Jun
20
2016

Idaho governor’s sales pitch: Turn chicken poop into magic

FOREIGNINVESTMENT_04Idaho Statesman
By Rob Hotakainen: 202-383-0009, @HotakainenRob, rhotakainen@mcclatchydc.com

  • Otter goes to D.C., one of three U.S. governors invited to speak at Obama’s investment summit
  • GOP governor urges investors to ‘come take a look-see,’ says state can offer predictability
  • Obama tells thousands of foreign investors to ‘make a deal. … We are open for business

Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, left, discusses investment opportunities with Peter Collins, right, from Industry Super Australia at the SelectUSA investment summit in Washington, D.C., on June 20, 2016. Otter, one of three U.S. governors invited to speak at the third annual summit, came to Washington to seek more foreign investment for Idaho. Tong Wu McClatchy

WASHINGTON

Last year, Idaho officials promised to round up as much chicken manure as needed for an Ireland-based company if only it would open its new mushroom- growing plant in the Gem State.

The deal never materialized. But Idaho Republican Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter was back in the hunt this week at President Barack Obama’s third and final meeting on foreign investment in Washington. He told foreign investors they’d never have to worry about excessive regulations or bureaucracy if they brought their money and projects to his state.

“Let’s sit down here and make magic,” Otter told a group of Australian businessmen in a small basement room of the Washington Hilton, before listening to their pitch on investing pension money in roads, airports and infrastructure projects.

Then he scurried off to another meeting with executives from Nice Holdings, Inc., a timber firm in Yokohama, Japan, listening to an interpreter describe how the company wanted to open a new manufacturing plant in the U.S.

In a speech on Sunday, Otter offered some advice for foreign investors as he helped kick off the three-day meeting: Eat more yogurt, Greek yogurt made by

Chobani, a company founded by a Turkish immigrant that earlier this yearannounced a $100-million expansion project at its plant in Twin Falls, Idaho.

“You guys gotta get busy and eat more,” said Otter, one of three U.S. governors invited to speak at the summit, called SelectUSA.

Otter cited Chobani as a company that found what it needed in Idaho, and he said he had one big advantage over other states that tried to woo it away.

“You’ve got to know where your supply is,” Otter said. “The one thing I had that some of those other states didn’t was I had 450,000 milk cows. I had a lot of milk.”

Otter said he promised Chobani officials that the company would have all of its necessary permits and licenses in place two weeks before construction began, saying they wouldn’t have to “be waiting around on some bureaucrat in Idaho.”

“Capital loves security, but it also loves predictability,” Otter said. “The security comes in several forms but most important in government regulations. … I could stand up here most of the day and talk about the great possibilities and the great opportunities that you would have in the 43rd state.”

Idaho sent a delegation of 21 people to this year’s gathering, including a mix of state and city officials and representatives of business groups who were happy that the governor joined them for the first time.

“This governor is an economic developer’s dream. You know that, don’t you?” said Jan Rogers, chief executive officer of Regional Economic Development Eastern Idaho in Idaho Falls. “He is the greatest salesman you could imagine.”

And as a former businessman himself, Rogers said, Otter knows how to connect with potential investors: “He understands where they’re coming from.”

-Jan Rogers, chief executive officer of Regional Economic Development Eastern Idaho

The Idaho delegation had lined up at least 14 separate meetings with companies and investors from Japan, Australia, Brazil, Mexico and Taiwan, among other countries, said Megan Ronk, director of the Idaho Department of Commerce.

For the third year in a row, Obama gave the keynote speech to the foreign investors on Monday afternoon, urging them to “select U.S.A.” as a place to do business “because nowhere in the world and never in history has there been a better place to grow your business.”

Obama touted his economic record, saying the U.S. has recorded 75 straight months of private sector job growth.

“I’m rooting for you,” the president told the investors. “Make a deal. And make that smart choice to invest in the United States of America. We are open for business.”

SelectUSA has emerged as something of a pet project for Obama. It’s a government-wide program housed in the International Trade Administration at the U.S. Department of Commerce. Since it began, administration officials say it has resulted in $19 billion in additional investment in the U.S., creating and keeping thousands of American jobs.

In an interview, Otter, a former congressman who is now a third-term governor, said he made the trek to Washington, D.C., both to promote the state and to build personal contacts with representatives from global firms looking to do business in the U.S.

He said he’s hoping that more of them will come to Idaho to check out what the state can offer.

“It’s all about contacts and building an image,” Otter said. “If they’ll come take a look-see, we can show them a pretty good opportunity.”

Otter posed for pictures with one of the Australian wealthy investors and jokingly issued a directive to the photographer.

“Here, I want you to get one with my hand in his pocket,” the governor said.