Idaho businesses are saying they are hopeful with the return to Stage 3 of reopening, and Idaho’s rebounding is looking good, economic experts are saying.
Stage 3 reopening guidelines encourage nightclubs to operate as a bar, limiting capacity to allow for socially distanced seating and patrons are encouraged to stay seated.
Rocci Johnson continues to operate her downtown Boise nightclub, Humpin’ Hannah’s, at around 25% capacity; the two-story venue traditionally hosts around 1,200 people a night.
“Our staff is like family to us, so we felt a responsibility to keep our doors open in order to provide for themselves and their families,” said Johnson. “We do have very loyal patrons who come in and tip extra or spend a little extra because they want to make sure we still have our doors open.”
Johnson said she is currently considering applying for the second round of the Paycheck Protection Program, as well as the Restaurant Act and the Save Our Stages Act.
Johnson is also, gradually, paying for short live music performances by members of the Rocci Johnson band, which used to perform almost nightly on the elevated stage.
She advises businesses to look into all available resources, such as tax credits and grants to local industry organizations, like FARE Idaho, which connects industry stakeholders with each other.
“We’ve survived, thus far,” Johnson also said, “and hope the new variants of this deadly virus will not affect our recovery as we move along. I think we all gotta kick back and remember … the only way we get through this is collectively.”
Stage 3 of reopening means the Boise Centre could go back to hosting socially distanced events with up to approximately 50 people per room, though executive director Patrick Rice is waiting for Southwest District Health to support the governor’s move.
The Boise Centre staff went from around 78 employees to 26 employees. Today, about 36 employees are working, and, as the reopening is going April and May are anticipated to be busy with local events, as Rice is hearing people are “Zoomed out.”
Some conventions are booked for the fall, but large-scale conferences at the Boise Centre, which also include members from out of state or even the country, are not expected to resume until 2022 or even 2023.
In the meantime, Rice expects the Boise Centre will continue to help event organizers utilize a virtual component.
“One of the things we invested (thousands of dollars on) over the last couple of years that’s done well for us (was) technology,” Rice said. “My team has done a great job … and that’s going to be around for the foreseeable future, at least for the next year.”
In anticipation of reopening for in-person events, Boise Centre continues to have thermal imaging for temperature checks and enhanced cleaning protocols, which awarded them nationwide recognition with the GBAC Star accreditation, awarded to only a few organizations throughout the country.
“We took our clean and safe program and ratcheted it up a couple notches,” said Mary-Michael Rodgers, communications manager for the Boise Centre. “We’re grateful to see Stage 3 back, and we’re grateful to all health care works, people wearing masks, all people working to (get us back).”
To round out industries experiencing a rebound, Tamarack Aerospace experienced a short pause, adapted, and helped fill a community need.
“It seems like that’s the thing consistent about the pandemic: Everything is inconsistent,” said Tamarack Aerospace CEO Jacob Klinginsmith. “There (has been a) big upside for some people, industries, but also real struggles.”
As charter and private flights resume, Klinginsmith has seen increased interest in the ATLAS Winglet, and has been showing how it can save on flight time, fuel costs, and limiting possible in-person interaction during the pandemic, among other benefits.
Tamarack Aerospace is now up to three locations: Sandpoint (its headquarters), South Carolina and recently Oxford, England, and the company is continuing to hire going into 2021 while investing in research and development.
“I’m really proud of that, that we’ve been able to continue (adding to the) team,” Klinginsmith said. “That’s an important part of what we have for the year (ahead).”
Klinginsmith credits Tamarack Aerospace’s survival, and recent success, to adapting during the pandemic and, as a company, being prepared to work remotely.
“Empathy is an important piece through the pandemic,” Klinginsmith said. “So everybody has what’s best for them, which isn’t the same across the board.”
More positive news has come about during COVID-19; some businesses, like Bright Bank, were able to expand. The bank just opened its second location (in Meridian) in mid-February, and a third is in the works, according to CEO Mark Huston.
“Like many things around the country, the world, it was slowed down because of the virus,” Huston said. “We’ve been able to get that back on track.”
Business has been brisk, Huston said, and the bank is in the middle of the second draw requests of PPP.
“We’re aggressively helping businesses in our community keep people on the payroll; lots of businesses have been hurt,” Huston said.
“We’ve received a lot of great visibility in the market,” he added. “The people we have on our team have been in this community for decades in some cases.”
