Officials in the Gem State have been focused on keeping the fiscal house in order and finding new ways to grow the economy. Despite the difficult economic climate, Idaho has seen positive developments - which include ending the fiscal year with a balanced budget.
"You should know that Idaho is fundamentally one of the healthiest states in the country. Because state law requires a balanced budget, we are in much better shape than many states these days," said Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter says in a recent monthly update on job growth and business expansion. "Idaho has the equivalent of the top AAA credit rating. This kind of governmental stability and fiscal responsibility is important to companies and our citizens. There will be no IOUs issued here."
The state has undoubtedly experienced recent business growth. Melaleuca of Idaho Falls broke ground on a $3.28 million manufacturing facility, with 120 new jobs expected to be created over the next few years, according to the governor's office. Premier Technology broke ground on two new manufacturing facilities in Blackfoot, doubling its size; it now has 350 employees, and plans to hire 30 more. In addition, Qwest Communications is hiring another 100 workers at its Idaho Falls call center. Also in Idaho Falls, Cargill will double its space, moving into a new 72,000-square-foot facility.
There's also been a rise in green job growth. The Gem State is one of four states that led the nation in percentage green job growth, according to the Pew Center on the States, a division of The Pew Charitable Trusts. Between 1998 and 2007, Idaho jobs in wind, solar, biofuel, and energy efficiency grew at a rate of 126.1 percent, while overall state jobs grew at 13.8 percent. In 2007, there were 4,500 jobs in the green industry in Idaho, and this year there's even more growth. Wind farms and biomass plants are also expanding in rural areas of the state, according to the Idaho Department of Commerce. "The state has more wind power potential than Oregon and Washington combined," says Phyllis Cuttino, director of the U.S. Global Warming Campaign at the Pew Environmental Group.
In the wind sector, Nordic Windpower USA, Inc., with a $16 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy courtesy of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, is expanding its Pocatello-based assembly plant. According to Nordic CEO Tom Carbone, "Nordic's expansion will create new and skilled green jobs to boost the economy and help meet American's growing energy needs with wind power." Additionally, Boise-based Exergy Development Group, has begun construction on 14 wind parks across Southern Idaho, creating 275 temporary jobs and 22 permanent jobs. In solar, Hoku Scientific is building a $390 million plant in Pocatello to make silicon for solar panels. Once operational in 2010, Hoku expects to have 200 workers, with potential for 300 over time.
All the company expansion is good news against the backdrop of Idaho's unemployment rate, which jumped to 8.8 percent in July 2009 - the highest rate recorded in 26 years. The Idaho Department of Labor says, "The continued increase in Idaho's rate as the national rate appears to be stabilizing underscored the influence construction had on the state's expansion and the negative economic impact once the bubble burst."
Governor Otter believes the state's Project 60, a comprehensive initiative to grow the state's economy, will help bolster job growth. The goal is to grow the state's gross domestic product (GDP) from $51 billion to $60 billion through new company recruitment, existing company retention, and outside investment. A Project 60 website has been launched that details the plan, including the businesses Idaho is targeting such as alternative energy, recreational technology, manufacturing, aeronautics, and technology. Work force training and recruitment, technology transfer, and foreign direct investment are some areas that Project 60 will emphasize.