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 https://www.bankofidaho.com/cares. 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 sba.gov.

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.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Idaho Falls ranks first on list of Best-Performing Small Cities

Idaho Falls has topped this year’s list of Best-Performing Small Cities released by the Milken Institute Center for Regional Economics, which produces research, programs and events designed to inform and activate innovative economic and policy solutions to drive job creation and industry expansion.

The city moved up six spots to No. 1 based on the area’s job growth and high-tech industry presence, including Idaho National Laboratory and Battelle Energy Alliance.

“As we discovered through our rankings, cities perform best when they pursue innovative strategies that allow high-tech industries to grow while still providing affordable costs of living,” said Misael Galdamez, Milken’s senior policy analyst and a co-author of the report. “This alignment provides a foundation for metro areas to become more resilient to economic shocks.” 

"Being included in the Milken Institute’s Index among small cities comes as a high honor because these rankings are based on meaningful data,” said Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper. “Idaho Falls has been focused on connectivity and housing—two of the Milken Institute’s new categories for consideration. The pandemic caused everyone to realize how important connectivity is for the future. People need not be tethered to desirable jobs in large cities as they once were; instead, they’re relocating to places like Idaho Falls that give them a better quality of life and a lower cost of living.”

The index measures economic vitality in 200 large metropolitan areas and 201 small metropolitan areas using job creation, wage growth, and innovation industry metrics. The 2021 version of the index emphasizes jobs, wages, and high-tech growth, housing affordability, and household broadband access.

To view the full report and search the 400 metro areas evaluated, visit https://milkeninstitute.org/reports/best-performing-cities-2021, and follow coverage on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn using #BestPerformingCities.

2021 Milken Institute Best-Performing Cities Index


  1. Provo-Orem, Utah
  2. Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, Florida
  3. Austin-Round Rock, Texas
  4. Salt Lake City, Utah
  5. Raleigh-Cary, North Carolina
  6. Boise, Idaho
  7. Phoenix-Mesa-Chandler, Arizona
  8. Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin, Tennessee
  9. Ogden-Clearfield, Utah
  10. Huntsville, Alabama
  11. Denver, Aurora-Lakewood, Colorado
  12. Fort Collins, Colorado
  13. Seattle, Bellevue-Kent, Washington


  1. Idaho Falls, Idaho
  2. Logan, Utah-Idaho
  3. The Villages, Florida
  4. St. George, Utah
  5. Daphne-Fairhope-Foley, Alabama
  6. Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
  7. Sioux Falls, South Dakota
  8. Sebastian-Vero Beach, Florida
  9. Gainesville, Georgia
  10. Charlottesville, Virginia
  11. Punta Gorda, Florida
  12. Bellingham, Washington
  13. Bend, Oregon

Saturday, February 13, 2021

American Airlines plans routes from IDA to Dallas/Fort Worth, Phoenix

American will be flying Bombardier CRJ-700s on the new routes.

Idaho Falls Regional Airport announced Friday that American Airlines plans to add two new, non-stop routes out of Idaho Falls this summer.

Daily nonstop flights from IDA to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) are set to start June 3. Tickets are now available for booking at aa.com or by contacting a local travel agent.

“American is excited to add daily, non-stop service between our hubs in Dallas-Ft. Worth and Phoenix to Idaho Falls regional airport,” said Brian Znotins, American’s Vice President of Network Planning. “As customers once again embrace travel, the National Parks System is high on their list of destinations. Not only do these new flights open a gateway to the parks, but they also provide local residents with access to hundreds of one-stop connections across American’s network. And when customers take to the skies, our Clean Commitment ensures their well-being through every step of their travel journey.”

“There is so much good news contained in this announcement about American Airlines,” said Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper. “For the traveler, it means getting to many more destinations more quickly. And for all of us it indicates that eastern Idaho as a region and Idaho Falls in particular are poised for some very promising growth in the coming months.”

Both of the new routes will be operated with Canadair Regional Jets, specifically the CRJ-700, known for its dual class offering and reliability. The year-round service enhances the ability of not only local travelers to utilize their local airport, but provides further gateways for those wishing to visit the Idaho Falls region.

“We are thrilled American Airlines has chosen to partner with IDA as they bring new, year-round service to the region,” said Rick Cloutier, Idaho Falls Regional Airport director. “It’s perfect timing as we open the second phase of our new terminal project. Along with American’s new flights, we will have new gates available in a more customer-focused environment.”

