Summit looks at growing Eastern Idaho economy

Steve Sinovic//May 2, 2019

Summit looks at growing Eastern Idaho economy

Steve Sinovic//May 2, 2019

Jim Shipman of Colliers International (left) moderated the economic outlook program. Photo courtesy of Colliers International.

If there was an overriding theme to the recent Eastern Idaho Outlook economic summit, aside from a consensus that things are going better than anyone could have expected in a state where the economy is firing on all cylinders, it’s that now may be the right time to take on big-picture challenges.

Boom times can bring problems down the road, keynote speakers and panelists acknowledged at the first-ever conference, which was sponsored by Colliers International Idaho and Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho. Indeed, the road east was frequently down to one lane in each direction as crews widened lanes and added interchanges.

Both organizations provided market insights and speakers at an April 24 program at the Shoshone-Bannock Event Center in Fort Hall. About 200 attendees gathered for the Outlook, which sponsors said will be an annual affair.

Moderator Jim Shipman, managing director of Colliers International Idaho, said that growth in the region made it important for the firm to build its presence outside “the Great State of Ada” to help clients lease, sell or invest in office and retail buildings, industrial space and land. Colliers has offices in Pocatello and Twin Falls.

“We are flying the Colliers flag with local expertise and knowledge,” said Shipman, referring to broker-owners with long-standing ties in the region.

“We all know that Idaho is on everyone’s map with thousands of new residents moving in,” many of them to the 14 counties that comprise the eastern part of the state, said Don Zebe, a broker who handles the Colliers book of business in Eastern Idaho out of Pocatello.

Zebe, who was also on a business leader panel about the draws of Eastern Idaho and how to be successful there, said one of those big-picture challenges is to work more collaboratively on issues that affect the region. Those include ensuring there is sufficient housing at all price points, building and retaining a future labor supply, nurturing startups in their own backyard and thinking more about planning and infrastructure so the region’s communities don’t end up with their versions of traffic gridlock reminiscent of Eagle Road.

In addition to Zebe, representatives of other sectors driving the region’s economy were well on the panel. Weighing in were Brian Berrett, chief financial officer for Idaho Central Credit Union; Drew Facer, president and CEO of Idahoan Foods; Amy Lientz, director of stakeholder and educational partnerships for Idaho National Laboratory; Dan Ordyna, chief executive officer for Portneuf Medical Center; and Luke Stumme, chief of facilities for the FBI headquarters building now rising in Pocatello.

Dana Kirkham, CEO of REDI, gave an overview of Eastern Idaho data for the crowd, helping folks better understand what the region represents in terms of current and future economic assets.

Teton County was the fastest-growing county in eastern Idaho, having increased 14.5% since 2010, the fourth highest increase in the state. Jefferson County was fifth in Idaho, and Bonneville County was seventh.

With Idaho’s second-largest workforce of nearly 200,000 individuals, Kirkham said the region benefits from the presence of health care employers; agricultural growers and producers; the nation’s largest nuclear energy lab; the presence of major federal agencies like the FBI; a growing tourism base; and colleges and universities with nearly 50,000 students enrolled.

The associated brainpower opens up the region to national and global opportunities, said Kirkham.

Panelists weigh in on the challenges and opportunities of their respective industries. Photo courtesy of Colliers International.

The panelists said when recruiting workers to the area, several challenges are in play to bring in top talent. “The number one thing we have to do is sell the job, the culture, the people and then the area amenities,” said Berrett.

“You  have to up your game and offer good salaries and benefits,” he said of keeping pace with competitors.

Ordyna said he sees turnover in the nursing ranks whenever a “nursing spouse” graduates and can’t land a job in his or her field in the area. “There are more and higher-paying jobs across the border in Utah.”

Portneuf works hard to ensure that their nurses have a good work-life balance so they don’t burn out as a way of keeping them in the area, said Ordyna.

At Idahoan Foods, the company has had much success recruiting employees from large, publicly traded firms who prefer coming “to a work culture where they feel they can make a difference,” said Facer.

“We’re hiring people with great pedigrees,” said Facer, many of them East Coast residents who desire a “quality family life” in Idaho.

First and foremost, Lientz said, INL, which is located in Idaho Falls, looks for people “excited about doing science and engineering.

“The access to the outdoors keeps them here,” she observed. “They want to ski; they want to learn fly fishing.”

Construction of the $100 million FBI data center in Pocatello and related expansion work will create about 500 direct new jobs and 160 spinoff jobs, according to the agency. The new data center under construction in Pocatello is one of two consolidation sites for FBI data center operations, said Stumme. And one of the reasons that Pocatello was chosen for a center is because power in the community costs less than half what it does on the East Coast.

“We can air cool the data center six months out of the year,” said Stumme of a facility where IT workers, language specialists, computer forensics staffers and intelligence analysts are employed.

However, it’s hard to get hired, with only 30% of applicants passing a stringent, full-scope background check, which includes a polygraph test, said Stumme.