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Supplement maker to leave Idaho for South Carolina

A Sandpoint-area nutritional supplement maker is moving its corporate headquarters and the rest of its business to South Carolina.

Thorne Research will complete its move by the end of 2018, Tom McKenna, chief operating officer, said in a prepared statement. The company plans to build a 240,000-square-foot building on about 26 acres on an industrial campus, according to the site selection website Area Development News. The project will create 330 jobs, said South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.

About 270 people work at Thorne near Sandpoint, said Aaron Qualls, Sandpoint’s planning and economic development director. The company is leasing its 55,000-square-foot headquarters building in the small city of Dover from the company’s owners, and recently built a 50,000-square-foot building that it’s leasing near the airport, Qualls said. The lease expires in 2018.

Qualls said city and state officials had been working for more than a year to get the company to stay in Idaho. He took part in meetings with company officials and former Idaho Department of Commerce Secretary Jeff Sayer and his successor, Megan Ronk. But ultimately, Idaho didn’t have the workforce or the state or local incentives to keep Thorne in Idaho, Qualls said.

“It’s very competitive, what other states are able and willing to offer,” said Qualls. “I don’t know that we could have done any more than we did to try to keep them here; we certainly didn’t sit idly by as we knew that they were considering what to do in the future. It’s a struggle we have in a remote, small community like this with a small workforce and challenges around housing affordability.”

“We’ve been talking about this scenario,” said Paul Kusche, executive director of the Bonner County Economic Development Corp. “We talk about needing better support, more labor, more housing, fiber optic. We need affordable housing.”

Thorne Research is one of the top 10 largest private employers in Bonner County, said Sam Wolkenhauer, northern Idaho regional economist at the Idaho Department of Labor. He said the company’s decision reflects national trends.

“Manufacturing is down in rural communities across the country,” Wolkenhauer said. “Manufacturing has been urbanizing. Bonner County really hasn’t had that. Their manufacturing has been pretty resilient in the last decade.”

He added that the displaced workers will probably have no problem finding new jobs.

“I think their skills will be transferable to other employers up there. I suspect most of them will be able to find employment.”

The company was started in 1984 by Al and Kelly Czap, who moved to the Sandpoint area from Seattle in 1990 and increased the size of the company there for many years before selling it around 2005. It’s now owned by WestView Capital Partners in Boston, Qualls said.

“We’ve had success with startups and companies growing to a certain size in Sandpoint, and when they change ownership to a firm that really has no commitment to our community, they put the bottom dollar first,” Qualls said.

Teya Vitu contributed to this story.


About Anne Wallace Allen

Anne Wallace Allen is the editor of the Idaho Business Review.