When I started working at IBR in 2010, there were so many empty parking spaces in BoDo that you could have parked a semitruck and trailer parallel to the sidewalk on Broad Street at midday.
Back then, positive business stories were in short supply. All too often we wrote about bankruptcies, foreclosures, short sales and about unemployment, which peaked that year at 9 percent. New to town and to covering Idaho business, I heard a lot of complaints from locals about the gaping hole at Eighth and Main where failed projects had left little more than rebar and weeds.
That infamous Boise Hole showed one of the first visible signs of a turnaround when Salt Lake City-based Gardner Company took a chance and built an 18-story Class A office tower there in 2013 and 2014. The Simplot Company and Simplot Foundation soon followed suit with the hard-to-explain JUMP project and the company’s nine-story headquarters, renewing a large area of downtown Boise that had long held abandoned warehouses and empty parking lots.
Eight years later, both parking and workers are now scarce, but stories of expansion and renewal abound. Boise State University has undergone transformative growth under outgoing president Bob Kustra, who has taken decisive action to provide the graduates companies are asking for. Kustra has raised Boise State’s academic status nationally. The Treasure Valley has become one of the fastest-growing areas in the country. The College of Western Idaho, which graduated its first class of 400 in May 2010, served nearly 30,000 students in the 2017-2018 academic year. Many of these CWI students wouldn’t have had access to education otherwise, and some are moving on to four-year institutions, showing that CWI is by far the most important instrument of human growth and development in the state.
Some see progress not in bricks and mortar, but in plans for a creative and capacious new Boise public library. They see it in the arrival of a visionary who is helping voters do what the Legislature won’t and give Idahoans the Medicaid reform they have been calling for. It’s public officials and private groups working together to create affordable housing. It’s Boise’s busy, pedestrian-filled downtown, with its array of shops, restaurants and healthy service businesses – a justifiable source of pride for the city. It’s new schools, new people, new voices, and new ideas.
I’ve seen Idaho change for the better. I’ve seen a growing awareness of how important transparency is in the expenditure of public money, and I’ve seen a growing willingness to push the boundaries to make sure the public knows this too. I’ve seen Idaho’s brightest leaders open their minds and accept unfamiliar new concepts, such as the critical importance of investing in humans, not just structures.
And over and over, I’ve seen busy people with prominent jobs take the time to help others, part of a tradition of service that really does set Idaho apart. One of the most remarkable qualities of the business and other people in this area is their willingness to teach and mentor. When I meet with someone whose work we cover, that person invariably takes the time to answer all of my questions about their field and their experience, about Idaho, and about how they think Idaho could improve. This is how I’ve learned what I needed to do my job.
Recently, I was fortunate to get an opportunity to return to a part of the country that I love. A journalism job in Montpelier, Vermont, was too good to pass up at this stage of my career, so I’m heading there in September. It’s time for someone else to coordinate the stories and analysis behind this dynamic place and its good-hearted people.
There is so much I will miss. Above all, I’ll be sorry to leave the relationships I’ve been lucky enough to form through my job with the IBR. Thank you to everyone who has shared wisdom, funny stories, experience, illuminating discussions about the state of the world, and general brilliance with me and with our readers over the years. You have changed me for the better, and I know I’ll always be in touch with many of you.
Anne Wallace Allen is the outgoing editor of the Idaho Business Review.