Big job fair coming to Meridian in April

Photo Credit: IBL Events

MERIDIAN – Individuals seeking a career change, a more suitable position, or first-time employment are encouraged to attend the Idaho Job & Career Fair on Tuesday, April 18 between 2:00pm and 6:00pm.  The event is free and will be held at the Galaxy Event Center (inside Wahooz, 1385 S Blue Marlin Ln, Meridian, ID 83642) to provide in-person connection with a wide range of companies seeking to fill hundreds of positions.

Companies will be recruiting for a variety of job fields, such as manufacturing, construction, customer service, law enforcement, transportation, sales, laborers, administration, roofing, shipping/receiving, software engineering, caregiving, technicians, finance, assembly, retail, trades, hospitality, insurance, cleaning services, media, fabrication, mental health support, production, security, welding, healthcare, human resources, warehouse, maintenance, to name a few. More than 50 companies will be in attendance offering a variety of work schedules, and full-time and part-time positions.

First-time job seekers to experienced-level candidates can register for the event at www.IdahoCareerFair.com. IBL Events encourages candidates to dress for success, bring resumes, and prepare to discuss job opportunities, related skills and qualifications.

Companies interested in recruiting at the Idaho Job & Career Fair may contact IBL Events at 208-376-0464, [email protected].


Gas prices in Idaho remain high due to Utah refinery fire

graph of gas prices
Gas prices spiked in Utah and Idaho after a refinery fire. Graph courtesy of Zions Bank.

Gas prices are up in Utah and Idaho for more than the usual traditional Fourth of July price hike.

Gas prices in the two states were affected by a March 12 fire at the HollyFrontier refinery in Woods Cross, Utah, according to a note written by Robert Spendlove, economic and public policy officer for Zions Bank. “While no one was injured, the damage was bad enough to take almost a third of its production offline for an extended period of time,” he wrote. “This lack of local production has led to higher gas prices in areas such as Utah and Idaho that rely on Wasatch Front refineries for much of their gas.

“Until HolyFrontier’s production capability gets back to normal, expect Intermountain states to keep some of the highest gas prices in the nation.”

At the same time, prices have been going up nationally due to concerns about President Donald Trump’s actions around Iran. “His ultimate announcement of withdrawal from the Iran deal and potential freezing of Iranian oil exports in early May helped cement the rise,” Spendlove wrote.

According to AAA Idaho, the U.S. average gas price is $2.85, 11 cents less than a month ago and 61 cents more than a year ago. In Idaho, the current price is $3.18, the same as a month ago and 59 cents more than a year ago. Idaho gas prices range from $3.10 in Hayden to $3.57 in Stanley, AAA said.


Employers on state borders weigh location costs

photo of onions
A worker with onions in a Froerer Farms warehouse. Photo courtesy of Owyhee Produce.

The growing minimum wage differential between Oregon, Washington and Idaho hasn’t led to sharp changes in business on the border. As the minimum wage in the neighboring states of Oregon and Washington has risen, while Idaho’s has remained unchanged, some thought businesses would leave higher-cost states for Idaho. But while some companies are moving, their reasoning is more nuanced than simply wages.

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Karl Dye

The minimum wage in Washington rose to $11.50 on January 1 and will increase to $10.75 in Oregon outside of Portland on July 1. The minimum wage has been unchanged in Idaho at $7.25 since 2008Although some business owners said they have moved to Idaho because of the lower wage, companies general take many more factors into account than wages when contemplating the best place to locate, said Karl Dye, president and CEO of Valley Vision Inc.,  the Lewiston-based regional economic development agency covering Lewiston, Clarkston, Asotin County in Washington, and Nez Perce County in Idaho.

Dye said companies sometimes use consulting services to weigh factors such as taxes, regulation and workmen’s compensation rates.

For example, while Idaho has a lower minimum wage, Washington doesn’t have an income tax, though it does have a business and occupation (B&O) tax, Dye said. Depending on the type of business, the B&O tax can range from 0.47 percent for retailing to 1.5 percent for “services and other activities,” according to the Washington State Department of Revenue. “I don’t know that minimum wage changes have affected the relationship,” he said.

Minimum wage is less of an issue than regulatory and governmental issues, said Shay Myers, general manager of Froerer Farms Inc., in Nyssa, Oregon. After the winter of 2016-2017, where four of the company’s onion sheds collapsed under the weight of unusually heavy snowfall, the company chose to rebuild in Idaho, partly because of the lower minimum wage. But especially with today’s tight labor market in both states, the minimum wage differential is less of an issue, particularly in comparison with three or four years ago, he said. “You’re paying nowhere near minimum wage in Idaho,” Myers said.

