Ag Director presents city club

Ag Director presents city club

Ag director presents to City Club

Gould

Idaho State Department of Agriculture Director Celia Gould spoke Friday to 80 City Club and community members about the economic effects of Idaho’s agriculture.

Gould, who was appointed director of agriculture in 2007 by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter following 16 years in the Idaho House of Representatives, focused her presentation on how agriculture builds Idaho’s economy and how it amplifies the state’s values.

“Idaho ag matters to everyone in every corner of the state,” Gould said. “Ag generates more sales in Idaho than any other industry.”

Gould said agriculture makes up 20 percent of all sales in Idaho, accounts for at least 14 percent of all jobs in the state and makes up 16 percent of the state’s gross domestic product.

“Without Idaho’s farmers and ranchers doing what they do best, this state would look remarkably different and, I would suggest, dramatically worse,” Gould said.

Gould said agriculture is character building and teaches the importance of hard work in Idaho’s communities.

“We have great communities in this state, and that’s something we can all be proud of,” she said.

A Q&A session followed the presentation and multiple audience members asked questions regarding how any immigration reform under the Trump administration would affect Idaho’s agriculture.

Gould said she can’t quantify migrant workers’ contribution to the agricultural network, but that it is “huge.”

A recent Idaho Statesman article reported there are approximately 45,000 undocumented immigrants in Idaho. More than 1 in 3 in Idaho are farm workers, and their numbers constitute 43 percent of all farm workers in the state, the Statesman said, citing a Pew Research Center report.

Gould said Idaho relies heavily upon migrant workers who are willing to do hard jobs many people don’t want to do.

“We need (migrant workers) and they need us,” Gould said. “I’m nervous in what I’ve seen in the last couple weeks and I’m very nervous about our ag community.”

She said if migrant workers were deported or unable to continue to work on Idaho’s farms and ranches, it would be difficult to find people to replace them for any amount of money, and farmers would likely resort to machines to complete the work done by migrant agricultural workers.

“It’s not going to be human labor if we can’t get the (migrant) labor force,” Gould said.

Questions regarding immigration also were directed toward U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson , who was in attendance.

“(Immigration) is one of the priorities that Congress needs to face,” Simpson said.

• It was announced at the meeting that a memorial service for former Sen. John Hansen, R-Idaho Falls, who died in January, will take place March 11 at the Hilton Garden Inn.

“(Hansen) was there at the very beginning of the City Club creation here in Idaho Falls and he remains with us as an example of the mission of our city club,” said Mark S. Young, president of The City Club of Idaho Falls.

Technical programs likely to grow if EITC converted to a community college

Technical programs likely to grow if EITC converted to a community college

Technical programs likely to grow if EITC converted to a community college

Riley Cox, 25, builds a desk magnifier with a computer numerical controlled turning center during David Parsons’ Advanced Machine Shop Lab II on Feb. 8 at Eastern Idaho Technical College. Taylor Carpenter / tcarpenter@postregister.com

Eastern Idaho Technical College Instructor David Parsons helps Cheyenne Lewis, 19, during Machine Shop Laboratory II, on Friday afternoon.

Ralph Sexton works on a project in the Advanced Machine Shop Laboratory II on Feb. 8 at Eastern Idaho Technical College.

Three contraptions sit in the corner of Eastern Idaho Technical College’s machine tool workshop.

One, a steel lathe, is covered in metal shavings. Knobs and hand wheels protrude from its face.

A nearby drill press features an rpm chart underneath the controls, while the milling machine next to it has an old, curved monitor connected to a yellowing, clacky keyboard.

None of them get much use in David Parson’s machine tool class, though three modern computer numerical controlled devices across the shop do.

When students aren’t using them, the CNC machines hum on standby. They’re housed in clean, gray metal cabinets with flat-screen monitors and computer-controlled cutting arms.

EITC began its machine tool technology program in 2015. Like other two-year technical programs the college recently created, it churns out graduates in high demand among regional employers. The college hasn’t graduated its first class yet, but students are already accepting job offers with starting wages of about $25,000 to $30,000 per year, Parsons said. The national average starting salary is about $37,000, according to Payscale.

Also like other two-year technical programs, the machine tool program would likely expand if EITC were converted to a community college.

