Economic Activity in Idaho in November

Here is a roundup of economic news compiled by the Idaho Department of Labor in November:

Northern Idaho

  • Nearly 700 people from around the world attended the 11th annual Silver Summit in late October in Spokane. Participants toured Idaho’s Silver Valley Sunshine Mine, Lucky Friday Mill and New Jersey Mill. The summit featured 13 speakers and over 60 exhibitors including the country’s top three silver producers.
  • Sandpoint-based Coldwater Creek has laid off 20 percent of its full-time corporate workforce to save between $20 million and $25 million in the 2014 fiscal year although severance packages and restructuring costs will total $3 million.
  • A new Coeur d’Alene-based company, RockStar Resources, has been formed to advance precious metals projects into production by providing financial and permit support. Former Coeur d’Alene Mines Chief Executive Dennis Wheeler was named chairman of the newly formed company and K. Leon Hardy, a 30-year geological engineer, is president and chief executive.
  • The Idaho Department of Labor’s Kootenai County office hosted the 2013 Autumn Job Fair in October. Approximately 350 job seekers and 35 employers participated, and nearly 40 people have been hired so far.

North Central Idaho

  • AAA Tool and Cutter Grinding Inc. moved from Los Angeles to Orofino in the 1990s when the Internet allowed it to make sales long distance. The company makes custom instruments and tools for medical, aeronautics and high-tech companies. It also sharpens and re-tips tools purchased elsewhere. Initially, the business employed two people in Orofino. Since new owners took over in June, the business has hired three people and outgrown its space near Orofino City Park. Today, 11 people work there. The company plans to move to a new site near Orofino High School and add staff.
  • The National Guard Youth Challenge Program in Pierce is recruiting students for its first class in January. The boot camp-style program lasts 22 weeks and then offers a 12-month follow-up with mentors. Students must be ages 16 to 18 and have either dropped out of high school or be at risk of dropping out. The students must choose to attend. During their residency at the academy – which is free – they will have the chance to earn a year’s worth of high school credits and gain career, leadership and life skills in a highly structured environment. The approximately $2.8 million annual budget for the academy was approved by the Idaho Legislature earlier this year. The federal government will pick up 75 percent of the cost. Now, almost all of the school’s 50 employees have been hired. The program will conduct two classes a year of 120 students each.
  • Cenex plans to increase the size of its Zip Trip in Grangeville by one-third, add a lounge and shower facilities, relocate the truck fueling island to the north and provide a paved area for trucks to park. The project also will extend F Street, allowing trucks to use it to access the facility more safely. The expansion is expected to increase truck traffic, resulting in a positive economic impact for the city. The convenience store expects to add about five jobs.
  • Ida-Lew Economic Development and the Clearwater Economic Development Association made a presentation to the Salmon River Chamber of Commerce in mid-November on the possibility of developing a wine industry. “Three regions in Idaho have been identified by the Idaho Wine Commission as suitable for growing wine grapes,” said Melisa Bryant of Ida-Lew Economic Development. “The Snake River Valley has official American Viticulture Area status, the Lewis Clark Valley is working on AVA status and the Salmon River area is rich with possibilities.” Like the other two valleys, the Salmon River Valley has relatively warm weather and good soil conditions for growing grapes.
  • Forecasting slower growth because of the uncertain economic climate, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories announced it will complete the expansion of its Lewiston facilities 13 months later than originally scheduled. The company now expects to open the 140,000-square-foot building, which is about 85 percent complete, in June 2014. The manufacturer of high-tech equipment for controlling power systems already employs about 220 in Lewiston, and it continues to hire new workers in Lewiston and Pullman.
  • Potlatch Corp., which played a major role in Lewiston’s economy for more than 80 years, once again has employees. It recently transferred 12 employees from Moscow to downtown Lewiston. It moved because of the difficulty of finding suitable accommodations in Moscow and because Lewiston is centrally located. The change has no effect on regional offices in Deary, Headquarters and St. Maries. The employees are foresters and experts on timber sales, responsible for the 810,000 acres Potlatch owns in Idaho, where it is the largest private land holder. Potlatch has not had an office in Lewiston since it spun off its manufacturing operations and other paper manufacturing as Clearwater Paper eight years ago.

