Friday, December 19, 2014

Idaho Falls receives 11-acre land donation for park development

The waterfall at what is slated to become Heritage Park
Christmas came early to the city of Idaho Falls, as three property owners made a gift Thursday night of more than 11 acres of undeveloped property on the Snake River north of Sunnyside Road.

Stafford and Woody Smith, Ball Ventures and the Idaho Falls Rotary Club announced a gift and park development agreement for land on the river’s west bank, value estimated at nearly $2 million. Situated at the south end of Snake River Landing, the land will be developed into Heritage Park. It features unique lava rock formations and a scenic natural waterfall.

The agreement says the park will be developed to include walkways, parking, water features, landscaping, lighting, benches, monuments and other features.

“The creation of Heritage Park is a great example of how individuals, companies, civic organizations and city officials can work together to accomplish amazing things for our community,” said Eric Isom, Ball Ventures’ chief development officer. “Improving this riverfront area will not only increase the quality of life for area residents, but will continue to promote further economic development in our city.”

Stafford Smith, who co-owns the land with his brother Woody, said the Heritage Park theme is intended honor the city’s relationship with the river, which dates back to 1865, when James Madison “Matt” Taylor built a toll bridge across the Snake River. “This park will represent and celebrate our heritage,” he said.

A Heritage Park development committee will be established in the next 90 days, and the city anticipates it will take three years to put together a plan -- seeking out local, state, federal and foundation grants, as well as donations from other business.

Over the past 24 years, the Rotary Club of Idaho Falls, through the annual Great Snake River Greenbelt Duck Race and grants from the city, has raised approximately $2 million for greenbelt improvements and expansion. The money has paid for more than seven miles of running and biking paths, the Trapper statue on Memorial Drive and the development of the Friendship Garden and Ryder Park.

“Rotary has been committed to raising money to develop and enhance the greenbelt since 1991. We were delighted to partner with the other Heritage Park donors as part of our 2018 Centennial project,” said Rotarian Kevin Call.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Villa Coffeehouse opens Hitt Road location

The inside of the Villa's new location on Hitt Road.
The Villa Coffeehouse and Cafe has opened its second location, at 3102 S. 25th East (Hitt Road) in Idaho Falls. The second location is in Sagewood Plaza, next to Runway Fashion Exchange.

Hours are Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday 9 to 5 p.m.

Beginning Dec. 27, owners Chip and Alexis Langerak will be having a weeklong grand opening, giving away free food, coffee and Villa merchandise, with a photography exhibit by the High Desert Photographers’ Club.

Visit the Facebook page here.

INL gets lead mention in New York Times story

Controls at the Human Systems Simulation Lab at the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls. 
Jim McAuley for The New York Times
Little old Idaho Falls made it into The New York Times on Monday, in a story about the how future nuclear reactors could fit into the nation's energy mix in coming decades. It paints a fairly realistic picture -- natural gas is so cheap now that nuclear can't really compete on the basis of cost -- but covers some stuff that might surprise readers.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Idaho Falls LDS Temple to close in mid-March for renovation

Ground was broken on the Idaho Falls LDS Temple this week in 1939, and the edifice was dedicated in September 1945.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced today that its Idaho Falls Temple will close for renovations in mid-March 2015 and remain closed through October 2016.  Dates of when the temple will reopen have not been announced. Following the renovation, the temple will be rededicated.

In a prepared statement from the church’s First Presidency, the Rexburg Temple is preparing to accommodate the influx of members of the church who would normally attend the Idaho Falls Temple.

Friday, incidentally, is the 75th anniversary of the day ground was broken in the construction of the temple. The bids were opened Dec. 15, 1939, and the $300,000 job — that would be $5.1 million in 2014 dollars — was awarded to Nick Burggraf of Idaho Falls. David Smith and Leonard G. Ball, presidents of the North Idaho Falls and Idaho Falls stakes, were present for the contract signing, as was civil engineer E. Milton Christensen.

World War II slowed down the construction, and the Idaho Falls Temple was finally dedicated Sept. 23, 1945.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Commerce Department Director Jeff Sayer to speak Thursday in Idaho Falls

Jeff Sayer
Jeff Sayer, Idaho’s Commerce Department director, will be in Idaho Falls Thursday morning to talk about the state’s Accelerate Idaho initiative.

Sponsored by the Greater Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce, the breakfast meeting will be at 7:30 a.m. at Catered Your Way, 2161 E. 17th Street. Cost is $10. Reservations can be made by emailing

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter announced the “Accelerate Idaho” initiative in May, describing it as a statewide effort to engage local communities and private industry. It came on the heels of Project 60, a 2009 initiative to expand Idaho’s gross domestic product to at least $60 billion. Idaho’s total economic activity achieved that goal in the last quarter of 2013, and was forecast to reach $62 billion this year.

“Accelerate Idaho is our strategy for ensuring that Idaho is the right place for employers looking to expand or relocate. The goal is more career opportunities for Idahoans,” Otter said in May. It has three points:

• Advancing Individuals by engineering talent pipelines, cultivating K-though-career education, and expanding high quality jobs.
• Elevating existing industries, empowering business opportunities and invigorating innovation and research
• Strengthening communities by inspiring community vitality, developing infrastructure solutions and encouraging regional collaboration.

