eCOBALT’S SALMON AND BLACKFOOT OPERATIONS, AND  REGIONAL ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT FOR EASTERN IDAHO  RECEIVE NATIONAL AWARD

eCOBALT’S SALMON AND BLACKFOOT OPERATIONS, AND REGIONAL ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT FOR EASTERN IDAHO RECEIVE NATIONAL AWARD

 

IDAHO FALLS, ID –  May 9, 2018 – eCobalt’s mining operations in Salmon and proposed refining facility in Blackfoot, along with Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho (REDI), have received the Corporate Investment & Community Impact award from Trade & Industry Development, a leading national trade publication dedicated to site selectors.

With hundreds of project submissions throughout North America, eCobalt and REDI were recognized for eCobalt’s investment in Eastern Idaho for cobalt mining and refining as one of only 15 finalists in the Impact Division of the Trade & Industry’s Annual CiCi Awards.

“For eCobalt’s Blackfoot and Salmon operations and REDI to be nationally recognized for eCobalt’s significant mining and refining investments in our region is an important achievement,” said Jan Rogers, CEO of REDI.  “It’s an honor to receive a CiCi award and speaks highly of the region’s strong business climate.  Site selectors are likely to draw their attention to Blackfoot and Salmon as a result of this significant economic development achievement.”

CiCi Awards’ Community Impact category recognizes projects that will make a big impact on their respective community and local economic development organizations that work in lockstep to attract this kind of development.

“The City of Blackfoot is very pleased to have been selected as the site for eCobalt’s refining facility,” said Blackfoot Mayor Marc Carroll.  “We are looking forward to the positive impact this refining operation will have on area jobs and to the local economy.  Light manufacturing companies can be challenging to attract to smaller communities, but we are very proud and excited to have been selected as the future home of eCobalt.”

Cobalt company refines processing plans

Cobalt company refines processing plans

Cobalt company refines processing plans

A Vancouver company is seeking to build a cobalt processing plant near Blackfoot that could create dozens of jobs paying $70,000 to $80,000 annually.

The company, eCobalt Solutions Inc., doing business in the U.S. as Formation Capital Corp., released a feasibility study in September for the facility, coupled with a cobalt mine near Salmon. In December, the company simplified its plans.

“It’s gone from a very complicated plant to a more simplistic refinery that just roasts the ore to drive off the arsenic and capture it in a stable form,” said Floyd Varley, chief operating officer. “We can ship that product, with the arsenic removed, anywhere in the world.” That also makes it cheaper to process the ore, he said.

map of United States and a photo of a cobalt mine

The Canadian company eCobalt is working on a mine and processing facility in eastern Idaho.

The original feasibility study was for a $184 million project, $124 million of which was for the Blackfoot processing facility, which would be in full production by Q3 2020. The new plant will cost less but due to stock exchange regulations eCobalt won’t be able to reveal final numbers until later in the first half of this year. “We expect that to come in significantly lower than what we were looking at,” Varley said.

photo of Marc Small

Marc Carroll

Operating the facility was originally going to call for 65 jobs; with the new structure, that number will be lower. “The same skill sets, just fewer of them,” Varley said. Salaries should be comparable to those at Idaho National Laboratory and Premier Technology, in the $70,000 to $80,000 range, said Marc Carroll, the newly elected mayor of Blackfoot. “People are very excited about it,” Carroll said.

The company is financing the project now and is working with a number of interested parties to either buy the ore, take a share of eCobalt, or both, Varley said. “When we have final numbers, we will decide what’s the best deal,” he said.

For now, eCobalt isn’t going after any grants, but it is talking with Blackfoot about using community development block grants for infrastructure improvements. First, though, the company needs to determine how many jobs it will create, because the amount of money available is tied to that number of jobs, Varley said.

Similarly, eCobalt is not looking at Idaho tax reimbursement incentives, but the company’s suppliers and service providers might, Varley said. For example, the facility will use recycled glass to stabilize arsenic removed from the ore. The region doesn’t recycle glass because there isn’t a use for it, but such a spinoff would justify keeping it out of landfills, Varley said. The company is talking to people in Salmon and Blackfoot about leveraging economic development resources to create a business to collect the glass, he said.

photo of Hope Morrow

Hope Morrow

The facility could be a real shot in the arm for Bingham County, where the average wage in 2016 was $33,607.

“This will bring up wage averages and bring up family income,” said Hope Morrow, regional labor economist for the Department of Labor, in Idaho Falls.

The facility could also create indirect jobs, like building housing for the workers. “eCobalt is going to have to do something to build up some living space so their workers don’t have to commute from Idaho Falls or Pocatello,” about a 30-minute drive during rush hour, she said.

photo of Jan Rogers

Jan Rogers

Mining jobs provide some of the highest paid industrial or service employment in Idaho.

As of 2015, the most recent year for which figures are available, mining contributed $1.32 billion to Idaho’s gross state product, as well as $721.4 million to total compensation, 14,194 jobs, and $122.1 million in property, sales, excise, and personal and corporate income taxes, said Benjamin Davenport, executive vice president for the Idaho Mining Association, a Boise-based advocacy group for the mining industry.

Mining jobs, including salary and benefits, average $104,061 per worker, he said. Mining in Idaho includes antimony, garnet, gold, lead, molybdenum, phosphates, pumice and silver, as well as cobalt.

Cobalt is used in batteries, particularly for electric vehicles, with demand going up sharply since mid-2016. Idaho has the only deposit of cobalt in the U.S., and one of only two in North America, that’s available for mining.

