Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Regional cooperation stressed at Mayors' Business Day

Since it started in 2009, the annual Mayors' Business Day in Idaho Falls has gained an increasingly regional focus.

Today at the Shilo Inn, four mayors -- from Idaho Falls, Ammon, Shelley and Blackfoot -- stressed the need for a coordinated effort toward economic development.

"If we can work together, there is so much potential here," said Ammon Mayor Dana Kirkham, who said she has high hopes for the Regional Economic Development Corp. of Eastern Idaho, more often referred to as REDI.

REDI was recently formed by the merger of Grow Idaho Falls and Bingham Economic Development. Kirkham pointed to what happened in the Denver metro area who traditional resource-based economic mainstays began to wane in the 1980s. In the face of a slumping economy, the economic development organizations pooled their resources and focused on the area's asset -- universities, a national laboratory and defense contractors. With a streamlined central point of contact, the economy came back stronger than ever.

"I believe that story can happen here," she said.

Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper said eastern Idaho communities need to develop the tools that will help them bring better paying jobs. That can be anything from curb appeal, e.g. sidewalks, parks and signage, to tax breaks, grants and innovative financing opportunities. "More opportunity, that's what drives this," she said.

Casper said it's not so much about greed as it is about building a community where people don't have to work two jobs to get by, "so they can read to their kids at night."
"(Free enterprise) is a system that requires internal motivation that causes us to want to engage in the marketplace," she said.

In Shelley, the latest success story is the opening of Golden Valley Meats, which could have gone somewhere else had economic incentives not been offered, said Mayor Stacy Pascoe.

Shelley is relatively new to the economic development game and welcomes the opportunity that REDI offers, he said.

"There isn't very much for people already in the workforce for people who want to better themselves," he said, adding that help from the state for people who want to get more educated might be money well spent.

Blackfoot Mayor Paul Loomis said that while agriculture and manufacturing has sustained the economy, he would like to see more diversification, especially in the retail sector.