IDA is currently undergoing a $12 million expansion project which will add an additional 38,000 square feet to the passenger terminal including two new terminal gates - one on the second floor and one on the ground floor, a new jetway for the second floor gate and three covered ground-level boarding positions.  
The terminal will also undergo a complete remodel that will relocate the TSA screening and check-in area as well as add a new, dedicated TSA pre-check line. The front lobby and interior of the facility are similarly included in the remodel with a new service-animal and pet relief area incorporated.  

“American Airlines is a perfect addition as we grow and expand," Cloutier said. "We look forward to working with them and wish them great success in IDA.”

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Battelle Energy Alliance signs agreement with Brazilian nuclear agency

Idaho National Laboratory announced on Monday a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Battelle Energy Alliance and the Brazilian agency Instituto de Pesquisas Energéticas e Nucleares (Institute of Energy and Nuclear Research, IPEN). Battelle Energy Alliance operates INL on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy, while the IPEN acts on behalf of Brazil's Comissão Nacional de Energia Nuclear (National Nuclear Energy Commission, CNEN). The MOU will enable further collaboration between INL and IPEN-CNEN to advance nuclear energy research and development in both countries.

Negotiations first began in 2019 at an International Atomic Energy Agency-sponsored conference near Chicago. Dr. Marianne Walck, deputy laboratory director of science and technology and chief research officer at INL, was then invited to present at several Brazilian conferences, a meeting which furthered interactions towards an agreement.

“We agreed that creating an MOU to further our collaborative relationship would be beneficial to both countries,” said Walck, who represented INL at a virtual signing ceremony in January. “It took some time to finalize the agreement, but happily, we have now done so.”

The MOU makes provisions to further academic coordination between the agencies by outlining policies for the exchange of researchers, graduate students and other members of technical-administrative staff. Contributing individuals will be able to participate in research activities, conferences, teaching and related professional activities for the benefit of both their home and host institution.

Also present for the signing were individuals from the DOE’s Idaho Operations Office, Office of International Affairs, and Office of Nuclear Energy representing the United States, while representatives from IPEN, CNEN and the Ministry of Science, Technology & Innovation attended from Brazil.

“Each entity has significant expertise to bring to bear the furtherance of nuclear energy and research,” Walck said. “We are looking forward to taking concrete steps to enhance our working relationships.”

Friday, February 5, 2021

Venture fund seeks investors interested in advanced nuclear, deep decarbonization

Seeing that Idaho Falls is a place where one finds an enthusiastic level of support for nuclear energy, I thought I might share this with people looking for a "hot" investment opportunity. Nucleation Capital is looking for people interested in supporting the next generation of nuclear technologies and advanced decarbonization.

The sentence that jumped out at me in this blog post from Atomic Insights, reprinted in its entirety below, was this: One of the key ways that our fund differs from most other venture funds, is that we will be able to accept investments from accredited individuals at a fairly low level of capital commitment (i.e. in the tens of thousands, rather than in hundreds of thousands or millions). I'm certain there are accredited investors in eastern Idaho with enough money to consider this something worth investigating.

Change is in the wind: Commencing a new phase as a Venture Capitalist

February 3, 2021 By Rod Adams

Atomic energy is a tool that is capable of helping address some of humanity’s most wicked challenges. Clean, abundant, reliable and affordable power makes everything we do a little easier and is becoming increasing urgent in the era of climate change.

Unfortunately, atomic energy is a long way from reaching its potential or even achieving the impact envisioned by its pioneers.

We’ve had numerous discussions here about reasons for the slow progress. (See, for example, here, here and here.) I have long believed that the next generation of nuclear reactor designs can address many of the existing concerns about nuclear energy. Therefore, some of the longstanding obstacles to greater deployment can be overcome through the successful commercialization of next-gen designs.  In particular, I have blogged about the need to increase investment in the development of this next generation of nuclear technologies.

In early 2018, I was contacted by a reader to discuss ways to increase funding to advanced nuclear in response to a request I posted for anyone thinking about this to be in touch. In the course of several long conversations, I  learned that this reader, Valerie Gardner, a former hightech entrepreneur who had co-founded an investment firm back in 2002, was interested in developing a fund to invest in advanced nuclear and asked for my help. In keeping with my career-long strategy of finding ways to help others work more successfully – often motivated by my own desire to stay abreast of the latest trends – I agreed to assist.