Other factors also made Oregon less attractive. “It’s a harder state in general to do business with,” Myers said. For example, Oregon employers are required to provide workers with one week’s paid time off for sick leave, he said. And when the company was faced with having to rebuild its onion storage facilities in less than nine months, Oregon’s land use laws made that more difficult than in Idaho.

“When it came down to it, Idaho was very willing to do everything they could to speed up the process,” he said. Moving to Idaho also meant the company could apply for a Tax Reimbursement Incentive, though he wasn’t sure whether it had received one yet.

On the other hand, after a number of companies like Myers’ left, Oregon started to pay attention, he said. “They’ve taken some significant steps to soften the blow of these regulatory challenges that are different between Oregon and Idaho,” he said. For example, while Oregon raised its minimum wage

Onion sheds collapsed in Nyssa, Oregon and in other western Idaho and eastern Oregon cities in early 2017 because of unusually heavy snowfall. Photo courtesy of Owyhee Produce.

again, it approved a gradual increase with a lower minimum wage in rural areas like Nyssa, he said. The state is also adjusting its land use policies to make it more competitive, he added. “I have to recognize the steps and efforts they’ve made to make policies fair and equitable and reduce collateral damage to the rural part of the state,” he said. “They have really stepped up and tried to make a difference.”

In some cases, other factors influenced the company’s location decisions. “We’ve taken our sweet potato operations that were in Weiser, where we can’t get labor, and moved them to Oregon,” Myers said. With workers coming from as far as Marsing, Caldwell, and Kuna, Weiser was just too far away, he said.

In retail, some multistate companies considered Boise before larger cities such as Seattle and Portland. However, that’s also due to the higher cost of land in those larger cities, as well as the lower wages. For example, while the Garden City-based Gyro Shack has locations in Boise, its Washington locations are outside Seattle because of the high cost of land there.

And some people live in Washington and work in Idaho, Dye said.

“In the past, jobs were created by Clearwater Paper and Potlatch,” as well as sawmills in both states, he said. “There’s always a mix and a blending across the border.”

Idaho’s data is moving off the mainframe

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is housed in the Joe R. Williams office building, shown here. Photo by Anne Wallace Allen
The state’s mainframe computer is housed in the Joe R. Williams office building, shown here. Photo by Anne Wallace Allen.

Want a slightly used mainframe? Cheap? In a few years, Idaho might have one for you.

The payroll system, used by state agencies, was installed on the mainframe in 1987 and the accounting installed in 1988, with the mainframe itself installed around 1971. Consequently, it made sense for the office to provide mainframe computing services to other state agencies too, said Tamara Shipman, deputy state controller and administrator of the computer service center. “Agencies that interfaced into the payroll and accounting system had to get their data here somehow,” she said. “All the state agencies had to have some sort of presence on the mainframe.”

photo of joshua whitworth
Joshua Whitworth. Photo by Sharon Fisher.

But as agencies such as the Department of Health and Welfare (see box), Department of Labor (see box) and Department of Transportation (see box) have migrated off the mainframe to other solutions, the Controller’s office is taking the same steps, with the goal to migrate off the mainframe in six years, said Joshua Whitworth, chief deputy state controller. Alternatives include an on-premise solution, a cloud-based solution, or a combination or hybrid solution, he said.

The department issued a request for information in 2017 and received six responses, Whitworth said. The next step will be to issue a Request for Proposal; not all RFI respondents may submit proposals, he noted. The project, budgeted to cost $102 million, has been approved by lawmakers.

Part of the incentive for moving off the mainframe is the “death spiral,” Whitworth said. As mainframe costs rise and the cost of alternatives drops, more groups migrate, but that doesn’t lessen costs – just spreads them among fewer groups, meaning costs rise faster and causing groups to find alternatives even more quickly.

The issue isn’t the mainframe hardware itself, which has been upgraded regularly. Today’s mainframe looks like a black refrigerator. It’s located in a computer room with a white-tiled raised floor; the Controller’s office manages the mainframe data center and tightly monitors security, including not revealing the make and model of the hardware or allowing photos of its location.

The problem is the software, which also dates to the 1980s. While it has been modernized, such as gaining a web-based front end that provides browser access, the guts of the programs remain the same. Not only do they use outdated programming techniques, which makes it hard to change the software, but fewer employees know those computer languages, as many are retiring. Some Controller’s staff, including Shipman, have been there more than 30 years, she said.

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Tamara Shipman. Photo by Sharon Fisher.

Some states modernized in the late 1990s when it was believed that older programs would stop running in 2000 because they weren’t set up to deal with years past then, Whitworth said. Many of those states are now looking to modernize again, he added.

Idaho isn’t alone. According to The 2017 State CIO Survey, published in October, from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO), 28 percent of respondents said they had a strategy in place to migrate legacy applications to the cloud, and 55 percent said a cloud migration strategy was in development. That said, mainframes were still used in 225 state and local governments as of mid-2017, according to mainframe software vendor Compuware.

