Scan this summary of Idaho’s top business news from mid-December to mid-January for whatever you may have missed.
Idaho residential contractors lax on safety
A growing number of residential construction workers have been killed or seriously injured during the Treasure Valley’s housing boom.
A Statesman analysis of Occupational Safety and Health Administration data from March 2011 through December 2016 found a pattern of carelessness in Idaho’s home-construction industry. At least 19 local companies failed three or more inspections because of serious worker-safety violations. Statewide, OSHA found 576 of the most serious types of safety violations.
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The deaths and injuries are preventable. Some local businesses, like Adam Roe Painting and B&B Custom Homes, made changes to improve their employees’ safety, such as providing harnesses and installing safety anchors on roofs.
Alex Jones apologizes to Chobani
Alex Jones, a right-wing radio provocateur and conspiracy theorist, apologized and retracted statements he had made about Chobani to settle a defamation lawsuit filed by the Greek yogurt maker.
The lawsuit said Jones repeatedly published false information April 11 on his InfoWars website, his Twitter feed and his YouTube channel linking Chobani and founder Hamdi Ulukaya to a sexual assault case involving refugee children at a Twin Falls apartment complex, as well as to an increase in tuberculosis. After the lawsuit was filed, Jones vowed to come to Idaho to expose Ulukaya and his “Islamacist” agenda.
Chobani owns the world’s largest yogurt factory in Twin Falls.
Avimor thrives, Spring Valley flounders
On the east side of Idaho 55, Avimor is a locally owned project whose owners have slowly built a miniature city with homes, parks, stores and schools. On the west side, Spring Valley Ranch is empty, after a Texas pension fund invested poorly, wasting tens of millions of dollars.
“Avimor was designed to weather economic cycles, which a project of this scale is sure to endure more than once,” says that community's project manager, Dan Richter.
Meanwhile, the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System bought land for Spring Valley in 2005 for $42 million. It hired Arizona-based M3 Cos. to develop and manage the project. Now, the pension fund's managers are trying to figure out what to do with the investment.
Boise lands its biggest convention
More than 1,500 epidemiologists attended a conference at the expanded Boise Centre, marking the largest convention ever held in Boise.
Professionals in the Boise convention and hospitality industries hope the event indicates that Boise will be in line for more large conventions of national groups.
Boise Centre’s nearly completed three-year, $47.5 million expansion added floor space. Experts say the expansion makes Boise competitive to land 70 percent of the nation’s convention business, which would be a boon to hotels, restaurants and tourism. A study shows out-of-state visitors spend an average of $281 per day while in Boise.
Will audiences love Timber & Love?
Home renovation business Timber & Love could bring Boise its first HGTV reality show.
“Boise Boys” stars local contractors Luke Caldwell and Clint Robertson, who own the business. The pilot of episode of a prospective HGTV series aired on a Sunday in May, with 1.3 million people tuning in. The network was impressed with its success and re-aired the episode in mid-June.
The show follows Caldwell, a touring musician, and Robertson, a Texan contractor, as they buy, remodel and sell houses in Boise. Like other HGTV shows, “Boise Boys” would find its drama in the inherent challenges of construction, while highlighting the friendship and different personalities of the men.
Is the Boise Bench the new North End?
The Bench real estate market is one of the fastest-appreciating in Boise, with bidding wars and multiple offers on houses, according to agents.
Wealthier people who move to Boise from out of state are buying property in older neighborhoods like the North End and East End, which is pushing more middle-class first-time homebuyers to the Bench.
Meanwhile, the Treasure Valley’s climbing rental prices, low vacancy rates and low home inventory are driving up demand for homes on the Bench.
“For years, we’ve talked about the Depot Bench being on the cusp of great growth, and I think we’re finally there,” says Jen Visser, president of the Depot Bench Neighborhood Association.
Lokken sells WhiteCloud Analytics
Boise health care technology company WhiteCloud Analytics was bought by Relias Learning, a North Carolina health care learning management company.
WhiteCloud founder and CEO Bob Lokken says the company will remain in Boise and, for the time being at least, keep the WhiteCloud name. The company, which will be Relias Learning’s analytics arm, will lay off five or six employees of its 60 employees.
Lokken will remain with WhiteCloud, though his title has not yet been determined.
New hotels open outside of Boise
The Downtown Boise hotel boom has trickled west.
My Place Idaho has just opened in Meridian near Village at Meridian, and a Holiday Inn has opened in Nampa near I-84. A Peppertree Inn Best Western Plus also opened next to the Nampa Civic Center downtown.
