Lt. Gov. Brad Little spoke about the state’s role in improving Idaho’s economy to about 50 people Jan. 19 at a business breakfast sponsored by KBOI-AM (670) at the Riverside Hotel. This is a condensed version of his remarks. This story appears in the Feb. 17-March 15, 2016, edition of the Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider magazine.
Before I was in the Legislature, I lived in Emmett. About 14 years ago, we lost our major employer. Overnight, 400 families were put out of work. And there wasn’t a lot of other opportunity in Emmett.
Whether it’s the sawmill in Emmett or my friends from Bannock County, where FMC had the same fate and was closed down — and those of you from the Valley remember when we’ve lost major employers, whether it be Ore-Ida or Trus Joist or the ebb and fall of Albertsons — the saddest part of it is when our neighbors have to move away. Even sadder is when our kids don’t have an opportunity to have their careers here and have to move out of the state.
I see all over rural Idaho where advancements in manufacturing and equipment have put people out of work. In this rapidly changing world we’re in, we don’t know when the next Uberization — if that is a word, I made it up — is going to occur and what kind of dislocations are going to result.
The pain of those dislocations has been alleviated by new job creators, industries we never even imagined, all over Idaho.
The Idaho Technology Council tells me that today there are 1,800 technology companies in Idaho, over a thousand here in the Treasure Valley. Most of those produce services, products, software and hardware that we never imagined before.
MEMORY CHIPS IN CARS, ‘TO GO’ CUPS FROM WHEAT
I left my prop out in my pickup. I was going to wave in the air some semiconductors that an Idaho company is producing. ON Semiconductors bought a plant in Pocatello, and their intent was to phase that plant down. But when they saw the productivity of the workforce and the work environment in Idaho, they grew that facility.
The old Zilog plant [in Nampa], which Micron still owns, produces 80 percent of the semiconductors that are in all the cars made in the world that have backup cameras.
Another recent facility I went to was in Burley. A company out of Kalamazoo, Mich., Fabri-Kal, makes the plastic cups for Chobani. They have to make a million of them a day. But they also make a new product they just started there, a to-go food container. You ask for to-go food and it usually comes in a Styrofoam to-go. This is made out of wheat straw. They got Idaho wheat in there. They’re grinding it up and injecting it. It’s in big demand for companies that want to have a lighter footprint.
These companies are good for Idaho agriculture, good for food processing. These are good jobs. These facilities are not your father’s food processors. The equipment in them is sophisticated, and they need a sophisticated workforce.
The other day I went back to MotivePower, which has been here [in Boise] for quite some time. It was initially a subsidiary of MK [Morrison-Knudsen]. Over the years, that facility has made or remanufactured 2,800 locomotives for the major railroad lines in the United States and some in the world.
The common denominator in all these companies is the kind of workforce they need and the fact that they need more and better engineers and workers.
Today, we’ve got record employment. In some areas of the state, we’ve got nearly full employment. I hear from business and industry that they’re having a hard time getting the talent they need.
DON’T RAISE TAXES, DO PLAN FOR RAIN
We need to do all we can to continue to grow individual incomes, whether for individuals or for business. We need to prepare for the future.
What do we do from a governance standpoint?
First, always start out with only the lightest-hand government in the day-to-day lives of our citizens and of our businesses, where markets determine the next opportunity and not some government bureaucrat.
We must have a tax system that’s fair, simple, predictable and competitive.
We must maintain what we have in Idaho: some of the most affordable energy costs in the world.
An issue we’re addressing this session [of the Legislature] is the affordability of our health care costs. We still have some of the most affordable health care costs of anywhere in the United States, despite all the negative consequences of the federal health-care plan that seems to keep putting up burdens to doing the right thing in health care.
We should continue to do what we’ve done in the past and not default to raising taxes. Keep government as efficient as we can so that when disruptions come, we’re not in a position where we have to make draconian changes. Have adequate rainy-day funds, which in 2007 and ’08 were how we got through that last slowdown. And minimal debt. Idaho continues to rank as one of the states with the least amount of debt per capita.
2 PROPOSALS TO LONG-TERM NEEDS
And this is something [former Idaho Commerce director] Jeff Sayer always talks about: We need to have government that moves — whether it’s at the state level or the local level — at the speed of business. So if you’re a business that wants to expand or you’re a new business that wants to come in, you can get that done as effectively and as fast as possible.
Long-term, we need to do some things the Legislature is going to be talking about this session, and that’s address those parts of the government that continue to grow and demand a lot of our resources.
This year, in the Treasure Valley, the governor is going to propose, and I’m quite certain the Legislature is going to approve, a substance-abuse and mental-health facility. We started one in eastern Idaho, and we’ve got one in northern Idaho. In the Idaho Falls area, it saved about 800 law-enforcement hours by having this facility to take some of these problem cases to. It’s the right thing to do for the people, and it’s the fiscally right thing, because it frees up resources.
Likewise, an initiative that’s been going on in the Legislature is justice reinvention, where we try to reduce the recidivism rate and the long-term costs of incarceration. If you look at what’s happened to state government, it’s health care and corrections that continue to take more and more money, which doesn’t free up money for doing what we want to do, which is reduce taxes and invest in education.
HELP STUDENTS CHOOSE CAREERS
The most important thing, and the governor spent almost two-thirds of the State of the State talking about it, is what we do on producing skilled talent.
We’re going to get the Legislature to endorse the State Board [of Education]’s goal that by 2020, 60 percent of our 25- to 34-year-olds have either a degree or a one-year certificate for educational attainment.
One of the early building blocks of that goal is how we start kids off in school. The evidence is undeniable that if these kids aren’t reading at grade level at the end of the third grade, we have a heck of a time getting them caught up, and it costs a lot of resources. The old saying is, “From first to third grade, our kids learn to read. From third grade on, they read to learn.”
We are going to talk about more professional-technical career-training opportunities. Too many times, our counselors and schools are addressing social problems, and they’re not giving those students the advice and counsel they need about which way they want to go.
We’ve got areas of the state where the school districts are doing a great job. We just need to take that model and duplicate it across the state. Part of the go-on rate is that these kids are prepared so we’ve got the workforce we need for Fabri-Kal and MotivePower and ON Semiconductors.