“Provision of mainframe computing services to state agency customers has long been a staple of the state CIO function, and it is still a service provided by a large majority of state CIO organizations,” the NASCIO report noted. “Operating under a charge-back model to agency customers, mainframe services have historically been a major revenue source for state CIOs. However, as state CIO organizations migrate towards a service broker model and the demand for mainframe cycles decline, all CIO services are being re-assessed.”

In particular, states are looking at off-premise “mainframe as a service” solutions within the next two to three years, with 10 percent of respondents saying migration was already complete, 14 percent saying it was planned, 33 percent saying they were considering it, and 12 percent saying they were unsure.

Unemployment system on the job
The Department of Labor’s migration of its unemployment system from the mainframe was so successful that it’s won awards and is in the process of being used by two other states, Vermont and North Dakota, said Mark Mayfield, director of the Internet Unemployment System (IUS) consortium.

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Mark Mayfield

The unemployment insurance part, which Idaho employers pay into, first came online in the late 1970s. The benefit side, which pays out to eligible recipients, started in the early 1980s, Mayfield said. But the federal government was concerned about the aging of the state systems and the lack of people to work on them, which made it complicated to implement changes from the federal and state government. “The mainframe was getting to the point where it was very costly, difficult, and risky to make those changes,” he said.

In 2008, the department was approached by the federal government, along with three other states – Wyoming, North Dakota, and Arizona – to form a consortium. “We were the lead state,” Mayfield said. “We were charged with a two-year project in which we would come together and write business requirements and describe what a tax-and-benefit system would look like, then figure out how could we execute those requirements and build that system.” That ran from 2009 to 2011.

At that point, the consortium wasn’t sure of its next step, Mayfield said. At the same time, the State Controller’s office was starting to talk about moving away from the mainframe. Because the consortium seemed a year or more away from starting, Idaho decided to build its own. The project started in 2012, and in September 2014, the mainframe was shut down. The software is written in the more modern computer language C# and runs on a modern database instead of a mainframe-specific one, on premises. “When you look at a vendor, the minimum is in the neighborhood of $30 to $60 million,” he said. “Ours was $10 million. We finished the project about four months and $3 million under budget.”

Mayfield attributed the project’s success to having the business staff and the technology staff work together, as well as the work the team had already done as part of the consortium. “We really felt like, if we were going to do this, we were all in it together,” he said, adding that the project won an award from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers. “When we put up a Powerpoint slide saying we finished ahead of time and under budget, we got a big round of applause.”

That brought Idaho a lot of attention. “We had a lot of states approach us asking, ‘How did you do it? Can you help us?,’” Mayfield said. Idaho formed another consortium, this time with Iowa and Vermont, but six months later, Iowa dropped the project because it didn’t have the internal resources to dedicate and needed a vendor to do it for them. “Our approach was, you need to meet us halfway, not just rely on us to walk you through it,” he said. Vermont is nearing user acceptance testing, while North Dakota rejoined late last fall after giving up on its vendor after ten years, he said.

And the other original members of the consortium? “Wyoming’s taking a system from another state, and they’ve budgeted $40 million,” Mayfield said. “Arizona exited their consortium, and they’re looking. There’s the potential they could rejoin us.”

Child support system modernization

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is working with Deloitte Consulting to migrate its child support system from the mainframe.

photo of oracle software installation
Installation of the Oracle software. Photo courtesy of the Department of Health and Welfare.

In 2004, the Division of Welfare was struggling with developing effective eligibility programs, said Greg Kunz, deputy administrator in the division of welfare. “We were at a crisis point, because we could not modernize the mainframe,” he said. “It was too fragile.” The division started a three-year project to upgrade the system, taking it off the mainframe in 2009. “When it was on the mainframe, we had 85 percent of our applications processed within 30 days,” he said.  “When the project was done, we were approving 70 percent in the first day.”

That put Idaho in a good position when the Affordable Care Act came along in 2011, because Idaho already had a modern eligibility system, Kunz said. Gradually, the department started migrating some of its other systems off the mainframe.

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Greg Kunz

Now, the division is working on migrating the child support system, which accounts for a third of the entire division’s operations, Kunz said. It worked with Deloitte Consulting, and innoWake, a company Deloitte bought in May, to migrate the old software to more modern technology, said Marlin Metzger, principal at Deloitte’s lead application modernization offering, in Austin, Texas.

Now that the software has been migrated, the next phase starts: Modernization, expected to last 16 to 17 months, Kunz said. “Once you get into an open architecture with an Oracle database, we can now move in directions that are being defined an hour ago, and refined in a week or a month,” he said. “It’s the major  reason we did the migration in the first place: It allows us to rapidly modernize the system, directly targeting things that help us do a better job of customer service and problem resolution.”

