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Idaho’s partnership with northern states and Canada

Idaho belongs to a little-known partnership that spans thousands of miles and covers dozens of important issues.

The Pacific NorthWest Economic Region includes 10 states, provinces and territories; 20 million people; and a more than $ 1 trillion gross regional product. Together, the PNWER makes up the 14th largest economy in the world, just behind Australia.

In 1991, Idaho joined the public-private partnership with Montana, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and later the Yukon Territory and the Northwest Territories, to form the PNWER binational regional trading bloc. We are North America’s gateway with Asia. And we represent Canadian-USA collaboration and innovation on a host of issues, including border control, energy and resource development, invasive species control research, binational approaches to labor and inspections certifications, and workforce development.

PNWER initiatives aim to streamline governmental controls and focus on private sector leadership. In September, Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter signed an executive order creating a PNWER Idaho Council. It’s made up of 20 public and private sector leaders and is led by Idaho Lt. Gov. Brad Little.

The Coeur d’Alene Resort was host to the PNWER annual winter forum Nov. 14-17. One hundred and thirty people from Washington, D.C., Ottawa and the Pacific Northwest met for discussions and then toured Sunshine Minting, Kootenai Technical Education Campus and Ground Force Worldwide.

The Idaho Council of the PNWER picks up where this conference ended and now considers the international regional issues at the local community level. Local, private-sector leaders such as Ed Schweitzer III, Tom Power of Sunshine Minting, and Ron Nilson of Ground Force Worldwide gave their suggestions to the conference participants based on their years of experience dealing with interstate and international commerce. A common message: The private sector must collaborate and pool its energies on pro-business policy development.

KTEC Campus Director and CEO Mark Cotner had his students lead tours of legislators, premiers and ministers. They testified there’s a need for technical and professional education, such as for the health professions, automotive technology, engineering design, and automation, industrial welding and metal fabrication.

One recruiter from Alberta came specifically searching for qualified individuals for the more than 60,000 jobs that are unfilled in these professions. However, KTEC graduates already have offers from northern Idaho manufacturing, the growing aerospace cluster opportunities at businesses such as Empire Airlines, and others from the local community college networks.

Steve Griffitts, president of Jobs Plus, explained to conference participants that marketing a region for incoming businesses requires a skilled, innovative and specific approach to whole community development, with integration at all levels of private and public sector input. Idaho is a great place to live, but so are hundreds of other places. But a business could move from California to northern Idaho and recover its costs within three years.

Little was praised for his role in successful international trade missions to Brazil and Mexico and for helping existing Idaho commerce find new markets. Ron Nilson reminded government officials that it is the private sector that drives human sustainability and said there is only a very limited role for government in private enterprise and entrepreneurial development. The public sector PNWER participants listened. They understood. Many actually agreed.

PNWER natural resources working groups include one on invasive species that pose a danger to the environment, humans, society or economic activity. One invasive species in Idaho is zebra mussels. Idaho state Rep. Eric Anderson is a national expert and PNWER leader in educating businesses and the public about the possible $100 million cost of an Idaho infestation. The “clean, drain and dry” method of treating boats after every use, along with the Idaho passport system for traveling watercraft inspections, has intercepted 93 near-miss, mussel-fouled boats just since 2009. Anderson reminds us that the Quagga and zebra mussel infestation of the Great Lakes cost the power industry alone $3.1 billion.

We must protect the Columbia River Basin, our economies and our water supply infrastructure from these and other invasive species by focusing on such PNWER prevention pilot projects and the Idaho model.

PNWER promotes an enhanced driver’s license that lets Idaho drivers use their licenses the way they would a passport to cross the Canadian border. The group also works on professional certifications for cross-border work. These require agreement between U.S. and Canadian jurisdictions, professional associations, and labor unions. And it helps streamline criteria and security requirements for livestock and agricultural e-certification and food inspection with science-based guidelines. PNWER participants do the lobbying for this process in their own jurisdictions, as well as in Ottawa and Washington, D.C.

The work undertaken in northern Idaho helped shape the agenda of the next PNWER annual summit next summer in Alaska. There, PNWER will target workforce development, cross-border regulation streamlining and simplification, and water policies as promoted in Coeur d’Alene.

Gloria Totoricagüena is coordinator of the Idaho Council of the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region. More information is available at pnwer.org. 

About Gloria Totoricaguena