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Fewer firms apply for workforce training funds after rule changes

A year of cracking down on a top Idaho incentive designed to attract businesses has resulted in fewer applicants vying for the program, the AP reports. Idaho’s workforce development training fund reimburses companies for training employees who would otherwise lose their job for not having the right specialized skills. In fiscal year 2015, which ended in June, the Idaho Department of Labor approved more than $6 million to help train employees at 11 different businesses and universities.

The dollar figure is nearly double than what was allocated a year before, but the number of companies benefiting from the award is the lowest it's been in five years. Agency Director Ken Edmunds says businesses have raised concerns that the new criteria are too strict, but he says they’re here to stay. You can read AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi’s full report here.

Commerce chief apologizes, says firm getting tax incentive will be named when deal finalized

Idaho state Commerce Director Jeff Sayer apologized today for promising last week that the first recipient of Idaho’s generous new tax reimbursement incentive would be named at an Economic Development Council meeting today at which the council approved a 25 percent tax break for the firm. “I screwed up,” Sayer told Eye on Boise. “That wasn’t the agreement we made with the company.”

Today’s council approval is only preliminary, Sayer said; if the company accepts the offer for the tax incentive, a final agreement still would have to be negotiated. Once that’s approved, all aspects of the deal would become public, he said. “Today we are respecting the wishes of the company,” he said. “There are going to be situations where we give that approval only to have the company tell us ‘thanks but no thanks, we’ve chosen another state.’” That’s apparently not the case here, however.

“When an agreement is signed and a company does decide to choose Idaho, you’ll see us be completely transparent,” Sayer said. The information will be posted on a Commerce Department website, he said. “All of those details will be on the table.”

The information that Commerce is releasing today about the deal includes a one-page summary that you can read here. It says “Project Sky” is a project to build an aerospace maintenance facility in Ada County that would hire 50 full-time employees in 2015, with benefits, and expand to 100 over the next 12 years, with an average annual wage of $52,000. The council voted today to offer a 25 percent rebate of the firm’s sales, payroll and corporate income taxes for 12 years; the new incentive law allows up to 30 percent for up to 15 years.

Though Commerce decided not to name the airline today, the Boise Weekly reported on Sunday that it is SkyWest. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi.

Otter touts ed results, new tax incentive in address to business community

Gov. Butch Otter defended the state’s direction on education — and its funding commitment — in a speech to some 600 Treasure Valley business leaders today, reports Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News. The occasion was Otter’s annual address to the business community, and Otter didn’t directly address his re-election campaign – or his Democratic challenger, longtime Boise School Board Chairman A.J. Balukoff – in the speech. But he did touch on a point of contention in the race between the two, Richert reports.

Balukoff, in a fundraising email last week, took the state to task for its per-pupil spending, which perennially sits near the bottom of national rankings. The rankings, he said, are “downright shameful.” Otter told the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce luncheon today, “I still think we have to look at the results. It’s not how much money you spend, it’s how you spend the money.”

He said the 2014 Legislature took a “great leap forward” in restoring school funding after recession-era budget cuts, though the restoration isn’t complete; it was part of the first step in a five-year plan, he said. You can read Richert’s full report here.

Meanwhile, Idaho Statesman business reporter Zach Kyle, in his report on the speech, writes that Otter “stuck to familiar talking points,” including touting the new tax reimbursement incentive law that took effect July 1 and for which the Idaho Economic Advisory Council is considering its first applicant today, an airline that wants to build a big new maintenance facility in Boise. Kyle’s report is online here; the Boise Weekly reported on Sunday that the airline in question is SkyWest.

How parking can save cities

Lots and lots of parking lots. That has been a major issue in Spokane as historic buildings have been razed in the past - just look back to the Spokesman's "Then & Now" on the Rookery Block. We know they create economic dead zones but it's slowly getting better since City Council passed a moratorium on open surface parking lots in the downtown core five years ago. 

While cities make efforts to manage parking differently, there's certainly a correlation between healthier and cleaner communities. This quick video by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) and Streetfilms explains the importance of the issue. It also reminds me of Schoolhouse Rock, so win-win. 

