Business Insider

Catch up fast on Idaho business news: August 2016

The College of Western Idaho proposes a three-building campus on West Main Street along the Greenbelt west of Downtown Boise. The college now rents classroom space for about $2 million a year.
The College of Western Idaho proposes a three-building campus on West Main Street along the Greenbelt west of Downtown Boise. The college now rents classroom space for about $2 million a year. Artist’s rendering provided by CWI

Solar projects on the rise in Idaho

The Idaho Solar 1 project on South Cloverdale Road is the first commercial solar farm built in Idaho. It will deliver electricity to Idaho Power for at least the next 20 years.

Idaho Power has contracts with eight solar projects in Idaho, with a combined total capacity of 240 megawatts. Six of the projects are in Southwest Idaho. Two are in Eastern Idaho’s Power County. All are scheduled to be online by the end of 2016.

Child-care costs rise faster than incomes

Families in the Treasure Valley say the cost of putting a child in day care or infant care is getting out of hand. One estimate based on survey data shows the average Idaho family spends $600 per child each month. But child care workers are among the lowest paid in the U.S.

Parents, child care providers and early childhood education advocates say Idaho lawmakers should create public preschool or increase funding for child care.

Refugees struggle for financial security

Some refugees resettling in Boise bring wealth, and others have skills that quickly translate into good-paying jobs within a few years of reaching U.S. soil.

However, a Boise State University study found that most refugees toil in low-paying jobs long after resettling here. The survey found that 169 refugee families that resettled in the last decade made a median household income of less than $20,000 a year. “They do better over time, but not a whole lot better,” BSU researcher Royce Hutson says.

City considers urban renewal on Bench

Boise’s urban-renewal agency has been brainstorming a possible new urban-renewal district on the Boise Bench. The district would include areas between and along Vista Avenue, Orchard Street and Overland and Curtis roads.

“Is there a way we can help with more investment in the area?” says Capital City Development Corp. Executive Director John Brunelle.

Before a new district could be created, it would go through public hearings and the Boise City Council.

Vista area on road to revitalization

Two years ago, the neighborhood bordered by Overland Road, Federal Way, the New York Canal and Roosevelt Street became the first focus of Boise’s Energize Our Neighborhoods program, which aims to spur economic growth and improve the standard of living in the city’s challenged areas.

Business owners in the area are energized. They now host First Fridays on the Bench as a counterpart to Downtown’s First Thursdays. The Urban Land Institute’s assessment of business development opportunities, as part of a look at Vista Avenue’s layout and character, comes this fall. Several business owners are establishing a nonprofit Vista Bench Business Association.

Online grocery shopping arrives in the Valley

Albertsons, Fred Meyer and Wal-Mart say shoppers are already using their new shopping options, rolled out over the past several months.

Boise-based Albertsons now delivers groceries to homes around the Treasure Valley. Fred Meyer and Walmart now offer curbside pickup. Albertsons and Fred Meyer hired new employees and trained them to be personal shoppers and order-delivery people. Albertsons and Fred Meyer charge a fee for their services; Wal-Mart does not.

Hastings closing all five stores in Valley

Online shopping and streaming have claimed another victory. The video, music and book retailer Hastings is closing all its stores, e-commerce operations and corporate office after a liquidation process. The closures include three stores in Boise, one in Meridian and one in Nampa. Hastings filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlier this year, hoping to find a buyer.

Pokemon Go boosts Boise businesses

Several Downtown businesses reported a surge in foot traffic following the release of the smartphone game Pokemon Go. City Peanut Shop and Pie Hole representatives say they received hungry customers who were on the hunt for digital Pokemon monsters, which can be captured by players finding them on foot on a digital smartphone map.

Pizza Pie Cafe on Broadway Avenue also reported an uptick in customers, saying the game brought them near the cafe’s door. Some businesses, including Rediscovered Books in Downtown, posted signs welcoming Pokemon Go players.

Jet boat maker ordered to repay customers

A judge approved a settlement ordering Christopher Bohnenkamp, a former Boise custom jet boat maker, to repay $372,000 to eight customers.

Bohnenkamp has been subject to lawsuits and an FBI investigation since he moved to New York to start a jet boat touring business after failing to deliver boats that customers bought in advance, usually for more than $100,000 per boat. The Idaho Attorney General’s Office filed a consumer protection suit against Bohnenkamp, resulting in the settlement.

The settlement also forbade Bohnenkamp from operating a boat-related business in Idaho. Bohnenkamp owned Bohnenkamp’s Whitewater Customers and the sales arm of the business, Treasure Valley Marine.

Indian company buys failed Hoku plant

VA Metals of Bangalore, India, bought the defunct Hoku plant in Pocatello, which was built to manufacture polysilicon, a material used in solar panels.

Hawaii-based Hoku broke ground on the $700-million plant in 2007, sparking community dreams of a high-tech future. Hoku filed for bankruptcy in 2013. The plant was never finished or operated. JH Kelly, a developer based in Washington State, bought it for $8.3 million and began repaying 104 contractors. Last year, Kelly began selling equipment to recoup losses.

New area code coming

On Sept. 5, 2017, Idaho will receive a second area code: 986. The addition to the state’s original code, 208, means callers will have to use 10 digits to place calls.

A transition period will start this Nov. 5. Callers using either 10 or seven digits will have their calls go through. Starting Aug. 5, 2017, calls using seven digits will not go through.

People who already have 208 numbers will not have to change them.

Cafe Mule moves to private land

Cafe Mule, a one-man, one-mule operation selling coffee in the Boise Foothills in May, has moved to private land after running into a string of regulatory hurdles.

Matt Bishop and Richard the Mule are now serving coffee at three locations on the Ridge to Rivers trail system. Two property owners gave Bishop permission to operate, he says. One is the family of Lt. Gov. Brad Little.

The locations are at the intersection of Kestrel and Red Cliffs trails, above the Foothills Learning Center; the lower part of Sidewinder Trail, which is farther up the Hulls Gulch area; and the lower part of Three Bears Trail in the Military Reserve area.

This roundup appears in the Aug. 17-Sept. 20, 2016, edition of the Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider magazine. Click here for the e-edition (subscription required).