Idaho Aquarium to expand
The Idaho Aquarium in Boise has begun a 5,000-foot expansion after a year in operation.
The aquarium, which is located 64 North Cole Road, will have 15,000 square feet of space when the expansion is complete.
Ammon Covino, a director of the aquarium, said the expansion will create space for exhibits that include a giant octopus, river otters, Caiman alligators, sting rays and an Amazon habitat.
The aquarium is a nonprofit that receives donations, but most of the funding for expansion and new animals has come from revenues received at the door.
In the first year of operation, about 195,000 people visited the aquarium, Covino said.
Covino also plans a 150,000-gallon saltwater tank in existing aquarium space. He’s collecting donations for that tank, which will house full-grown sharks and other marine life. The aquarium now has a baby shark petting zoo exhibit.
Boise’s dog population boomed in 2010
The dog population in Idaho’s largest city reached a peak in 2010, according to records from the city offices.
Boise requires licenses for all of the dogs within the city limits. Right now, the city has 16,263 active licenses for dogs, according to Jamie Heinzerling, a deputy city clerk in Boise.
Heinzerling said animal licensing revenue reached a peak in 2010 at $303,806, before declining to $282,728 this year. It started rising in 2006, at $235,503.
Many of Boise’s dogs come from the Idaho Humane Society, which sees so much demand that it imports homeless dogs from other states.
Jeff Rosenthal, the executive director of the Humane Society, said the non-profit has brought in about 1,000 dogs in the last year from other shelters in rural Idaho and elsewhere. That’s twice as many dogs as the year before.
Rosenthal says the area doesn’t have as many strays as other places.
“We worked for so many decades on spay and neuter and promoting responsible pet care, and not producing unplanned litters, that we don’t have anywhere near the number of backyard breeders that we once had,” he said.
Most of the dogs Rosenthal sees at the Idaho shelter are black labs. It’s become more difficult since the recession began to find homes for large dogs.
“In the past when the economy was booming, people were moving into town and buying houses with yards, and then they looked for a pet,” he said. “We’ve definitely seen it’s become more challenging.”
Elsewhere, shelters are seeing more Chihuahuas than any other breed, Rosenthal said.
“Southern California and the Southwest are just overwhelmed with these little dogs,” he said. “There are thousands of them.”
FTC issues new interim “red flags” regulation
The Federal Trade Commission has issued an interim final rule narrowing the breadth of those covered under the anti-identity theft “red flags” rule.
The rule was adopted in an effort to thwart identity theft at financial institutions and other entities where consumer credit information is obtained and stored in the normal order of business. It requires creditors, including certain businesses that accept deferred payments from clients, to create detailed written policies outlining how they will prevent, detect and address identity fraud.
After the rule was first issued, attorneys and other professionals challenged the FTC’s authority to issue such a regulation. Congress subsequently passed the Red Flag Program Clarification Act, which exempts attorneys and certain other professionals from the rule.
The new interim regulation narrows the circumstances under which creditors are covered by the rule. According to the FTC, creditors are covered only if, in the ordinary course of business, they obtain or use consumer reports in connection with a credit transaction, furnish information to consumer reporting agencies in connection with a credit transaction or advance funds to or on behalf of a person in certain situations.
The Interim Final Rule is scheduled to take effect Feb. 11, 2013.
Dolan Media Newswires
Recession weighs heavy on Idaho wages
The Idaho Department of Labor reports the recession continued a depression of Idaho wages that began in the late 1970s.
Between 2008 and 2011, Idaho’s median and average wage both dropped eight spots in state rankings. The median wage – at which half of all workers make more and half make less – dropped from 34th to 42nd. The Average wage dropped from 36th to 44th. Other states had lower median and average wages, the report states, but none saw as large a drop in rankings.
Idaho’s median wage in 2011 was $14.51, 14 percent below the national median wage of $16.57. Idaho’s average wage was $18.52, 17 percent below the national average wage of $21.74.
Even low-end and fairly high wages dropped in Idaho between 2008 and 2011, the report states. For the 25th percentile of wages – the wage at which one-quarter of workers make less and three-quarters make more – Idaho dropped six spots, to 38th in state rankings. At the 75th percentile, Idaho dropped seven spots, to 41st. No other state saw a bigger drop than Idaho in these rankings, the DOL stated.
Other states did perform worse than Idaho in the 90th percentile of wages. The wages of Idaho’s high earners fell only three spots, to 37th. Illinois dropped five spots, to 13th, and Michigan dropped six spots, to 21st.
Idaho’s relative average wage peaked in 1977, when Idaho workers made 87.6 percent of the national average wage. From 1970 to 1977, Idaho’s average wage outpaced inflation by 8.3 percent, growing five times faster than the national average wage. Only nine other states exceeded Idaho’s wage growth during this time.