Sayer, who left Idaho Falls in 2011 to take the Commerce Director job, will talk about Accelerate Idaho’s Rapid Response Team composed of representatives from nine state agencies that are often directly involved in business expansion projects. One of Idaho’s greatest assets is its ability to remove red tape and “move at the speed of business,” and the Rapid Response Team is intended to accelerate customer service through a formalized partnership that responds to business needs quickly and efficiently.

Another important tool that is “Bluebird,” a new application designed for site selectors, commercial realtors and economic development professionals, intended to streamline the sharing of information about such things as incentives, grants and business cost comparisons. With Bluebird, businesses, entrepreneurs and investors can access a secure Web platform containing a library of economic development materials to aid in site selection decisions.

Here is a YouTube video about Accelerate Idaho from earlier this year:

Friday, December 12, 2014

Keep your company off the naughty list

Merry all are we during the holiday season, aren’t we? What is not to love about the festive fare, catered events, lights, parties, sugary treats, white elephants gifts, and time off from work?

I will share a little secret with you. For employers, the holidays create increased liabilities and open the door for long-term legal problems. Holiday enthusiast that I am, I hate to say that the season of cheer during the work week gives me visions of lawsuits instead of sugar plum fairies.

While holiday decorations, cards, costume contests, gift giving, and parties all seem innocent enough, unless they are carefully managed they can easily become holiday headaches for employers. It’s important to remember that while some employees take for granted beautiful nativity scenes and cards adorned with paintings of Mary and Jesus, other employees may consider them offensive and an invitation to file discrimination claims.

In considering what to allow in the workplace during the holiday season, it is safe to say most people are comfortable with secular symbols of the season such as Santa, reindeer, snowmen, and Christmas trees. In contrast, a nativity scene and religious symbols, cards, programs, or music could easily divide employees with differing beliefs.

The potential holiday headaches continue in considering holiday bonuses and gifts. While I am certainly not encouraging any business to cut bonuses or gifts, discriminatory practices or favoritism can easily creep into those festive envelopes. Businesses should streamline ways to allocate holiday bonuses, and give out similar presents to all employees. Failure to fairly streamline these practices could easily go as bad as egg nog left out in the breakroom.

Since we are lighting the way to holiday headaches, let’s not forget the liabilities that come with holiday workplace parties. From sexual harassment to “harmless” jokes, inappropriate touching, comments and behavior, to collect calls from the county jail the day from the employee who got stopped on the way home, holiday parties can pose major problems for businesses. Businesses should remember and communicate to all employees that workplace policies still apply during holiday parties — and will be enforced.

It’s also important to remember that it is the employer’s responsibility to provide holiday gatherings that demonstrate a commitment by the employer to maintain compliance with company policies.

Lastly, the holidays are a time for creating memories with family and friends – that means most employees are interested in some time away from the workplace. While it is not required, it is widely accepted among most companies that Christmas and New Year’s Day should be paid holidays. For businesses that operate 24/7, isn’t it fair to offer some incentivized pay to the employees who gladly hold the fort at work while the rest of the team enjoys festive celebrations with loved ones?

“Scrooging” your employees out of holiday pay for a day or two doesn’t make sense and only lowers employee morale.

The holidays are a great time to enjoy festive fun, even in the workplace, a time to close out one year and get ready for another. Still, it’s important to remember that the holidays are not a “hall pass” for employers and employees alike to forget company policies, acceptable workplace standards, and employment/labor laws.

Monica Bitrick is the CEO of Bitrick Consulting Group, a human resources company in Idaho Falls.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Togo's sign up on Hitt Road

Togo's Sandwiches is going in at 2994 S. 25 East, in the Sagewood Shopping Center.
It looks like the first Idaho Falls Togo's Sandwiches is going to be at 2994 South 25 East, in the Sagewood Shopping Center next door to Costa Vida. The sign went up this week and inside the work is progressing steadily.

This will be the second Togo's in eastern Idaho. The first opened last month in Rexburg. The California-based chain announced last spring it had a plan to develop five restaurants in eastern Idaho and eight in Salt Lake City.

The Idaho Falls and Rexburg restaurants are two that Ty and Debbie Jenkins have signed on to develop, along with others Twin Falls, Pocatello. Ty Jenkins is CEO of DocuTech, a company that develops and markets Web-based mortgage compliance software.

Overall, Togo's has more than 325 locations open and under development throughout the West. Last year, the company launched a franchise development incentive program to drive expansion in key growth markets. Both new and existing franchisees who sign new agreements for three or more locations receive reduced royalty fees for the first two years for each new restaurant developed in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Nevada and Arizona. Additionally, franchisees benefit from $10 million for remodels and transfers, as well as $5 million to build new restaurants.

To become a part of the Togo's team, candidates should possess liquidity of $150,000 for a single restaurant and a net worth of $300,000. Area developers looking to develop three or more restaurants should have liquidity of $450,000 and net worth of $900,000.