Idaho Business Review’s Breakfast Series resumed with an expansive, and at times humorous, conversation around current efforts in the 2022 Legislature that could impact the business community.
From millions of dollars potentially being allocated for needs around childcare and workforce development programs to a long-awaited change for Idaho’s grocery tax law, four panelists gathered at the Grove Hotel to share their insights during a discussion — presented and moderated by Hawley Troxell — into what Idaho business leaders can, and possibly should, prepare for. About 60 people attended the Feb. 10 event and posed some questions of their own to the panel.
Top pressing issues
Panelists spoke to several of the state’s pressing issues affecting everyday life – affordable housing and childcare being two high up on the list. But some other topics also came into the spotlight.
“There’s a housing shortage. There’s a price point issue. There’s areas of demand and need in all types of housing — low income, workforce,” said Dean Papé, owner of development firm deChase Miksis. “We are…a focal point to the nation right now. I think a big thing that we are really looking at right now in the Treasure Valley (are) the impacts of housing but also the transportation. What are the costs those families have to deal with? They’re living way away from where they have to work and there’s no transportation system to help get them (there). There’s an additional cost later on to just the housing market.”
Regarding a potential cost to the workforce, and therefore employers, Carolyn Holly, vice president of development for Idaho Business for Education (IBE), brought up efforts to keep schools open and operational — including recent funding proposed in the governor’s budget.
“Here’s what we really see as some key issues right now,” Holly said. “(One) is the voluntary, universal full-day kindergarten. And it’s making some good progress right now at the Statehouse. And the reason why that’s so important to the business community is because of literacy, because you learn to read to third grade — and beyond third grade, you read to learn. So, if your child, your grandchild, doesn’t have that down by third grade, they’re behind.”
So, what’s being done?
Alex LaBeau, president of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry (IACI) and Deni Hoehne, chair of the Idaho Workforce Development Council, both spoke to efforts, particularly in Idaho, to improve accessibility to childcare for the workforce, both current and potential. LaBeau referenced an article stating over the past month, one million men nationwide have returned to the workforce; only 39,000 women have returned. In the state of Idaho, he added, 80% of childbearing-age women are not in the workforce.
“We were actually out looking where we’re going to find our employees, and that became our top focus,” LaBeau said. “This is why the childcare issue becomes so important to us. The reality is people are wanting to return to the workforce, but they have a child condition and it’s not even so much necessarily an affordability issue; it’s a lack of infrastructure, which is there’s nothing available.”
“And yes, there are affordability issues associated with childcare,” he continued, “…it’s like paying another house payment. And…you can reduce those costs. But you got to get the infrastructure out there, so that businesses can engage in that infrastructure and then provide those services back to their employees, whether it’s subsidizing the cost of the slots that they have, or actually bringing things in and doing things creatively.”
Idaho is considering a $50 million boon for infrastructure (such as through business collaborations) for childcare services, Hoehne brought up. Moderator Tom Mortell, co-managing partner for Hawley Troxell, brought up a solution the law firm pioneered during the early days of the pandemic, when schools were closed but some people were returning to work following CDC guidelines of the time.
“Our landlord gave us some extra space and we established the Hawley Troxell Learning Academy; it was really a dramatic thing for us as a small employer to have a whole floor of a building with students of our employees and a teacher going from cubicle to cubicle, helping them with their online studies,” Mortell said. “That’s what the pandemic has taught us, especially with education in the workforce: be agile and mobile…(and) business can have an important role in setting education policy.”
Speaking of businesses helping set education policy, Hoehne and Holly shared information around beginning and continuing training programs throughout the state, underscoring efforts — with funding from three multimillion-dollar grants — for either bringing in new talent or upskilling and retaining current workers.
“The youth apprenticeship model has been proven in Europe, and but it’s also worked in several other states, where businesses find ways to bring in high school-age students right away to start teaching them and introducing them to the skills that are needed (for) the employers that are available in their area,” Hoehne said.
“A lot of people think ‘apprenticeships’ and they make trades; that’s not what apprenticeships need to be. One of the largest groups of apprentices that we have at work right now are in the baking industry,” she continued. “They’re starting as tellers…they’re being introduced to what (banking is.)”
Then, these apprentices can learn about other areas of banking, and potentially grow their careers within the bank in those other areas.
“It’s the idea that you capture a student’s imagination early about what they could be doing with their lives,” Hoehne said.
Some businesses, whether banks or those in other industries, are also paying for higher education for those apprentices and other employees.
“It is a game-changer,” Holly said. “We partnered with (the workforce development council); we went after a huge federal grant…We have 20 employers who have already signed up; who have registered apprentices. We have 42 apprentices already in place, and we have 38 employers who say, ‘Give us the students.’ So, it’s this wonderful bridge that has been built between education and the workforce.”
