On the heels of a victory at the polls, city and business leaders here say voters boosted chances of landing Micron Technology’s expansion plant in Kootenai County.
But Wednesday’s celebration was short-lived when Micron canceled next week’s three-day tour of Spokane and Kootenai counties by a company search team because of scheduling difficulties.
Voters on Tuesday rejected an initiative - by a margin of 1,096 to 666 - that would have required an election each time the city uses tax-increment financing.
Such financing is likely to play a major role in trying to lure Micron to Kootenai County. The company is considering several sites nationwide for its $1.3 billion expansion plant, including Post Falls.
Even though Micron has canceled next week’s visit, business recruiters and the company insist the region has not been snubbed in its quest to lure the expansion plant. Micron expects to choose a plant site among 13 finalists, including Kootenai County, before the end of this month.
“We’re not being ignored, … we’re not being snubbed,” said Bob Potter, president of Kootenai County business recruiter Jobs Plus.
“We certainly cleared a major hurdle on Tuesday,” said city Administrator John Hendrickson. “There was hope in some (competing) cities that we would get spanked by this thing and be seen as rejecting Micron.”
The election was spawned by a citizens initiative authored by the Kootenai County Property Owners Association. Ron Rankin, association president, said the initiative failed, in part, because of a well-orchestrated advertising and public relations campaign by the city and its top business leaders.
At a Wednesday night City Council meeting, Mayor Jim Hammond said attacks on his integrity and that of the council should end.
“Many of these disparaging remarks have been hurtful, spiteful and have strayed far from the truth and from our intentions,” Hammond said. “The community has made (a) decision, and now it is time for the rancor to end.”
Hammond said the city now will focus its efforts on making Post Falls an attractive location for Micron.
Although Tuesday’s initiative didn’t mention Micron, voters generally viewed the measure as a vote for or against the company locating in Post Falls, Hendrickson said. Exit polling also revealed that most voters associated the ballot measure with a chance to lure Micron here.
Potter, of Jobs Plus, expressed relief Wednesday. He’s pitching the Post Falls site as Kootenai County’s top contender for Micron. A victory for the initiative, he said, would have put a major crimp in his recruitment efforts.
“It would have been difficult for me to explain to Micron if we had lost this measure,” Potter said.
A stretch of land west of town along Interstate 90 is said to be the best site in Kootenai County for a Micron plant. That’s because freeway access would lessen traffic impacts from Micron’s 3,000 to 4,000 employees. Also, the site is closest to Spokane’s work force and colleges needed to train workers.
But with the planned tour by Micron’s seven-member search team on hold, plans to invite Washington Gov. Mike Lowry and U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt of Spokane also are on hold. Dinners, official receptions and business meetings in Post Falls and Spokane have considered.” been postponed.
Spokane and Coeur d’Alene business recruiters viewed next week’s meetings as prime opportunities to showcase the region’s wares.
Bob Cooper, head of the Spokane Area Economic Development Council, said such scheduling problems are commonplace, though frustrating.
“We don’t know the real reason, to be honest,” Cooper said. “But we’ve come this far, so I doubt it’s a snub.”
Julie Nash, spokeswoman for Boise-based Micron, said a public meeting scheduled for Feb. 16 in Post Falls will take place as planned. Kipp Bedard, a Micron vice president, is expected to attend the 6 p.m. meeting at Templin’s Resort and Conference Center. Bedard will answer questions about the company, Nash said.
Potter, of Jobs Plus, and others are expected to meet this week with a consultant hired by Micron to assist in its search for a plant site.
Watson & Associates - owners of the Post Falls property considered by Micron - feel strongly that they’ve got good odds of reeling in the computer chip manufacturer and its $200 million annual payroll. Annual property taxes from Micron would top $32 million.
Jim Watson of Watson & Associates also has proposed building a massive retail and entertainment project between Post Falls and the Washington border. But the proposed International Expo, touted as one of the largest shopping centers in North America, is on the back burner until Micron makes its decision later this month.
“We’re focusing on the Micron deal at this point … we are not aggressively pursuing retailers,” Watson said Wednesday. “I don’t know that we’re a frontrunner … but I think we’re being seriously considered.”