Otter-backed economic development project runs into objections from neighboring plant 500 yards away

A proposed $2 billion nitrogen fertilizer plant in American Falls that Gov. Butch Otter has touted as part of his economic development initiative has run into a snag – thanks to a neighboring business, a french fry plant that employs 600 people, and has filed an appeal of the fertilizer plant’s air quality permit, reports Rocky Barker of the Idaho Statesman. The new fertilizer plant would be 500 yards from the existing french fry plant, which has operated there for 50 years. The existing plant is raising concerns about the proposed fertilizer plant's effects on emergency preparedness, odor and water quality.

The natural gas-fired fertilizer plant would employ 170 people, Barker reports; his full report is online here. He reports that Otter has traveled around the world to help the New York company planning the fertilizer plant get investors for several years, including on his 2010 trade mission to China. The french fry plant is operated by Lamb Weston, a division of ag giant ConAgra.

Hard times in Pocatello, as contractor submits highest bid for failed Hoku plant

A contractor based in Longview, Wash. has submitted the highest bid for a failed polysilicon plant in Pocatello, the AP and the Idaho State Journal report today; click below for their full report. JH Kelly Inc. offered $5.27 million for the defunct Hoku plant at auction; it’s also suing Hoku’s Chinese parent company in federal court, alleging that it’s still owed $25 million for work done at the site. The plant, which never opened, promised high-tech jobs producing materials for solar panels; the city bought the $1.4 million property and leased it almost for free for the plant, and Hoku also got $2.2 million in federal grants plus a promise of job training money from the state.

Meanwhile, the New York Times wrote about the mess today, in a story headlined, “Idaho Town Struggles After Pinning Hopes on a Failed Factory;” you can read it here. Writer Kirk Johnson paints a grim picture of the situation facing Pocatello, Idaho’s 5th-largest city. “Pocatello’s road was tough before Hoku ever came to call,” he writes. “It lost many of its good railroad jobs when Union Pacific consolidated operations in Utah. A potato processing factory in a neighboring town — about 10 percent of the work force commutes there from Pocatello — has said it will close next year. And like Idaho as a whole, it has suffered from a downward spiral in wages.”

Writes Johnson, “From 37th place in per capita income in the mid-1990s, the state is now 49th, kept from the bottom only by Mississippi, according to federal figures. Part-time jobs have been among the fastest-growing employment categories in recent years, with almost one in four jobs statewide offering less than full-time hours — the fifth-highest rate in the nation. Many downtown businesses are vacant and up for lease, and the struggling local shopping mall is scheduled to go up for auction this month.”

Clif Bar announces plans for new plant in Twin Falls

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) — A California-based energy food bar company is planning to break ground on a new baking facility in Twin Falls early in 2015. Clif Bar company officials joined Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and Twin Falls leaders Thursday in announcing the plans. The company anticipates creating 250 jobs when the facility is up and running in late 2016. Company officials say they intend to invest $160 million into the new facility, with $90 million slotted for the first phase. The privately held company produces a variety of nutritional products targeting active and athletic consumers, and its flagship product is the Clif Bar, developed by company founder and outdoors enthusiast Gary Erickson. Shortly after the company announced its plans, the Twin Falls City Council approved a development deal.

Washington jobless rate drops to 6.8 percent, lowest since November 2008

Washington’s unemployment rate dropped to an estimated 6.8 percent in May, the first time under 7 percent since November 2008, when the rate was 6.5 percent, the state Employment Security Department said Wednesday.

The state’s unemployment rate has fallen by 0.7 percentage points since the start of the year.

Individual county jobless reports will be issued next week.

The latest report says Washington added about 4,100 jobs in May, seasonally adjusted. Economists revised the April job numbers downward by 2,100 jobs, from a preliminary estimated gain of 3,800 to a gain of 1,700.

Industries with the most estimated job gains in May were government, up 3,200; education and health services, up 2,500; leisure and hospitality, up 1,500; transportation, warehousing and utilities, up 600; and retail trade, up 300 jobs.