Fast forward through almost three years and numerous stages of development, I am pleased to announce that I am joining forces with Valerie Gardner to become a managing partner at Nucleation Capital. Nucleation Capital will be investing in innovative companies enabling what we call the “carbon-managed economy” of the 21st century, with primary focus on advanced nuclear energy, advanced smart grids and deep decarbonization ventures.

By blending my expertise with hers and that of a few other extremely capable people, we expect to identify, fund and help great teams overcome barriers that limit their ability to bring clean energy products and services to market, foremost of which is access to capital.

Throughout our development process, we were advised by attorneys not to talk publicly about the fact that we were developing a fund due to certain SEC restrictions. Over the last two quarters, however, we have made some changes which shift our operating paradigm and we now can discuss the fund publicly, which is a welcome change, especially for me.  I look forward to sharing more about this fund and why and how that change happened: hint, it has to do with new technology. For the moment, I am leaving that for another post and/or podcast.

My purpose today is to alert you that there are some changes in the works both for me and Atomic Insights. I have invited Valerie to also join me in publishing related blog posts here. She has a wealth of experience in technology development, startups, financial management, investment and environmentalism. Some of you might already know her; she has been actively participating in climate, energy and investment-related groups and discussions for years. We are also moving forward with a long-delayed upgrade to the Atomic Insights website, with the goals of improving your ability to find and stay on top the material that is of interest to you.

You can be assured that we will keep writing about nuclear energy but we will also be looking at the kinds of newly commercializing “climate services” that nuclear will be ideally suited to power, including desalination, hydrogen production, and various types of carbon capture, utilization and sequestion (CCUS) activity. Of course, I will also be writing more about Nucleation Capital, the process of venture investing, the ways that venture capital differs from other components of the capital stack that support the deployment of clean energy, and our experience working to fulfill our vision to help “nucleate the carbon-managed economy.”

For those impatient to learn more about Nucleation Capital, please visit the website. One of the key ways that our fund differs from most other venture funds, is that we will be able to accept investments from accredited individuals at a fairly low level of capital commitment (i.e. in the tens of thousands, rather than in hundreds of thousands or millions). If you want to learn more about the fund as a potential investor, please use the link at the bottom of the Fund page on the Nucleation website.

I will be busier now but I promise to keep sharing my new experiences and what I learn through this process to continue to build on the base of accumulated knowledge which has been shared widely by readers.  As usual, I welcome your comments, questions and suggestions.

Idaho Falls to host discussions on growth, development

The City of Idaho Falls is inviting residents to join in a discussion on the future of growth through an innovative initiative entitled “Imagine IF.”

“Imagine IF” is a plan to move Idaho Falls forward through communitywide discussion about growth and change. As part of the initiative, residents will be asked to complete a short survey about their vision for the city. The survey will be available online at www.imagineif.city later this month.

Residents can also request a paper copy of the survey be mailed to them by calling 208-612-8799, or they can pick one up at the Idaho Falls Community Development Services Department, located in the Idaho Falls City Hall Annex at 680 Park Avenue in downtown Idaho Falls.

In addition to the survey, there will be neighborhood meetings all across the city in February and March. These will be hosted with limited in-person attendance and in accordance with the most current Covid-19 guidelines while being broadcast online through the Webex virtual meeting platform and on Facebook Live.

“For the first time ever, we will be adding neighborhood meetings into the process to give people an opportunity to talk about the part of town they have the most investment in," said Brad Cramer, director of Community Development Services for the city. "We see this all as a great opportunity to learn from each other and explore both big and small ideas to make improvements to our community now and into the future.”

A link or phone number to the meetings can be obtained by visiting www.imagineif.city or by emailing imagineif@idahofallsidaho.gov. Links to the meetings will also be advertised and available on the city’s Facebook page. Each meeting will begin at 6:30 pm and will run until 7:45 pm. A full list of dates and locations for the meetings will be announced within the next few weeks.

All of the feedback from the meetings and the data from the survey will be used to help complete a major update to the city’s comprehensive plan being conducted this year.