“I guarantee that next year at this time our career technical enrollments will be stronger if we are converted. There would be more interest on us, so we can better attract and retain students,” EITC President Rick Aman said. “The simple concept is our infrastructure would become larger too because we’re serving more students.”

Increased funding

Bonneville County residents will decide May 16 whether to convert EITC to a community college.

If converted, EITC would offer general education courses transferable to four-year universities.

But its technical programs would remain a strong focus, Aman said, and with more students comes more money and opportunity for expansion in academic and technical programs alike.

A July report by the Community College Citizen Study Panel found that EITC’s enrollment would grow from 700 students to 1,500 students in its first year as a community college. That number would balloon to 4,400 students by year six.

Tuition would increase from $109 to $125 per credit for Bonneville County residents, Aman said. Noncounty residents would pay $175 per credit.

EITC’s state funding mechanism also would change.

Currently, the college receives about $8,425,000 in general annual funding from Idaho Career and Technical Education and federal sources, Chief Financial Officer Kathleen Watkins said.

A community college would receive additional funding from the state’s general budget: $5 million that Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter promised last year to a hypothetical conversion, then about $2 million the year after, nearly $3 million the year after, and so on, the study projected based on recent Idaho community college funding.

The college’s taxing district also would open a new revenue stream of about $800,000 per year in local property taxes.

Altogether, the college’s annual revenue is projected to grow from about $8.4 million currently to more than $25.5 million by year six as a community college, the study found.

Additionally, the college could make line item requests with the state Legislature instead of Career and Technical Education.

“As a community college they’d have greater access to state resources,” Career and Technical Education State Administrator Dwight Johnson said.

There’s a precedent for Idaho community colleges using general funds to bolster trade programs, Johnson said.

The College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls expanded its programs in 2015 with a new building, and North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene opened the Parker Technical Education Center in the fall using a combination of general college capital and private donations.

“We strongly believe having that technical component embedded within a larger community college is of great benefit to technical programs and students. You can leverage greater funding,” Johnson said.

EITC would use a large portion of additional funding for faculty hires. The college’s full- and part-time teaching staff of 66 would likely double within three years, Aman said.

The campus is already large enough to accommodate program growth for at least 5 years, Aman said.

“I think taxpayers worry they would approve a bond for the college conversion and then find out they would be immediately on the hook for a new building. I wouldn’t envision that for quite some time,” he said.

Filling a need

Aman already has an eye on several additions to EITC’s technical offerings.

Software programming is in demand — cybersecurity in particular.

A cybersecurity graduate from the hypothetical College of Eastern Idaho could find work at a place such as Idaho National Laboratory, Aman said.

“And it would easily be in the realm of what we’d call a family-wage job, well above minimum wage. A very well-compensated position, especially with the potential for advancement,” Aman said.

The cybersecurity firm Sentinel One reports that by 2019, there will be 6 million job openings for information security professionals but just 4.5 million qualified professionals to fill those roles, according to CSOonline.com.

There’s also demand for other trade positions.

INL, with about 4,100 employees, has hired more than 500 people over the last two years, Partnerships, Engagement and Technology Deployment Director Amy Lientz said.

Not all of those hires are from site growth, she said, citing the “silver tsunami” of retiring baby boomers.

“And the positions we’re filling aren’t just what people would think of as the rocket scientist, Ph.D. types,” Lientz said. “We’re hiring in the programs that require certifications, including everything from drafting personnel to radiological control specialists, to lab technicians. Those are all really important to us, and if we’re able to find that talent locally it’s certainly a win.”

A community college associate degree — unlike a technical college certificate — can go toward the acquisition of a bachelor’s degree.

Some employers such as Blackfoot-based Premier Technology and INL have programs to help pay for their employees’ further education.

“If we hire a draftsman, and that individual wanted an engineering degree from University of Idaho or Idaho State University, we may help pay for them to get that bachelor’s. And that person benefits because they have credits that can already transfer,” Lientz said.

Nimble by nature

Two-year colleges can quickly respond to developing regional employer demands, Aman said.

“That’s probably one of the hallmarks of a two-year college, that ability to move quickly to where the economy is going,” he said. “The radiation technician program we brought up in about nine months. Drafting, we discovered there weren’t enough drafters in the area so we moved into that in about four months.”

EITC’s new machine tool technology program was created in response to a nationwide employee shortage felt locally by employers such as Premier, Idaho Falls-based Idaho Steel, Rexburg-based Matrix Drilling Products and INL.

