Two big fund shifts – one for $3 million from the state general fund to refuel the state Commerce Department’s “opportunity fund” to close deals with companies by funding infrastructure in Idaho; and another for $5 million for “industry sector grants” of workforce development funds through the state Department of Labor – are key to building Idaho’s future economy, state Commerce Director Jeff Sayer told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee this morning.
“We’ve had a lot of success with the Opportunity Fund,” Sayer said; $1.9 million has been awarded to date, to companies including GoGo SqueeZ in Nampa; Frulact in Rupert; Clif Bar in Twin Falls; and Cives Steel in Ucon. Additional deals now in the works would commit the rest of the fund’s initial $3 million, he said. “We’re asking for an additional $3 million, one-time, to go into the fund,” he said. Now that Idaho also has the tax reimbursement incentive program, Sayer said the Opportunity Fund isn’t needed as much as a “deal-closing” fund, and can be targeted to rural areas and smaller communities. He said in addition to requesting the one-time $3 million boost, Commerce is proposing to give up an annual $400,000 in ongoing state funding for the Opportunity Fund. “It’s a lot easier for us to spend one-time money because we’re not obligated to spend it before we lose it,” Sayer said.
He also touted the Department of Labor request for more workforce development funding for “industry sector grants.” “Of all the tools that we will have at our disposal to move the economy forward, right now in our workforce needs this is the most important tool that we have between the two departments,” he said, calling them “an elegant way of bringing private capital to the table to invest in industry-specific solutions,” such as a timber industry-backed training program in North Idaho. Participating employers are required to put up a 25 percent cash match. “When you dangle money from outside of the education system, it motivates those inside the education system to actually care what industry thinks,” Sayer said. “It provides a carrot for everybody to come to the table.”