Here is a roundup of regional economic news compiled by the Idaho Department of Labor in February:
Benewah, Bonner, Boundary, Kootenai & Shoshone counties
- North Idaho College, the Idaho Department of Labor and the three largest wood products manufacturers in northern Idaho have teamed up to develop an NIC Wood Products Manufacturing Center of Excellence. The center will train the next generation of workers in an industry that provides nearly one in four manufacturing jobs in Idaho’s 10 northern counties and has strong potential for growth. The Wood Products Manufacturing Center for Excellence is funded through a $281,000 Idaho Department of Labor grant. Idaho Forest Group, Potlatch Corp. and Stimson Lumber Co. are matching 25 percent of the grant. Beginning in March, the program will enroll 116 participants over two years with the focus on training workers for industrial controls, saw filing and log scaling.
- Northern Idaho faces a shortage of primary care physicians within the next five to seven years, but local medical professionals have a plan to provide them. Idaho doesn’t have its own medical school. It partners with Washington, Wyoming, Alaska and Montana to fund a medical school at the University of Washington in Seattle to educate doctors. Historically, Idaho has funded about 20 positions for Idaho students. Last year, the Legislature expanded that to 25, and many hope it will add five more this year. Kootenai Health in Coeur d’Alene recently created a primary care residency program, which will allow more of those medical school graduates take residency in Idaho. Idaho has the best retention rate in the nation. About 51 percent of resident doctors stay in Idaho to practice.
- Spokane International Airport saw a 2.4 percent decrease in passengers last year. Higher fuel prices and efforts to gain efficiencies by filling up aircraft led to both Southwest Airlines and Frontier Airlines cutting flights last year, resulting in a 6 percent reduction in airplane seats. Charter flights rose 18 percent last year.
- Potlatch Corp., the Spokane-based wood products company, reported fourth-quarter net income of $13.7 million, down from $13.9 million in the same quarter the year before. Potlatch’s strength benefits Benewah County, whose largest private-sector employer is the Potlatch lumber and plywood complex employing more than 300 in St. Maries.
- Gov. Butch Otter recommended that the Legislature provide $226,700 for North Idaho College’s outreach center in Sandpoint to expand class offerings and introduce medical assistant and physical therapist assistant programs. The outreach center serves over 600 students. This fall, it opened a science laboratory, allowing students to earn an associate degree entirely in Sandpoint.
- Many residents have worked hard to preserve the 101-year-old train station near downtown Sandpoint. It has been closed since 2009 due to structural deficiencies. Amtrak uses the platform at the depot as its only stop in northern Idaho. Last year, the platform hosted 9,100 riders. Restoration is expected to begin late this spring, after the selection of a contractor. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, which owns the building and rents it to Amtrak, got nearly $1 million from the Idaho Transportation Department during Sand Creek Byway negotiations.
- Yoder’s Grocery moved from the top of Bonners Ferry’s South Hill a few blocks south to the Boundary County Electric building at the end of December to expand in response to a growing customer base. It now carries local and Amish products.
- Beginning this fall, North Idaho STEM Academy will open its Rathdrum campus to high school students. The state recently granted the kindergarten-to-eighth-grade charter school permission to add grades nine through 12. The school will begin serving ninth-grade students in the fall and add another grade each consecutive year. The expansion will increase enrollment from 315 to 724 students over the next nine years.
- Paul Bunyan Restaurant plans to open its fifth location on Idaho Highway 53 in Rathdrum in February. Specializing in burgers and milkshakes, the chain started in Coeur d’Alene in 1952. The Rathdrum restaurant employs 15. Its owners will add Tara’s Pizza Co. to the business in early March.
- Gov. Butch Otter appointed Doug Burnett to serve as northern Idaho’s representative to the state travel council. Burnet, who is the Coeur d’Alene Resort’s resident manager, replaces Jerry Jaeger, who served two terms on the council.
