Idaho woos foreign investment
By Sarah Glenn/For the Journal
Washington D.C. – In June, 23 Idahoans set out for Washington D.C., primed for some serious networking. Today, about half a dozen foreign companies are taking a serious look at expanding into Eastern Idaho.
The Idaho delegation – ranging from state government officials to local economic development leaders – traveled to the SelectUSA Summit, June 19-21. Their goal? Bring business to Idaho.
“(Talks with foreign investors) are definitely moving at a much faster pace because of that experience,” said Jan Rogers, CEO of Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho (REDI). “I would not be at all surprised if some of them came to fruition.”
John Regetz, executive director of Bannock Development Corporation, was also a member of the Idaho delegation.
“It’s all about making contacts and developing those leads,” Regetz said.
In mid-July, three companies (two from Japan and one from Israel) came to Eastern Idaho for site visits.
“I can talk in generalities about the companies that have shown high interest in Eastern Idaho and what we hope is more to come (but) we never reveal names of companies without their permission and at this time they would like to keep their interest confidential,” Rogers said.
Towards the end of July, Regetz knew of one site visit that had been scheduled for Idaho Falls, but none yet for Bannock County.
The SelectUSA Summit is an annual trade show type event where municipalities and economic development organizations are the vendors. More than 2,500 business people from 70 different markets attended the event, perusing what each state had to offer their expanding businesses.
“These companies are coming to this summit because they want to invest in the United States,” Rogers said. “It is our job to get them to invest in Idaho.”
The Idaho delegation delved into that task by pulling out their heavy hitters. Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter delivered the closing remarks at the summit’s first night. His appearance put Idaho’s economy onto the pages of the Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times and McClatchy.
“There is no better salesman in this state than Gov. Otter,” Rogers said. “You should have seen him. He oozes charisma and he worked that show from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day.”
Otter’s networking built a stack of business cards three-inches thick, creating a mighty task for those in charge of following up.
The Idaho delegation also included Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho). Risch was the only senator to attend the event, a ploy that ended up attracting crowds of investors to the Idaho booth.
“They usually don’t see their (own) province leadership at things like this,” Regetz said. “That was unique to them (foreign investors) and drew a lot of attention.”
The crowd that assembled during Sen. Risch’s appearance included Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzer, Deputy Secretary of Commerce Bruce Alexander and the Executive Director of SelectUSA, Vinai Thummalapally.
“He was the only senator that came so they really rolled out the red carpet for him,” Rogers said. “We had several seats at our booth, but when he came so many people crowded around the booth there wasn’t enough room.”
In another effort to attract investors, the Idaho delegation set up flags from the various countries that had already invested in Idaho.
“If a country (representative) sees their flag, they are going to be more likely to walk up,” Rogers said.
The Idaho booth advertised existing international companies with a foothold in Idaho, such as GrainCorp’s Great Western Malting. The Australia-based GrainCorp purchased the Pocatello malting operation in 2009. The Pocatello plant employs about 35 people and in 2015, they announced a $75 million expansion that will create 10 additional jobs.
Another example is Portugal-based Frulact in Rupert, Idaho.
“We got our name out there in a very positive way,” Rogers said.
When all is said and done, the delegation’s ultimate achievement would be bringing economic development to Idaho.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Idaho is now home to 29 announced greenfield projects – a type of investment where a parent company builds its operations in a foreign country from the ground up. The largest Idaho industry sector represented by foreign investment is the food and tobacco industry – 10 of these projects exist throughout the state. Other industries where foreign companies have already taken the leap into Idaho include: Real Estate; Financial Services; Industrial Machinery, Equipment & Tools; and Coal, Oil and Natural Gas. Most of these projects are from various countries (38 percent). However, 14 percent of Idaho’s foreign direct investment comes from France, 14 percent from Canada, 14 percent from Ireland, 10 percent from Germany and 10 percent from Japan.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, 15,700 U.S. jobs are supported by foreign direct investment. Nationwide, in 2013 foreign direct investment was responsible for 5.9 million indirect jobs and $53 billion in Research and Development activity.
Some of the Idaho delegation included:
- Gov. Otter
- Sen. Risch
- Pocatello mayor Brian Blad
- Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper
- REDI’s Jan Rogers
- Bannock Development’s John Regetz
- Angela Wilhelm
- Kristen Jensen
- Amy Lientz
- Representatives from Idaho’s departments of Commerce, Labor, and Agriculture
Rogers was recently appointed to the United States Investment Advisory Council (IAC), established by the Commerce Department in April 2016. As one of 19 private and public sector leaders from across the nation, Rogers advises U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker on the development and implementation of strategies and programs to attract and retain foreign direct investment in the United States.