Business Insider

Catch up on Idaho business news: July 2016

The six homeowners in Phase 3 of the Terra Nativa development, near Table Rock in the Boise Foothills, have gone to court to press their argument that developers, engineers and local-government agencies knew or should have known that the ground was unsuitable for building. The crack running through the development keeps widening, and most families have abandoned their homes.
The six homeowners in Phase 3 of the Terra Nativa development, near Table Rock in the Boise Foothills, have gone to court to press their argument that developers, engineers and local-government agencies knew or should have known that the ground was unsuitable for building. The crack running through the development keeps widening, and most families have abandoned their homes.

Ada County home market revs up

Ada County homes have reached an all-time high median price of $253,000, thanks to increased buyer demand and a short inventory.

The home resale market drove the rise in price, with pending sales for existing homes rising nearly 20 percent while inventory declined nearly 23 percent from June 2015. The home resale market drove the rise in price, with pending sales for existing homes rising nearly 20 percent, while inventory declined nearly 23 percent compared to June 2015.

The median price for new homes fell to $304,500, down 8 percent, because builders ramped up production of homes costing less than that. But inventory remains tight, with owners often receiving multiple offers on new and used homes on the day they list homes.

St. Luke’s prepares to start construction

The Ada County Highway District voted 4-1 to grant St. Luke’s Health System’s request to close a portion of Jefferson Street to make way for its $400 million, decadelong expansion in Downtown Boise. Now the hospital system is preparing its construction applications.

The first phase is likely to be the Children’s Pavilion outpatient pediatric unit that will connect to the main hospital building via a skywalk over Avenue B.

Opponents say it is not necessary to close Jefferson, which they say is a vital Downtown and East End thoroughfare. St. Luke’s says medical imaging, emergency care and other services should be on the same floor, so patients can move between them.

Micron’s Durcan again top-paid Idaho CEO

Despite a pay cut, Micron Technology Inc. CEO Mark Durcan was the highest-compensated CEO at Idaho’s six publicly traded companies in 2015. Durcan’s compensation package, including stocks, options and bonuses, fell 18 percent from a year earlier to $9.4 million as Micron’s sales flattened amid a global microchip oversupply.

Three of the six Idaho CEOs had pay cuts, reflecting a mix of factors that included falling profitability at some companies. U.S. Ecology CEO Jeff Feeler’s compensation dropped 82 percent to $1.4 million, the sharpest decline. Hecla Mining Co. CEO Phillips. S. Baker was Idaho’s second-highest compensated CEO at $4.1 million.

Idaho Power to offer solar to consumers

Idaho Power customers may soon be able to choose to buy power generated at a large solar project controlled by the company.

Idaho Power submitted a proposal to build a 500-kilovolt solar plant in Southeast Boise. The project would allow renters or owners who cannot install solar panels on their homes to buy $740 subscriptions for the 25-year life of the proposed project.

Idaho Power would credit subscribers based on their level of subscription and the how much solar energy the plant produces. Customers would get no more credit than their monthly bill amounts. Extra power would be applied to future bills.

Health insurers seek higher rates for 2017

Health insurance companies that sell coverage to Idahoans say they’re still losing money on their plans, so they want to raise individuals’ premiums an average of 27 percent next year. If the premiums are finalized as proposed, 2017 would be the second straight year of double-digit increases for some plans.

Six companies sell health insurance for individuals in Idaho, five on the state’s insurance exchange, Your Health Idaho. Insurers cite several reasons for increases, including the expiration of two federal programs created by the Affordable Care Act to help insurers weather unexpectedly high medical costs in the early years of the law; patients needing more medical treatment; and higher medical costs, including prescription drug prices.

Development sought for Nampa golf courses

A 615-acre project proposed by the state of Idaho and its consultant, The Land Group, for northeast Nampa would replace the Centennial and Ridgecrest golf courses with one 18-hole course and create a mixed-use space.

The property is owned by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. The state thinks it could make $100 million or more by selling it.

Potential new buildings include houses, apartments, hotels, a retirement community, restaurants and commercial office space.

Idaho relies on 4,000 foreign visa workers

In Idaho, more than 4,000 people each year work in the agriculture, technology, forestry, construction and other industries as guest workers under various U.S. visa programs.

The average Idaho agricultural guest worker last year made $11.09 per hour, according to federal records. For non-agricultural guest workers, the average wage was $15.05 per hour. Professionals who spent last year in Idaho under the H-1B program averaged $71,988 in salary.

These guest worker programs have weathered controversy. Supporters say visa workers are willing to take jobs American residents will not. Critics say employers use the programs to avoid hiring locals, or to lay them off and then replace them with cheaper foreign workers. Others point to cases of worker mistreatment.

