Monday, March 1, 2021

Idaho Falls, INL, REDI announce grant for innovation district planning

The city of Idaho Falls, in partnership with Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho (REDI), has been awarded an economic development grant from Battelle Energy Alliance, operator of Idaho National Laboratory, to begin conceptual development of an innovative new project called the Idaho Falls Innovation District.

“There are less than a handful of innovation districts in this country that converge on science and cutting edge research,” said Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper. “I expect some very big things will happen here in the future and it’s thrilling to know that the city will have played a significant role in helping to launch this kind of creative space right here in Idaho Falls.”

All innovation districts contain economic, physical, and networking assets.

The $55,700 grant award will be used to develop a master plan for the district, which is designed to focus on developments that support start-up companies, business incubators and accelerator type businesses. Innovation districts also often include a larger, main anchor-type business in addition to housing, office space, research facilities, retail, and hospitality areas.

“Working towards an Idaho Falls Innovation District is an effort that has the potential to impact our community in a profound way. There is prevalent demand and interest, and it is our job now to provide a study and framework that can lead to implementation,” said Dana Briggs, economic development coordinator for the city. “I appreciate the funding granted by Battelle Energy Alliance to move the project forward, as well as the support and work of other partners and stakeholders.”

Article: The Rise of Innovation Districts (Brookings Institution)

The plan is to focus on the area around MK Simpson Boulevard, where INL has the bulk of its in-town operations, said Briggs, who will also be manager of the Innovation District project. The goal is to create a dedicated area where public and private partners can work together to attract businesses and organizations that generate ideas for technology advancement and economic growth.
“Idaho Falls has experienced tremendous growth over the past few years, and now is the right time to take a look at fostering an innovation district,” said Marsha McDaniel, senior advisor with INL. “Idaho National Laboratory looks forward to supporting the city in its efforts.”

Innovation districts are commonly used in an effort to create new products, technologies, and market solutions by grouping together what can often be disparate sectors and specializations. With an area dedicated to keeping these groups in close proximity to one another, collaboration is richer, incubation of ideas is more efficient, and a synergistic dynamic is created.
“REDI is thrilled to be invited to work with the city of Idaho Falls as they investigate the design and development of an innovation district,” said REDI CEO Teresa McKnight. “These unique districts are catalysts for tech-oriented areas adjacent to research-intensive anchor institutions like the Idaho National Laboratory. Not only are they catalysts, they are also place makers for feeding startups to drive advanced industry growth.”

The city and REDI will work with the consulting firm of Agnew::Beck, a multidisciplinary consulting firm from Boise, on the initial design. The 12-month planning process is anticipated to involve a variety of steps including stakeholder outreach and engagement, focus group interviews, technical research, a land use site plan, and implementation report. The project is anticipated to begin in March 2021.
“Idaho Falls has a proven ability to both dream big and be practical,” said Ellen Campfield Nelson, principal and owner of Agnew::Beck. “As an Idaho-based planning and public engagement business, we are excited to be part of helping shape and implement the community's vision.”

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Changes to PPP loan program could offer new lifeline to small businesses

Jeff Newgard
Changes announced Monday to the Paycheck Protection Program could offer hope to small businesses that have felt shut out until now, Bank of Idaho President and CEO Jeff Newgard said.

The Biden administration's changes include a 14-day period, beginning Wednesday, during which only businesses with fewer than 20 employees can apply for PPP relief. Sole proprietors, independent contractors and self-employed individuals are now allowed to base their loan calculations on gross income rather than net income.

"These adjustments will be game-changers for so many of our smallest businesses," Newgard said. "Previously, these types of businesses felt locked out of PPP assistance. We hope these changes make them reconsider."

Businesses affected by the Coronavirus pandemic can learn more details at Depending on the specific rules of the program, PPP loans may be eligible for full or partial forgiveness if the money is used for qualifying costs.

Newgard said SBA programs have become so adept at helping small businesses that Bank of Idaho has
added a new department solely dedicated to SBA lending. "These programs can be real life lines for small businesses, so we're committed to getting as much of that help into our communities as we can," he said.

New PPP updates include:

• The 14-day period, starting Wednesday, limiting applications to businesses with fewer than 20
employees. During this period, however, applications already in the pipeline
or requiring error resolution will continue to be processed.

• Revising the loan calculation formula for sole proprietors, independent contractors, and self-
employed individuals to use gross income instead of net income, as advocated by ICBA. Additional details are expected on whether this will be limited by number of employees or otherwise. Further, $1 billion will be set aside for PPP loans to businesses in this category without employees located in low- and moderate-income (LMI) areas.

• Eliminating restrictions preventing small-business owners delinquent on their federal student loans or with prior non-fraud felony convictions from qualifying for the PPP.

• Ensuring access for non-citizen small-business owners who are lawful U.S. residents by
clarifying that they may use Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers to apply for relief.

The administration also said it has revised the PPP loan applications to encourage self-
reporting of demographic data, and it will conduct stakeholder outreach on PPP challenges. The SBA also will launch an initiative to enhance lender engagement with opportunities for lenders to provide
recommendations and ask questions about the PPP and obtain resolution of open questions and concerns in a more streamlined way.