The demand for cobalt shows no signs of slowing. “We’re not all of a sudden not going to have electric cars,” said Jan Rogers, CEO for Regional Economic Development Eastern Idaho. “Every company has an electric or hybrid car.”

Idaho cobalt is well-known to geologists.

“In terms of the U.S., we do have the only reserve of cobalt,” said Virginia Gillerman, associate research geologist and economic geologist for the Idaho Geological Survey, a state agency that is administered by the University of Idaho. The world’s largest deposit is in the Congo in Africa. There are other deposits in Ontario, Canada; Russia; and some in Minnesota that are not being mined, she said. Idaho’s cobalt deposit – possibly the largest and most known domestic resource – has its own name: the Idaho Cobalt Belt.

Idaho’s cobalt deposits are smaller than those in Africa, Gillerman said.

It takes lots of rock to get cobalt. The concentration in the Salmon mine area ranges from 0.5 percent to 1 percent, Gillerman said. “If a ton of rock is 2000 pounds, half a percent is 10 pounds,” she said.

INL, NuScale, UAMPS address House committee

INL, NuScale, UAMPS address House committee

INL, NuScale, UAMPS address House committee

Peters

BOISE — Officials for Idaho National Laboratory, NuScale Power and Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems briefed the House Environment, Energy and Technology Committee on Tuesday about developing 12 small modular reactors at the INL site.

“We continue to be a lab that’s solving big national challenges,” INL Director Mark Peters said.

That briefing included mention of two forthcoming bills that INL and related companies are seeking in this year’s legislative session.

According to lobbyist Ken McClure, who has been hired to work on the bills, one would exempt two of the 12 SMR units from sales tax. Idaho has an existing sales tax exemption for research facilities at INL, and INL plans to purchase those two units for research purposes. But because those two units are part of the larger 12-unit project, with the remaining 10 reserved to provide commercial power production, the lab wants to get clarification about the portion of the project dedicated to research.

“For those two modules, for one-sixth of the expenditure on this facility, it would remain sales tax exempt,” McClure said. “That’s what they would get if they only built two units. They shouldn’t be penalized because we’re also building 10 more.”

The second bill, McClure said, seeks to make a few technical changes to a law to “make the bolt holes line up” and ensure an existing tax break for large investment projects can be used.

Lawmakers passed a bill in 2008 that exempted new properties with assessed values of more than $400 million and total investment of more than $1 billion from property taxes. That bill was written with an eye to a planned uranium enrichment facility planned by Areva, which has stalled following a reduction in demand for nuclear fuel triggered by the 2011 reactor meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors in Japan.

The SMR project is expected to be large enough to qualify for such a break.

Peters also went through a review of the lab’s recent performance and expansion. For the fourth year in a row, the lab was given an ‘A’ rating by the Department of Energy.

“We’re not perfect, but we’re performing very well,” Peters said.

NuScale CEO John Hopkins detailed his company’s’ progress toward the construction of innovative small modular reactors. More than $700 million have been invested in the project so far, he said, and the company is currently going through the lengthy process of Nuclear Regulatory Commission certification.

He and UAMPS CEO Doug Hunter told the committee that current cost estimates indicate power from the small modular reactor project will be cost competitive with natural gas, but without climate-change-driving carbon emissions. Hopkins told the committee he thinks the eventual size of the SMR market might be enormous, with applications such as the electrification of Africa, where siting small reactors could eliminate the need for large power lines.

“I don’t really know how big this market is, but the potential is huge,” Hopkins said.

Chairman Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg, a farmer, said that idea appeals to him.

“I think we’ve been privileged in getting in on a new era in power production,” Raybould said. “Here we have an opportunity to have these little small power plants that can be located right next to cities, and we don’t have to have these big power lines.”


Reporter Bryan Clark can be reached at 208-542-6751.

For manufacturer Sakae, eastern Idaho is the land of opportunity

For manufacturer Sakae, eastern Idaho is the land of opportunity

For manufacturer Sakae, eastern Idaho is the land of opportunity

Sakae Casting President Takashi Suzuki poses for a portrait Jan. 23 outside of the company’s satellite office at Shoup Avenue. Sakae opened its Idaho Falls office in April. John Roark / jroark@postregister.com

Sakae Casting President Takashi Suzuki poses for a portrait Jan. 23. Suzuki splits time between Japan and the United States in an effort to expand the reach of his company. John Roark / jroark@postregister.com

Rogers

An example of Sakae Casting’s signature cooling plate. The cast aluminum plate features embedded stainless steel cooling tubes. Sakae’s casting process enables a minimum clearance of 0.5mm with a space between parts of 1mm, a plate thickness of 8mm and a pipe diameter of 6mm.

Takashi Suzuki didn’t get what he needed in Silicon Valley. But he found it in Idaho.

The Tokyo-based Sakae Casting president opened an Idaho Falls satellite office in April. Since then, Sakae has begun work on a new spent fuel cask design with researchers from University of Idaho, Boise State University and Idaho National Laboratory.

If successful, the design could be used across the nuclear industry. The research is being funded, in part, by a state entrepreneurship grant Suzuki never would have heard about had he not attended a national investment summit in 2016.

At that time, Suzuki was planning to close an unsuccessful satellite office in California, then refocus efforts back to Japan. Instead, he decided to take a chance on Idaho after meeting Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, Lt. Gov. Brad Little and Jan Rogers, CEO of Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho.

Idaho was much cheaper than California’s Bay Area, and this side of the state offers robust research collaboration opportunities. But there was something else: Gem State representatives made Suzuki felt welcomed.