- Some Silver Valley companies teamed up to build a genset trailer to generate power for a drilling rig in the Bakken oil region of North Dakota. The 56-foot long trailer with a 6,500-gallon diesel tank cost roughly $400,000 to build. About 20 people worked on the trailer at Diamond Mountain Manufacturing, a Kellogg equipment designer and maker. Mike’s Specialty Welding in Kellogg did much of the construction. Hayman’s Auto Body, next to the welding shop, painted the equipment while North Side Electric did the electrical work. Once the trailer was completed, Zanetti Bros. Inc. of Osburn moved it 800 miles to North Dakota.
- The Shoshone County Emergency Medical Services Corp. recently completed its first year of operating the ambulance service in Shoshone County and eastern Kootenai County. Working in partnership with Shoshone County Fire Districts 1 and 2, it provides two ambulances staffed 24 hours a day with qualified emergency medical technicians at the fire stations in Osburn and Kellogg. Its ambulances were dispatched nearly 1,600 times during 2013.
- Silver Valley residents no longer have to travel to Coeur d’Alene or Hayden for dialysis services. DSI Renal, one of the largest dialysis service providers in the country, opened the Silver Valley Dialysis Center in Smelterville, which provides 12 in-center hemodialysis stations and a home peritoneal dialysis training/support program.
- Cleanup of mining waste in the most contaminated part of the Coeur d’Alene Basin is working. This summer’s test of Kellogg children’s blood-lead levels turned up very low rates. Only 1 percent were elevated. According to Idaho’s Department of Environmental Quality, blood-lead levels in children there were once among the highest ever recorded in the country. Now, they’ve dropped to levels consistent with national averages. A big focus of the cleanup was removing hazards to human health. Contaminated soil was removed and replaced from the yards of hundreds of homes.
- Jim McReynolds, executive director of the Wallace District Mining Museum, received Idaho’s highest museum honor in February. The Sister Alfreda Elsensohn Award for Outstanding Service – given annually by the Idaho Humanities Council, Idaho State Historical Society and Idaho Heritage Trust – includes $10,000. The museum will use much of it to continue cataloguing history and organizing its digital archives.
Alivia.Metts@labor.idaho.gov, regional economist
(208) 769-1558, ext. 3486
NORTH CENTRAL IDAHO
Clearwater, Idaho, Latah, Lewis and Nez Perce counties
- Northwest Farm Credit Services, the Spokane-based agricultural lending cooperative, believes 2014 will be similar to 2013 for farmers in the Inland Northwest. The big difference will be wheat prices possibly falling to $6 per bushel, the break-even point for many growers. The price for soft white wheat currently is above $7 a bushel, down nearly two dollars from fall 2012. Unless major disasters wipe out large parts of the wheat or corn crops, wheat prices are likely to head lower. Cattle prices are expected to remain near their current record levels. Steady demand and limited supplies pushed the prices of agricultural land up 13 percent in 2013.
- Loren Whitten-Kaboth, Clearwater County economic development specialist, told the Orofino Chamber of Commerce in late January that the Idaho Lime Quarry is still pressing forward with plans to reopen a lime quarry six miles east of Orofino. Dates for completion or hiring have not been set. The quarry is expected to employ up to 50 for 20 to 30 years. Klepfer Mining, a Hayden Lake company that provides services to the mining industry including assistance with planning and permitting projects, is working to open the 25-acre Lime Mountain site.
- The renovation of a downtown Orofino landmark is nearly complete. Paul and Lee Pippenger are transforming the 87-year-old Barnett Thompson building into condos and commercial space.
- The first class at the National Guard Idaho Youth ChalleNGe Academy in Pierce started in early January. Ninety-four students from all over Idaho started the 22-week program, which is followed by a 12-month phase of mentoring once students return to their homes. A second class begins in mid-July. About 50 people work at the school.
- An Ahsahka landmark closed Feb. 1 following a bank foreclosure. The Woodlot Tavern and Café – known for its great burgers – opened in 1964. After the Dworshak Dam created a reservoir that draws many visitors, the tavern near the dam became even more popular. Business began to slow four years ago as the county’s financial situation declined, and it fell sharply as fewer anglers came because of disappointing runs of chinook and steelhead.
