Saturday, January 21, 2012

Jan. 17, 2012 radio interview

I've been meaning to post this all week, but here, finally, is the link to my Tuesday morning conversation with Tim Lewis on NewsTalk Radio, 690 and 1260 on the AM dial. I visit Tim every Tuesday during the 8 a.m. hour to talk about what I see going on around town. The point is to promote this blog.

This has been a big week for BizMojo Idaho. On Friday we had 323 pageviews, smashing the previous high, 210, by a wide margin. I was surprised by the reaction I got to the piece I posted Tuesday about Galen Bush, an agent with Keller-Williams East Idaho who died unexpectedly on Jan. 14. After less than a week, it turned out to be the secondmost viewed story in this blog's history. I had debated posting anything, but figured if it was worth doing if it had any chance of helping Galen's family. Obviously a lot of people knew Galen and cared about him.

I am becoming more and more fascinated by how blogging can serve the purposes of community journalism. I'm not doing much different with this than what I was doing 32 years ago when I was writing, editing and selling ads for the Jeffrey City News in Jeffrey City, Wyo. (a town that no longer exists). Whenever possible, I have always tried to reach out to readers and engage them in conversation, or at least make them feel like they had a relationship with me.

Anyroad, here's the link to my last radio interview, addressing such things as building permits, Dickey's Barbecue Pit and Costco. Give it a listen if you don't have anything better to do.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Idaho jobless rate continues to drop

There's no need to print the full story here (the link is posted below), but the Idaho Department of Labor reported this morning that the state's unemployment rate dropped again in December. While 8.4 percent still leaves room for improvement, it's safe to say this counts as welcome news.

Statewide, employers hired just over 11,000 new employees, mainly to replace workers who retired or left their jobs for some other reason. Most significantly, it marked the first month since 2008 that employers reported hiring more new employees than they did then.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Idaho Falls company plans $125 million facility in New Mexico, seeks NRC license

Steve T. Laflin, International Isotopes
President and CEO
International Isotopes Inc. is a company I have followed with interest for years not because it's high profile but because I think it exemplifies the sort of business that keeps the local economy humming.

It has its roots in the Idaho National Laboratory, but left the reservation years ago. Located north of Idaho Falls off St. Leon Road, its focus today is on nuclear medicine calibration and reference standards, high purity fluoride gases and cobalt-60 products. The company also provides radioisotopes and radiochemicals for medical devices, calibration, clinical research, life sciences, and industrial applications. It provides analytical, measurement recycling, and processing services to clients.

This week the Nuclear Regulatory Commission started the public notification and comment period on the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the $125 million uranium deconversion facility International Isotopes is planning to build in New Mexico. As a part of the comment process, the NRC has scheduled a Feb. 2 meeting in Hobbs, N.M. Comments on the project will be taken until Feb. 27. The application and information about the NRC license review process are available on the NRC website at 

Steve T. Laflin, International Isotopes'  president and CEO, said he anticipates a license for the facility sometime this summer.  "In the next few months, the exact timing of the NRC license issuance will become much clearer and allow the company to complete financing and start construction on this important project," he said.

Last year the company applied for a $97 million loan from the U.S. Department of Energy, which approved the first of a two-part application in June 2010. The loan comes from the department’s renewable-energy technology development program, which evaluates whether the technology might reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"Our patented fluorine extraction process uses seven times less energy than conventional industrial
processes for making hydrofluoric acid," Laflin told blogger Dan Yurma of Idaho Samizdat: Nuke Notes. "This means we can show reductions of six million pounds of carbon dioxide a year over the life of the plant."

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

INL's Whitney accepts post with State Board of Ed

Marilyn Whitney, former statewide community outreach coordinator for Idaho National Laboratory, has been named the new chief communications and legislative affairs officer for the Idaho State Board of Education.

Born and raised in Twin Falls, Whitney earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Boise State University. Prior to joining INL in 2006, she spent nearly 15 years in corporate communications at Micron Technology Inc. and two years at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

Job creation incentives vs. actual results -- a delicate matter

I've watched economic development for a long time. In 1996, when I began reporting on business for the Post Register, the big concern was job cutbacks at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory (now just the Idaho National Laboratory.)