Industries showing the most job losses last month included “other services,” down 1,400; manufacturing, down 600; professional and business services, down 500; construction, down 500; wholesale trade, down 400; financial activities, down 300; and information, down 200.

Two job fairs this month for those looking to land a job at Liberty Lake sales office

Vivint Inc., a Provo-based home automation company, will hold two job fairs later this month as a way to identify workers for a new Liberty Lake call center office.

Today's SR story summarizes the announcement of the company's decision to add an office here.

The job fairs are at the Liberty Lake location, 22425 E. Appleway. They will be June 20 and June 25.

NOTE: An occasional web banner ad for Vivint may appear on this page from time to time. There has been no consideration by SR employees  to place that specific ad on the same page as a story about the company. 

Another lodging tax discussion tonight

The Spokane Valley City Council is scheduled to vote at tonight's council meeting on the 2013 lodging tax funding. There has been some discussion on whether or not to fund Valleyfest. There are a few other interesting items on the agenda tonight. The city's economic development committee, which has been meeting for months, will present its final report. The Mayor will also make recommendations for appointments to vacant seats on the city's planning commission and the lodging tax advisory committee. It's a long agenda, so be prepared if you decided to attend the meeting. It starts at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 11707 E. Sprague.

Spokane area lands (again) on great places to retire list

Not widely seen as a source of economic development is the appeal this area has for folks 65-and-over.

A number of publications have recognized Spokane is considered is a good place to retire. At least if you don't mind winter (or can get away until April).

Another publication just agreed with that belief: Where to Retire magazine.

Editor Mary Lu Abbott in the latest issue wrote: "Spokane possesses qualities important to today’s retirees. Signs like rising home prices and falling inventory point to a rebounding housing market. Our eight locales, including Spokane, offer boomers excellent buys now, with the possibility for value appreciation in the future, as well as an active retirement lifestyle, ” Abbott said.

The other cities mentioned are Salem,  Reno, Palm Springs, Calif., Wilmington, N.C.; Marietta, Ga.; Hagerstown, Md. and Gainesville, Fla.

What's the business takeaway: Abbott summarizes it thus: Each year 700,000 Americans relocate to new towns to retire. Generally, relocating retirees are healthier, better educated and more affluent than those who choose to not relocate. They bring significant economic benefits to their new states and hometowns. Nationally, two dozen states and hundreds of towns seek to attract retirees as a source of economic development.

Today’s highlights

Lexi Saeger is working her way toward a national competition by selling shopping bags, right, that she makes from empty pet food bags. She also made a skirt and camisole out of the bags, left, for the Future Career and Community Leaders of America competition. SR photo/Dan Pelle

The rain is back, but since it is Thursday there's a Valley Voice to take a look at over coffee since you can't look out the window and see sunshine. Reporter Lisa Leinberger attended an East Valley school board meeting this week where there was a public hearing on the district's plan to take on $6.2 million in nonvoted debt to pay for new portable classrooms at the elementary schools. The portables are needed to allow the schools to include students in grades K-8. The topic did generate some discussion.

Correspondent Cindy Hval interviewed Lexi Saeger, a student at Freeman High School, who makes clothing and shopping bags out of old pet food bags. She's been selling her shopping bags and they are available at a local store.

The Spokane Valley City Council voted Tuesday to name nine people to its new ad hoc economic development committee. The council also voted to pass a new sign code ordinance. This week the Spokane Valley Fire Department commissioners gave a resident an outstanding citizen award for his role in saving a woman from her burning apartment. The commissioners also voted to put a replacement maintenance and operations levy on the Aug. 7 ballot.

