Government and Business

Otter unveils Idaho economic-development initiative

zkyle@idahostatesman.comMay 1, 2014 

Butch Otter

Planning, networking and collaborating — but not much new spending — highlight Gov. Butch Otter’s new initiative.

Accelerate Idaho was announced Thursday. Otter’s previous goal, set early in his first term, was passing $60 billion in gross domestic product during his tenure. Unlike Project 60, Accelerate Idaho has no specific benchmarks. Instead, it establishes a checklist of areas needing improvement, including K-12 education, infrastructure and labor shortages in key Idaho industries.

Jeff Sayer, director of the Department of Commerce and a contributor to the plan, said attacking the priorities laid out in the initiative will lead to improving the state’s last-in-the-nation average wage. The initiative doesn’t set a wage goal.

“We owe it to the state,” Sayer told the Idaho Statesman. “We owe it to our citizens to start doing the things to elevate income levels of people in the state.”

Russ Fulcher, a Meridian state senator and Otter’s challenger in the May 20 Republican primary for governor, criticized the initiative as too little, too late. “We are tops in the nation per capita for minimum wage jobs,” Fulcher said in a news release. “While the governor calls that ‘real world experience’ for Idahoans, I say that too many are stuck at an entry level without a better job to be promoted to.”

To improve education, the initiative sets goals of implementing the governor’s education task force recommendations for K-12 education, and for higher education institutions to start or expand programs producing skilled graduates to fill labor shortages.

Sayer said several colleges are already tailoring curriculum around industry needs, such as College of Southern Idaho building a food-processing program to suit the needs of nearby yogurt maker Chobani.

To help business, the governor established a Rapid Response Team to help companies interested in expanding or relocating to Idaho cut through red tape. The team is made up of members from various state agencies that regulate or assist business, including the departments of commerce, labor and environmental quality.

The state is also developing an online platform called Bluebird (the state bird is the mountain bluebird) to help site selectors, commercial real estate agents and other economic-development professionals streamline information about Idaho’s incentives and grants and business-cost comparisons.

The final pillar aims to help city and counties improve infrastructure, such as water and sewer improvements, by providing state expertise to help with local projects and encouraging communication among government leaders.

Few of the initiative objectives commit dollars from the cash-strapped state government. Sayer also said the state still needs expensive bridge and highway projects not listed in the plan.

“One benefit of this strategy is capturing things that don’t require money,” Sayer said. “Things like collaboration and creating industry talent pipelines just take old-fashioned teamwork.”

Zach Kyle: 377-6464

@IDS_zachkyle

Zach Kyle: 377-6464, Twitter: @IDS_zachkyle

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