Jeff Sayer, director of the Idaho Department of Commerce, said Friday that he will step down by the end of 2015 to pursue private business opportunities.
“I have a gut feel that there’s huge growth on the horizon,” Sayer, 53, told the Idaho Statesman. “I’m feeling the longing to return to the private sector.”
Before his appointment in 2011 by Gov. Butch Otter, Sayer was managing partner of Novayx Group, a business consultancy in Idaho Falls. He was previously president and chief financial officer for Mountain View Hospital, also in Idaho Falls.
Sayer said he hasn’t yet formed concrete plans, but he intends to stay in Boise and return to consulting for small and midsize businesses in the Intermountain region and possibly to the health care industry.
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“I’ll be providing executive, interim or part-time services,” Sayer said. “I have some former partners asking that I get involved in hospital turnarounds. Those are the first two projects I’ll be involved in.”
A certified public accountant, Sayer started his business career as an entrepreneurial specialist with Ernst & Young in the Silicon Valley. Later he worked technology, construction and financial services companies in Utah before settling in Idaho. He is the brother of Doug Sayer, president and CEO of Premier Technology, a Blackfoot company that specializes in high-tech construction.
Sayer filed for bankruptcy in 2002 after several business ventures failed and he accumulated more than $100,000 in credit-card debt. Sayer rebuilt his financial life as a business consultant and, in 2004, took over at Mountain View Hospital.
He told the Statesman in 2012 that the bankruptcy “was a period I’m not very proud of.”
“I scrambled for about two years to try to salvage my situation and find a way out,” Sayer said. “It got to a point where it ran right over the top of me.”
Gov. Butch Otter appointed Sayer in October 2011 to succeed Don Dietrich, Otter’s second commerce director. The first was Jim Ellick, who resigned after less than a year in 2008. Ellick was the first director after the Legislature split the Department of Commerce and Labor in two in 2007.
Otter on Friday praised Sayer as a “champion of collaborative, economic development efforts.”
“His innovations and improvements at Commerce – as well as the relationships he’s built with business leaders, legislators, chambers of commerce and economic development groups throughout the state – have given new meaning to ‘connecting the dots’ and bringing more and better career opportunities to Idaho,” Otter said in a statement.
Otter is accepting applications for Sayer’s successor until Nov. 1.
Sayer’s legacy will be tied to the Tax Reimbursement Incentive, a law he sought to encourage companies offering higher-than-average wages to relocate to Idaho or to expand operations already here. The law allows companies meeting wage and job-creation thresholds to be reimbursed up to 30 percent of income, payroll and sales tax for up to 15 years.
Sayer pushed a corporate incentive package for years before the incentive became law in 2014. Commerce says companies with TRI agreements have or will create 4,000 jobs and $1.7 billion in payroll in Idaho.
Sayer will be missed, said Bill Connors, president and CEO of the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce. “Rarely have we seen such a responsive, probusiness, progrowth advocate in government,” Connors told the Statesman.
Clark Krause, executive director of the Boise Valley Economic Partnership, credits the tax-incentive law for an increase in site visits to the Treasure Valley from companies looking to relocate.
Sayer was also a champion of creating the Idaho Global Entrepenurial Mission, which annually distributes $5 million to fund commercial research projects at Idaho’s three public universities.
The department restructured under Sayer, reducing staff from 50 people to around 40, Sayer said. As a result, he said department is more responsive to business needs than when he arrived, though the transition was hard on the staff.
His first two years were the most difficult, he said. “We ended up letting some people go and realigning roles and responsibilities,” he said. “It was a fairly traumatic change for a small team. There were some tough moments. People hung in and trusted we were on the right path. We rebuilt a team around who we declared was our customer, and that’s business.”