Company Recruitment Vital, But …

It takes three years to recruit a company to North Idaho. That’s what Steve Griffitts says, and he should know. Since August 2003, Griffitts has directed Jobs Plus, Inc., the region’s public-private economic development agency, bringing dozens of companies, hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in payroll and property taxes along the way. So it takes roughly three years to land a company. But to lose one? That can happen seemingly overnight. When the threat looms, Griffitts quickly rallies an army to his side and together, they do whatever they can to restore order on the region’s economic battle front. They know that sometimes, a solid defense is even more important than a good offense/Mike Patrick, Coeur d'Alene Press. More here. (Jesse Tinsley 2008 SR file photo of Ron Nilson, center, and Steve Griffitts, right)

Question: How important has Jobs Plus been to Kootenai County/North Idaho?

Committee appointments at council meeting

Tonight's Spokane Valley City Council meeting will include the appointments of local residents to the city's new ad hoc Economic Development Committee. The group will include two council members, three business representatives, three tourism representatives and two citizens at large. The city received 19 applications for the positions.

Other items on tonight's agenda include the second reading of a sign code ordinance and what may be a lengthy presentation of the proposed Comprehensive Plan amendments for 2012. Tonight is a regular meeting, so there will be a public comment period for anything anyone wants to discuss. The meeting starts at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 11707 E. Sprague.

Saturday’s highlights

Spokane Valley councilman Arne Woodard is known for his ties. Many are bright, loud and a few are a bit wild. He owns about 60 of them and since his appointment to the council last year, Woodard has tried to wear a different tie every Tuesday night. SR photo/Dan Pelle

Saturday's Valley Voice was so packed with stories that I'm really not sure how we fit them all in. Here's your chance to take a look if you missed them. Spokane Valley City Councilman Arne Woodard has been making a name for himself by wearing colorful and unusual ties to council meetings. He thinks the ties make him more approachable and they fit his sense of humor.

Reporter Lisa Leinberger has several stories on local schools. The East Valley School District is considering purchasing portable classrooms for its elementary schools to create room for seventh graders. There will be a public hearing on the subject during the school board's meeting Tuesday. Lisa talked to students at University High School last week who were taking part in a distracted driving demonstration. They tried texting while driving and also driving with special goggles that simulated a drunk person's vision.

Students at University Elementary School spent some time last week planting seeds to grow in their new donated greenhouse. The students seemed happy to get out and have fun in the dirt.

Nineteen people have applied to serve on Spokane Valley's new economic development committee. The story includes a list of those who have applied. Mayor Tom Towey will make his appointment recommendations on Tuesday. Last week there was a public hearing regarding a retroactive substantial development permit being sought by a Liberty Lake homeowner for shoreline improvements that were put in without a permit. The owner, Lloyd Herman, was ordered to remove the improvements but has not done so.  

Quintrall starts new job at the city on Monday; salary: $118,494

Mayor David Condon on Monday announced he's hired local BBB CEO Jan Quintrall to be in charge of the city's Business and Developer Services office. 

That office used to have the name of Economic Development Division. Theresa Sanders, the current city manager, headed that division in the administration of previous mayor Mary Verner.

Quintrall's job starts Monday; she'll earn $118,494 if approved by the City Council. 

Filling in as interim CEO of the Spokane Regional BBB will be Elea Katzele.

The official release said the new division will include building, planning, engineering services, capital programs and workforce development. Quintrall said her focus will be in eliminating red tape and making business activities and projects less cumbersome.

The key job task is "making sure the people who work (in the department) have the right tools to do their jobs effectively," she said.

While Verner and other mayors have vowed to simplify the permitting and business application process at the city, Quintrall said the system has a ways to go.

She added, "The bureaucracy breeds on itself. There is still a lack of clarity" in how people go through the business development process, she said.

At 89, Rep. Henderson Going Strong

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/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here.

Question: Are you as amazed as I am that state Rep. Frank Henderson is still going strong at 89, pushing economic development in the Idaho Legislature?

PM: Twin Falls Embraces Yogurt Firm

Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya speaks in Twin Falls during the announcement today that the company will build a new plant in Twin Falls. The deal between the Twin Falls City Council, the Southern Idaho Economic Development Organization and the yogurt company says the facility will provide 400 jobs to start, paying $14 an hour, with an estimated $100 million investment. Story here. (AP Photo/Times-News, Ashley Smith)

Question: Anyone see anything wrong with Twin Falls urban renewal spending $24M to attract yogurt company and 400 jobs to town?