Idaho and Lewis Counties
- The Grangeville Chamber of Commerce donated $3,000 to Ida-Lew Economic Development in January for the newly formed Idaho-Lewis County Technical Education Foundation. The foundation’s goal is to create local, industry driven workforce education opportunities for youth and underemployed adults. By providing a skilled workforce, it would boost living-wage jobs, enhance productivity and profitability for existing businesses and attract more businesses to Idaho and Lewis counties. A coalition of seven school district superintendents, more than 50 employers, Lewis-Clark State College and the University of Idaho are working with Ida-Lew to create more professional-technical programs. They hope to open the Camas-Clearwater Technical Education Center in two years at the former elementary school in Cottonwood. In addition to training about 70 juniors and seniors from the seven districts, the center would train about 36 adult workers and about 65 North Idaho Correctional Institution inmates. The chamber’s donation will help pay the $7,000 needed for a consultant to develop a strategic plan for the center.
- Two new fire stations to serve Craigmont and Winchester are being built in part with a $350,000 Idaho Community Development Block grant. With help from project developer Clearwater Economic Development Association, Lewis County, the city of Craigmont and the Winchester Rural Fire District applied for the grant. The 5,700-square-foot Craigmont fire station with bays for five trucks and a quick response vehicle should be ready in March. Primeland Cooperatives of Craigmont donated the land for the station, which will house city, rural district and emergency medical services vehicles and equipment. A 2,720-square-foot satellite station on the Woodside Road near Winchester is expected to cost about $91,000.
- The U.S. Forest Service is preserving the history of the Florence Basin about 40 miles south of Grangeville. Florence was a boomtown after the discovery of gold in the Orofino area in 1861. After the boom, the town went from 5,000 inhabitants to a handful. About 34 years later, a second gold rush led to the building of New Florence a mile away. Its population quickly rose to 1,000, but once again the rush was relatively short-lived. Today, only two structures – the jailhouse and a cabin – remain in New Florence. Last summer, they both underwent intensive preservation.
- The Moscow Chamber of Commerce, the Best Western Plus University Inn and the University of Idaho have been working together in the last year to bring more conferences to Moscow. The early efforts resulted in bringing state Republican and Democratic conventions to the city. The coalition is using a $72,000 grant from the Idaho Tourism Council to advertise Moscow’s attractions nationwide. Grant funds will also bring in a branding consultant to help develop a brand that incorporates the city and the university. It also will allow Moscow representatives to attend national trade shows and conferences for conference planners.
- Hagadone Hospitality recently began remodeling its 173-room Best Western Plus University Inn in Moscow. Two of its three restaurants will close at the end of February. The Pantry’s space will house additional meeting rooms, while The Broiler will be used for the hotel’s complimentary breakfast and additional conference space. The renovation will allow the facility to host more and much larger meetings and conferences.
- Economic Modeling Specialists International recently moved into the former Daily News building in downtown Moscow. After the newspaper moved to the former federal courthouse, the building was extensively remodeled to provide a space suitable for a high-tech company. The new location more than doubles the space the company had at Alturas Technology Park. Since Career Builder purchased it in 2012, the company has doubled its staff from 50 to 100. It plans to add about a dozen workers this year and is likely to employ 200 in a few years.
- The University of Idaho celebrated its 125th anniversary on Jan. 30 with a big bash in Moscow and smaller parties at various extension sites across the state. The university opened in 1889, the year before Idaho became a state. It has grown from a school with 40 students to a major research institution with 11,884 students in 142 degree programs and extension programs in every county. University officials say it has a billion dollar impact on the state through its alumni’s contributions to the economy and the applied use of its research.
- Idaho state liquor stores tallied $10 million in additional sales – 6 percent of their total – from Washington customers in 2013, according to Idaho’s state liquor division. After Washington privatized liquor sales in June 2012, prices rose steeply enough to convince many Washington residents to cross the state line. Liquor sales rose 7 percent in Latah County from the 12 months through June 2012 to the following 12 months. Nez Perce, the other north central county sharing a boundary with Washington, saw its liquor sales rise 1 percent.
