Quarterly Business Survey

Idaho business executives optimistic in survey

dstaats@idahostatesman.comApril 16, 2014 

Students learn software. “Attracting jobs that require higher skills and higher pay is vital,” Sally Jeffcoat says.

MCCLATCHY-TRIBUNE

  • This business survey is supported financially by Stoel Rives LLP. The Idaho Statesman newsroom prepared this report independently of Stoel Rives.

See results from the first business survey and the 'Ten Commandments' from the CEOs

Read the survey respondents' complete comments

Of course times were tough three, four and five years ago. Of course growth has been sluggish since the Great Recession officially ended in mid-2009.

But the economy is healing in Idaho and the nation. The Business Insider survey of 12 Treasure Valley executives across a range of industries shows that fully half expect their companies’ revenues to grow at least 10 percent this year. One-third expect to grow less than that. No one expects to shrink.

That’s bullish. And the executives expect hiring to be only a little less robust. One-third expect to grow by less than 10 percent. Another third expect to surpass that. That offers promise for getting more Idahoans back to work.

So what are those nagging little voices in the back of the Valley’s collective business-leadership consciousness?

Tommy Ahlquist, chief operating officer of Gardner Co., says the threat of rising interest rates, Washington gridlock and the big national debt worry him. Other executives suggest workforce development is an even bigger problem.

Here’s WhiteCloud Analytics’ Bob Lokken, offering the latest remix of his signature song for a better-educated workforce: “We have an outflow of talent in the state right now. The average education level of those leaving is higher than those who are moving into the state. So that means we have a net ‘brain drain’ and we are increasing the size of our under-educated workforce, while reducing the size of the opposite.”

Here’s The Caprock Group’s Bill Gilbert, urging Idahoans to focus! focus! on producing capable graduates who can meet employers’ needs and on helping small businesses grow: “Skilled labor, including knowledge workers, is in short supply across many industries across the state. In the near term, I’m concerned that our economy will do just well enough that we’ll lose focus regarding these necessary investments.”

Idaho’s unemployment rate is below the national average: 5.3 percent in February vs. 6.7 percent nationwide. But many of the jobs being created here are in low-paying services.

Idaho’s 2012 hourly median wage of $14.68 is America’s sixth lowest. The state has the second-highest share of workers earning the $7.25 minimum wage or less. We rank second-to-last in per-capita personal income at $35,382.

This is the existential truth the survey reflects: Local businesses are poised to grow and to hire. But high-paying employers won’t grow nearly as fast as they could if they had the skilled workers they need. Some employers look at their fellow Idahoans and find them wanting.

Those nagging voices won’t be silenced soon. As revenues rise and the worst of the crisis recedes into history, now may be just the time to listen.

TEN COMMANDMENTS FROM THE CEOs

1. Hire techies and keep them. “Successful implementation of technology is a critically important part of our business at MWI — both internal technologies that improve our efficiency and quality, [and] customer-interfacing technologies that enhance our customer relationships. Development, retention and recruitment of technical professionals [is] critically important for Idaho’s businesses, economy and community.”
James Cleary, president and CEO, MWI Veterinary Supply Inc.

2. Produce better graduates. “Education must be a top priority for all of us. If we are to attract companies to Idaho, we must be able to supply these skilled workers.”
Sally Jeffcoat, president and CEO, Saint Alphonsus Health System

3. Avoid bubbles. “Housing starts and the growth in new customers are two of the key indicators we watch to gauge the level of growth in our region. Steady growth is preferable to the accelerated growth we saw in the early 2000s.”
Darrel Anderson, president and CEO, IdaCorp/Idaho Power Co.

4. Cut federal taxes. “Tax rates are higher now than they have been in my entire life. Our current administration views the American entrepreneur as a source of wealth to solve the nation’s problems. If the worldwide economy can expand, U.S.-made goods and services can feed the world. We need less federal government.”
Jim Kissler, CEO, Norco

5. Curb regulation. “The big concerns are the regulatory requirements that we are faced with. It will be critical to find the sweet spot for regulation so that we can continue to grow our companies and compete in a global market.”
Bill Whitacre, president and CEO, J.R. Simplot Co.

6. Curb regulation some more. “The level of regulation in the U.S. is increasing at an alarming pace. The risk to our business economy is that increased regulation slows growth and inhibits innovation, which are both critical to our ability to pay for the entitlements and support system that our citizenry wants. Without a growing economy, we have a bleak outlook.”
Bob Lokken, CEO, WhiteCloud Analytics

7. Strive for predictability. “To date business balance sheets are strong with good liquidity yet business has lacked the confidence to make investments, owing to uncertain impacts of the affordable health care plan, macroeconomic conditions, and unsettled international affairs.”
Rob Perez, president and CEO, Northwest Bank

8. Reform immigration. “This year I’m worries about the rising cost of living, (food, gas, utilities etc.) In the next few years I’m afraid that the immigration reform will be tied up in the political chaos, and that can distract the focus of the government in getting business going.”
Lucio Prado, owner, El Gallo Giro, Boise

9. Embrace change. “I see a major transformation coming over the next few years. It’s the Treasure Valley tech revolution.”
Matt Rissell, CEO, T-Sheets

10. Remember the neediest. “The Idaho Foodbank has been chasing the growing need for hunger relief since the beginning of the Great Recession, and while the economists tell us the recession is over, the number of people in our state who need support has not yet decreased. The level of service provided by The Idaho Foodbank has doubled in the past five years, but that is still not enough to meet the need. This is certainly not the time to slow down. Too many of our children, parents, and grandparents are still hungry, and they need our help.”
Karen Vauk, president and CEO, The Idaho Foodbank

David Staats: 377-6417, Twitter: @IDS_DavidStaats

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