Programs like those would be more easily expanded with the additional resources provided by a community college transition, Aman said.

Parsons teaches two machine tool classes, each with eight students.

Instead of teaching his students primarily how to use milling machines and lathes, which are falling out of favor in the production world, he teaches them to use modern CNC machines, which take cutting directions from computer-made designs.

Parsons has worked with CNC machines for almost two decades, and he worked with conventional machines before that.

CNC machines allow machinists to make a wider variety of products more quickly and more accurately, Parsons said.

“We’re not teaching them yesterday’s technology for today; we’re teaching them today’s technology for tomorrow.”

INL employs about 50 CNC machinists, Sitewide Facilities and Operations Division Director Rod Bitsoi said, and it recognizes the need for more as current employees retire.

Future workers for future jobs

The machine tool program’s students are in their second year.

Chris Haack, 26, expects to finish the program in May.

He attended Bonneville High School, but didn’t graduate. Haack worked fast food jobs until he thought he’d try something else at EITC.

One of his siblings is a pharmacist, another has an engineering master’s and another is a tax law Ph.D. The specialized and extended nature of their educations creates a limited employment niche, Haack said. A two-year degree doesn’t require the same commitment.

“Their struggle to get a job that works well for them has been harder, even though they have this great knowledge and capability. With a trades job it doesn’t take as long to get good at something, so I could change my situation faster going here, for much less money,” Haack said.

He wants to open a machine shop after he finishes the program. A place where he can manufacture gun parts — a process expedited by CNC machines.

“I can write my program, set everything up, turn it on and go home for the night. Make muzzle breaks, and make money while I sleep. It’s lights-out machining, and you can’t do that with the old machines,” he said.

EITC could enroll more classes if additional resources were diverted to the machine tool program; Parsons would also purchase more machines. More of what the shop already has — to create additional hands-on time for students — and different ones so students can learn new skills.

His class toured Matrix Drilling recently. Haack remembers a sand-blaster-type device that cuts threads into metal pieces, something that would be useful for making gun barrels, for example.

“I had no idea something like that existed. I want the most exposure to all ways of doing things, though; if we could open up the next door and have more big machines over there — that would be great,” he said.

Machinist demand is expected to continue upward, Parsons said.

“The rest of the country is begging for machinists. A company in Minnesota wanted to hire me after I came here; they had 700 machines and 400 machinists. I told them I couldn’t fix that,” Parsons said.

He expects his program to grow as well.

“It’s taken me a lifetime to be as good as I am. It’ll take them 10 years to be better than me at what I do,” Parsons said. “There won’t be conventional machines much longer. This is the new technology, and they need people to run it.”


Reporter Kevin Trevellyan can be reached at 542-6762.

YourFIT — Career fair program helps replace Idaho’s retiring workforce

YourFIT — Career fair program helps replace Idaho’s retiring workforce

YourFIT — Career fair program helps replace Idaho’s retiring workforce

  • By Josh Friesen jfriesen@journalnet.com
  • (0)

Eastern Idaho one of best regions in the U.S. for millennials

Eastern Idaho one of best regions in the U.S. for millennials

Doug Lindley/Idaho State Journal Zoe Helms, who works at 5th Street Bagelry in Pocatello, is a millennial. She says millennials like living in Eastern Idaho because of its small-town feel, but she worries that many millennials get trapped here.

Doug Lindley/Idaho State Journal
Zoe Helms, who works at 5th Street Bagelry in Pocatello, is a millennial. She says millennials like living in Eastern Idaho because of its small-town feel, but she worries that many millennials get trapped here.

By Shelbie Harris, sharris@journalnet.com

Would it surprise you to know that Eastern Idaho is one of the most popular regions in the United States for millennials?

Throughout the area, the younger generation is projected to grow 26 percent by 2025, compared with the national average growth of 3 percent, according to the Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho group, also known as REDI.

In Rexburg alone, more than 81 percent of the 26,000 people living there are under 30 years old. The city’s median age is 22, which is 15 years younger than the national average.

“With an abundance of outdoor recreation activities, education and career opportunities as well as a safe, family-friendly environment, Rexburg’s millennial population is flourishing — creating a unique opportunity for businesses and another incredible asset for the state of Idaho,” said Megan Ronk, director of the Idaho Department of Commerce.

But what draws millennials to East Idaho?