- Pullman’s City Council recently agreed to a $1.67 million bond and a contract with Washington State University to share costs of a new city sewer line that many hope will spur development along the Pullman-Moscow Corridor.
Nez Perce and Asotin counties
- Bennett Lumber Products Inc. plans to reopen its shuttered mill at the Port of Wilma near Clarkston this spring. The mill, which employed 150 people before the recession, closed in 2009. When it opens in April, it will employ 60 to 70 on one shift. A staff of 14 currently is preparing machinery, updating computer programs and putting logs in the log yard. The slowly improving national housing market and strong export demand from Asia have driven up demand for lumber.
- A Moscow lumberyard plans to open a store in Lewiston in March. JJ Building Supplies will employ 10 people selling lumber, windows, doors and sheetrock. The owners chose Lewiston because of its improved economy. Lewiston is home to a rapidly expanding manufacturing sector, led by ATK, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories and Howells.
- Moscow Family Eye Care, an ophthalmology practice in downtown Moscow
Kathryn.Tacke@labor.idaho.gov, regional economist
(208) 769-1558, ext. 3486
Ada, Adams, Boise, Canyon, Elmore, Gem, Owyhee, Payette, Valley & Washington counties
- Khamu Solutions purchased the digital marketing company Initiativeinc, both in Boise. Khamu Solutions, a point-of-sale software provider, had partnered with Initiativeinc in the past and now wants to offer Initiativeinc products in house. Initiativeinc’s employees will join Khamu.
- A federal judge ordered St. Luke’s to nullify its merger with Saltzer Medical Group in Nampa, ruling that the year-old merger violates antitrust laws. The hospital system plans to appeal.
- Boise Fry Co. plans to expand to three new locations. The first is in Meridian and should be open this spring. The other two locations will be in Portland, Ore., and Austin, Texas.
- Albertsons will close 26 stores around the country by the end of March. All of the stores have underperformed for some time, the company said. None of the stores are in Idaho.
- Involta plans to open a $10.5 million data center in Boise by the end of the year. Work on the new 34,000-square-foot building is set for March. St. Luke’s Health System and WinCo Foods will become clients, according to the company.
- Idaho Central Credit Union has a new branch under construction in Boise that will open this spring. The company also finished remodeling its downtown facility. The work allowed the company to centralize both its mortgage and small business operations and add three new positions.
- Boise landed on another top 25 list. This time it is Forbes “Best Places to Retire in 2014.” Boise made the list because of its “dry climate, good economy, cost of living about at national average, average home price $168,000, low crime, high rankings for walkability, bicycling and volunteering.”
- Work began on the 951 apartment complex in January. The $9 million, four-story development in southeast Boise will include 68 one- and two-bedroom units, retail space and parking. The project is scheduled to be complete in early 2015.
- Syringa Bank became the third bank failure in 2014 nationally. The small Boise-based lender’s deposits and assets were purchased by Sunwest Bank in Irvine, Calif.
- CenturyLink will close its Consumer Financial Services department this year, eliminating almost 30 jobs. The company plans to shift those duties to other locations. At the same time, the company is hiring 80 new employees for its customer service division.
- The city of Meridian announced it will break ground on a $5 million public safety training center, the first in the northwest. It will include an indoor shooting range, mock scenario village and dog training equipment. The facility will be next to the Idaho State Police Headquarters and geared toward first responders like police and public works.
- Materne will open a food processing plant in the former Micron building in Nampa to manufacture GoGo squeeZ applesauce packets. Trial runs for the first production lines should start by year’s end. The company said it will invest $85 million in the new plant and employ at least 230.
- Fruitland is preparing to build the first phase of a new water treatment plant. The $21.5 million project is being funded by a voter-approved bond and will take two years to complete.
