Highlights of Idaho business news from mid-December to mid-January. From the Statesman’s Business Insider magazine.
Simplot HQ goes up
The J.R. Simplot Co. is stamping its newfound presence on the Downtown skyline as crews erect Simplot’s future headquarters next to the Simplot Family Foundation’s Jack’s Urban Meeting Place.
The five-story complex, set to open next fall, will enable Simplot to consolidate 800 employees at a single site. Experts say that will help Downtown restaurants and retailers. The company’s current headquarters, in One Capital Center at 9th and Main streets, houses 500 employees.
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▪ The North Boise home of the late founder J.R. Simplot was torn down because of high maintenance costs. The family donated the home to Idaho in 2006 for a governor’s mansion, but Gov. Butch Otter did not want to live in it, and the state gave the property back in 2012 after paying nearly $1 million to maintain it.
▪ Simplot received approval from the Food and Drug Administration for its second generation of its genetically modified potatoes, called “Innate.” The latest modifications make the spuds resistant to the pathogen that caused the Irish potato famine.
2,000 homes planned in southwest Boise
Developers plan to break ground in 2016 on Syringa Valley, a development northeast of the corner of Lake Hazel and Cole roads.
Michael Coughlin, a foot and ankle surgeon for Saint Alphonsus’s Coughlin Clinic in Boise, plans to develop the 600-acre plot. Boise officials must approve the plan, which calls for construction of a high school, elementary school, city park and two commercial areas over two decades.
Expo Idaho puts gun shows on hold
Crowds packed the last Idaho gun show at Expo Idaho in Garden City in early January, getting one last chance to buy firearms there before a moratorium on gun shows went into effect. The indefinite moratorium followed two accidental firearm discharges at shows in the past three years, injuring four people.
Ada County, which owns Expo Idaho, will review the safety policies and practices at gun shows during the moratorium.
International Market fire deemed arson
Fire investigators say the September blaze that gutted the Boise International Market at Franklin and Curtis roads and displaced 16 vendors was set intentionally. Officials say shop owners, who were mainly refugees from Middle Eastern and African countries, and their employees do not seem to have been the targets of the arson.
Treasure Valley donors gave at least $50,000 to help the businesses stay afloat. Life’s Kitchen and Creating Common Good provided kitchen space, and Jannus Economic Development and Trailhead opened a temporary Downtown market for the vendors’ products during the holidays.
Jim’s Coffee Shop closes, Delsa’s gets rooster
The coffee shop and Rudy, its fiberglass rooftop rooster, were North End icons for decades at 812 W. Fort St., next to the Boise Co-op. Owner Dave Fellows told the Statesman in 2013 that a former owner bought Rudy from a traveling salesman in the 1960s.
The 7-foot-tall rooster statue has been moved to another landmark: Delsa’s Ice Cream at 7923 W. Ustick Road. Adopting another tradition of Jim’s, Nick West, the owner of Delsa’s says the shop will begin serving breakfast.
Micron president steps down
Mark Adams helped guide Micron Technology after CEO Steve Appleton died in 2012. The company says Adams, 51, is resigning Feb. 1 for unspecified health reasons.
Adams was part of the leadership team that oversaw Micron’s resurgence in profitability after 2009 and the acquisition of bankrupt Japanese memory chipmaker Elpida in 2013. He joined Micron in 2006 when the company acquired Lexar Media Inc., where he had been CEO.
Demand for affordable houses outpaces inventory
Treasure Valley real estate agents say there are homes under $200,000 on the market, but buyers should expect either to invest time and money into repairs, to live on the fringes of Boise or Meridian or to buy in Canyon County.
Some areas have few if any affordable homes for sale, including Eagle (median price: $382,000), East Boise ($379,000) and the North End ($309,000). Virtually all new homes in Ada County sold for more than $200,000 in 2015.
More affordable areas include the Boise Bench ($161,000), West Boise ($175,000) and Kuna ($159,000).
Most Canyon County areas posted median prices less than $200,000, including southwest Caldwell ($130,000), northwest Caldwell ($131,000) and northwest Nampa ($132,000).
Otter picks Ronk as Commerce chief
Gov. Butch Otter appointed Megan Ronk to succeed Jeff Sayer as director of the Idaho Department of Commerce. Ronk joined Commerce as public information officer in 2011. She was later promoted to chief operating officer as part of a department reorganization under Sayer when the staff dropped from 50 employees to 40.
Ronk is married to Jayson Ronk, Otter’s 2014 campaign manager, a lobbyist for Micron and former vice president of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry.
New business group wants data to guide policy
A group of prominent business executives plan to fund and promote data-driven research they hope will shape legislative discourse on topics such as capital investment, taxes and economic development. Their goal is to shed light in a nonpartisan way on best business practices in other states that have not won favor here.
Members of Idaho 2020 include leaders from Gardner Co., J.R. Simplot Co., Melaleuca, Oppenheimer Companies and Ball Ventures.
Otter pitches primary care plan
Gov. Butch Otter asked the Legislature to create a state program that would use about $30 million of tobacco-tax revenues to provide medical homes to people in the “Medicaid gap” — ineligible for Idaho’s Medicaid insurance and earning too little to qualify for the Affordable Care Act’s subsidized plans.
The program would pay per-capita fees to community clinics that agree to deliver regular primary care. It would not cover hospitalizations or specialty care.
St. Luke’s insurer ordered to pay legal fees
U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill says the liability insurance company for St. Luke’s Health System must pay the Boise-based hospital system’s legal bills for the antitrust lawsuit it unsuccessfully defended in 2013.
The insurer, Allied World, cut off reimbursements while the case was still in the appeals process and demanded St. Luke’s repay previous reimbursements. The health system’s policy covers up to $25 million , including legal fees it must pay to its opponents, which Winmill ordered Allied World to cover. Allied World is appealing.
Norco creates employee stock-ownership plan
Norco, the family-owned Boise company that sells industrial, medical and other equipment and gases, is now partly owned by its employees. Longtime CEO Jim Kissler sold most of his ownership to an employee stock ownership plan just before Christmas. The ESOP will provide a 35 percent stock benefit to its 1,200 employees in seven Northwestern states. Kissler declined to disclose the value of the sale.
Challenge Cup comes to Boise
Challenge Cup, an international business contest, came to Boise for the first time as 20 entrepreneurs pitched their business plans at Trailhead, the startup-aiding Downtown nonprofit.
Judges picked three winners to advance to the national round in San Francisco: Boise companies PSiFlow Technology and GenZ Technology and Idaho Falls-based Advanced Ceramic Fibers. The companies will have a chance to advance to global finals in Washington D.C., where the winner will be awarded $1 million in startup funding.
PSiFlow is developing a smartphone app and analytics system that will quicken the time needed to test water drinkability in developing nations. GenZ develops efficient crop sprayers. Advanced Ceramic Fibers makes materials that can make metals stronger and lighter.
This roundup appears in the Jan. 20-Feb. 16, 2016, edition of the Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider magazine.