Here is a roundup of economic news compiled by the Idaho Department of Labor in February:
- Work is moving forward on an east-west bus route connecting Priest River, Sandpoint, Newport and the Spokane Airport. SMS Transit hopes to be up and running as early as April. A north-south route connecting the Panhandle to Boise is in the planning stages. The route is projected to run from Bonners Ferry through Sandpoint to Coeur d’Alene. From there, it will hit the major stops on the way to Boise.
- Horizon Air and Spokane International Airport teamed up on a $1.9 million maintenance hangar that will employ 19 workers.
- Benewah Community Hospital is one of four regional hospitals awarded $20,000 grants to improve emergency room care. The hospitals will participate in a nurse exchange program, where emergency room nurses visit other emergency rooms and gain experience in different atmospheres. In addition to the exchange, nurses will participate in a Rural Trauma Team Development course. The grant will pay for staff time and travel. (Photo courtesy of Benewah Community Hospital)
- SQM Group in Vernon, B.C., will expand into Coeur d’Alene, bringing 80 or more jobs to the area. The company conducts customer satisfaction research surveys with people who have just used a call center. With Fortune 500 companies as clients, SQM’s unique research and data analysis has helped improve call center customer service and reduce operating costs.
North Central Idaho
- Idaho will host three jet boat races as part of the U.S.A. Jet River Racing Series 2013. The first will be April 19-21 during Riggins’ 29th annual Salmon River jet boat races. The second 25-mile race will be May 17-19 on the St. Joe River from St. Maries to Calder. The final race, Thunder on the Snake, will be Aug. 23-25 in Lewiston. The races attract tourists and allow the region’s jet boat builders to show off their wares.
- The consolidated Clearwater and Nez Perce national forests will close the headquarters in Orofino and Grangeville over the next few years and open a new headquarters in Kamiah. Grangeville residents actively opposed the relocation, and opposed the merger of the two forests. On Feb. 11, the Forest Service announced that it will stick with its plans to move consolidated operations to Kamiah. Moves are to be completed when current building leases expire in Orofino in April 2014 and Grangeville in October 2022.
- A new ammunition manufacturing business is considering a plant in Grangeville, possibly in part of the Main Street complex that the Forest Service left in 2007. “Based on everything they have to put in place, it could be three months to 18 months” before there is any action, according to Melisa Bryant, economic development specialist for the Ida-Lew Economic Development Council. The project needs federal and state safety approval for the building and a conditional use permit from the city. Initially, the business would employ up to 10 people.
- Regence Blue Shield laid off 10 employees at its Lewiston insurance center in late January as part of a cost-saving effort to shed 56 jobs in Idaho, Oregon and Washington. After the layoff, Regence employs 690 people in Lewiston. The affected employees received severance packages based on their positions and length of service as well as career counseling services.
- Moxie Java International announced it is looking for eight to 10 franchisees for southwestern Idaho. Six stores that had the Moxie Java name changed to Lucky Perk Coffee late last month.
- Chipotle Mexican Grill will open a new restaurant at The Village in Meridian in October.
- Boise-based Honk’s $1.00 chain store filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The company has 14 stores in Idaho, Utah, Oregon and Nevada.
- Rhodes Bake-N-Serv announced that it will close its Caldwell plant in mid-April and shift production to Wisconsin. The plant that makes frozen bread dough had been in operation since 1962. The closure will affect 49 workers.
South Central Idaho
- The Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency held a public session to determine priorities for Urban Renewal Agency funding. Relocating city hall led the list followed by affordable housing that has already been approved but cannot acquire financing. A geothermal outdoor pool and park was third.
- D.L. Evans Bank will build a new corporate headquarters in Burley. The two-story, 20,000-square-foot building includes some energy efficiency design. D.L. Evans, a privately-held operation, opened its first branch on Sept. 15, 1904, in Albion. The bank has expanded to 20 branches in Albion, Boise, Burley, Hailey, Idaho Falls, Jerome, Ketchum, Meridian, Nampa, Pocatello, Rupert and Twin Falls.
- The College of Southern Idaho has partnered with Sage Truck Driving School to provide commercial driver’s license training in Burley. Area employers directly requested such training programs to broaden the labor pool. The college-industry partnership makes student loans and grants available as well as resources from the Idaho Department of Labor’s Workforce Investment Act program. The median wage for truck drivers is $31,800 a year, but there are businesses in south central Idaho that start experienced drivers near $50,000 with benefits.
- The J.R. Simplot distribution center in Heyburn will lay off most of its 50 employees in August and the residual staff a year later when a new processing plant opens in Caldwell. Currently, the Heyburn facility distributes frozen potato products from the Aberdeen plant, which will be permanently closed in 2014. Caldwell’s existing distribution center will be replaced with a new one that will open at the same time as the new plant. Employees will be offered either severance or the opportunity to apply for other J.R. Simplot jobs.
- Heinz Frozen Food Co. in Pocatello will lay off 80 employees in early March due to the discontinuation of its T.G.I. Friday’s line of frozen entrees. Company officials said the layoffs will help the plant effectively manage costs and ensure the talents of remaining workers are being properly used. Workers affected by the layoffs will continue to receive health care benefits through March.
- Idaho State University President Arthur Vailas told the Idaho Senate’s Education Committee about 40 percent of the degrees earned by students are in the health professions. He said the health emphasis at Idaho State is having a significant impact on the state. Clinics operated by the school saw more than 42,000 patients last year, with a $12.6 million impact on Idaho’s economy.
- Allstate officials announced the addition of 225 jobs at its customer service center in January. The company is locating its roadside services division in southeastern Idaho along with the 500 employees in the customer service center.
- A legislative resolution has been introduced encouraging the Idaho Department of Commerce to establish Idaho as one of six locations for unmanned aerial vehicle testing. Congress tasked the Federal Aviation Administration with finding test sites. The Idaho National Laboratory site west of Idaho Falls and Gowen Field in Boise have been suggested as possible locations. INL already does some research related to unmanned aircraft.
- The Idaho Department of Commerce awarded a $255,000 Rural Community Development Block Grant to fund a rail spur in Ucon. The rail spur will be used by the Cives Steel plant that is currently under construction. The plant will employ 50 with plans to expand to 150.
- The Idaho National Laboratory accepted 110 voluntary layoff requests as part of a 450 employee reduction. The last day of work for these former employees was Feb 7. Employees who volunteered for the layoff were given up to 16 weeks of severance pay. The laboratory is expected to proceed with additional involuntary layoffs some time this month.
- Brigham Young University-Idaho announced a 4 percent increase in student enrollment for the 2013 winter semester compared to the same semester in 2012. Annual growth for the fall 2012 semester reached 12 percent. The university enrolled 16,354 students for the winter 2013 semester – 96 percent live in Rexburg. The more modest recent growth is attributed to reductions in age requirements for students participating in leaving on 18-month or two-year missions.
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