With outfits like Initiative 2000 (now Grow Idaho Falls), the Community Reuse Organization and the Regional Development Alliance leading the charge, a lot of money has been spent in the last 20 years on companies promising jobs to our area. Some have panned out and some have laid an egg. There's no need to go into names, but I attended a lot of groundbreakings and openings where officials were singing "Blue skies, shining on me ... " Likewise, I am personally acquainted with people who feel bitter at what they feel to be promises that were not kept.

It has always struck me that economic development is something that communities, states and nations must engage in, if only for the sake of self-protection, i.e. if you don't do it, somebody else is going to eat your lunch.

But putting public money down on what looks to be a great bet can't be for the faint of heart. It's one thing to score transportation funds to get a road widened or improved. But laying out incentives for a factory or power plant -- watch out.

Exit question: When an economic development deal goes sour, who ends up holding the bag?

What got me started this morning was a story that ran today on Bloomberg Businessweek about which states do best at keeping track of job creation incentives vs. actual results. In the study it cites, Idaho ranks 38th, tied with South Carolina.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Keller-Williams seeks to aid family following agent's untimely passing

It is with great sadness that I report the passing of Galen Bush, who died Saturday afternoon after suffering a heart attack while riding his bicycle.
Galen Bush

Galen was an agent with Keller-Williams Realty East Idaho, which has set up a fund at Scenic Falls Credit Union to help his family cover funeral and ongoing expenses. This Friday would have been his 45th birthday. He leaves behind a wife, Lisa, and four sons, ages 19 to 7.

Keller-Williams broker/owner Jim Windmiller said the family has a history of heart disease, something Galen was doing everything he could do to guard against by eating right and exercising. "He will be missed," he said. "It was his sense of humor that always got to me."

Galen was a Dave Ramsey Preferred Realtor and had 13 listings at the time of his death. Keller-Williams agents are working to close the deals he had pending and will donate all commissions to the fund that has been set up for his family. "Anything that's in the works goes to them," Windmiller said.

As a footnote, I want to mention that Galen played drums and sang with me three years ago in a band called Obsidian. His talent and attitude were fantastic, and he was a pleasure to know. There may even still be a few videos of us on YouTube. He was reluctant to sing "Night Fever" by the Bee Gees, but he could do the falsetto part like nobody I've ever met. I'm really sorry to be writing this.

Here is a link to his obituary:

Stores try to cope with rising tide of food assistance customers

The news this week is that a record number of Idahoans are using food stamps -- 235,000 people in December. Currently, federal food benefits totaling $30 million are distributed monthly.

On Monday, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Tom Shanahan went before legislative budget writers to suggest changing the program by staggering the day that benefits become available. Grocery store operators are backing the proposal, claiming the flood of food stamp users at the first of every month causes supply problems. But Shanahan estimated the change would cost an extra $220,000 a year, because four people would have to be added to field calls from recipients.

I've posted a link to a story from Bloomberg Businessweek that suggests how important the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is to the grocery business. Does anyone else find it significant that while they are administered at the state level by Health and Welfare, food stamps originate from the U.S. Department of Agriculture? Our nation's food policy affects not only the people who eat it, but farmers, agribusiness and grocery chains, i.e. a lot of people with jobs.

Monday, January 16, 2012

INL buoys Idaho Falls construction numbers for 2011

It's human nature to want more -- more jobs, more money, more security -- but the plain fact of existence is that adaptation is how the human race has survived.

Suppose the building boom of five years ago was an aberration, and that we are now living in normal times? On a national level, suppose the economy we have right now is how it's going to be for the foreseeable future? In either case, we have to adapt.

Looking at the city of Idaho Falls Building Department's report for 2011, two things stand out. First, building activity and valuation held steady from the previous year. Second, if it weren't for the Idaho National Laboratory, things would be a lot worse.

The multi-million dollar Idaho National Laboratory Testing & Demonstration Facility pushed construction valuation for Idaho Falls to over $30 million for the second straight year.

The overall total, $36.9 million, was down 4 percent from 2010, but was still almost twice the low of 2009, $19.7 million.

It should come as no surprise that residential building was down from 2010 and way down from 2006. The most encouraging news, such as it is, may be on the commercial renovation front. Even though there were fewer projects than 2010 (10 vs. 22) valuation was up nearly 74 percent: $12.7 million in 2011 compared to $7.3 million the previous year. 

The 2012 construction year has already got a jump start, thanks again to INL, which will break ground on its $30 million, 46,163-square-foot, Research & Education Laboratory complex, across the street from the INL Testing & Demonstration facility.