Many millennials — loosely defined as those born between 1982 and 2004 — attend Brigham Young University-Idaho in Rexburg and Idaho State University in Pocatello.

Furthermore, research indicates younger graduates choose to reside in the Eastern Idaho Innovation Corridor, anchored by the Idaho National Laboratory — the top nuclear national lab in the nation — and home to growing companies including Melaleuca and Progression.

Dustin Reed, a millennial enrolled in ISU’s Energy Systems Technology and Education Center program, which involves energy systems instrumentation and engineering technology, said that for members of the younger generation who do decide to stick around, the job market is strong.

“The INL has visited my program and hosted a resume workshop that’s specifically orientated to show students what they’re looking for,” Reed said.

The opportunities for career growth and skyrocketing BYU-Idaho enrollment numbers point to a further rise in Eastern Idaho’s millennial population, and the region is changing to adapt to the influx, according to REDI.

There are plans for investments in new retail shopping, restaurant space and condo living, along with new sports fields and venues to host shows and concerts. And the Snake River Landing Convention Center is projected to begin construction this year.

Another millennial, Madeline Woodhouse, said ISU has great Science and Engineering programs, as well as employment opportunities after graduation.

Woodhouse noted that the region’s low cost of living is also an incentive for millennials to enter the local career ladder.

“Many people don’t understand what it’s like to live in an expensive city where it takes 45 minutes to get to anything recreational, like Denver, Colorado, for example,” Woodhouse said. “I go mountain biking and stop in to The Sand Trap for a beer after. That’s all I ask for.”

Reed also said the cost of living in Eastern Idaho is much better than larger, metropolitan areas. When he lived in West Seattle, Reed said his rent was more than $1,400 a month for a 1,000 square-foot apartment, more than double what he pays in Pocatello.

Someone who enjoys the many recreational opportunities the area offers, Woodhouse said the job opportunities coupled with the easily accessible outdoor adventures could potentially draw younger people in.

“I think there’s lot of opportunities for jobs here,” she said. “Plus, you can go run up City Creek or be up in the mountains in 10 minutes and I just don’t think people realize how lucky we are here.”

 But Woodhouse isn’t as optimistic when it comes to why so many millennials are setting up shop in Eastern Idaho.

“I just don’t think that they’ve moved away from their parents yet,” she said.

Another millennial living in Pocatello, Zoe Helms, who is originally from Indiana and has lived in both Idaho Falls and Twin Falls, said it’s harder for millennials to leave this area because it feels like most of the jobs don’t really lead to many opportunities unless you find the right one.

“I think millennials actually get trapped here,” Helms said. “It is difficult to find a job here unless you’re going into manual labor. I feel like there are a lot of agricultural and technical jobs, but it’s very specific on the types of jobs available.”

She added that for those who do like this area, it’s because of the small-town feel — everybody knows everybody and it’s just comfortable for people.

When she learned of the statistic regarding Rexburg’s population of millennials, Helms said it’s likely very much a byproduct of the Mormon population.

“BYU-Idaho is a very easy college to go to,” Helms said. “Which makes Rexburg like the Mormon capital of Idaho.”

The mayor of Rexburg, Jerry Merrill, said Rexburg is home to many young scholars who are passionate about living and working in this unique region.

“Our small-town community appeals to a massive group of millennials because of their access to higher education, career opportunities, affordability and endless opportunities for outdoor recreation,” he said. “They feel welcome and excited to interact here.”

In tandem with the “Millennial City USA” theme, REDI has launched a social media campaign to tell the story of Eastern Idaho’s attractions and lifestyle assets through the eyes of rural millennials. It can be found on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.

REDI releases millennium study

By:
LESLIE MIELKE
Staff Writer

At the breakfast meeting hosted by the Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho (REDI) presented the millennial research study on Thursday. The study was designed to help businesses attract millennials who are people from ages 18-35. This study asked millennials what they were looking for when they sought a job and a location to raise their families.
The study was conducted by the Research & Business Development Center in Rexburg.
Focus groups and surveys were conducted in November and December 2016. Thirty-one millennials (17 males and 14 females) were in the focus group. Their average age was 27.
Forty-three millennials (19 males and 23 females) participated in the survey; their average age was 23. About half were married. The majority of both groups (the focus group and the survey) had no children.
Findings from the study included:
Millennials are concerned (in this order) with the availability and opportunity to progress in their jobs; employment diversity; ability to personally grow in their jobs; education of their children and money.
“They were very concerned about education opportunities for their children,” Will Jensen, who conducted the study, said.
Millennials value family relationships. Family, friends and acquaintances are key to networking and learning about job opportunities.

