice in eastern Idaho and elsewhere.

Based at Minneapolis, Minn., Adams Publishing at the time owned and operated 100 community newspapers in 11 states, including the acquisition of five newspaper publishing companies in 2016. It also owned radio stations, outdoor advertising companies, a wine distribution business, label printing companies and a large interest in Camping World Holdings.

Its acquisition of the Idaho Press, formerly the Idaho Press-Tribune in Nampa, and hiring strategic seasoned journalists there is even giving the Idaho Statesman in Boise a run for its money in the Treasure Valley. The Statesman, a McClatchy newspaper, has been undergoing its own shakeup with the loss of two managing editors in recent months.

Quast told those attending the City Club of Idaho Falls meeting that media companies, including local newspapers, are for-profit businesses and require revenue to survive. Twenty percent of the Post Register's revenue comes from subscriptions and 80 percent from advertising, he said, pointing out that Adams Publishing did not exist six years ago.

Quast noted there were 20 newspaper printing presses operating between Idaho Falls and Boise 15 years ago, but now there are only four – and Adams Publishing owns three of them in Idaho Falls, Preston and Nampa. The other one is in Twin Falls.

Quast remarked that what was considered “fake news” five years ago has morphed into a label for anything with which someone disagrees. Cable news networks and social media the past 20 years have concentrated more on commentary than actual news as the nation has become more polarized, blurring the lines, he said, adding there's a danger that approach can filter into local communities.

“If I lose your trust, I lose you,” he said. “If we are not fair, we will not survive or exist.”

Hundreds of thousands of people regularly access one web site that blatantly admits its news items are totally fabricated and yet they view it religiously on a daily basis, Quast mentioned, lamenting that the more outrageous the news, the more some blogs and web sites make money.

Although the Post Register no longer prints a Monday edition, it still posts breaking news on its web site 24/7, he said, noting the Post Register no longer requires payments to view its content online. “The Internet is actually helping us to grow.” Marketing data can be accessed almost instantaneously. “It's scary what the Worldwide Web knows about you,” he remarked.

There must be a balance between competing with electronic news media and maintaining fairness and accuracy, he stressed. “We're not telling people what to think, but to think,” Quast said. “Democracy is at risk when people become complacent. Local journalism makes a difference.”

Adams Publishing's acquisition of groups of newspapers in Idaho and elsewhere allows it to consolidate operations and run more efficiently, reducing costs, Quast said, defending the use of an automated central call center. “We're trying to be all things to all people.” The company's newspapers only endorse political candidates directly interviewed and never presidential candidates, he said.

The Post Register is one of the few newspapers with a dedicated editorial writer – Bryan Clark, who serves on its editorial board with Quast and Managing Editor Monte LaOrange. Quast said he strongly advocates that governments be transparent and accountable, allowing unfettered access to public documents. It's a “slippery slope” when elected officials regularly conceal vital information. “It gets to the point they operate in secrecy,” Quast said.

Investigate the fiasco


The Federal Communications Commission definitely must investigate CenturyLink's massive Internet system failure that lasted from early Thursday, Dec. 27, through early Friday, Dec. 28. It was an unmitigated disaster! The FCC also needs to publicize the outage's cause, which CenturyLink seems loathe to divulge.

This not only was a public relations fiasco for CenturyLink, it can be argued the blackout of its service jeopardized lives and could have been a threat to national security.

Customers like those of us in Idaho were blindsided by the widespread outage, not knowing for nearly 24 hours what happened or when service would be restored. Everyone from law enforcement to medical centers to thousands of individual customers were adversely impacted in dozens of states.

What was especially disturbing about the nationwide outage was the fact 911 systems in many states were completely disabled, leaving countless people in the lurch as they tried to helplessly cope with emergencies on their own.

This debacle was not unprecedented. The Seattle Times reported in 2014 that a six-hour CenturyLink outage led to more than 5,800 failed 911 calls, crippling Washington state's 911 system. The FCC fined CenturyLink $16 million over that failure, and state regulators added another $2 million.

At that time, a woman tried calling 911 37 times after a burglar broke into her home. In another case, a domestic violence victim had to flag down police because she could not reach law enforcement via phone calls, the Times noted.

Those calling CenturyLink's help number in the latest snafu also could not reach any assistance, were put on hold for interminable hours or rudely disconnected. The news media's pathetic coverage of the major event did not help ease anxieties, either. Was this a cyberattack or an infrastructure collapse? Who knew?