Washington and Idaho both fall short in new business-friendly state rankings

Washington government officials sometimes claim they have promoted a favorable business climate. That assertion hasn't always rung true to some business owners, who contend Washington isn't all that friendly for companies considering moving here.

The same assertion can even be made by Idaho business leaders, who can argue the state's income tax isn't a help when recruiting companies.

SiteSelection magazine just published its 2011 list of most business friendly states, based on both objective data and subjective issues such as general sense of cooperation and state support for business.

Washington and Idaho are not to be found in the top 25. We've asked the editor to help us fill in the exact spots the states have in the latest ranking.

The new leader of the pack, by this system of scoring, is now Texas, based on a strong finish in both the objective, data-driven component of the index used to determine the top business climates, and the subjective input supplied by respondents to a survey of site selectors.

Today’s highlights

Two year colon cancer survivor Susie Leonard Weller is celebrating life and challenging herself post-colostomy by participating in her first triathlon-the Valley Girl Triathlon. SR photo/J. Bart Rayniak

Here I am with your usual dose of Thursday Valley Voice highlights, even if it is (much) later than normal. But there's no law against reading the daily paper with dinner instead of breakfast, right? Correspondent Jill Barville recently talked with Susie Leonard Weller, who is preparing to participate in the Valley Girl Triathlon Sunday in Liberty Lake. It is the colon cancer survivor's first triathlon.

Reporter Lisa Lienberger headed down to the Fairfield Library lately for a special storytime in Salish. It's part of the special summer activities being hosted by the Spokane County Library District.

The Spokane Valley City Council spent nearly two hours Tuesday talking about economic development. The council was discussing what the city can do immediately to help boost business and what can be done in the long term. Construction is coming to the Sullivan and Indiana intersection in August. There will be traffic flowing through during construction, but turning options will be limited. It sounds like it will be a bit messy, so start planning alternative routes now.

Coming Thursday

It may be hot outside but we've managed to put together a cool Valley Voice for Thursday. The Spokane County Library District's summer program recently brough in a Salish speaker from the Colville Tribe for a children's storytime in Fairfield. Reporter Lisa Leinberger headed down there to check out the program.

The Spokane Valley City Council talked economic development for nearly two hours this week and I'll have a report on their discussion. You can also get your first detailed look at the upcoming construction on the Indiana and Sullivan intersection, including which parts of the intersection will be closed when. The project is set to start Aug. 1.

Don't look for me to post links to the stories until late tomorrow, though. I'll be away from the computer most of the day and I'll be around in the late afternoon to do some posting. That is, unless I melt first.

Speaking of patents, Idaho remains the spud state

One of our items below looks at general trends in Washington and in Spokane County for the number of patents issued to companies or inventors.

At the time, we didn't have the comparable numbers for Idaho.

Here they are: in 2005 the U.S. Patent Office issued 1,529 patents to businesses or inventors based in Idaho.

By 2010 that number had fallen sharply; the Patent Office said 1,095 patents were issued in that year. That was at least a bump upward, from 941 awarded in 2009.

How Seattle transformed itself: Any lessons for Spokane?

So this Harvard professor, who looks at "skilled cities," has this to say in the New York Times:

A great paradox of our age is that despite the declining cost of connecting across space, more people are clustering together in cities. The explanation of that strange fact is that globalization and technological change have increased the returns on being smart, and humans get smart by being around other smart people. Dense, smart cities like Seattle succeed by attracting smart people who educate and employ one another.

The professor is Edward L. Glaeser and this is part of a column headlined "How Seattle Transformed Itself" appearing today at Nytimes.com.

Glaeser doesn't refer to some ideas people often use when talking about high-energy, economically thriving areas, such as "industry clusters" or "Silicon Valley synergies." 

