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Don’t underestimate value of the big guys

Julie Howard

I was talking to an Idaho businessman recently about Idaho’s large employers and he said, “Well, there aren’t many companies here with more than a thousand employees, are there?”

I was surprised. There are dozens of companies each employing more than 1,000 people in the Boise Valley alone. The ones that usually come to mind are Micron Technology and Hewlett-Packard, but people forget St. Luke’s Health System is the valley’s largest non-government employer. In fact, St. Luke’s is the state’s largest private employer, with more than 9,000 employees.

A sampling of others on the valley’s “big” employer list includes J.R. Simplot Co., St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center, WDS Global, DirecTV and Albertsons.

It got me thinking that it’s easy to take the big guys for granted.

I have spent the last decade celebrating Idaho’s startup culture in one way or another. From Kickstand and Kickstart to angel funding presentations and patent reports, it’s been impressive to watch entrepreneurs carve out a niche here and demand attention.

It is fun rooting for the little guy. It also makes business sense. Year after year, the Small Business Administration tells us that most net new jobs are created by small businesses. Helping entrepreneurs, then, is a great economic driver.

It takes all sizes and types of companies to create the healthy ecosystem that enables growth. If there’s not a balanced business ecosystem, then an economy can stagnate. When one industry or one large employer dominates a region, the economy can suffer boom and bust cycles.

Over the past decade, Idaho has seen a greater diversity of size and types of companies, enabling the state to better withstand economic changes. We’re no longer all about agriculture or technology or construction or retail, large sectors that have shown spikes in growth over the years. Idaho is about all of these sectors, and more.

Along with this greater diversity in industry, there also is a better balance in size of employers. In the Treasure Valley, there are at least 80 employers with more than 300 employees.

Statewide, there are 241 businesses that employ more than 300 people. In total, those 241 businesses employ 223,445 people. That’s about a third of Idaho’s work force. Looking deeper into the numbers, I found that more than 800 employers have at least 100 workers, totaling more than 317,000 employees.

For a small state that has few large population centers, this is meaningful. In California, businesses with fewer than 300 employees are considered pretty small – but in a predominantly rural state like Idaho, they’re significant employers.

Larger employers tend to offer more and better benefits to employees, such as retirement programs, health care and contributing larger percentages of premium costs for health care. They tend to have steady job openings, whether or not they are adding net new jobs, because of normal attrition. They often have resources for regional philanthropy, adding even more value to their communities.

These are yet more reasons that employers such as C3 in Twin Falls, ON Semiconductor in Pocatello, INL in Idaho Falls, Ground Force Manufacturing in Post Falls and ATK in Lewiston are important to their communities.

These employers also serve as launching pads for entrepreneurs. People who have some economic stability are better able to finance a new business, whether it’s a hair salon or a software developer. It’s local lore by now that HP employees have gone on to start up 70 or more businesses in the valley. Those spinoffs have grown and launched other spinoffs.

Finally, there’s a clustering factor that can spur economic growth. As St. Luke’s and St. Alphonsus hospitals have invested in operations to meet demand, they have instilled confidence in other health care providers to locate in the region.

Health care facilities throughout the state have also made investments, attracting other providers. In the past 10 years, more than 1,000 new health care-related companies, from physical therapy centers to home care services, have opened in Idaho. Right now, Idaho’s largest industry sector – health care – is the one hiring the most employees and is projected to be the state’s fastest growing sector.

It’s good to see Idaho mature into a place with a more balanced business ecosystem, where a variety of sectors see success. This sets the stage for a strong economic comeback.

This article was written by Julie Howard, a marketing specialist at the Idaho Department of Commerce.

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2 comments

  1. Julie – a quick correction – Idaho is a predominantly rural state in mindset only. Idaho has been a majority URBAN state since 1970. About 70% of the state’s population lives in one of the six metro areas, and about half the state’s GDP originates from just ONE region, the Boise-Nampa MSA. It’s not helpful if our own state agencies are misrepresenting reality in favor of protecting myths about our state.

  2. “dozens of companies” employing more than a 1000 in the Boise Valley? I’d really like to see that list, and please filter out hospitals, school districts, municipalities, govt contractors, independent NGOs, tax or transfer-payment non-profits of any kind, etc.