During a recent trip to Idaho, Suzuki spoke to the Post Register, with the aid of interpreter Mika Fox, about his decision to open a Sakae office in Idaho Falls, and the possibility of further business coming to the Gem State.

“He met the people from Idaho. and they were passionate about getting business, and he was very impressed by them — he was very touched by it,” Fox said. “He thinks there’s a match between them: what they’re looking for and what he wanted to do.”

An authentic welcome

Sakae’s signature product is a cast-aluminum plate embedded with U-shaped stainless steel pipes that can be used to cool semiconductors, other digital technology, and, possibly, spent fuel casks.

Sakae opened its Silicon Valley office in 2011. At that time, and still today, Suzuki said global expansion is logical for Japanese firms, partially due to long-term demographic shifts within Japan.

Reuters poll from June showed that shrinking domestic demand and labor shortages were by far the largest concerns of more than 500 medium and large Japanese businesses.

Japan’s birth rate is low; its population is aging. The country’s 1995 peak working-age population shrank 11 percent to 77.2 million in 2015, and it’s projected to drop to 45.2 million by 2065, according to Reuters.

To Suzuki, who also has opened a Sakae office in South Korea, there were two clear choices for further international expansion: China and the United States.

“He chose America because of its culture for new businesses and open-mindedness for investment as well as research and development — the American dream,” Fox said. “That’s the culture here, not in China.”

Silicon Valley, a world tech hub, was a logical place to open a satellite office, but it eventually became too expensive. And Suzuki, who settled there with assistance from Japanese connections, couldn’t integrate his company into the area’s business community.

It was at the 2016 SelectUSA Investment Summit in Washington, D.C., that Suzuki met representatives from other states, most memorably Idaho.

“He felt an authentic welcome from Jan, and she tried to introduce him to other people — it never happened in California,” Fox said.

Getting to the front of the line

Idaho is poised to attract small- to medium-sized businesses such as Sakae, Rogers said, because of the potential to develop relationships between CEOs and key state figures.

“Everyone was doing what they could to help move this project forward in the state. If you were to ask a number of businesses, I would think that somewhere in that discussion would be the fact that they were treated with respect,” Rogers said. “We did what we said and said what we meant.”

Gem State representatives can intimately engage business presidents, partially, because of the state’s size.

California had the largest gross domestic product of any state in the U.S. during 2016: $2,602.67 billion. Idaho, meanwhile, was ranked 43rd, including the District of Columbia. The state added $67.28 billion to the U.S. economy.

Companies that wouldn’t be a blip on the radar of larger states can get a personal touch from Idaho.

“You’d have to be a huge company, like Samsung or Mitsubishi, to get to the front of the line with California’s governor. Our state is small enough where you can actually get the introduction,” Rogers said.

Rogers headed southern Idaho’s regional marketing firm when yogurt manufacturer Chobani opened a $750 million factory in Twin Falls. Today, approximately 1,000 people work at the factory; Chobani also built a $21 million research center in the area last year, USA Today reported.

During a state of the state speech, Otter declared the local investment of Chobani and other food processing firms the “Magic Valley miracle.”

‘That’s his mission — hiring local people’

For Sakae, opportunity is propelled by the Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission (IGEM), which provides funding for commercialization research between university personnel and businesses.

IGEM, a subsidiary of the Idaho Department of Commerce, has invested more than $4.8 million in 24 projects since 2013, including $979,572 during fiscal year 2017.

The spent fuel cask project, which is being researched at the Center for Advanced Energy Studies in Idaho Falls, is funded largely by a $237,898 grant distributed in late 2017.

Sakae is expected to build two prototypes before 2019.

If the project is viable at the end of the yearlong research period, and a business plan detailing market potential, profit margins and other details can be drawn up, Sakae and researchers could be granted another round of IGEM funding.

If the product goes to market, Sakae has committed to building a cask factory in eastern Idaho within five years, give or take. Suzuki plans to create internship and hiring programs along the way to bolster Sakae’s Gem State workforce presence by dozens of people.

“Ultimately they want to hire 50 people. That’s his mission — hiring local people,” Fox said.

If Sakae succeeds, others will follow

Sakae’s local economic impact could extend beyond the company’s immediate presence in eastern Idaho, however.

Suzuki is the informal leader of a small chamber of commerce in Japan. Sakae’s ventures outside Asia, if successful, could become a model for affiliated small- to medium-sized companies hesitant to do the same.

“They want to diversify their businesses, but they are small, so there’s a bit of struggle and many walls to break — the U.S. is huge and intimidating,” Fox said. “So they’re skeptical and a bit afraid. It’s really important for (Suzuki) to succeed and show them that he made it. Then others follow.”

Representatives from a Japanese automated manufacturing firm visited Idaho in December; they’re considering Gem State facilities to complement the state’s agriculture industry.

Rogers, along with local researchers and Idaho Department of Agriculture Director Celia Gould, will visit Japan in April to meet with company representatives introduced by Suzuki.

“When companies are seeing results and that the community and our state is doing whatever it can to make your business successful, then they’re more likely to encourage others to speak with you,” Rogers said. “We’re going to try to continue to develop these relationships, and who knows where the next opportunity will come from? But unless you pursue it, it never happens.”

Echoing Japan’s generational issues, Suzuki has heard anecdotal evidence of Idaho’s young people, “talent,” leaving the state for high-paying jobs elsewhere.

Suzuki said he wants to bring additional Japanese companies to Idaho so they can hire local, too.