Over the ups and downs of the next three decades, Idaho’s wage gains declined. Idaho’s average wage between 1977 and 2010 outpaced inflation by 3.4 percent, one-sixth the national average wage increase. Only six other states wage increases were worse, but five of those six states’ average wages in 2010 were still higher than Idaho’s.
Idaho’s average annual wage ranked 48th in 2010, ahead of only Mississippi, Montana and South Dakota.
Idaho labor force contracting
Idaho’s labor force has been shrinking over the past five months, according to a report by the Idaho Department of Labor.
The contraction is largely due to demographic changes, the report states. Census data shows the number of 16- to 19-year-olds living in Idaho increased by more than 3,500 from 2008 to 2011, but 5,800 fewer workers from that age group were part of the labor force, a decline of 12.3 percent. The population of 20- to 21-year-olds increased by 3,900 during that time, but only 1,000 more workers from that age group were part of the labor force. The number of 22- to 24-year-olds increased by 2,000, but 3,500 fewer participated in the workforce.
The overall population of one of the prime-age wage-earning groups – 25- to 29-year-olds – has been falling, along with that group’s participation in the labor force, the report states. That group’s population has declined about 1.5 percentage points each year since 2008, while its participation in the work force has dropped by 2.1 percent annually.
While the retirement of baby boomers has contributed to labor force declines at a national level, Idaho’s share of baby boomers – people between 48 and 66 years old – has been unchanged or has risen since 2008, according to the DOL.
Long-term unemployment is another factor in the shrinking labor force, the report states. The long-term unemployed are people who have been out of work for at least 15 weeks. In 2008, Idaho had 11,000 long-term unemployed, but in 2011 there were 34,000 long-term unemployed in the state. More than 24,000 of those workers had been out of work for more than 27 weeks, and 17,000 had been out of work for more than a year. People who have lost hope of finding work and have stopped looking become “discouraged workers” and leave the labor force. The emotional toll of being out of work for so long can make it difficult for discouraged workers to find a job, the report states.
Boise city employees meet with federal transit officials
Boise Mayor David Bieter and other city staff met with Federal Transit Administration leaders in December to discuss the Treasure Valley’s future with buses and light rail.
The mayor supports a light rail plan that could connect Ada and Canyon counties, saying it could help transportation as well as development around potential rail stops.
“I’m convinced that if you’re going to build a public transportation system, it has to be rail-based. It’s that simple,” Bieter said to Leadership Boise on Dec. 14. “Once you know a rail line and rail station’s going in, amazing things happen around it.”
Bieter said Salt Lake City is an example of a city that put in rail lines, with new construction projects popping up near rail stops.
Bieter and staff met with FTA Deputy Administrator Therese McMillan and Region 10 Administrator Rick Krochalis before Christmas. The meeting was set up after U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s visit to Idaho this summer.
Boise received a $375,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation in late 2011 to study potential routes for a light rail or streetcar system for downtown and adjacent neighborhoods. City spokesman Adam Park said the study will include community-wide public outreach.
Several streetcar feasibility studies have been conducted over the past decade. The last strong push for a streetcar ended in 2010, when Boise didn’t get $40 million in federal funding for a 2.3-mile streetcar loop.
While the city is again studying a downtown streetcar, Bieter said he’d eventually like to see a light rail system that reaches as far as Caldwell and Micron’s campus in east Boise.
Mouvance Winery moving to the Linen District
Mouvance Winery, which makes wines from Oregon grapes, will open next to Big City Coffee in Boise’s Linen District in January. Owners Lonnie Krawl and Judy Laffa, who are married, had been at the 44th Street Wineries location in Garden City, where they made their wine from their 2011 grape harvest.
The 2,400-square-foot space, previously the site of a George’s Cycles, will have a 585-square-foot tasting room, as well as space for barrel storage and fermentation tanks. The tasting room should be open Thursday through Sunday.
Before 2011, Krawl and Laffa commuted to their vineyard five miles northwest of Salem, Ore., to make their wine at the vineyard. Krawl said the move to Boise, much like the previous move to Garden City, is to get the business closer to home.
“We love the downtown area,” Krawl said. “It’s one of the reasons why we decided not to move to Oregon.”
Krawl said he and Jaffa used to commute to Oregon for 30 out of the 52 weekends of the year. Both have full-time jobs in Boise.
Mouvance made 400 cases of wine in 2011, specializing in pinot noir, grapes that typically fare better in western Oregon wine areas than in Idaho’s Snake River American Viticultural Area.
“It’s one of the few grapes you can grow in northwest Oregon,” Krawl said. “Because of the wet, cool climate, it also doesn’t need irrigation.” Krawl said he’d also like to start making white wines with Idaho grapes.
Idaho has more than 50 wineries, according to the Idaho Wine Commission.
EPA delays deadline for cement producer
The Environmental Protection Agency has extended by two years the deadline for compliance with hazardous air emissions at cement plants.
The EPA issued its final amendments to the National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants for Portland cement production the week of Dec. 17. The standards aim to reduce the amount of mercury, acid gases, particulate matter and hydrocarbons, which occur naturally in the cement production process, by between 82 and 96 percent.
