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Governor’s Business Summit misses mark

Simon Shifrin

Simon Shifrin

The state Department of Commerce recorded 351 pages worth of testimony from 41 panelists at Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s first-ever Business Summit on Aug. 31 and condensed it all down to a list of eight policy recommendations to “improve business conditions” in the state.

You may not have heard about these recommendations. I hadn’t either until Commerce Director Don Dietrich mentioned them during an informal presentation before a legislative committee last week.

Consider me underwhelmed.

The problem is they don’t add up to much. I don’t see anything here that offers a way out of the state’s current economic situation, a potential major boost to growth in the state or a long-term vision for the future.

See if you agree.

The recommendations: Eliminate the personal property tax, create a homebuyer tax credit, provide a tax credit for infrastructure construction, increase the truck weight limit on roads to 129,000 pounds, improve technology at ports of entry, convene an industry group to simplify the mining permitting process, recruit insurance companies to take advantage of Idaho’s pro-insurance tax structure and create more professional-technical education programs focused on heavy equipment operation and repair.

Now, let me translate:

Scrap a tax that’s already partly on the way out (but is an important chunk of the state general fund), subsidize the housing market, subsidize construction, free the trucking industry from regulation, reduce bureaucratic delays for mining companies, recruit insurance companies to Idaho and create more heavy equipment workers.

Maybe these are all worthy efforts that will help business in the state. (And, yes, some of them are important to do.)

I guess I just expected that there’d be some kind of plan to address head-on some of the state’s real needs and problems, such as the disconcerting lack of trained and educated workers already needed at some of the state’s fastest-growing companies.

Ron Nilson, owner of Ground Force Manufacturing in Post Falls, and Doug Sayer, president of Premier Technologies in Pocatello, recently testified before the joint House and Senate education committees and offered a bleak assessment on the issue, according to IdahoReporter.com.

Sayer said the state’s production and manufacturing companies face a potential “Armageddon” if Idaho doesn’t work to address work force needs. The two called on lawmakers to integrate professional and technical skills at every level of education, build more public-private partnerships and improve “substandard at best” night school and adult education offerings.

I’d say that will be a pretty significant barrier to future growth if left unaddressed.

But the only proposal that even scratches at the surface of the distressing lack of human capital in Idaho is a vaguely worded recommendation to boost work force training programs for heavy equipment operation and repair.

The governor had the right idea in holding this forum to hear directly from business leaders.

He also has a couple more chances to shape the debate on business-friendly policies. Recommendations have yet to be released from the summits he convened on innovation and finance, and he has also scheduled a Small Business Summit for April 13.

I just hope the upcoming recommendations won’t trickle out in an obscure legislative meeting and will be worth all those hours of meeting and transcribing.

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