Jobs Plus Keeping Things In Perspective North Idaho Waiting For Strong Signs Before Getting Excited About Chip Plant

Often wooed but never wed, North Idaho once again is waiting at the altar for a large technology firm to come and tie the knot.

At the invitation of the Idaho Department of Commerce, Jobs Plus President Bob Potter recently made a presentation to a semiconductor firm he said is eyeing several states for the location of a $1.8 billion manufacturing facility. The expansion project promises 1,000 jobs to the community selected.

Potter thinks Post Falls would be the ideal expansion partner.

But after getting dropped at the last minute for Boeing’s wind tunnel project, being spurned by Micron Technology in early 1995 and receiving the cold shoulder from South Korea-based Samsung later that same year, Potter is waiting for strong signs of interest before drafting big plans for the future.

“If we can make the state cut, then I’ll get excited,” said Potter, adding that other Idaho locations and as many as 12 other states have made similar presentations. “Right now, the objective is to focus on Idaho. At this stage, site-specific is premature.”

That hasn’t stopped Potter from narrowing his list of potential candidates down to Post Falls or another nearby location on the Rathdrum Prairie, however.

“We do have an excellent location for a semiconductor company,” the economic development specialist said. “We have a site that meets absolutely all the requirements.”

Criteria listed by the company, which Potter declined to identify, include access to clean water, low-cost power, the ability to provide backup electrical feeds and a low-vibration environment.

Potter has had plenty of practice at showing sites that meet those requirements.

In 1992, Boeing had all but decided on several hundred acres near Rathdrum for its $750 million wind tunnel complex before scrapping the research project.

The same acreage, owned by Rathdrum Prairie farmer George Thayer, also got a close look from Micron, Potter said.

When the Boise-based semiconductor firm came courting about two years later, Post Falls was a finalist.

“The preferred site for Micron was out by the border across from the Factory Outlets on Interstate 90,” Potter said. “Over on Watson and Jacklin’s site.”

The land Potter referred to takes in the 640-acre International Expo commercial park and 400 adjacent acres owned by the Jacklin family.

But Micron decided on Lehi, Utah, for the 2.3-million-square-foot manufacturing plant.

Jobs Plus lobbied for Samsung’s $1 billion, 1,000-job expansion into the U.S. market in June 1995. That plant ended up in Austin, Texas.

“We did submit a proposal to Samsung, but we never got a comment back from them,” Potter said.

The only major addition to the Post Falls commercial property portfolio since that time has been the former Louisiana-Pacific sawmill site on the Spokane River. The mill closed in December 1995. At 33 acres, that property could barely house a parking lot for the kind of semiconductor plant under consideration.

More than raw land, Potter said, the combined work force demographics of Spokane and Kootenai County make this region an attractive relocation target.

“We’ve got about half a million people in a 30-mile circle,” he said, adding that the educational support system has improved since 1995 with the imminent arrival of the University of Idaho research center at the Riverbend Commerce Park.

“That’s not going to hurt us,” Potter said.

The last - and perhaps deciding - variable in the site-selection process will be the incentives offered by the states involved. Such incentives often include tax waivers, low-interest construction loans and even free land.

“Typically, with this size of investment, the states will go on a feeding frenzy of incentives,” Potter said.

Other than low wages and a business-friendly political climate, Idaho offers nothing in the way of financial incentives to relocating companies.

“But I can compete,” Potter insisted. “It’ll end up going to the state with the best incentives, the best location and the best work force.

“We’re up on two of those three fronts.”

, DataTimes

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