Dan Price wins lawsuit

Dan Price, who made national headlines by raising the minimum salary to $70,000 at his Seattle company, won a lawsuit filed by brother Lucas Price.

The brothers, who grew up in Nampa, founded Gravity Payments, a credit-card processing company in Seattle. Lucas Price sued, saying his brother overpaid himself as CEO and used a corporate credit card for personal expenses. The judge said evidence failed to prove Lucas Price’s argument.

DBSI lawyer questions if jurors were anti-Mormon

Mark Ellison, who served as DBSI’s attorney and was one of four DBSI officials convicted in 2014 of fraud, says U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill improperly kept defense lawyers from asking potential jurors if they were biased against Mormons.

Ellison and the other men who were convicted — DBSI President Douglas Swenson and secretaries Jeremy Swenson and David Swenson — are all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Winmill, who also is Mormon, told attorneys he didn’t believe jurors would answer honestly about biases against the church. The judge said before trial that jurors might infer the defendants were Mormon.

DBSI managed office buildings, shopping centers and warehouses for investors nationwide until it collapsed into bankruptcy in 2008. Prosecutors say the company was a Ponzi scheme.

Chinese tourists flock to Yellowstone, boost Idaho

An increasing stream of Chinese tourists traveling to and from Yellowstone National Park has been a boon to the eastern Idaho economy. One Idaho Falls hotel hired a Mandarin-speaking receptionist, and several now offer WiFi instructions in Chinese to cater to the growing Chinese customer base.

Yellowstone keeps shattering attendance records. An estimated 500,000 of the park’s 4 million visitors last year were Chinese. Idaho Falls businesses report that the number of Chinese customers has grown dramatically this year.

Dow to build Burley Styrofoam plant

Dow Chemical Co. announced plans to build a 60,000-square-foot plant in Burley that will make Styrofoam-brand insulation.

The company, which reported $49 billion in sales last year, said it will hire 21 full-time workers earning an average of $65,000 per year when the $20 million plant is up and running.

Dow will receive a tax break from the state of Idaho worth $617,000 in reimbursed taxes over nine years if it meets job-creation and wage thresholds.

Council seeks Cuba trade

Idaho’s top business, agricultural and government leaders are joining the fight to end the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.

The new committee, Engage Cuba, draws support from Idaho’s agriculture, business, finance, manufacturing and education sectors, as well as government officials who seek to build congressional support for lifting the embargo. Members include the Idaho Farm Bureau, the Idaho Potato Commission, the Idaho Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and United Dairymen of Idaho.

Gov. Butch Otter is chairing the group. “My travels to Cuba convince me that the people there have the same goals, the same ambitions and the same needs as we do here in Idaho,” he said.

Prison firm to be tried in Idaho civil-rights suit

U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge says the Corrections Corporation of America will stand trial in December in a civil rights lawsuit stemming from allegations of understaffing and violence at the Idaho Correctional Center. CCA disputes the claims.

Eight inmates sued the Nashville prison company in 2012. They said poor management and chronic understaffing led to an attack in which a prison gang stabbed and beat them. The inmates said CCA covered up the understaffing in monthly reports to the state. Two of the inmates have been dropped from the case.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter ordered the Idaho Department of Correction to take over the prison in 2014.

Women’s center closes

The Women’s Business Center, operated by the multiservice nonprofit Jannus, closed its doors June 30. The center struggled to raise enough contributions to meet its cash-match requirement for a $150,000 grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

The WBC said it helped women and men start about 75 businesses in its five years. The center offered training, counseling, mentoring and other resources. It focused on socially or economically disadvantaged women.

Canyon County Co-op on shaky ground

The Canyon County Co-op in Nampa is not making enough money to grow, general manager Michael Worman says. Each member needs to spend at least $3.90 per week for the co-op to stay open, he says.

The co-op opened early this year. Worman says it is making enough money to stay open, but an email sent to its 2,000 members says the situation is more urgent. The email asks them to spend $5 per week in the store because the co-op is “not meeting the required margins to sustain” itself and is “not getting enough customers.”

The store, at 1415 1st St. South in downtown Nampa, averages 20 customers per day, Worman says.

DeLuca seeks VR gyms

Ryan DeLuca, who built into one of the Treasure Valley’s most successful tech companies, launched a new venture, BlackBox VR in Boise. The company will seek to develop the software to launch virtual-reality gyms that would make working out akin to playing video games.

DeLuca started BlackBox VR less than six months after leaving, which he founded.

DeLuca invested $2 million in BlackBox VR. He says the company will spend the next year hiring employees, developing virtual and augmented reality software and incorporating gym equipment into games.

This roundup is part of the July 20-August 16, 2016, edition of the Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider magazine. Click here for the e-edition (subscription required).