When asked what advice he’d offer, Huston responded: Follow the appropriate protocols (such as wearing masks), be adaptable — as Huston was particularly impressed with how some restaurants and service providers adapted — and reevaluate the business plan.
With the move into Stage 3, Huston is excited for, hopefully, more in-person interactions at the branch locations.
“It’s important for businesses to continue to manage their expenses and reevaluate their business plan on a regular basis, especially as we have added headwinds, like the pandemic,” Huston said. “We don’t want to see businesses close their doors.”
Saltzer Health, a more than 60-year-old business, is another that has continued its growth track, opening a new urgent care facility in East Boise, and multiple clinics throughout the Treasure Valley within the past year. That’s been in the plans for the past couple of years, according to CEO Ed Castledine.
“We’re growing and changing, which is important,” said Castledine.
That’s not to say there wasn’t a financial effect.
“We have to have these facilities … for our community in order to offer a lower cost alternative in the valley,” Castledine added. The plan also includes hiring additional physicians soon.
“They were already being developed when the virus hit,” said Castledine. “You have a lot of cost to incur if you keep going, a lot if you don’t.”
A silver lining was that the pandemic encouraged Saltzer Health, and the industry, to improve technology (such as telehealth) and communication, such as with patients.
Two downsides, though, were that some people may have been afraid to seek treatment or consult their doctor, or people didn’t seek help for health areas like diet and exercise, Castledine said, and “the opportunity to educate the community on how great the health care system is,” such as as in dealing with a pandemic, was missed.
“Keep moving forward; I think there’s a lot of wisdom to that,” Castledine said. “(The pandemic) could have taught us: Why not eat healthier; exercise more; why not do the things we know will improve our health system.”
Economic development leaders continue efforts, offer advice
Like the businesses they help, many chambers of commerce had to pivot their operations to better help their constituents. The Meridian Chamber of Commerce launched “Keep Meridian Healthy And Open For Business.”
“We saw one of the biggest challenges was consumer confidence,” CEO Sean Evans said. “Were people going to feel comfortable with (things) still unknown? People didn’t go back immediately.”
“Of course (we) got the pushback,” he added. “(But), for the most part, our businesses embraced it because it gave an opportunity to showcase ‘We want to stay open; we need to stay open, everyone has to do their part.’”
While some postponed renewing memberships, likely to save some money, approximately 90 businesses joined the Meridian Chamber of Commerce, many of them new to the area, according to Evans. He advises: Find ways to keep some of those lessons learned during the pandemic, and really look at contingency planning.
Twin Falls is also experiencing growth, and since the pandemic has earned the status of being a “metropolitan,” possibly bumping it up into larger-scale search results yielded to prospective site selectors for expanding businesses. Nathan Murray, economic development director, said he is currently working with about six expressing interest.
If all of Idaho is going to achieve its goals, including desired growth, Murray feels municipalities and state leaders need to revive a sense of harmony, and continue supporting incentives like urban renewal and opportunity zones. He also encourages individuals to be connected to their local planning and zoning departments, and offer input.
“The growth is going to happen regardless; we’re an attractive state for that,” Murray said. “I’d encourage folks to be thoughtful, especially going into conversations, (and) I do think we live in a world now it’s still relatively easy, even in isolation, to contribute … not just purchasing (online); I think one of the simplest things online is just reviewing or commenting on (a business).”
Support would be particularly helpful for the restaurant industry in North Idaho, according to Gynii Gilliam, president of the Coeur d’Alene Area Economic Development Corporation. While entering Stage 3 helps by allowing for more patronage through sit-down dining, capacity is still a fraction of what it was.
Gilliam also remains concerned about continuing public school closures. The current hope is all children will be back in-person in the fall.
“Kids struggling before the pandemic are probably struggling even more,” Gilliam said. “It aggravates the divide.”
Otherwise, almost all industries are strongly rebounding, according to Gilliam; even Coeur d’Alene’s tourism industry did well, possibly because out-of-state travel was discouraged.
Like many other areas in Idaho, Coeur d’Alene and surrounding cities are experiencing a high demand for housing, and the unemployment rate is close to “pre-pandemic levels,” about 2%.
Gilliam also expressed gratitude for some state-funded broadband, helpful to those working from home.
“I have not seen too many total closures on our several main streets, whether Coeur d’ Alene, Hayden, Post Falls or Rathdrum, which is a good thing,” Gilliam said. “We can’t let our guards down yet; we’re so close.”e