But the heightened standards – the result of a federal court order – were originally mandated for implementation by 2013, and industry lobbyists contended that such a deadline would have been too costly for the private sector. According to the Portland Cement Association, an organization advocating for the extension, implementation would have cost $3.4 billion, and triggered the closure of 18 cement plants as well as the loss of 4,000 jobs.
The final amendments are available online. The deadline has been extended to Sept. 9, 2015, but manufacturers can request an additional year if necessary.
Environmental advocates say the extension will be paid for with human lives. According to Earthjustice, an environmental advocacy organization that was advocating for strict adoption of the emissions rules, the delay in implementation will cause between 1,920 and 5,000 deaths, 3,000 nonfatal heart attacks, 34,000 cases of aggravated asthma, and 260,000 missed workdays because of related sicknesses.
Idaho has a cement plant in Ashton. The plant is owned by Kansas-based Ash Grove Cement Co.
Dolan Media Newswires
Architectural billings up for sixth month, at highest level since 2007
Architecture firms reported increases in billings in November at the fastest pace in five years, leading analysts to predict an increase in construction leading into next year as businesses invest in commercial projects.
The Washington-based American Institute of Architects released its billings index for November Dec. 27, which showed an increase from 52.8 in October to 53.2 last month, the highest level since November 2007. Any readings above 50 signal an increase in activity, according to the group’s release. The gauge has advanced for six consecutive months, the longest positive streak in its 17-year history.
AIA chief economist Kermit Baker said architecture billings tend to lead construction by nine to 12 months. The value of all U.S. construction projects climbed in October to an $872.1 billion annual rate, the fastest since September 2009, according to data from the Commerce Department.
“There appears to be some new life generated in the construction sector of the economy, which has been pretty much dormant since the recession,” Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at Economic Outlook Group, a Princeton, N.J.-based forecasting firm, said before the report.
AIA researchers produce the report by surveying about 700 U.S.-based firms on whether billings rose, fell, or remained the same in the past month. Firms reporting inquiries about designing new projects also rose for a sixth straight month, climbing to a nine-month high of 59.6 from 59.4 in October.
Broken down by region, the Northeast reported the highest score at 56.3, the highest since 2007. The south recorded a score of 51.1, which is down slightly from October’s figure, but still the fifth straight month at 50 or above. The west was the only region to report a score below 50 as its November score was 49.6, the first score below 50 since July.
Dolan Media Newswires
IOLTA accounts set to lose unlimited FDIC protection
Unless Congress acts by year’s end, IOLTA accounts will lose the unlimited FDIC insurance protection that has been available to them since the enactment of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.
The law, which gives unlimited protection to lawyers’ client trust accounts, has a sunset date of Dec. 31. Without congressional action, that provision will expire and IOLTAs will no longer be insured under the Dodd-Frank Deposit Insurance Provision.
IOLTAs generally qualify for pass-through coverage on a per-client basis because they are fiduciary accounts. Therefore, under federal law, each separate client for whom a law firm holds funds in an IOLTA may be insured up to $250,000 for his or her funds, the same level of coverage as any other type of FDIC-insured account.
Efforts by the American Bar Association and other groups who lobbied Congress to extend the unlimited FDIC protection have so far failed. Although Congress has not officially adjourned and lawmakers have returned to Washington for fiscal cliff negotiations, the ABA Governmental Affairs Office says it appears unlikely that lawmakers will act before the sunset date.
Dolan Media Newswires
Idaho collects $2.9 M in drug company settlement
Idaho will be collecting $2.9 million as part of the latest settlement with two national pharmaceutical companies.
Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden announced Dec. 27 an agreement reached with Pfizer Inc. and Pharmacia Corp.
The agreement stems from a 2007 lawsuit filed by Idaho and other states over allegations the companies were inflating the average wholesale prices of drugs. Idaho and other states alleged the flawed pricing system was causing Medicaid programs to overpay for drugs like Zyrtec and Celebrex.
The settlement is intended to reimburse taxpayers for the excessive prices Idaho Medicaid paid for prescription medicines.
So far, Wasden and his office have recovered more than $25 million in similar settlements with 36 drug makers. Lawsuits are still pending against two other companies.
The Associated Press
Idaho unemployment rate drops below 7 percent
New figures from the Idaho Department of Labor show the state’s unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level in more than 3½ years.
Data released Dec. 21 show the jobless rate for November at 6.8 percent – with more than 1,000 idled workers finding jobs.
Statewide, 36 of 44 counties posted declines in their jobless rates from October, and all but Custer County had rates lower than the same period one year ago.
Total employment for the state was up 1,500 from October to more than 722,200, the highest total since mid-2008 and more than 14,000 ahead of November 2011.
There is some negative news in the report, however. More than 300 workers dropped out of the labor force last month – the sixth straight month of work force decline.
The Associated Press