Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and A.J. Balukoff see Idaho economic development through different lens.
Balukoff, the Boise businessman who is running as a Democrat has created and sold several businesses since he came to Idaho in 1982.
After earning his CPA license, he formed Balukoff, Lindstrom & Co., which became one of the largest locally owned firms in Boise. In 1993, he sold his interest to his partners.
From 1992 to 1998, he owned and operated three AJ's Health Clubs, with 130 employees and 5,000 members. He sold to 24 Hour Fitness and used the money to invest in the Grove Hotel, Century Link Arena and Idaho Steelheads.
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His seven-partner group, WC/WLDC Idaho LLC, owns all three businesses together with the J.R. Simplot Trust. WC/WLDC owns half and Simplot half. Balukoff told the Idaho Statesman he owns about 80 percent of the LLC, giving him about 40 percent control of the hotel, arena and team, and an estimated net worth in the tens of millions.
Otter worked for J.R. Simplot Co. for 30 years and served as Director of the Food Products Division, President of Simplot Livestock, and President of Simplot International. He also served on the Board of Directors. He retired in 1993.
Otter points to his record attracting companies like Chobani Greek Yogurt, which built a $450 million plant in Twin Falls and Clif Bar, which built a $95 million plant in the Magic Valley in 2013. Chobani was able to build its plant in 326 days, Otter said because state agencies worked in lockstep to ensure timely review of permits.
“We move at the speed of business because most of the people who (are in) the cabinet come from business,” Otter said.
He also pointed to Idaho’s efforts to reduce taxes as key to his success.
“Business can’t just raise the price of their goods,” Otter said. “They have to compete.”
Balukoff has a different take on price and business development.
“Price doesn’t build loyalty,” he said.
Companies attracted by low taxes and Idaho low labor costs, illustrated by the state’s ranks as one of the two states with the highest number of workers earning minimum wage of $7.25, will move on to the next state who offers them tax breaks and low costs, Balukoff said. Half of Idahoans make less than $11.15.
“The focus needs to be on the companies already here,” Balukoff said. “If every Idaho company would add one employee that would be over 4,000 jobs spread all over the state.”
Balukoff says improving education at all levels will help attract and keep business, because executives want good schools for their children and the children of their workers.
“Getting the schools on track and moving us off the bottom is going to be very important to economic development,” he said.
In the last two years, in part because of lobbying by Idaho business leaders, Otter has made workforce development a major part of his economic development plan. When he talks of education he talks about “an educated work force.”
Developing the work force and keeping costs and taxes “predictable and sustainable,” is Otter’s strategy.
“I see no reason to change that success formula,” he said.