Business Columns & Blogs

Dorothy had it right: Your own backyard is pretty special

Awot Haile, 33, a refugee from Eritrea, came to Boise in 2010. He learned English and kitchen skills at the nonprofit Create Common Good.
Awot Haile, 33, a refugee from Eritrea, came to Boise in 2010. He learned English and kitchen skills at the nonprofit Create Common Good.

On June 7, I saw the Statesman’s article about Boise hosting its largest conference ever —1525 epidemiologists. The conference moved from North Carolina to Boise and could be the start of more to come as “word of mouth” comments spread.

So far, the word has been good, the attendees are impressed, and the city may score a win that could be leveraged going forward. In a sense, the conference is a way to “bring Boise to the world” and show what we are capable of.

This reminds me that, when I look for good ideas or examples of doing things well, I can look in my own backyard. I do that now and then, when I have the chance to do a behind-the-scenes piece about what organizations in town do well. But sometimes I miss other examples right in front of me.

The other day, Laura DeLaney, owner of Rediscovered Books, made a recommendation that led me to a remarkable find. (The fact that we have such a great bookstore Downtown is something else to celebrate). I told her about a new project I want to start but don’t know how to structure. She suggested three books, and one strikes me as a significant story of Boise’s ability to bring the world to us.

Half the World, edited by Boise State professor of public affairs Todd Shallat, tells the stories of a few of the 13,000 refugees and immigrants from 53 countries who are “rebuilding their lives” here. As Shallat and some of the writers tell it, Boise and Idaho have become a refuge for refugees, despite being one of the most conservative and remote sites in the U.S. We may think we’re not affected directly, but I think we are more than we know.

To help students understand the role that international business plays in their lives, I often ask them to note the source of every product they have brought into the classroom. They start looking at computers and phones, jeans and shoes, watches and backpacks. Typically, in 10 minutes, the class members generate a list of 30+ countries that manufacture the products they walk into the classroom with.

Likewise, I plan to pose a similar challenge to myself. I’ll try to note each time I interact with or use a product or service that a refugee offers or has a part in. That could include taking a taxi in Boise, where many of the owners and drivers are from Bosnia or Croatia. Or, realizing that almost all the nail salons in town are owned and run by Vietnamese families. Or, when I eat Chobani yogurt, I know it’s made by a company run by an immigrant, who has hired many refugees in Twin Falls.

In Boise, we try to do things well. Being a welcoming city is one of those ways.

Nancy Napier is distinguished professor in the College of Business and Economics at Boise State University.