- 3 Mamas Sandwich Shop in Council
- Jay’s Sinclair and Convenience Store in Cambridge
- Starbucks, off interstate 84 and Garrity in Nampa
- Nifty Thrifty in Weiser
- Woodland Empire Ale Craft in Boise
- Cacicia’s Cucinas, a Sicilian restaurant in Meridian
- Calle 75, a Mexican restaurant in Meridian
- Rice Works, an Asian fusion restaurant in Meridian
- J.D Byrider, a car dealership in Garden City
- ZoomCare health care provider in Meridian
- Wholesome Tummies, a school-lunch franchise in Meridian
- Berg Hill Greenleaf & Ruscitti LLP, a law firm in Boise.
- Jimmy John’s, a restaurant in Nampa
- Archiver’s, a national scrapbooking chain store, in Boise
- The Stagecoach Inn in Boise
- Cazba Mediterranean Restaurant in Boise
- The Green Chile in Boise
Andrew.Townsend@labor.idaho.gov, regional economist
(208) 332-3570, ext. 3455
SOUTH CENTRAL IDAHO
Blaine, Camas, Cassia, Gooding, Jerome, Lincoln, Minidoka and Twin Falls
Twin Falls County
- The College of Southern Idaho’s spring enrollment dropped 6 percent from a year earlier to 6,521. Full-time students totaled 3,673, a 12 percent decline, reflecting the national trend of people returning to the workforce as jobs increase.
- Amalgamated Sugar Co. plans to update its heating system, an important component of the factory where sugar beets are boiled and converted into syrup and then separated into sugar crystals. The plant will replace coal-fired boilers with those burning natural gas, removing 160 tons of particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and other pollutants from the air each year. An air permit application has been submitted to the Department of Environmental Quality to implement the retrofit by 2015.
- Twin Falls County was designated a drought disaster area and farmers can apply for emergency assistance.
- A meat slaughter operation plans to locate in the Jerome, dependent on permitting, according to the 20/20 Jerome economic development group. Dale T. Smith & Sons Meat Packing Co., a Draper, Utah, based company will spend $7.5 million on a 25,000-square-foot facility to handle the culled dairy cow and beef cattle industry. The livestock is currently shipped out of state for slaughter. The 60-year old company intends to move all operations to Jerome. The new plant will be high-tech, state-of-the-art and will handle its own water treatment as Jerome’s treatment plant is at capacity. Plans are to hire 100 workers during the spring of 2015 with another 100 a year later.
- The city of Jerome has hired Mike Williams as its new administrator. Williams previously worked for the city of Twin Falls as an assistant to City Manager Travis Rothweiler.
- County owned Blaine Manor has closed with a surplus of $480,000. The money was part of a two-year property tax levy for $1.9 million. The facility wrote off $1 million as uncollectable from the Croy Canyon Ranch Foundation, which was organized to buy the land and building for a new nonprofit senior care facility. The plan was later rejected by county commissioners after the land purchase had gone through. Safe Haven Health Care, a private Pocatello-based company, is building a new facility in Bellevue. Its Bell Mountain Village and Care Center should open by October.
- The 2013 wildfire that threatened homes in the Wood River Valley for two weeks drove real estate sales down last year. But there has been an increase in the median sale price. Sales in September and October were down 17 percent from a year earlier, but the median price was up 26 percent to $265,000. Sales were down most for homes under $500,000 and over $2 million.
- United Airlines will begin seasonal nonstop air service between Hailey and Denver July 2, running through Sept. 23. This adds to the list of nonstop flights to major cities such as Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle.
- Elite Gym in Twin Falls
- Stormy’s Cash ‘N Carry convenience store in Twin Falls
Jan.Roeser@labor.idaho.gov, regional economist
(208) 735-2500, ext. 3639
Bannock, Bear Lake, Bingham, Caribou, Franklin, Oneida & Power counties
- Idaho State University President Arthur Vailas used the new year to talk about the status of the institution he leads. In remarks to the Greater Pocatello Chamber of Commerce, Vailas pointed that Idaho State has among the lowest tuition rates and the highest wages earned among graduates of any school in the nation. Tuition ranks 15th lowest. Vailas said out-of-state student enrollment is up by 12 percent and 60 percent of all students earn a degree. He pointed out the school’s growing role in providing workers for the health care industry. Over 62,000 patients visit Idaho State University sponsored clinics every year, he said, maintaining that these clinics will see even more patients in the future under the Affordable Care Act.