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai expressed grave concerns. He said: “When an emergency strikes, it is critical that Americans are able to use 911 to reach those who can help. CenturyLink service outage is therefore completely unacceptable, and its breadth and duration are particularly troubling." Pai added, “I've directed the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau to immediately launch an investigation into the cause and impact of this outage."

In one of its few sporadic tweets, CenturyLink stated: “We are aware of some 911 service disruptions affecting various areas through the United States. In case of an emergency, customers should use their wireless phones to call 911 or drive to the nearest fire station or emergency facility. Technicians are working to restore services.”

At about 4:30 a.m. Friday, Dec. 28, CenturyLink tweeted its teams had “discovered some additional technical problems as our service restoration efforts were under way.” This came after another statement issued about seven hours earlier said the company estimated service would be restored within four hours.

“CenturyLink engineers have identified a network element that was impacting customer services and are addressing the issue to fully restore services,” the company said. Its tweets, however, did little to comfort blacked-out customers who had no Internet access.

All of this underscores society's frightening over dependence on wireless or electronic services – and our vulnerability to such frustrating disruptions. One thing we can be certain: CenturyLink will not be forthcoming in offering reduced payments on our utility bills in the near future for the annoying inconvenience. Don't hold your breath!

Impacting the tribes


Idaho Commerce Director Bobbi-Jo Meuleman (pictured) cited the significant impact the state's five indigenous tribes have on the Gem State's economy when she addressed about 150 tribal and western planners gathered at the elegant $49 million Shoshone-Bannock Hotel & Event Center in Fort Hall on Monday, Aug. 6.

The 2018 Tribal Planning & Western Planner Conference was the first time the major conference has been hosted by a Native American tribe, underscoring its theme of “Building Partnerships through Understanding, Cooperation and Consultation.” It was convened in Spearfish, S.D., last year and is scheduled for Santa Fe, N.M., next year.

Shoshone-Bannock Tribal Chairman Nathan Small welcomed delegates from as far as Alaska, Canada and North Carolina by stressing even though it has been 150 years since the Fort Bridger Treaty established the Fort Hall Reservation in July 1868, Shoshone-Bannocks still adhere to their language and traditions.

In office since January, Meuleman noted Idaho's five tribal reservations – Shoshone-Bannock, Coeur d'Alene, Nez Perce, Kootenai and Shoshone-Paiute – have a $570 million annual impact on the state's economy, their exports average about $1.5 billion each year and they employ some 7,570 people. Collectively, they are among the top 10 employers in Idaho.

A 2013/14 University of Idaho report about the economic impacts of those five sovereign nations showed they added 13,840 jobs to the state's economy and their total annual sales transactions exceeded $1.1 billion, including multiplier effects. Their value-added gross state product (GSP) amounted to $653 million or 1 percent of the state's GSP in 2013. More than 500,000 people, including 60 percent from out of state, visit Idaho tribal casinos each year.

In total, the five tribes of Idaho own more than 963,325 acres and have 9,555 members living in Idaho. If compared with Idaho’s total 44 counties, the five tribes would be ranked 20th in terms of land area. They have more than 150,000 acres under cultivation in Idaho, producing direct revenues/expenditures of $100 million annually.

Meuleman noted that Idaho has been gleaning positive national attention lately because it boasts the nation's top performing state economy, highest job growth, fastest expanding population, surging earnings and top travel destinations. She credited Idaho's success to existing businesses creating new jobs and making investments that have grown the economy.

Solid community infrastructures, expeditious permit applications, easy access to top government leaders, available land and resources, plus cheap energy, also have enhanced Idaho's reputation as a business-friendly state, she said, noting traditional industries are using more advanced technology, providing employment opportunities for young people and adding value to domestic products.

“We're looking to proactively attract business. Idaho is in a really great position,” Meuleman said.

Traditional industry sectors pay well and are projected to grow, she added. Their average annual wages and 10 year growth projections are as follows: Food manufacturing, $57,000, 20 percent; agriculture support, $36,000, 16 percent; computer/electronics product manufacturing, $128,000; 13 percent; wood product manufacturing, $52,000, 12 percent, and mining, $85,000, 4 percent.

Meuleman also showed a slide about how emerging industries compare: electrical equipment, appliance, component manufacturing, $73,000, 66 percent; information services, $75,000, 52 percent; beverage manufacturing, $44,000, 49 percent; data processing, hosting, $86,000, 29 percent, and advanced manufacturing, $58,000, 28 percent.

“The last thing we want to hear is that a company is leaving,” Meuleman said.

