February 2, 2012 in Idaho

Idaho Rep. Henderson, 89, pushes economic development

By The Spokesman-Review

(Full-size photo)

BOISE – Idaho Rep. Frank Henderson, who at 89 is the oldest member of the Idaho Legislature, is pushing legislation this year he says will directly create dozens of jobs statewide; on Wednesday, his bill unanimously passed the House.

Henderson meant it a year ago when he decided to give up his coveted seat on the Legislature’s budget committee to focus more on economic development.

“I want to find ways to help our existing industries – help them expand into the domestic markets, help them expand into new markets, so they can retain their present workforce and hopefully expand it, so we can get more money into the local economies,” he said then.

His latest bill, which would offer a sales tax rebate for sophisticated parts installed in Idaho into out-of-state aircraft, is just a small piece of what Henderson’s been doing on economic development.

He’s also partnered with two other lawmakers from his Post Falls-area district to develop a snazzy, 10-page full-color magazine, funded out of their own pockets, that they’ve mailed to 300 targeted out-of-state businesses, trying to interest the firms in moving to North Idaho.

“It cost each of us a little over 500 bucks,” Henderson said. “We all wrote a personal check.” The Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry and one other group kicked in $500 apiece for postage.

The magazine’s cover highlights North Idaho’s “favorable business climate,” boasting low overhead expenses and good transportation. Inside, it offers a message from Gov. Butch Otter; a fill-in-the-blanks worksheet comparing key business costs in Idaho to those in California, Oregon and Washington; higher education information; and state and local economic development contacts. There also are testimonials from five North Idaho businesses on why they moved to the state, from Buck Knives to LA Aluminum, and lots of photos.

“Frank generated the idea, and in fact he did most of the work on that,” said state Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d’Alene, whose name appears with Henderson’s and Rep. Bob Nonini’s in the magazine. “He is more focused on accomplishing the work than on seeing who gets credit for that.”

Henderson is a former Post Falls mayor and Kootenai County commissioner. He’s also a retired marketing executive and newspaper publisher and a World War II Army veteran. He’s in his fourth term in the House.

Nonini called Henderson “the Energizer Bunny” and said he’s not surprised that some guess Henderson’s in his 60s. “He’s got the energy of a 60-year-old, that’s for sure,” Nonini said. “Hopefully, his energy and health hold out so he can continue to serve as long as he wants to serve.”

Henderson’s bill that passed the House Wednesday, HB 417, would offer a sales tax rebate for parts installed in Idaho into out-of-state aircraft. It expands on a measure, rejected last year and the year before, that would have only applied to large jets and would have only helped one company, Western Aircraft, based in Boise. Henderson’s bill expands the rebate to work done on smaller airplanes.

“There are 26 companies that do these services in this state,” Henderson said. Western Aircraft first pushed for the bill, saying it was losing business to other states because of the way Idaho taxed airplane parts installed for out-of-state owners. The company said it could attract more business and expand if the tax were eased.

Henderson said he surveyed all 26 companies that do the work and heard back from seven. Just from those companies, the tax change would result in their adding more than 30 jobs in the next year, he said, and several hundred in the next three to five years. He estimated the business boost would more than offset the estimated $164,000 cost of the tax rebate next year.

“You can fly in here, our companies can install the part,” he said. “It puts people to work, and the salaries are quite significant.”

The tax rebate would apply only to FAA-certified repairs, which Henderson said are performed by technicians who earn $50,000-plus a year.

In regard to the North Idaho business magazine, Henderson said the “idea was to trigger a response.”“There are a lot of factors that come into play” when a business decides to relocate, he said. “Sometimes it’s taxes, sometimes it’s quality of life, sometimes it’s schools. You never know. We want to get the correspondence going.”

Steve Griffitts, president of Jobs Plus in Coeur d’Alene, had high praise for the brochure. “I’m bringing them with me on my visits, and clients are impressed that our political leaders really do care about economic development and economic growth,” he said.

State Commerce Director Jeff Sayer also praised the piece and said his department has incorporated a lot of Henderson’s ideas into its material. “It’s fun to watch him continue to come up with good ideas,” Sayer said.

Both Hammond, 61, and Nonini, 57, called Henderson a mentor. Hammond said it was Henderson who first persuaded him, as a young Post Falls school principal, to accept an appointment to the local Planning and Zoning Commission, then to run for the City Council. Now Hammond is the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

“Whatever success I’ve had here, certainly I could attribute that to his mentorship,” he said.

Rep. Max Black, R-Boise, who chairs the House Business Committee, on which Henderson serves, said, “He is and has been very focused on economic development. … From my perspective, Frank is a very effective legislator, because when he stands up to speak, people listen.”

Black, 75, who’s served in the Legislature for 20 years, said, “It’s astounding that that man at that age has such a sharp mind. … It’s a little bit unusual, in my experience, for somebody to be able to still serve in public service like he is at his age. It’s just phenomenal to me.”

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