“He comes here and sees more opportunities,” Fox said. “He’s thankful that eastern Idaho opened the door, so if he can contribute to creating employment here, that’s how he wants to help: hiring local people so they don’t have to go to Silicon Valley.”


Reporter Kevin Trevellyan can be reached at 208-542-6762.

This Could be a ‘Breakthrough’ Year

This Could be a ‘Breakthrough’ Year

INL is the nation’s lead nuclear research lab but, without spent fuel, it’s difficult to conduct research, writes Dana Kirkham.

This Could be a ‘Breakthrough’ Year

The U.S. Department of Energy has 17 national laboratories located in 14 states. Only Idaho has a Settlement Agreement governing waste cleanup and disposal. The value of our 1995 agreement is enormous because it protects our environment and people.

The Settlement Agreement brought accountability to DOE, and has been incredibly successful, including treatment of more than 1 million tons of radioactive liquid waste. The 2013 Leadership in Nuclear Energy (LINE) Commission report said 959 of 964 mandated deadlines had been met and tons of waste shipped out of Idaho.

The agreement also contains pro-visions that allow it to be amended. In 2008 the Navy successfully negotiated an addendum.

And, in 2011, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) that allowed into Idaho National Laboratory limited quantities of used commercial fuel for research.

One missed cleanup deadline, however, has had huge consequences for INL’s research mission and Idaho’s economy, and tells us that our 23-year-old agreement needs updating.

That came in 2012, when DOE failed to begin processing the last 900,000 gallons of liquid waste at the site. When that deadline was missed, Wasden stopped two scheduled commercial nuclear fuel shipments. Clearly, the attorney general is in a difficult place, with a duty to enforce the agreement and, as he attempted to do in 2011 by signing the spent fuel MOA, ensure INL’s important R&D mission.

Contributing to the complexity of
this issue are changes made in 2005. At that time, DOE separated cleanup and research functions at the site. Today they are handled by different contractors working under separate contracts. That leaves INL in the uncomfortable position of having its vital clean energy and national security research affected by factors out of its control.

INL is the nation’s lead nuclear research lab and, to state the obvious, without spent fuel it is difficult to conduct research. The first shipment scheduled for INL instead went to Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The loss of these shipments could cost Idaho millions of dollars.

Idahoans need to address this issue, because it’s not going away. In 1995, when the Settlement Agreement was signed, the state and federal governments anticipated having a national repository to dispose of waste imported into Idaho during the Cold War.

Because of the federal government’s inability to open a national waste repository, approaching Settlement Agreement deadlines are likely to go unmet.

But I am confident we can find a solution to this difficult problem this year, for three reasons:

1. DOE’s Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Plant (AMWTP) should complete treatment of TRU waste brought to Idaho from Rocky Flats by the end
of this year. AMWTP is a multi-billion dollar facility with the ability to treat waste from across the DOE complex. This saves taxpayer money, and advances the national interest of treating waste from our atomic past and moving it to be safely stored. The problem is the agreement that created the AMWTP mission prevents it from continuing. The completion of its mission may accelerate discussions about AMWTP’s future because time is running out.

2. The Integrated Waste Treatment Unit facility, designed to treat the remaining liquid waste, is set for a simulant run early this year. Hopefully, solutions are imminent.

3. Last fall, officials from DOE, DOE-Idaho, Wasden, and state and local officials met. Important questions were identified and a path forward established. It is vital this momentum continues.

Federal, state, and local officials have an obligation to update the 1995 Settlement Agreement without diminishing the vital protections it provides to our environment and people. Let us resolve to continue cleaning up the site while enabling INL’s vital R&D mission.

It won’t be easy, but nothing worth doing ever is. The time has come to find a deal that works for everyone.

Dana Kirkham is the STAR director for REDI. You can reach her at danak@easternidaho.org.

Idaho National Laboratory Fiscal Impact 2017

Idaho National Laboratory continues to be a major player in our region. Today they released INL’s Research & Development Economic Impact Summary. Here are some key findings that are extremely important to eastern Idaho.

 

In fiscal year 2017, Idaho National Laboratory operations added $1.94 billion to Idaho’s gross domestic product, and the lab spent $139 million with Idaho businesses.

  • INL directly employed an average of 4,256 workers during the fiscal year. That makes the laboratory contractor Battelle Energy Alliance Idaho’s sixth-largest private employer and ninth-largest employer when compared to all public and private businesses.
  • INL increased personal income in Idaho by $862 million. INL economic impacts accounted for 1.3 percent of all personal income in the state.
  • Nearly $935 million of economic output was generated through INL suppliers and employee household spending.
  • INL operations accounted for 12,027 jobs across Idaho, a 6.7 percent increase over FY 2016.
  • INL spent $139 million with Idaho subcontractors located throughout the state.
  • Battelle Energy Alliance employees contributed more than $610,000 to charitable giving.

Dr Mar Peters said,  “It’s rewarding to see the positive impact we have on Idaho’s economy. Ultimately, that means we are improving the lives of all Idahoans and their communities.”

Producers had a solid year in 2017

Producers had a solid year in 2017

Posted: December 29, 2017 1:00 a.m.

Bill Schaefer / for Farm & Ranch
Melanie Jensen, of Firth, and Sherelle Christensen, center, pulls debris from the conveyor belts Sept. 14 as Martin Cruz adjusts the belt speed at one of the Christensen Family Farms’ storage cellars.

Kathy Corgatelli NeVille / for Farm & Ranch
Prospective buyers look on as cattle go through the Blackfoot Livestock Auction in Blackfoot recently. Auctions are just one of several ways cattle are marketed today.

