A key issue in the debate over a proposed community college in eastern Idaho revolves around jobs and economic prosperity.
One selling point among proponents of turning Eastern Idaho Technical College into a community college is that a more robust higher education system could provide a “career pipeline,” providing locals with the necessary education and training to gain high-paying jobs. And they argue that a better-skilled workforce would help attract better employers to the region.
Proponents of converting EITC into the College of Eastern Idaho say the College of Southern Idaho, a community college in Twin Falls, offers a model of how worker training programs centered in a community college can drive economic growth.
The Magic Valley has in recent years become a national hub for food processing, drawing major national companies including Chobani and Clif Bar. It has drawn hundreds of millions in investment and employed hundreds of workers. Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter branded it the “Magic Valley Miracle.”
Jan Rogers is the CEO of Regional Economic Development of Eastern Idaho. Before that, she spent 14 years as the executive director of the Southern Idaho Economic Development Organization, a similar group based in Twin Falls.
Rogers said CSI was a key piece of the Magic Valley Miracle.
“We called CSI our ‘secret weapon,’” Rogers said. “Talent has always been a very important part of any new business or business expansion project. If you don’t have the talent, then you’re not going to get the business.”
Rogers said the role of a local board of trustees would be key. CSI trustees, along with CSI President Jeff Fox, took steps, including visiting Chobani’s plant in New York, to make sure they understood what skills the prospective employer would need.
The school then developed a custom curriculum designed to provide prospective workers in the Magic Valley.
“We are constantly working with industry,” Fox said in a phone interview.
In August, Clif Bar CEO Kevin Cleary told the Twin Falls Times-News that his company had trained much of its workforce through programs at CSI. It began training prospective workers through a program at CSI months before it opened a 275,000-square-foot bakery in Twin Falls.
“For Clif Bar as a company, Twin Falls has really exceeded our expectations,” General Manager Dale Ducommun told the paper.
And last month Chobani founder Hamdi Ulukaya told the New York Times that collaboration with CSI and other colleges has been key to solving problems with a shortage of skilled labor.
“Our biggest challenge is that we have to find a way to keep the young in Idaho,” Ulukaya told the paper.
CSI provides training for careers outside of industrial food processing such as health care. The college provides training for paramedics, radiology technicians and certified nursing assistants.
CSI also has programs for law enforcement, veterinary technicians, welders and HVAC installation.
“When you come here, we are an educational institution that will customize education for your business,” Fox said. “It has made a difference for a lot of the companies that have settled here.”
Economic Modeling Specialists International, an economic evaluation firm based in Moscow, released an assessment of the economic impact of CSI in February.
The firm concluded that CSI created an additional $255 million in income in the Magic Valley, and that it’s responsible or about 3.6 percent of total economic activity in the area and about 5,700 jobs.
The firm concluded that the $37 million in taxpayer support CSI received in 2013-14, resulted in $72.5 million in additional tax revenue.
The firm concluded the biggest impact of the school is increasing the skill sets and earning potential of graduates, and in turn, attracting business.
“Students earn more because of the skills they learned while attending the college, and businesses earn more because student skills make capital more productive (buildings, machinery, and everything else),” the report states. “This in turn raises profits and other business property income. Together, increases in labor and non-labor (i.e., capital) income are considered the effect of a skilled workforce.”
It estimated that the total value of its students’ increased skills at over $700 million.
Rogers said the lack of a community college in eastern Idaho has been an impediment for her regional economic development work since transitioning from southern to eastern Idaho.
“From an economic development perspective, one of the things that doesn’t put us on a level playing field is we don’t have a community college,” she said. “We’re the only region in the state that doesn’t have a community college, and so we don’t have the flexibility that other communities do. We can’t turn the ship fast enough.”