– See more at: http://www.am-news.com/content/redi-releases-millennium-study#sthash.NccKVwJC.dpuf

Rexburg Named “Millennial City USA”

Rexburg Named “Millennial City USA”

Rexburg Named “Millennial City USA”

  • Idaho Falls
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The City of Rexburg has been branded as “Millennial City USA” by the Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho.

A millennial research study in east Idaho has discovered that Rexburg is home to one of the country’s largest group of young talent.

81 percent of its’ residents are under 30 and the median age is 22 years old, that’s 15 years younger than the national average.

The goal of the study is to help older generations better understand millennials in hopes to attract and retain the young talent in our region.

“Eastern Idaho millennials are unique in certain ways than millennials in general, and so for businesses in Eastern Idaho I hope that they look at, and see how important progression is, progression opportunities in jobs, also to have flexibility, whether that’s telecommuting or more time off, and then also being close to family and having time available to spend with family is really important to Eastern Idaho millennials” said Hailey Cox, Project Manager.

The need to better understand millennials is great where nationwide, there are 90 million millennials compared to just 75 million baby boomers.

Rexburg population of millennials is growing

Rexburg population of millennials is growing

REDI helps sell the city to millennials

REXBURG, Idaho – According to the Idaho Department of Labor over 80 percent of Rexburg’s population is under the age of 30, with a medium age of 22 which is 15 years younger than the national average.

Eastern Idaho’s millennial population is projected to grow 26 percent over the next eight years due to BYU-Idaho students and the growing workforce of scientists at the Idaho National Laboratory.

Millennials, also known as Generation Y or the Net Generation, are the demographic cohort that directly follows Generation X.  Millennials are born between 1982 and 1994. However, some sources place millennials being born as early as 1978.

According to Hope Morrow, regional economist for the Idaho Department of Labor, the regions fastest growing industries are in areas of finance, science and healthcare. The Idaho National Laboratory is the top nuclear labs in the nation and a major employer.

Will Jenson, business research director of  Rexburg’s Research and Business Development Center, conducted a study on millennials. Jenson discovered that rural millennials are attracted to the low cost of living that Eastern Idaho offers. The study also found that rural millennials were attracted to the career opportunities.

“Rural millennials are interested in raising families, friends and outdoor activities,” Jenson said.

Jan Rogers, REDI CEO said,”We are branding the city of Rexburg as ‘millennial City U.S.’ that will be the unveiling at Thursday’s breakfast.”

“We see a Millennial honey pot. Business goes where the talent is and spread the message that we have the highest concentration of Millennial population in America,” Rogers said.

REDI stands for the Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho, which focuses on diversity and strengthen the economies of the 14 counties of Eastern Idaho by retaining and attracting business to the region

REDI Morning Education Theory will host a breakfast Thursday at 8:30 a.m. at the Idaho Falls Hilton Garden Inn.

 

Rexburg joins REDI to expand jobs development opportunities

Rexburg joins REDI to expand jobs development opportunities

Rexburg has become the latest city to sign on with an economic development organization focused on regional growth.

City officials announced Monday that they are joining forces with Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho (REDI), which works with Bonneville and Bingham counties as well as the cities of Idaho Falls, Ammon, Ucon, Blackfoot and Shelley.

Rexburg Mayor Jerry Merrill said they already have a good economic development team and chamber of commerce, but they think adding REDI to the mix will help them to accomplish even more. That’s why they’ve committed to give $10,000 to the organization.

Park Price, who chairs REDI’s Executive Board of Directors, says Rexburg has a lot of potential for growth and a great workforce, including many Brigham Young University-Idaho students who have the second-language skills companies are looking for.

Price said he’s excited to have Rexburg join REDI, which will formally give the city a say in future plans.

“(This is an) outstanding move for both Rexburg and REDI,” Price said.

These days, companies are looking for one place where they can go to learn about the area, available incentives and workforce development opportunities, Price said. REDI is trying to provide that for East Idaho.

And it appears to be working.

Last year, REDI followed up on 20 leads, 18 of which came directly to REDI, Price said.

As a region, Eastern Idaho has a lot to offer, including access to numerous educational facilities. These include Idaho State University, Brigham Young University-Idaho, Eastern Idaho Technical College, University Place and the Center for Advanced Energy Studies.

And Price says the broad group of communities working with REDI helps the organization to provide some great locations for interested businesses.

Merrill says Rexburg has been singled out in the past for its safe environment and high graduation and go-on rates. In addition, he noted that companies have been impressed by the quality of applicants in the area.

Rexburg is also close to outdoors hotspots like the St. Anthony Sand Dunes and Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks.

“We’re right in the middle of paradise for outdoor enthusiasts,” Merrill said.

The community has also proven that it can draw customers who live a couple hours away. Merrill said people come from as far as Montana and Wyoming to shop at the new Wal-Mart in town.

Price says REDI has identified an innovation corridor that runs from Rexburg on the north to Pocatello on the south.

Bannock County, Chubbuck and Pocatello have not signed on with the organization. But John Regetz, executive director of the Bannock Development Corporation, said they still do some collaborating.

Price said they hope to one day bring everyone together in the effort.

He believes Eastern Idaho has a lot to offer to businesses.

“We just need to get the word out and that’s what we’re doing,” Price said.

First Ammon fiber district goes live

First Ammon fiber district goes live

First Ammon fiber district goes live

Ammon fiber customer Jeff Klingler shows a map illustrating other Ammon fiber customers in his neighborhood on Jan. 20. Taylor Carpenter / tcarpenter@postregister.com

Ammon fiber customer Jeff Klingler shows the many internet service provider options he has through the city’s fiber-optic network on Jan. 20. Klinger works in IT and likes how Ammon fiber allows him to chose from many different providers using the fiber technology. Taylor Carpenter / tcarpenter@postregister.com


On the internet
Ammon residents can express interest in fiber optic internet service at getfiber.cityofammon.us. The city will determine its next installation district based on residential enthusiasm hot spots.

Jeff Klingler was intrigued by Ammon’s fiber optic internet system when it was introduced to him during a city open house in 2015.

A cybersecurity researcher, he’s spent several decades working with computers, including for the government. He’d never seen anything like the “Ammon Model.”

Klingler spent subsequent summer days visiting neighbors door-to-door, telling them about the system and why they should sign up.

The city broke ground on its first commercial fiber district in August. A router with a flashing green light was eventually mounted on a wall in Klingler’s garage.

He began using the network in December. After months of waiting, he wasn’t disappointed.

“I’ve lived in a lot of places — Maryland, Hawaii, Germany — and this is by far the best, fastest and most reliable internet I’ve had,” Klingler said. “This is the future.”

First district comes online

Most conventional internet service providers lay their own cable or fiber in communities. Because it’s expensive to dig up earth and install cable lines, few ISPs move into an area with established vendors, so there’s less competition.

The 2016 American Customer Satisfaction Index found that ISPs, with poor customer service and one or no high-speed options in many areas, remained the weakest companies among 43 telecommunications industries considered.

Klingler used Cable One before switching to fiber. He wasn’t satisfied.

“Especially with the data caps and fluctuations in speed,” he said.

In Ammon, fiber infrastructure belongs to the city, and is systematically installed in local improvement districts.

The city’s first district is composed of the Cottages, Mountain Valley Estates, The Villas and Stonehaven subdivisions.

Residents can choose to opt into fiber service. Those who do can pay installation costs up front, or amortized in the form of a home-tied bond. Installation is funded in the interim with city reserves that will be reimbursed by homeowner payments.

The first district homeowners pay about $3,000 for installation. Installation prices fall if more residents opt in.

Out of 369 residential properties in the first district, 239 have signed up for fiber service. Additional homeowners tend to opt in when they see their neighbors getting fiber, said Ammon Technology Director Bruce Patterson. He expects the final first district tally to reach about 250 homes.

Twenty-two homes are currently active with fiber service. The city paused installation for the winter, and will resume once the ground thaws.

Using the marketplace

With fiber already available, ISPs are able to plug into a module in city headquarters and provide service without costly cable installations.

“The city’s built the road, so anybody can drive on it,” Klingler said.

Though conventional cable internet speeds usually drop during peak hours, Patterson expects the city’s fiber infrastructure to resist fluctuations for a decade or two, at which point relatively painless upgrades are possible.

In addition to the cost of installation, residents pay a monthly $16.50 utility fee to the city and whatever their ISP charges for internet service, which currently ranges from $20 to $109 per month in the marketplace.

Patterson’s innovative model has earned the city several awards. Patterson and Mayor Dana Kirkham also have spoken about the system to audiences around the country as larger municipalities look to create something similar.

Unique to Ammon is the digital marketplace. Internet plans of varying ISPs, speeds and contract lengths are available through a city website.

Many plans don’t involve contracts because there’s no need for ISPs to recoup heavy fiber installation costs. In that case, a customer can switch to another ISP on the fly if they’re unhappy with their service.

“I believe this is the role the city should be in. We shouldn’t be the ISP, but instead give you multiple provider choices to let them compete,” Patterson said. “At the end of the day we want to create this environment where people say ‘This is my favorite provider,’ and the neighbor next door says ‘I like these guys instead; I’ve used them for three years.’”

The need for speed

Klingler is trying out Direct Communication’s 1,000 megabit per second connection for $109 per month.

“It’s overkill, but I just thought I may as well try the fastest one,” he said.

Klingler recently spent a day backing up about 900 gigabytes of photos, videos and music to the Amazon Drive cloud storage system. With a conventional network — which uses copper lines invented more than a century ago to transmit phone signals — the process would’ve taken all year, Klingler said.

Fiber connections are symmetrical, meaning a 1,000 Mbps plan offers such speeds for downloads and uploads, which is important for backing up data, gaming and video chat.

When Klingler used Cable One, he typically had 60 Mbps download speeds and 5 Mbps upload speeds.

Though he switched to the fastest plan available on Ammon’s marketplace, most would find such speed unnecessary.

The cheapest plans is 75 Mbps for $20 per month, comparable to conventional cable costs.

Installation expense as barrier

Without installing cable lines, ISPs can keep prices low.

“We can just focus purely on providing the broadband service instead of being the utility company too,” said Brigham Griffin, marketing director for Direct Communications.

Rockland-based Direct Communications was one of the first ISPs to begin collaborating with the city on its fiber project about four years ago.

Direct Communications has never provided service on another entity’s infrastructure; it requires ISP and city personnel coordination on server and other system integration. The unfamiliar process creates hiccups, Griffin said, but has mostly gone smooth.

Though Direct Communications has installed fiber lines elsewhere, most companies shy away because it’s expensive, Griffin said. Google stopped laying fiber across America last year, likely in part because of high costs.

Encouraging competition

In Ammon, ISPs pay the city a flat $49.50 per month to use its fiber lines regardless of how many customers sign up for their service.

“We tried to make sure the barriers to entry were as low as possible to encourage competition,” Patterson said. “There’s the potential for market disruption. If somebody else can get to you cheaper and present a better economic number, they have the potential to disrupt the marketplace, which is better for all of us.”

Though only two providers — Direct Communications and Fybercom — offer service through the marketplace, the city is talking with additional ISPs who want to join, Patterson said.

“And we’re happy to work in that environment because we don’t have that equipment cost up front,” Griffin said. “That competition cost is offset by higher margins because we don’t have the technology to install.”

With ISPs using similar technology, Griffin said, companies will likely differ in customer service: a point of frustration for many conventional cable users who are limited to one or two internet choices in their region.

“How does a provider really differentiate itself if everybody’s on the same fiber network? The challenge now is not defined by what media we are using; it’s now what experience does the customer have. Everything’s going to be differentiated by customer service and other technical features about your internet service,” Griffin said.

No going back

The city expects to finish its first district installation by May or June, Patterson said.

The city is gauging interest for fiber in other neighborhoods with an online sign-up sheet. Patterson expects to look for the next local improvement district — based on sign-up hot spots — this month. He expects it to be roughly 600 homes overall: twice as large as the first district. Installation may begin by summer.

Klingler, meanwhile, has been helping his neighbors set up connections and fix glitches. Fiber is difficult to explain at times, he said, but people never go back once they’ve experienced the speed and reliability.

“It’s exciting. I kind of saw the vision of it when I first saw them present it, and that’s why I put so much time into it,” he said. “We are the guinea pigs of this, but everyone has been really patient because they’re getting something really cool. Nobody else is doing this in the world.”


Reporter Kevin Trevellyan can be reached at 542-6762.