Southwestern Idaho

  • Home Federal Bank in Nampa announced that it is not going to merge with Banner Bank but rather accepted a better offer from the Bank of the Cascades. Home Federal is paying Banner Bank $3 million for terminating the merger.
  • Boise State University has been awarded a $2 million National Science Foundation grant to improve science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses. The three-year grant will target courses in general chemistry, calculus and pre-calculus, general physics, lower-division engineering and upper-division geoscience.
  • Micron Technology Inc. announced a $1.71 billion profit for its latest quarter, up from a $43 million the previous quarter. This is the second profitable quarter after a seven-quarter drought. The increase in profits was largely due to Micron’s acquisition of Japan’s Elpida Memory Inc. and Taiwan’s Rexchip Electronics Corp.

South Central Idaho

  • The Idaho Department of Labor’s Burley office sponsored a job fair for workers laid off by Dutchmen RV, which is relocating production to Pendleton, Ore. Those not relocating with the company had the chance to meet with representatives of Double L, McCain Food, Christiansen Implement, ConAgra Foods and staffing agencies.
  • Tertling & Co. of Boise will buy Agri-Service of Twin Falls, an employee stock ownership farm equipment business. The existing staff of 175 will remain as the business moves into a new facility next year.
  • The College of Southern Idaho has received a $2.5 million U.S. Department of Labor grant to create a Food Quality Management program housed in its Applied Technology and Innovation Center, which is still under construction. Students will split time between food processing plants and the classroom. The curriculum includes food safety, quality assurance, food processing, automation, electronic control systems and management. Classes can accommodate English-as-a-Second-Language students. Associate degrees in applied science or science and technical certificates will be available.

Southeastern Idaho

  • JH Kelly, the primary contractor for the now-bankrupt Hoku plant in Pocatello, submitted the highest bid for the facility. The $5.273 million bid is only a fraction of the total amount lost by other creditors including Kelly.  The Hoku plant cost an estimated $700 million to build. The bankruptcy court must decide whether to accept the bid. The community had hoped that the polysilicon plant would bring hundreds of high-wage jobs when it was announced in 2007, but Hoku was forced out of business when the polysilicon market crashed.
  • For many employers in Idaho, soft jobs skills – the ability to work with others, be on time, dress properly, follow directions and communicate – have become a critical issue, and young people seem to have difficulty developing them. So three local employers and staff from the Idaho Department of Labor’s Pocatello office met with about 40 Malad High School students to talk about the important of soft jobs skills and work ethic. The session in early November was part of the department’s campaign to help young people be successful in the job market.
  • Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has named American Falls City Councilman H. Norman Wright the Power County Commission to fill the rest of the term of Democrat Vicki Meadows, who moved outside her commission district. Wright, who had served on the city council for 10 years before resigning to take the commission appointment, has been active local affairs. He retired from the U.S. Farm Service Agency and is the current chairman of the Idaho Soil and Water Conservation Commission.

Eastern Idaho

  • Golden Valley Natural, an Idaho Falls meat processing plant, laid off 72 workers in October. The workers were producing pet food jerky for a private label. They were hired last summer but demand for the product slowed this fall. Officials indicated the overall health of the company was good. Around 175 workers are still on the job at its two Idaho Falls locations.
  • The Idaho National Guard announced the closure of the Driggs Armory in October. The armory had a staff of 22, who will be reassigned to the Orchard Combat Training Center between Mountain Home and Boise. The armory building was constructed in 1961.
  • Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates toured the Idaho National Laboratory in October. Gates, chairman of nuclear reactor startup TerraPower, wanted to learn about the INL’s capabilities. TerraPower is developing a wave reactor that uses depleted uranium as fuel. Depleted uranium is normally not a reactor fuel but is often used in military applications for special ammunition and tank armor.