Developing its own system from scratch would have started at $60 million, while the way the division did it will cost $24 million, Kunz said. (In comparison, in 2015 the state of Texas halted a similar project after the initial $202 million estimate soared to more than $300 million.)  “We just happened to have a highly successful project, on budget and on schedule, that in any other way would have been a difficult lift,” he said. Whether it will be cheaper than continuing to run the software on the mainframe isn’t the issue, he said. ”We never said we’re going to save money,” he said. “What automation does is allow those business processes to be implemented more effectively.”

ITD mainframe to hit the road in 2019

The Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) is finalizing its plan to move its services off the mainframe, said Chris Victory, chief information officer, who is responsible for all ITD technology.

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An IBM z13s mainframe, the kind the Idaho Transportation Department has in Florida. Stock photo.

The department actually migrated its operations to a mainframe in Florida three years ago, Victory said. While the mainframe was originally used for highway operations applications as well, those have migrated off the mainframe to more modern storage since then, he said. Now, the mainframe is used primarily for Department of Motor Vehicles operations such as driver’s license records, though the production of the driver’s licenses themselves is outsourced to Gemalto, which also provides driver’s licenses to several other states, he said. (Idaho is also piloting a project with Gemalto to provide electronic driver’s licenses.)

Moving to a different computer system will also give the department the opportunity to examine its operations, Victory said. “It’s not just a change in technology, but how we operate as a business,” he said. As part of the process, some ITD services will be moved off the mainframe in the next few months, around May, with the final services moved off by the middle of 2019, he said.

While the department hopes to see cost savings, it hasn’t quantified them, Victory said. In any event, savings will likely be deployed into support of the new systems, he said.

A number of other states, including Louisiana, New Mexico, and Rhode Island, have or are in the process of migrating DMV services from mainframes.

State audit finds two structural deficiencies

A recent audit of Idaho’s statewide Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) covering the fiscal year that ended ended June 30 found two mistakes but not very bad ones.

Every year, the Legislative Services Office, or LSO, audits the CAFR.  As part of that process, LSO issues an internal control report that identifies any findings.

The deficiencies were in last year’s audit in the State Liquor Control Division and the Department of Transportation, noted the State of Idaho Internal Control Report.

“Both of these issues are related to deficiencies (or weaknesses) in internal controls identified during our audit,” said Lori Hendon, managing auditor.

In Liquor Control, statutorily required distributions of excess funds were unsupported by adequate documentation, and controls were not in place to ensure the accuracy of the amount distributed, the report noted. In response, the Division said it would more thoroughly maintain documentation of balances and estimates, and have an unaffiliated person verify its accuracy.

In Transportation, the Grants Receivable and Accounts Payable closing packages contained errors that resulted in an understatement of accounts payable and accounts receivable of $4.6 million, an overstatement of unavailable revenue of $3.9 million, and an understatement of revenue of $8.5 million, the report noted. The department said in the future that it would amend its reports after year-end.

These findings were typical of entities that are as large as the state of Idaho, and because they did not have a material impact, neither required immediate correction, Hendon said. “In FY 16, we did not have any findings,” she said. “However, prior to that, we have reported similar findings at various agencies over the years.”

Idaho’s January revenues come in above forecast

Good economic news for Idaho continued in January, according to the monthly Idaho General Fund Revenue Report, produced by the Division of Financial Management in the governor’s office.

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Updated Idaho revenues

January General Fund collections were $449.2 million, or $87.1 million above the revised forecast of $362.1 million – a 24.1 percent increase.

The increase was largely due to increases in individual income tax collection of $281.6 million — $76.1 million, or 37 percent, above the forecast $205.5 million. The office attributed this to people moving income to 2017 from 2018; some filing payments made at the end of December weren’t recorded until January.

Corporate income tax filings had receipts of $30.3 million — $11.5 million, or 130.2 percent, above the forecast $8.8 million. The division attributed this to stronger-than-expected revenues and lower-than-expected refunds. Filing collections were $8.1 million — three times as much as the forecast $2.7 million. Estimated payments were $13.5 million — $1.9 million above the forecast $11.6 million. Refunds were $1.1 million, much lower than the forecast $5.5 million.

Sales taxes came in slightly lower, at $141.1 million — $1.8 million, or 1.3 percent, below the forecast $142.9 million. Miscellaneous revenues were $2 million — $1.4 million above the forecast $0.6 million.

DFM also revised revenue projections to include the federal Tax Cut and Jobs Act. Idaho’s FY 2018 General Fund now increases 5.3 percent from FY 2017, from 4.9 percent. The General Fund is expected to be $3,630.9 million in FY 2018, or $15.1 million higher than the previous estimate.