Eastern Idaho farmers and ranchers had a solid 2017, even though it was lacking the record production of the previous year.

Events

Once again, F&R was there at the Idaho Potato Conference and Ag Expo at Idaho State University in Pocatello. Idaho’s potatoes were confirmed as the state’s famous brand once again, and some speakers said the new President Donald Trump offered a mixed bag for farmers with the plans he announced during last year’s campaign and his early days in office.

Also at the Potato Conference, reports showed mixed progress toward overcoming the pale cyst nematode that first plagued eastern Idaho potato fields more than a decade ago. In December 2016 and January, nearly 700 acres were released from the PCN-regulated areas, though some fields remained under quarantine orders.

Idaho’s oldest rodeo, the War Bonnet Roundup, saddled up for the 106th time in August.

September’s 115th edition of the Eastern Idaho State Fair in Blackfoot had as its theme, “Bigger is Better,” emphasizing its growth from eight to nine days.

Dairy

President Trump’s tough talk on immigration worried dairy owners who rely largely on migrant labor to man their operations.

But some dairy owners, such as the Nelson dairy in Ririe, were finding technology could come in handy making up for the labor shortage.

Dairymen, like many farmers, are always trying something new. Kim Wolfley’s dairy cattle near Blackfoot are pasture-raised. They are turned out onto alfalfa fields and harvest the hay so Wolfley doesn’t have to. They also get a bit of corn in the barn, but the pasture is their dietary mainstay, Wolfley said.

Idaho dairymen didn’t confine their operations to the Gem State. Derek Whitesides, of Rupert, expanded his operation to Hawaii’s Big Island and is finding it thriving.

Beef cattle

During February’s Cattle Month, we took a look at how science and technology are helping ranchers breed better cattle. Ultrasounds and DNA testing are becoming the norm on cattle ranches.

Technology also has affected how beef are marketed. Gone are the days when the only way to sell was at the stockyards. Now, there are a variety of online and televised cattle markets.

Potatoes

Idaho remained the nation’s leading potato-producing state in 2017, but they all weren’t the usual commercial varieties grown in the usual ways. In May, we took a look at Jeff Bragg’s organic operation near Donnelly where he grows 23 different varieties of spuds.

In the middle of the growing season, farmers’ assessments were that despite a late start caused by a wet spring, the crop was expected to catch up and produce a healthy harvest.

Then, this fall, the annual harvest got underway, growers were cautiously optimistic that they’d see a rebound from several years of poor returns.

Barley

Anheuser-Busch, which holds the contracts for many eastern Idaho barley growers, announced early this year it planned to cut procurement by 15 to 25 percent, which could translate to up to a quarter of a farmer’s income. The cuts came after a couple of years of large harvests of top-quality barley, which flooded the market.

But as harvest got underway in August, growers appeared optimistic at the quality of their crop, although yields promised to be 10 to 15 percent below 2016.

Wheat

The wheat crop, like barley, while a mainstay of eastern Idaho agriculture, was off a bit from the previous year. Yields were down a little, while quality was good. The lower yields in small grains were expected to balance out previously glutted markets.

Youths

Adults also continued to figure largely in young people’s lives, such as a group of Hereford breeders who banded together to help 18-year-old Chance Smith get a start in the business. The breeders said it was their goal to bring the next generation into ranching.

There was also Rigby’s Ryan Hawkins who started raising pigs at age 11 and is now hoping his herd of 32 pigs will help pay his way to college.

Tasha Smith, of Blackfoot, showed her stuff as she told of picking a less-than-traditional career for a woman of being a welding inspector. Her experience in welding class at Blackfoot High School has put her well on the way to her career goal.

Saydee Longhurst, of Shelley, blazed a trail as the youngest to attend the first-ever FarmHer Conference on women in agriculture in Des Moines, Iowa.

Allie Ward, of Pocatello, was crowned Miss War Bonnet Roundup for 2017. Her court included Princess Ada Poulter, of Tremonton, Utah, and Teen Queen Jenni Nelson, of Arimo. The three presided over last summer’s War Bonnet Roundup. However, the War Bonnet royalty contest director, Kassi Jones, said that behind-the-scenes “mayhem” meant this year’s contest would be the last and another method will be worked out to select the War Bonnet court.

Horses

We took a look at Steven Wright’s Belgian draft horses as they were used to skid felled trees from the woods on the Idaho-Wyoming state line.

We also featured some of eastern Idaho’s top stallions standing for stud in our March Stallion Issue.

Various livestock

While beef cattle are second only to dairy cattle among Idaho’s agricultural products, other livestock are popular as well. In March, F&R visited with Logan Pearce, of Ririe, who raises Black Wattle pigs, a heritage breed not so suitable to factory-style farming but just right for backyard breeders. Shrimp may not seem quite like livestock, but according to the USDA they are. A couple of Challis men have made a success of raising Pacific White Prawns at their operation, which also produces tilapia and sea bass for restaurants in the region.

Various crops

As the growing season got underway, some growers were trying crops that were new to them, such as triticale, a crossbreed of wheat and rye. Some found it to be a quality feed for dairy cattle, who seemed to like it.

Water

Last winter’s heavy snowpack left little for irrigators to worry about this year. Indeed, the soil moisture remained fairly high all during the growing season, reducing demand for irrigation water.

Then, this fall, eastern Idaho got an early start on the snowpack in the high country and the reservoirs never did drop to very low levels. Water managers are predicting another La Niña for the winter we’re in now that will just add to those reservoir levels. The only real concern is if there may be too much runoff in the spring.

Technology was helping irrigators, such as the WET Stake irrigation system developed by Prescott Farms Innovations that helped farmers save water by remotely telling them when their crops have had enough water.

People

Area halls of fame continued to honor those involved in agriculture and with horses. In March, Garn Theobald, Albert Wada, Wilder Hatch, Bob Huskinson and David McFarland were inducted into the Eastern Idaho Agriculture Hall of Fame.

Then, in April, the Eastern Idaho Horseman Hall of Fame inducted Robert Lee Pister, Duane “Doc” Jones, Reed W. Larsen, Grant Weeks, Tim Munns and Terrell and Jill Lufkin. The Horseman Hall of Fame also acknowledged the loss of two members who had died recently, Elwood G. Wilker, of Grace, and Bill Langley, of Blackfoot.

There was also a look at individual farming operations that have been the mainstay of eastern Idaho agriculture, such as the Just/Reid Ranch that has been going strong in the Presto area east of Firth since 1870.

Eastern Idahoans like trying the unusual, such as Richard and Anita Freeman, of Arco, who have turned old school buses into greenhouses.

Then there was the Larsen Hay Terminal, a Dubois-area hay producer with a Florida facility that came to the aid of Texas ranchers in need of cattle feed after Hurricane Harvey.

All in all, the people, livestock and crops together make eastern Idaho what it is.

Melaleuca celebrates annual revenue benchmark

Melaleuca celebrates annual revenue benchmark

Melaleuca celebrates annual revenue benchmark

Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot speaks to employees as the company approaches $2 billion dollars in annual revenue Tuesday. Mark and Suzette Roth of Palm Harbor, Florida helped the company break the $2 billion mark with a $187.85 purchase. John Roark / jroark@postregister.com

Melaleuca employees throw confetti after the company surpassed $2 billion in annual revenue Tuesday. “The fact that we hit $2 billion says something about our product and our employees,” said Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot. John Roark / jroark@postregister.com

Melaleuca employees wait for the company to break the $2 billion mark at Melaleuca on Tuesday.  John Roark / jroark@postregister.com

The Melaleuca mission statement is seen at Melaleuca on Tuesday. The privately held company broke $2 billion in annual sales for the first time. John Roark / jroark@postregister.com

Melaleuca CEO Frank Vandersloot reads the names of Mark and Suzette Roth whose $187.85 purchase pushed the company past the $2 billion revenue mark at Melaleuca on Tuesday. John Roark / jroark@postregister.com

Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot, speaks to employees after breaking $2 billion dollars in annual sales for the first time since starting 32 years ago. A $187.85 purchase from Mark and Suzette Roth of Palm Harbor, Florida helped push the Melaleuca beyond the $2 billion mark. John Roark / jroark@postregister.com

When an individual takes over a small, struggling business, it is often with visions of one day reaching the top of its industry.

Whether one is dabbling in a hobby or building a state-of-the-art engineering facility from the ground up, success is always the primary goal.

For Idaho Falls businessman Frank VanderSloot, success has been found from his “leap of faith” journey into the business world, helping turn a struggling herbal supplement company into a premier direct marketing empire with nearly 4,000 employees worldwide.

And on Tuesday, a benchmark sign of business success was achieved for Idaho Falls-based Melaleuca.

In front of a packed house at the company’s Idaho Falls headquarters, Melaleuca celebrated breaking the $2 billion mark in annual revenue for the company.

With a countdown clock in the background ticking until the number was reached, VanderSloot, president and CEO of Melaleuca, spoke to those in attendance, and “tens of thousands” viewing the ceremony on Facebook Live, until the number “$2 billion” appeared to his side. Afterwards, a shower of confetti rained over those below in the three-story atrium.

“It became evident over time that ($2 billion in annual revenue) would happen, but definitely not in the beginning,” he said.

Opening in September 1985 as the offshoot of Oil of Melaleuca, VanderSloot founded Melaleuca, Inc. with the idea of selling environmentally friendly products directly to consumers. Utilizing a “word-of-mouth” model, the company began to grow at a swift pace.

Melaleuca first achieved annual revenues of over $1 billion in 2011, 27 years after the company’s founding. Since then, the company has witnessed a steady, yet brisk rise every year.

The company reported revenues of $1.3 billion in 2015 and saw those rise to $1.75 billion in 2016.

“We’ve never had the kind of growth live we’ve experienced over the last 24 months,” VanderSloot said. “The last 24 months have been unbelievable. Like a rocket ship for us.”

The jump of more than $250 million in revenue in the last year can be attributed simply to good products and a good model, according to VanderSloot.

“Our model is a lot like Amazon,” he said. “We were doing what Amazon was doing, shipping directly from our factory and over the internet, long before Amazon was doing it.”

“I’m not suggesting we led the way (with this model), but we were in front of everybody.”

Melaleuca will join elite company with this accomplishment. According to Forbes, only 225 private companies broke the $2 billion mark in annual revenue in 2016.

But the roots of Melaleuca in eastern Idaho make the accomplishment unique. With many large businesses and ventures moving from more rural areas, VanderSloot is proud that he has been able to watch his business grow to such levels out of Idaho Falls.

“Idaho has a great work ethic,” he said. “We have people who care and people who don’t feel entitled. They grew up in an environment where work is certainly rewarded and respected. That’s different than some cities today.”

“The $2 billion mark brings something to our people. I’m really proud of our people.”

This pride resonates not only through those involved with Melaleuca, but also county officials who have watched the organization’s growth over the years.

“I think, watching Melaleuca (break the $2 billion mark) really does speak of our whole community in Bonneville County, and he wanted to make sure everyone shared in this success,” said Bryon Reed, a Bonneville County Commissioner. “And it won’t stop here.”

With a business success story to build upon in the county, Reed believes stories like Melaleuca could be the tip of the iceberg for what could be accomplished in the region.

“(Companies) can look at this and see that this is a great place to have a business and a great resource center for employees,” he said. “Frank mentioned it today, that when you break the $2 billion in sales it really helps to get you recognized by the surrounding industry of the success being had here.”

VanderSloot is not one to hide his passion for eastern Idaho and helping the community when possible, and hopes his story can help further inspire new businesses to flourish in the region.

“Depending on the area, this is a great place to start a business,” he said. “I’d like to see the city of Idaho Falls become more competitive, in its tax base, but everything else is in place.”

VanderSloot is not going to have the $2 billion mark lingering in his mind for long.

“It’s not a distance marker, it’s a milestone,” he said.


Reporter Marc Basham can be reached at 208-542-6763.

Economic development partnership lays foundation for growth

Economic development partnership lays foundation for growth

Economic development partnership lays foundation for growth

Jan Rogers, CEO for the Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho (REDI), poses for a portrait along the Snake River on Dec. 15. Rogers was central to Magic Valley’s good fortune during its recent economic boom, serving at the time as executive director of the region’s Southern Idaho Economic Development Organization. John Roark/ jroark@postregister.com

Jan Rogers, CEO for the Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho (REDI), wants to capitalize on the scientific research conducted by several private-sector technology companies, Idaho State University, Brigham Young University-Idaho and the Idaho National Laboratory. She also touts the influence of the College of Eastern Idaho, ISU-Idaho Falls and the region’s “five diverse federal programs,” including an expanding FBI center in Pocatello. John Roark/ jroark@postregister.com

Jan Rogers, CEO for the Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho (REDI), poses for a portrait along the Snake River on Friday, December 15, 2017. John Roark/ jroark@postregister.com

Jan Rogers believes the foundation for a regional economic boom is being laid because eastern Idaho’s small cities and counties no longer view themselves as competing for growth.

Rather, Rogers explained they’re beginning to embrace their roles as players in a burgeoning innovation corridor — stretching 78 miles from Pocatello to Rexburg, book-ended by major universities and home to a collective population base of about 300,000.

Rogers is the CEO of Regional Economic Development Eastern Idaho, a 2-year-old organization seeking to market all 14 eastern Idaho counties together to make a greater impression during business recruitment.

“This is the first time eastern Idaho has tried to put together a regional approach to development,” Rogers said. “We’re a much bigger target as a region.”

When REDI launched in 2015, its membership included Bonneville and Bingham counties and the cities of Idaho Falls, Shelley, Blackfoot, Ammon and Ucon. Rexburg joined early this year. City leaders with Chubbuck and Pocatello initially opposed membership in REDI, but recently have been won over. Chubbuck joined in April, and Pocatello followed in November.

Though Rogers emphasizes REDI is still in its infancy, she’s optimistic about a few early successes and believes announcements of major business expansions may be on the horizon.

One of the first companies Rogers targeted through REDI, eCobalt Solutions Inc., recently announced plans to open a cobalt mine in Salmon, and a refinery, representing a roughly $100 million capital investment, in Blackfoot.

About a year and a half ago, REDI representatives attended the Select USA conference in Washington, D.C., where they made believers of a Japanese technology company, Sakae Casting.

Sakae hopes to manufacture casks in eastern Idaho for intermediate storage of spent nuclear fuel rods. The company has received a grant from the Idaho Department of Commerce to partner with University of Idaho, Boise State University and the Center for Advanced Energy Studies to test its concept.

Park Price, who serves as chairman of the boards of REDI, Bank of Idaho and College of Eastern Idaho, said another company that works closely with Sakae also is investigating sites in the region, and the innovation corridor has begun to generate a “buzz” among Japanese companies.

“There are five or six other significant projects underway at various stages that would like to locate here if they can solve some of the issues they’re looking at,” Price said. “If they can solve them, then we’ll have announcements.”

REDI operates on an annual budget of about $500,000 — 35 percent of which comes from cities and counties, and the remainder contributed by private businesses.

A proven track record

In 2011, while most other regional economies were recovering from the Great Recession, Idaho’s Magic Valley launched a rapid economic growth trend that hasn’t slowed.

Starting with Chobani Greek Yogurt, food manufacturers and companies providing support services announced a flurry of commitments to build within the region.

Rogers was central to Magic Valley’s good fortune, serving at the time as executive director of the region’s Southern Idaho Economic Development Organization.

Rogers explained her long-term strategy was to capitalize on Magic Valley’s agricultural economy and brand the region as “America’s most diverse food basket.”

Growth began attracting more growth. Chobani’s decision prompted Cliff Bar to investigate southern Idaho and move forward with its own regional plant.

During a 10-month period, Rogers said Magic Valley added 5,000 direct and indirect jobs and about $800 million in capital investments. The Twin Falls Times-News credited Rogers with making 35 new business announcements during her 14-year career.

“It was ridiculous,” Rogers said. “It started to snowball, and it’s continuing to this day.”

The identity she’s pushing capitalizes on the scientific research conducted by several private-sector technology companies, Idaho State University, Brigham Young University-Idaho and Idaho National Laboratory. She also touts the influence of the College of Eastern Idaho, ISU-Idaho Falls and the region’s “five diverse federal programs,” including an expanding FBI center in Pocatello.