The Idaho Department of Commerce employs 43 people. Its Business Retention & Expansion division made more than 500 company visits in Fiscal 2017 and coordinated with 19 rural economic development officials.

Its International Export Assistance division has trade offices in Taiwan, China and Mexico.

The Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission (IGEM) provides funding support for public/private commercialization projects between the state's research universities.

Meuleman praised the success of Idaho's innovative tax reimbursement incentive that has benefited the operation of companies like Amy's Kitchen, SkyWest, Albertsons, McCain Foods, Glanbia, Paylocity, Jayco and more than 30 other businesses in the state. It has been used to create 1,680 jobs for 28 rural projects and 19 urban projects. It has been used by 24 existing and 23 new Idaho companies.

About $9.2 million has been awarded in federal Community Development Block Grants for improvements in water systems, wastewater treatment, senior and community centers, wells and downtown revitalization projects. Another $500,000 has been awarded in state Rural Community Development Block Grants.

Tourism is the state's third largest economic sector, positively impacting smaller communities. It is expected to continue growing the next three years with 26 percent of survey respondents indicating they enjoy cultural experiences and visiting historic landmarks, Meuleman said, noting urban areas in Idaho are growing, but rural areas are getting left behind.

She said Idaho's three most formidable challenges are its work force, broadband service and affordable housing needs. In response to a question, she said the commerce department has had no bad experiences dealing with Idaho's five tribes, but she conceded communication always can be improved.

Pocatello council pulls the plug


I was saddened, but not entirely surprised to learn that the Pocatello City Council indeed has decided to completely cut funding for the city's public access cable television programming, effectively pulling the plug on it and blacking it out after the pioneering channel has been on the air for many decades. For years, it was known as Pocatello Vision 12.

If it is not the longest continuously running cable access station in the nation, it definitely is one of the oldest. In fact, Hank Gonzalez' bilingual “La Voz Latina” holds the distinction as the longest airing cable access television program in the United States!

It obviously was a foregone conclusion or fait accompli for some council members to terminate the channel, but go through the motions to make it appear they were still open to resuscitating it.

The prospect that an entire city department could be arbitrarily eliminated in one fell swoop despite its historic reputation was not well-publicized. Some council members apparently hoped they could obliterate the cable access channel with minimal flak or adverse public reaction by conducting their fatal strike under the radar like stealth bombers.

Pocatello private citizens of all backgrounds have been allowed for more than 40 years to produce and host their own television programs, giving them a voice and allowing them to exercise their freedom of speech unlike most anywhere else in the country. “Transparency” was a refreshing byword exercised in the Gate City for many years.

While some council members have decided to ax community access programming by Sept. 28 or the end of the fiscal year, they have opted to continue government access programming that features meetings prominently attended by elected officials and politicians. Hmmmm … Could priorities be askew? If expenses were an issue, why not cut it, too?

Vision 12 has touched the lives of hundreds if not thousands of people in Bannock County over the years, binding the community together. It's too bad such a priceless treasure can be flippantly tossed onto the ash heap with little regard to its legacy.

I've had the privilege and pleasure of producing and hosting a program called “Business Dynamics” since December 2000, interviewing top government, business, agriculture and education leaders, covering economic development, energy, transportation, manufacturing and a host of other issues pertaining to business.

When I ran into Rick Eike at Fred Meyer some 18 years ago, he broached the idea that I do my own cable access program like he did. At first, I dismissed his suggestion, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. In-depth local news coverage of economic issues of interest to me and no doubt others was sorely lacking, and this could fill a void.

I would like to thank the scores of guests who gave of their time to appear on “Business Dynamics” and share their expertise, observations and opinions. I learned a great deal from each of them and hope viewers also found their appearances enlightening and informative.

I also would be remiss to not thank Kathy Oborn, Ken Wilson, John Hahn and other studio employees for their professionalism and assistance over the years. Their hard work behind the scenes ensured that Pocatello's cable access station ranked at the very top of its class and gave outsiders a positive view of the community's many amenities – a window into the Gate City from a distinct vantage point.

It's been a great run, a great ride, a great experience for me to be part of such a truly unique operation like Pocatello's cable access television service. Unlike Tom Bodett of Motel 6, some Pocatello City Council members have decided to not leave the light on for us. Signing off …

(Photo: Former U.S. Interior Secretary and Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne appears a few years ago on 'Business Dynamic,' a longtime Pocatello cable access television program in Pocatello. Host Mark Mendiola is on the left.)