- The new Bingham Academy held an open house in early February as the public charter school looks to accept its first students in the fall. The first year will be limited to ninth and 10th grades. The final two years of high school will be added in subsequent years. Charter schools must meet the same outcomes as traditional public high schools in addition to those listed in the institutions’ charters. Bingham Academy will focus on preparing students for college and careers in science and technology.
- Aberdeen will take part in a community review in early March. So far 30 rural communities in Idaho have taken part in the community review program, sponsored by the Idaho Department of Commerce, the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Rural Development, the University of Idaho, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Idaho Housing and Finance Association. The reviews help communities identify assets, opportunities and challenges. Input from the public and many different stake holders are key to the process. The community review comes as Aberdeen’s major employer, J.R. Simplot Co., shuts down its food processing plant this spring, idling over 250 workers. A final report of the review will be completed this summer.
- Soda Springs drew many of the nation’s top dog sled competitors along with many fans in January for Rocky Mountain Dog Sled Championships. Local officials and event organizers said they have plans for the event to return to Soda Springs.
- The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality has been working to address the issue of extended poor air quality in Franklin County caused by the county’s geography and wind patterns. The department three years ago initiated a program to help residents switch their older, less-efficient wood-burning stoves for newer ones. So far the program has had a positive impact. According to the department, particulate releases in the county are down by 10 tons.
Dan.Cravens@labor.idaho.gov, regional economist
(208) 236-6710, ext. 3713
Bonneville, Butte, Clark, Custer, Fremont, Jefferson, Lemhi, Madison & Teton counties
- Completion of Melaleuca’s new $50 million, 371,000-square-foot headquarters has been pushed back from spring to fall. Weather and other aspects of construction are responsible. The new facility will house 1,000 of the company’s 2,000 employees in eastern Idaho, but the building has space for 4,000. The company recently announced its expansion to Mexico.
- Center Partners is closing its Idaho Falls call center after losing a contract with Sony. The center’s workers provided customer support for Sony’s Playstation video game console. Idaho Department of Labor representatives are meeting with Center Partners staff to explain options for re-employment and answer questions about unemployment benefits. The department is also organizing a job fair for laid-off workers.
- Student enrollment at Brigham Young University-Idaho increased 0.7 percent during the 2014 winter semester from a year earlier. On-campus enrollment reached 15,625 students. Enrollment online and in Pathways, BYU-Idaho’s one-year college preparation program, rose to 12,175 students – up from 7,623 students in 2013.
- Rexburg city leaders voted unanimously to fund a study on relocating the local airport. Residential development quickly encroached on the airport’s current location, making it impossible to lengthen the runway. The airport also borders protected wetlands.
- A new transportation provider is shuttling students and the general public around Rexburg. RPM started the shuttle services in response to the transportation needs of BYU-Idaho students who are without cars. Shuttle rides are $2 each way. Vans run Tuesday through Saturday from 3 to 9 p.m.
- Rexburg’s City Council unanimously approved rezoning 24 acres for a new Super Walmart. Once construction begins, it typically takes 12 to 15 months before the store is fully operational. The next step is a development agreement to cover road and utility needs. The new store would be 186,933 square feet with 726 parking spots.
- Custer County commissioners are distancing themselves from support for the proposed Boulder-White Clouds National Monument designation. Commissioners declined to host public meetings or sign a letter of support drafted to Rep. Mike Simpson. President Obama’s signature would be required for the region to become a national monument. That decision would usually require public meetings and input from surrounding communities. The earliest any decision could be made is August.
- The Formation Metals board of directors reached an agreement with the company’s chief executive, president and executive vice president on their resignations. Formation Metals is the company behind the Idaho Cobalt Project outside of Salmon. Lower than expected cobalt prices put any plans to further develop the cobalt mine on hold. The decision to eliminate the executive positions was made to create additional cost savings associated with the project.
Will.Jenson@labor.idaho.gov, regional economist
(208) 557-2500, ext. 3077