Caldwell’s urban renewal agency is negotiating with a developer interested in building a hotel to anchor the downtown Indian Creek Plaza, now under construction.
With the Peppertree, Nampa is positioned to attract 100-attendee conferences that will likely be priced out of the Boise Centre.
Idaho pays to train Sorrento workers
Workers at Sorrento Lactalis Inc.’s cheese plant in Nampa will receive training paid for by a $283,000 state grant. The grant will retrain 91 existing employees and train three new workers. When the training is finished, employees will receive raises of $3 per hour or more, raising their average pay to $27 per hour, plus medical benefits.
The company received the grant to help overcome what it sees as a lack of technical skills in its maintenance workforce. Starting wages for the affected positions will range from $17 to $43 per hour.
Tenant tore down North End house — with permits
Shammie Fisher is fighting in court to get compensation for a ruined house in North Boise.
Her former tenant, Ron Reynoso, signed a contract to rent the home for a year with the intention of buying it. Instead, he tore it down in 2012, then promised Fisher he would build a new one but walked away from the job.
The city of Boise approved Reynoso’s permits, including a demolition permit. He claimed on the permit application to own the house.
Fisher sought compensation from her USAA-owned homeowner’s insurance company. Her claim was denied, leading to a court battle that recently rose to the Idaho Supreme Court.
Reynoso tells the Statesman he stopped working on the new house because he moved to Houston for treatment of a degenerative, terminal disease.
Meat-packing plant opens in Kuna
A meat packing plant that will eventually employ around 700 people opened this month outside of Kuna. The 370,000-square-foot plant, called CS Beef Packers, is a joint venture for the J.R. Simplot Co. and Texas-based Caviness Beef Packers.
The $100 million plant will process bulls from dairy farms and cattle ranches throughout the Intermountain West. The plant also includes hide and rendering processing, and will process niche-fed beef programs. The plant has capacity to process up to 1,700 head of cattle per day.
Athlos Academies opens in former Macy’s
Employees of the company that provides curriculum and support to U.S. charter schools have moved into Athlos’s new Downtown Boise headquarters — the former home of Macy’s department store at 10th and Idaho streets.
The building includes a hardwood gym floor and miniature football field, with blue turf. The company bought the 90-year-old building in 2015 for $1.5 million and spent about a year renovating it.
Trailhead to offer coding apprenticeships
Trailhead, Boise’s nonprofit startup accelerator and coworking space, plans to launch an apprenticeship program for aspiring coders.
Apprentices will earn $12 to $15 an hour to build apps while learning software engineering, web development and computer science basics.
The Idaho STEM Action program will fund the program with a $200,000 grant. Vynyl, a Boise company that builds apps and offers other tech services, will oversee the program. Vynyl employees will coach apprentices through projects and make sure partner companies receive the apps they order.
Ada County assessed home values up
Ada County’s median residential assessed value is $223,100, the highest since 2008, before the recession started.
Overall residential property assessed values in Ada County rose 8.1 percent, about the same percentage increase as in 2016. The highest median assessment was in Northeast Boise, at $381,300, followed by Eagle at $379,800 and North Boise at $305,800. The lowest is in Kuna, at $183,500. Kuna is experiencing a surge in growth because of its low home prices.
Assessments this year rose from 6.3 percent, in southeast Meridian, to 10.8 percent, in Garden City.
Chips only go so far to protect credit cards
Local police have arrested dozens of people in the past two years — nearly all of whom flew in from out of state — for credit card fraud. Stolen card numbers are embedded on blank plastic cards, and the thieves swipe the cards through retailers’ payment terminals.
Then, U.S. consumers began getting plastic cards with a microchip expected to wipe out that kind of theft, creating a unique transaction code each time the card was used. But banks lagged in issuing them, and nearly half of U.S. retailers have not invested in chip-enabled systems, requiring customers to use the fraud-enabled swipe method.
Securities broker under scrutiny goes missing
Rodney Allen vanished in April, before an Idaho Department of Finance investigator was scheduled to meet with him. Allen was being investigated for allegations his securities-investment company wasn’t certified and that he made questionable payments to investors.
Allen, 65, owns Boise-based KA Investments Inc. Court documents say he owes investors more than $1.1 million, and a state investigator questioned whether he took money from dozens of clients as part of a Ponzi scheme, using one investor’s money to pay other investors.
A friend and investor found Allen’s pickup truck lodged on some rocks along the Snake River in southern Ada County with a broken driveline, with the keys in the truck. There was no sign of Allen. His cellphone, gun and computer, which he took from home, were not in the pickup.
This roundup appears in the June 21-July 18, 2017, edition of the Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider magazine.