“There are 1,300 federally registered apprenticeships available,” she continued. “Yes, (in) the trades, but what gets me excited: you could be a graphic artist; you could be in marketing; cybersecurity is huge. So, as an employer, it isn’t like I’m only going to hire this person as an apprentice…You get to create your own workforce right here. It could be somebody you already have employed, and you want to invest in them. The retention rate…nationwide…for that employee is 89.9%.”
Regarding collaborative approaches to housing, Papé said, “I’m…a believer in every community having the ability to prescribe for what their needs are. So right now, we have a low-income and a workforce housing issue…How can these communities work together to help support the activity; (some) don’t have support structures…So, what incentives do we have to work with it? The problem is the state currently, unlike other states, kind of looks at every community and every property owner and says, ‘You have your own property rights,’ and that’s fine. But what are the tools within one of those communities they use to help assist that we have enough product to offer…so that we don’t run into issues with short-term housing like we have right now?”
“I think, common sense, let the market do what the market needs to do, but I think all the communities and whatever financial support those communities need, including the state, to help support the needs in those areas,” he continued. “(The situation) is forcing us — in our business and the private sector — (to be) immediate or creative. How can we supply workforce housing elements, other different avenues of funding structures?”
Toward the end of the conversation, Hoehne brought up the Workforce Development Council as a resource for employers and businesses owners, drawing attention to an upcoming survey where leaders can give feedback around their needs and desires for the workforce.
To close, Mortell said, “I’ve always felt, as business owners, we spend a lot of time running our businesses and facing all sorts of challenges and trying to make those businesses successful. And sometimes we fail to understand the strength of our political voice. And we let that voice get drowned out by some of the different political things that dominate our news, in some of the positions that have been taken. So, I’ve always been impressed with the organizations, many represented here, that speak on behalf of business in that context. I think, as businesspeople, we need to all realize how important these issues are to our business and find ways for our voice to be heard.”
Deni Hoehne is the director of talent development for WinCo Foods, supporting more than 20,000 employees with executive coaching and leadership development, as well as compliance and operations training. She is also the current chair of the Idaho Workforce Development Council. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in economics and political science from the University of Nebraska and moved to Idaho to start her career with the Association of Idaho Cities. She moved into human resources over 20 years ago, and has been an HR leader for businesses in the IT industry, engineering and construction and heavy equipment prior to joining WinCo Foods. Hoehne has professional certifications in HR (SHRM-SPC) and Safety (STS).
Carolyn Holly enjoyed a 33-year career at Idaho’s #1 TV station, KTVB. She became one of Idaho’s most experienced and best-known television personalities through her sincere approach to news and her community. Holly is thrilled to be the current vice president of development for Idaho Business for Education (IBE). She is also highly involved in community work through FACES of Hope, FUNDSY, the Boise Police Chief’s Citizen Advisory Group and Idaho Youth Sports Commission.
Alex LaBeau became the president of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry (IACI) on Sept. 25, 2006; he is only the fifth person to hold the position in the organization’s 47-year history, as the website states. Prior to this role, LaBeau participated extensively on IACI’s public affairs and tax policy committees since 1993 as government affairs director on behalf of the Idaho Association of Realtors, and in January 2004 was named CEO of that organization. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications (journalism and mass media) and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from Boise State University. In 2001, he was inducted into Pi Alpha Alpha, the National Honor Society for public affairs and administration.
Dean Papé has 19 years of experience in real estate development, construction, financing and management in the region. He has built strong relationships with community leaders and organizations, landowners and business owners through work in private, public and public-private partnership opportunities. His driving force has always been to seek solutions to community needs through real estate development while bringing value to clients and partners and has a personal passion for middle-income housing. Papé brings valuable experience and creativity to his approach to commercial real estate and multifamily housing. His appreciation for building quality teams to collaborate on difficult-to-solve problems or find creative ways to reimagine traditional approaches is why he’s seen as a thought-leader in the industry. He adds value to investing in and developing real estate and is frequently called upon to provide guidance and speak on these topics.
Tom Mortell is chair of Hawley Troxell’s health law group as well as the firm’s comanaging partner. He serves as general counsel to the Idaho Hospital Association. Since 2002, Mortell’s practice has focused on advising hospitals and other health care providers on all aspects of health care law. As with many others, Mortell has recently spent too much time thinking, reading, and talking to clients about the COVID-19 pandemic. Otherwise, he assists health care providers in business transactions, including the acquisition of competing entities, hospital/physician joint ventures, and the acquisition of physician practices. He also helps medical providers with professional services contracts between hospitals and physicians and advises hospital boards on issues relating to physician integration, compliance, governance, and strategic planning. Mortell represents hospital clients in federal false claims act litigation, payer reimbursement claims and related compliance matters. He represents and advises hospitals and other health care clients with issues relating to regulatory compliance (Stark, Anti-kickback statute, HIPAA, EMTALA) as well as physician peer review, credentialing and provider discipline. Mortell was the 2021 Board Chair for the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce and currently chairs the Chamber’s Policy Committee. He also serves as a board member for the Boise Valley Economic Partnership and the Idaho Shakespeare Festival.