But he's sort of marrying two frequently cited economic development ideas: the clumping of the "creative class" notion pushed by Richard Florida; and the Silicon Valley model of "coopetition" — the sharing of ideas and resources among groups of companies that see a benefit in helping each other.

The column is worth a read. Hat tip to Emily Proffitt of Whitworth University for calling it to our attention.

Does Spokane or CDA draw young business owners? Where would we rank on the top 10 list for entrepreneurs?

Which city does this make you think of:

THIS HUB for technology and industry — from Amazon and Microsoft to Boeing and Starbucks — is also a doorstep to Asia. It doesn’t hurt that it has a highly-educated population, either.

Or this description:

MAJOR GREEN credentials, a temperate climate and a growing local food scene (plus one hell of a cup of coffee) has this town on the radar of many young entrepreneurs.

Yes, Seattle and Portland, which scored No. 10 and No. 8 on a "best cities for young entrepreneurs" list published at Under30CEO.

The list brings forth the appropriate question:  Does Spokane or Coeur d'Alene come close in the hunt for young entrepreneurs?  What do we have that brings or retains bright young business talent?

I'd say there have to be five or six key traits we do have, maybe not in heavy supply, but still critical.

One is:  a pool of older, gray-haired managers who can serve as mentors and board directors, to guide the young company forward.

If you have your own list of other key traits, we want to hear from you.  Leave the comments here.

To see the site's top five cities, read the rest of the post, below:

Henderson Gives Up JFAC Seat

Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, has decided to give up his coveted seat on the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee after five years to focus on economic development legislation in the coming session. “My background is economic development, it is business management,” said Henderson, a fourth-term lawmaker. In JFAC this year, with revenue so short, Henderson said, the task will be “to do more of what we did in the last two years - keep crunching it smaller and smaller. We so badly need new revenue. I want to find ways to help our existing industries/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here.

Question: Who do you consider to be the best legislator from District 5 — Sen. Jim Hammond, Rep. Frank Henderson, or Rep. Bob Nonini?

Inland Northwest Partners hosts its annual meeting Nov. 18

If it seems not enough discussion or energy is focused on economic development in the Inland Northwest, we suggest people go find out in person, at the annual meeting of Inland Northwest Partners.

That event is Nov. 18 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Spokane Club, 1002 W. Riverside in downtown Spokane. 

INP is an organization of communities, economic development entities and individuals looking to boost the economic profile of North Idaho and Eastern Washington. The non-profit organization advocates a “grow from within” philosophy and works to empower smaller communities and regional groups.

The meeting’s keynote speaker is De Scott, (in photo) founder and owner of Simply Northwest, a  successful  Spokane Valley retail business. Her remarks are titled: “Steps to Small Business Success.”

Cost for members is $30 and $50 for non-members. To register, go to www.imwp.org, or e-mail inlandnorthwest@comcast.net.

Allstate plans new Pocatello-Chubbuck call center in 2011

Gov. Butch Otter was over in Chubbuck today for what his office promised would be a “major economic development announcement.” Now comes the news that Allstate has selected the Pocatello-Chubbuck area for a new customer information call center that will cost $21.9 million and employ more than 500 people. The 75,000-square-foot call center would open in September of 2011. Allstate vice president of direct sales and service Mark Pitchford said, “The Pocatello-Chubbuck area is a terrific community that offers an enthusiastic and energetic population from which Allstate can select the best and brightest to help deliver on our commitment to a superior customer service.”

Said Otter, “I couldn’t be happier to welcome a new corporate citizen to Idaho. Allstate’s decision to locate here is a testament to the men and women at the local and state levels who worked tirelessly to ensure this is the best place for the company to do business and create career opportunities.” You can read Allstate’s full news release here.

Today Show names Spokane among ‘most affordable’ cities

The Today Show on Monday featured Spokane among five “most affordable cities” during its real estate roundup. Spokane was ranked No. 5.

Also named were Great Falls (No.  3) and Pocatello, No. 2.

Barbara Corcoran, the real estate expert who compiled the list, also blew the pronunciation, again referring to us as SPO-CANE.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy