This is how Carleen Herring helped bring $1 billion into south-central Idaho: early success, a passion for her work and persistence.
Herring joined Region IV Development in 1986, and over the course of 30 years she’s been assisting communities with getting financing for public infrastructure projects. According to records she’s meticulously kept updated, Herring has been directly involved with more than $1 billion in public and private investment that helped pave the way for such things as the expansion of travel-trailer manufacturer Jayco, openings for yogurt maker Chobani and energy-bar company Clif Bar, and a new wastewater system for Bliss.
That’s the magic of building public infrastructure. When the city invests in putting pipe in the ground, it’s not just that first business, but it can be used by future businesses.
But Herring is keen on keeping out of the spotlight as best she can.
“We’re one of those odd little hidden agencies,” said Herring, Region IV Development’s chief operating officer and senior vice president for community and economic development. “I’m still going to be at it for a while.”
Region IV Development is a private nonprofit founded in the 1970s by city and county officials. The group offers small-business lending and facilitates funding for community development projects, serving 34 towns in eight counties.
“To date, we’ve created in excess of 4,700 jobs in the community,” Herring said.
The former accountant moved to the Magic Valley from Chicago after her parents retired in Victor. “I had the opportunity to stay in Chicago counting beans or I could move out to the mountains,” she said. “I worked a lot of odd jobs trying to figure out whether I would survive out here.”
Those included night auditing at a hotel complex and bookkeeping for a potato processor.
You make each one of us feel like we’re the only person you have to deal with, and you have a real gift for doing that.
Twin Falls Vice Mayor Suzanne Hawkins to Carleen Herring
And then she saw an advertisement for a job at Region IV Development. She was hired by President Joe Herring, and married him two years later. The two keep their professional and personal lives completely separate, she said.
The best part of her job?
“You can make stuff happen that improves the quality of life for people,” Herring said.
PAVING THE WAY
Region IV Development can get grant money or low-interest loans for projects that allow new businesses to come in — but there are strict requirements.
“It has to be public infrastructure,” Herring told the Twin Falls City Council on Dec. 12. “Those dollars cannot be used for cutting a check to the senior center or cutting a check to a private business.”
And the project has to solve a health or safety issue and serve a low- to moderate-income population. The people who benefit have to make less than 80 percent of Twin Falls county’s median household income — about $44,000 for a family of four. The employer has to provide above the median wage, too.
It isn’t easy proving this, and Region IV has to vet applications. It also provides administrative services for federal paperwork.
“I got lucky because I had some early success, and that always energizes you to go on,” Herring said.
In 1987, she helped organize a sizable partnership and gained $2.4 million in public money for infrastructure at the South Lincoln Business Park in Jerome. Following Tupperware’s closure, manufacturing unemployment left a huge hole in the city’s economy, Herring said.
Also in Jerome, Herring helped run community meetings to negotiate more favorable terms for wastewater treatment in the early 1990s. The meetings got the attention of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.
But perhaps one of her proudest moments came in 2010: “It took me 22 years to get Bliss a wastewater system,” she said.
With challenges such as blasting lava rock and putting in a lagoon system, Herring was able to get nearly $7 million in economic stimulus funds President Barack Obama put into place. The city’s share was about $800,000, Herring said.
MORE RECENT PROJECTS
When Jayco wanted to expand to an industrial park on Hankins Road, it needed sewer and water services extended. She helped get Idaho Community Development Block Grants totaling nearly a half-million dollars. And the industrial park property is able to serve businesses such as Clif Bar.
“That’s the magic of building public infrastructure,” Herring said. “When the city invests in putting pipe in the ground, it’s not just that first business, but it can be used by future businesses.”
Utility improvements for Chobani received a grant and Urban Renewal Agency funds of more than $5 million. Clif Bar’s funding from grant and city money of about $9.5 million helped rebuild a wastewater lift station and make improvements for power.
Herring also gets credit for playing a key role in getting Twin Falls its designation as a federal manufacturing community last year.
“You have done so much for us,” Councilwoman Ruth Pierce said at the Dec. 12 meeting.
And there’s still more Herring plans to do. Councilman Chris Talkington asked Herring about getting natural gas lines near the airport.
“That one is still on my shopping list of things that the communities need,” Herring said.
City Manager Travis Rothweiler called Region IV Development “part of our team.”
“The amount of time and staff hours that they spend would completely overwhelm our operation capacity at the city,” he said.
Unsung Idahoans who change their communities
Idaho newspapers are telling the stories of people working behind the scenes to make a difference in Idaho health care, non-profits, government and economic development.
TODAY: The ‘magic of public infrastructure:’ For 30 years, Carleen Herring has helped raise the private and public investment behind the Magic Valley Miracle.