Rogers added that the largest project in the state broke ground at the INL this year — the U.S. Navy’s $1.65 billion spent fuel facility. Furthermore, NuScale Power LLC has selected INL as the site for a planned small modular reactor, representing a roughly $1.8 billion investment. The company vows it will provide the “next generation of advanced nuclear technology.”

Rogers explained she and her staff have attended conferences and submitted articles to economic development publications to raise awareness about the happenings at the INL and other regional innovations that have thus far captured too little attention.

To further its regional innovation goals, REDI recently added a fourth staff member, former Ammon Mayor Dana Kirkham, to serve as director of science, technology and research.

Price explained REDI has efforts underway to address a missed opportunity for the region — eastern Idaho’s universities are graduating thousands of skilled students, but most feel compelled to look elsewhere for work.

Price said REDI is promoting the opportunity for companies to have “first whack” at the region’s new college graduates in its recruitment efforts. The organization also commissioned a Rexburg company to research why millennials choose to stay or leave the region, and REDI plans to form a workgroup of “high-performing” millennials to devise a strategy for attracting and retaining young talent.

REDI’s false start in southeast Idaho

Price admits he thought REDI would be an easy sell to eastern Idaho counties and cities when a group of regional business and civic leaders first proposed to coordinate their economic development efforts.

Indeed, Idaho Falls and Bingham County dissolved their individual economic development entities and embraced REDI as a better path forward. The fledgling organization hit a snag, however, in southeast Idaho, where the local growth organization, Bannock Development Corp., opposed joining REDI.

“The concept was Bannock Development would go away and REDI would be a single economic development tool from Rexburg to the Utah border,” said Chubbuck Mayor Kevin England. “I was not on board with that.”

Price, the former owner of a Pocatello car dealership, admits REDI proponents initially were humbled because “we didn’t listen well enough.”

Once Rogers joined REDI, however, the organization refined its role — offering to provide regional marketing services and a first point of contact to companies wishing to schedule several site visits throughout the region. Bannock Development now takes over when companies need more information on a site in southeast Idaho.

“REDI has told us they want to make Bannock Development a stronger organization,” said England, whose taxpayers give REDI $12,000 per year, based on Chubbuck’s population. “It’s a bigger light. It makes us more visible.”

John Regetz, Bannock Development’s president and CEO, said his organization has had a hand in several recent business expansions, including the new Western States Caterpillar building, the planned expansions of the local FBI center and Great Western Malting Plant and the recent addition of Buchanan & Edwards, a data processing, analysis and cyber security company.

“We view REDI as offering another marketing avenue to the outside world,” Regetz said. “This is a different model than we saw before.”

Pocatello will contribute $30,000 per year to REDI, said Mayor Brian Blad. Based on his community’s recent economic development successes and Idaho Department of Labor statistics showing a regional unemployment rate of just 2.3 percent, as well as wage growth of 11 percent from July 2016 to July 2017, Blad said Pocatello was in no hurry to join REDI. Blad said the City Council recently concluded Bannock Development has gotten so busy it “no longer has the time to market the way we would like them to, so REDI is going to be our marketing arm.”

“You talk to the governor, and Pocatello has been growing faster economic development-wise than any other community in the state,” Blad said.

Bannock County Commissioners, who have yet to join REDI, declined to comment, indicating membership is not currently “on their radar.” Price said REDI has made a few presentations to the county, but progress has been stymied by recent turnover within the commission.

CEI, U of I announce joint admission deal

CEI, U of I announce joint admission deal

CEI, U of I announce joint admission deal

Aman

Falcons who wish to get a bachelor’s degree will now be able to become Vandals without filling out a transfer application.

The joint admission and joint enrollment agreement between the College of Eastern Idaho and the University of Idaho is the first such between any university and community college in the state, said Marc Skinner, executive officer of U of I’s Idaho Falls Center.

The agreement will let students who get an associate degree at CEI register for classes and continue at any U of I location.

“I hope that this serves as a template and that there can be other similar partnerships,” Skinner said. “You have to start and do it and learn. It’s a perfect time here because of the newly created college and their desire to think outside the box and try some things, and, of course, they’re just building so the timing was perfect for us to do this.”

CEI’s Board of Trustees plans to adopt the agreement at its meeting Wednesday, which will begin at 6 p.m. in Room 6164 on CEI’s campus. The meeting should be a busy one; the board also plans to vote on its choice for college president. The four finalists for the job participated in public forums in Idaho Falls in late November.

Students who are enrolled at CEI now will be able to take advantage of the joint admission agreement if they fill out the application and meet U of I’s minimum requirements, said CEI spokesman Todd Wightman.

CEI interim President Rick Aman called the deal “an outward expression of our college’s commitment to work with community college students in an innovative way.”

“These students will recognize CEI as a path beyond a two-year associate degree toward a bachelor’s degree with our university partner,” he said. “This agreement is unique in Idaho as it enables a community college student to enroll both at CEI and U of I with a bachelor’s degree as their end goal.”

Students who are accepted for joint admission will be given an email address from both schools and pay tuition and fees associated with whichever institution is offering a specific course, and U of I will have advising spaces on the CEI campus for students in the joint program.

“I think it’s innovative and it’s going to help a lot of people,” Wightman said.

In the news release announcing the deal, the two institution said it would make it easier for people in eastern Idaho to get a bachelor’s degree and help to move the state toward its goal of increasing the number of adults with a degree.

“Offering the option of joint enrollment will provide a seamless transition for students who continue their education beyond their associate degree,” U of I President Chuck Staben said in a release. “This effort will more clearly communicate professional pathways for students and raise the educational attainment rates of the region and the state.”