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Business sectors still down, but some positive signs appear

The Idaho Legislature Business Caucus, a currently all-Republican initiative to receive more input from businesses informally and year-round, made its public debut March 19. Brian Dickens, administrator of the Commercial Innovation Division of the Idaho Department of Commerce, delivered a mix of good and bad news about the business climate at the same meeting.

Brad Carlson

Brad Carlson

Revenues remain down in many segments, he said. These include agriculture – where low milk prices took their toll, for example – and manufacturing, particularly those companies whose customers finance purchases. Credit remains tight, real estate sluggish, he said.

Some manufacturers report that orders are staying steady or even rising a bit, unemployment seems to have stabilized, and there is a slight increase in consumer confidence, Dickens said. Discretionary spending on tourism, hospitality and entertainment still is down, but the rate of decline has slowed recently, he said.

Growth segments include health care, and manufacturing related to “green” energy, he said.

Bibiana Nertney, Idaho Department of Commerce administrator for marketing and communications, said in an interview that green-energy manufacturing is helping the region of south Idaho from Burley east to Pocatello and north to Idaho Falls stay on the low end of the unemployment spectrum. Traditionally resource-based counties in northern Idaho are among those on the high end.

Dickens said challenges to recruiting companies – despite a large number of non-Idaho businesses looking at becoming Idaho businesses – include getting out of existing leases, workforce issues, and other locations’ incentives.

“We’re hearing a lot of excuses about making moves,” he said.

Helping companies that already operate in Idaho is a major priority, Dickens said. Limited funding is an issue, so it’s key to work with other organizations such as local chambers of commerce, colleges and universities, and the U.S. Small Business Administration-tied Senior Core of Retired Executives, he said.

Nertney said existing Idaho businesses get top priority.

“The word is ‘partnerships.’ Not any one group has total resources for this,” she said.

Local governments and the new Idaho Technology Council of tech-sector members also are important to existing Idaho businesses, Nertney said.

Dickens said Idaho aims to increase the number of investment groups in the state and to improve the state’s performance in receiving certain grants, loans and federal contracts.

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