Boise Mayor Bieter takes aim at Idaho's low wages

Boise backs an effort by three tech entrepreneurs to nurture startups, and the mayor is hoping for community help.

krodine@idahostatesman.comJune 13, 2013 

  • Idaho is 32nd in cost of living, 48th in wages

    The cost of living in Idaho in 2011 was 92.8 percent of the national average, according to new estimates released by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

    Idaho's average wage in 2011 was $36,452; the state rankings also include the District of Columbia.

    Idaho's costs of living has remained between 92 percent and 94 percent of the national average since at least 2007, according to the estimates, which are based on calculations of personal-consumption expenditures.

The state isn't doing enough to boost its capital city or the university within it, so Boise's varied sectors need to band together to make sure the city can foster high-knowledge, high-wage business development, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter says.

Bieter targeted state economic policy Wednesday in his annual speech to the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce. Idaho leads the nation in its proportion of minimum-wage jobs and is consistently among the lowest-wage states, he said.

Worse, Bieter said, the state seems content to sell itself as a cheap place to do business. He used as an example the state's efforts earlier this year to attract firearms manufacturers.

"That seems to be our strategy," he said. "It's disappointing."

Bieter also lamented the decline in state support for Boise State University: It represented 33 percent of BSU's budget 10 years ago but is just 18 percent now, he said.

A spokesman for Gov. Butch Otter referred the Statesman's request for comment to the Idaho Department of Commerce.

"Working in partnership with communities throughout the state, it is certainly Idaho's priority to attract jobs that provide a livable wage," Commerce Director Jeff Sayer said in an email. "In response, our strategy is to focus on attracting business expansion opportunities in industry clusters - including technology and software, shared services, and manufacturing - that provide good opportunities for Idaho families and strengthen our state's economy."

'ECOSYSTEM OF INNOVATION'

One effort that is taking shape in Boise, Bieter said, is an idea from local entrepreneurs to launch a community effort to help develop high-wage companies. Bieter asked the estimated 900 members of the audience to contribute.

He said Jason Crawforth, Karen Meyer and Faisal Shah approached him and offered to contribute funds toward the effort. Meyer said their collective contributions so far are "in the six figures."

Bieter told the Statesman that the concept is still taking shape but is likely to lead to a kind of "pre-incubator" - a place to converse and collaborate.

Meyer, owner of Ravenware Consulting, told the Statesman that even though the community has business incubators, "we feel that we're still missing a place where the buzz happens, where people come together and the energy is there. We really want it to be inclusive, so that people from all walks of life could feel comfortable coming there."

"An ecosystem isn't just about high tech; it's about giving birth to ideas," Meyer said. "It could be a nonprofit idea."

She said the entrepreneurs approached Bieter because "we felt this needed to be a community-owned idea and organization."

Larger, established companies likely would be attracted to Boise by the existence of a vibrant startup community and local workforce, she said.

"We want new startups with great ideas and bigger companies to come and buy them," she said.

Crawforth said the ecosystem group will be a nonprofit that draws in attorneys, marketing professionals and others who can help "one-person, micro and mini" businesses gain the expertise and resources they need to grow.

WHAT'S NEXT?

Bieter said he plans to convene a meeting that involves a wide range of Boiseans this summer, and he hopes to have specific progress to report at his next State of the City speech. Bieter said the Boise School District, Boise State University, and all private and public entities should pull together.

The organizers plan to establish a headquarters for the effort, likely in the area between Downtown and BSU's campus.

One of the first steps, Crawforth said, will be to "hire someone who has done this before and let them determine the structure." He said he doesn't have anyone in mind at this point.

Meyer's background is in operations and hardware, she said, while Shah and Crawforth have backgrounds in software.

Crawforth is the former CEO at Treetop Technologies and has launched several businesses.

Shah is the founder of AppDetex, which aims to help mobile app owners protect their intellectual property, and of Mark Monitor, which was acquired by Thomson Reuters.

Kristin Rodine: 377-6447

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