Additional PPP information and resources are available online at

Sale closed for Alturas International Academy to renovate old Sears space at Grand Teton Mall

Alturas Executive Director Michelle Ball, second from left, and three board members,  Christine Ogden, Callie Hatch and Anna Long, review plans for the remodel in the old Sears space. (Alturas International Academy photo)

Grand Teton Mall will have a new tenant this fall in the anchor space formerly occupied by Sears, but it will not be retail. TOK Commercial announced Tuesday that its brokerage team has successfully closed the sale with Building Hope, a non-profit organization that assists charter schools in the financing, procurement and renovation of educational facilities.

Building Hope plans to convert the 70,000 square feet to the new Alturas Preparatory Academy, a secondary school planned to open in Fall 2021. The space will undergo extensive renovations and will feature 30 classrooms, common areas, and flexible, naturally-lit collaborative spaces.

Brian Wilson, TOK Commercial’s lead agent on the transaction, assisted Building Hope with site selection, contract negotiations, and the eventual purchase. “It was such an honor to work with Building Hope as they bring additional educational opportunities to our community through an innovative repositioning of this high profile real estate asset,” he said.

Alturas first announced its plans for the space last August in an email reporting it had received approval from the Idaho Public Charter School Commission for a school to serve students in grades six through 12. The school had been awarded a grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation to help fund the purchase and renovation of former Sears space.

Plan are for 30 classrooms, science labs, common areas, an art room, drama room, music room, gym, wide hallways and abundant natural light, according to a press release. Rooms will be set up to open into larger collaborative spaces. Overall, the cost of the remodel has been estimated at $6 million to $7 million, Alturas Executive Director Michelle Ball said.

They expect the first year of Alturas Preparatory Academy to have roughly 260 students. Each year they plan to add a new sixth-grade class until they reach their capacity at the high school, which will be 96 seats available per grade level.

Alturas International Academy Principal Brian Bingham said students who attend the high school can earn 30 college credits, plus they will seek authorization as an International Baccalaureate (IB) World School. The IB high school curriculum focuses on critical thinking and community and global stewardship, and it contains two tracks — a rigorous diploma program and a more traditional career-oriented program. Alturas International is currently the only authorized International Baccalaureate World School in eastern Idaho, a school news release said.

“That opportunity to obtain the diploma program and stand out on their college applications and receive a strong education will provide an opportunity for them to be successful at the university level,” Bingham said.

Enrollment will be determined by a lottery system, with priority given to current Alturas International students and their siblings.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Fall River Cooperative announces $1 million rebate to owner-customers for 2020

Fall River Electric Cooperative has announced payment of another $1 million in the form of a rebate to its owner-customers for 2020. The co-op’s board voted to return current profits, referred to as margins, to all owners knowing that many have been impacted by the on-going COVID-19 pandemic. This money will be recirculated into the local economies of eastern Idaho and southwestern Montana.

This comes on top of the $1.015 million-plus paid out to owner-members in December through the co-op’s patronage capital program, meaning Fall River Electric has now distributed more than $2 million within the last two months. February’s disbursement is to those customers who purchased power last year while the December payments were to members of the co-op who purchased power back in 2000. The patronage capital program is where extra revenues over the cost of operations is then disbursed to its owner-members on an approximate twenty-year cycle. Unlike investor-owned utilities that pay profits to stockholders, Fall River Electric’s patronage capital is a customer’s investment in the cooperative.

“When the pandemic struck our area, Fall River Electric tightened its belt and reduced expenses,” said Bryan Case, Fall River’s general manager and CEO. “Although energy sales to businesses shrunk, residential energy sales increased as people self-quarantined or worked from home, which contributed to better-than-projected revenue in 2020. As a result of the Co-op’s strong financial position, our elected board approved this additional instant rebate to our 2020 owner-members.”

The amount of the rebate is based on how much each owner-member paid for electricity in 2020 and is being provided as a credit on their February statements.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Wingstop remodeling old Kiwi Loco space on Hitt Road

It looks like Wingstop will be moving into the Sagewood Plaza space that has been vacant since last fall when Kiwi Loco folded. A building permit with the city of Idaho Falls was filed Wednesday for a  $175,000 remodel at 3198 S. 25th East (Hitt Road).

Wingstop started in 1994 as a small buffalo-style chicken wing restaurant in Garland, Texas. It opened its first franchised location in 1997, and has grown since then into a chain with more than 1,000 locations in the United States and abroad. In 2003, the chain was acquired by Gemini Investors, which sold it to Roark Capital Group in 2010. Wingstop went public in 2015.

Wingstop locations are decorated following a 1930s and 1940s pre-jet aviation theme. The menu consists of wings, boneless wings, and chicken strips, with a variety of dips and sides. The flavors on the U.S, market that are still available include Hawaiian, garlic parmesan, lemon pepper, mild, original hot, Hickory Smoked BBQ, hot lemon, garlic, atomic, mango habanero, Cajun, Louisiana rub, and Spicy Korean.