“Idaho Falls is growing at a rapid rate," Cramer said. "Growth can be exciting, but it can also bring concerns and be seen as a threat to the way of life we’ve come to enjoy. ’Imagine IF…’ is an opportunity to come together as a community to talk about those concerns as well as the excitement that comes with growth and change.”

Monday, February 1, 2021

Swimming with a trend | Eric Browning, Fin Fun

Eric Browning
Many of us know Fin Fun as the company that created the first real swimmable mermaid tail, but how many of us know it took 40 different business ideas for serial entrepreneurs Karen and Jerry Browning to hit on that successful idea? “They were always doing something and my dad was always feeling out the next idea,” their son Eric said.

When the Brownings' granddaughter came to grandma Karen and asked her to sew a mermaid tail, their life changed. Once their granddaughter's friends saw the tail, they all asked for one. Word spread and in a short time they had created an eCommerce site and employed seven part-time seamstresses to keep up with the demand.

It was at this same time that Karen and Jerry decided to serve a church mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. “That's when I (knew) their character because they finally found something that was working and they said ‘You know what, we feel impressed that it's our time to serve a mission',” Eric said.

Although thriving in his own career, Eric said at this time he'd been observing what they were doing and helping here and there, but he felt impressed that he needed to keep Fin Fun going. Eric's brother Steve and he decided to become partners with their parents and take over the business in their absence. “My goal was that (my parents) would never have to work again,” Eric said.

Eric and Steve knew right away they needed to make changes to take the business to the next level. They soon added the mono-fin, a rigid fin that could create propulsion.

“It's not just something that looks cool, you can swim really well in these,” he said.

Once the mermaid idea was born, it blossomed. Fin Fun has a website dedicated to the fantasy world of mermaids and tells stories of mermaid friends all over the world as well as games and other mermaid themed content meant for kids. “We just kept going. Why not go for it, let's just go for it and we've had a lot of fun,” Eric said. He admits that he's had a great team that has been the foundation of Fin Fun's success.

“The challenge within our business is riding a trend and staying within that trend. Certainly, the mermaid tail, when it came out, was a huge trend. And the trend has come off like anything would so you have to find other ways to continue to keep a business rolling. That's the challenge we all face,” Eric explained. He has learned that any idea is a stepping stone to the next idea.

Fin Fun works to stay true to its mission of service and is involved in giving back to the community through different means, including donations.

Eric also explained that they are working to show they live the mission for their employees too. This has included being flexible throughout the COVID-19 pandemic where the majority of the team are now working from home.

The company was founded on family and there are many family members involved in the business. “It wasn't just because they were family, they had the skills,” Eric said. He admits that as the company has matured it has had to evolve and learn and always put the people in the right seats despite their relation. “You have to remove the egos and get it out of the way,” he said. He admits that includes himself.

When asked about whether or not he's had feelings of doubt he admitted that he has. “I understand that I make mistakes, we've made a lot of mistakes. The key is to learn from those mistakes,” Eric said. He admits taking on the family business and all the responsibility that accompanied that was a lot of pressure. He said it motived him to be successful.

Eric said that business has helped him learn about himself and improve. He advises others to surround themselves with talented people and be grateful that everyone has different skills that can be leveraged. “You don't want to have a business that depends on one person,” he said. He supports that a true leader is one that can walk away and the business continues without them and has led Fin Fun with that philosophy.

Like all businesses, COVID-19 threw Fin Fun a curveball. Over the last couple of years, Fin Fun has employed SethAaron Henderson of Project Runway fame as their lead designer. Among other projects, SethAaron created a clothing line for the company. However, the timing of its launch hit just as COVID was ramping up and retail plummeted. Eric and Steve were faced with the difficult decision to pull the plug on the project. “SethAaron would still work with us in a minute and we'd work with him, but the timing isn't right now,” Eric said.

During the pandemic business actually has boomed because people have been buying backyard pools and staying home. “Even during the toughest times, there are businesses that are ready to have success. Find a way to rearrange yourself to find a solution,” Eric said. He is optimistic that 2021 is going to be a great year for Fin Fun.

The plan for the future is to acquire or build up businesses through their parent company Blue Spring Partners. “I feel very strongly to say this time next year we will have acquired or have a new business that's moving along,” Eric said.


To learn more about Fin Fun visit their website at https://www.finfunmermaid.com/. Find them on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.