Idaho economy receives dose of good news

Idaho economy receives dose of good news

Idaho’s gross domestic product increased an estimated 2.8 percent in the second quarter of 2016, according to a Wednesday release from the Bureau of Economic Analysis at the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Analysts at the Idaho Department of Labor paid closer attention to the report than usual because the first quarter report showed the state economy declined by .2 percent, Labor research analyst supervisor Craig Shaul said. A second-consecutive quarterly decline would be, by definition, a recession.

“We were paying more attention to this report because the last one showed what might be a slowdown,” Shaul said.

But Shaul and the analysts received more good news: The first quarter numbers were adjusted to show 3 percent growth rather than a decline, signaling the state wasn’t on the verge of recession after all.

Shaul said he wasn’t shocked by the changes because indicators including the state’s low unemployment rate — just 3.8 percent in November for the fourth straight month — reflected a healthy economy. Adjusting previous estimates is common in national reports, he said.

However, with steady economic growth since the economic downturn, Shaul said analysts expect stagnation or decline in the future.

“Things been positive for so long, we’re looking for the storm on the horizon and expecting to see it,” Shaul said. “We’re looking at the constraint of the skilled labor force as hindrance to economic growth.”

The latest report showed that Idaho farms were the largest source of growth in the second quarter, followed by real estate. Garth Taylor, ag economist at University of Idaho, had predicted the gross state product would fall because most sectors had a dismal year fueled by poor commodity prices. Dairies —the state’s largest ag sector, struggled for a second-straight year.

An adjustment to ag revenue projections changed the outlook for the entire state economy, Taylor said.

“The real story is Idaho economy, at least for the last couple of quarters, has been swinging around with ag,” Taylor said.

$1.6B Navy nuke fuel facility wins approval

$1.6B Navy nuke fuel facility wins approval

$1.6B Navy nuke fuel facility wins approval

A drawing shows the new $1.65 billion spent fuel facility slated to be built at the Naval Reactors Facility, east of Idaho Falls. It will replace the Expended Core Facility, in use since 1957.

Nuclear-powered aircraft carriers such as the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, front, and the USS George H.W. Bush, send their spent nuclear fuel to eastern Idaho, to be processed, studied and stored at the Naval Reactors Facility. A new $1.65 billion facility has been approved for construction to continue taking in the fuel from a new fleet of aircraft carriers and submarines over the next 50 years.

The Navy and U.S. Department of Energy announced Tuesday they are moving forward with construction of a $1.65 billion eastern Idaho facility that will accept spent nuclear fuel from the nation’s nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers over the next 50 years.

The structure will go on the northeast side of the existing Naval Reactors Facility property, which is located on the DOE’s desert site in Butte County, about 50 miles west of Idaho Falls. Site preparation will begin late next year, with construction starting in early 2019 and completion expected in late 2024, said Naval Reactors spokesman Don Dahl.

The project will replace the Expended Core Facility, in use since Navy fuel began traveling to the Idaho site in the late 1950s from shipyards around the country. Navy and DOE officials preferred building a new facility, but in environmental documents they also examined the impacts of overhauling the current facility, or leaving it as-is.

Adm. James F. Caldwell, Jr., the director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion program, signed a record of decision approving the new facility last month, and the decision was published Tuesday in the Federal Register. Senior Navy officials traveled to Idaho Falls and elsewhere around the state more than a year ago to pitch the project to stakeholders and hold public meetings.

The Navy and DOE considered environmental impacts of the new facility and addressed public comments, which were submitted last year. Many of the 33 comments included in the environmental statement were supportive of the project. However, several expressed general concern that Navy fuel — made up of highly enriched uranium — would continue being shipped by rail to Idaho and stored over the East Snake Plain Aquifer for decades to come.

In a letter sent to the Navy last month, the Environmental Protection Agency said it initially had concerns with the draft project proposal. But the final environmental impact statement addressed those issues, the EPA wrote, by offering clarifying information on impacts of climate change, and changes to the facility construction plan that would reduce emissions and conserve energy.

The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality also supported the project, saying in a public comment letter last year that a new facility is the best option to be “protective of public health and the environment.” Susan Burke, DEQ’s Idaho National Laboratory oversight coordinator, said Tuesday she had no concerns as the project moves forward.

Beatrice Brailsford, nuclear program director for the watchdog group Snake River Alliance, said she recognizes the need for the new facility. But she said she and others will be watching closely to ensure the spent fuel shipped to Idaho is “stored as safely as possible,” and the amount sent to Idaho doesn’t violate the 1995 Settlement Agreement, which limits how much spent fuel the Navy cantake in and store.

The NRF has 32 metric tons of spent fuel, and continues to take in between a half-ton and two tons of the radioactive material each year. Under the Settlement Agreement, after 2035 the Navy is allowed to have no more than 9 metric tons of spent fuel in storage at any one time. The rest must be sent to an interim storage facility or geologic repository — neither of which yet exist, and could take decades to complete.

The NRF is the Navy’s only facility that can process and store spent fuel coming from the nation’s 81 nuclear-powered warships, which officials say makes the new facility crucial to ensuring the nation’s fleet can continue operating.

The Navy continues to work on the next-generation Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier. New submarines also are under construction. The new warships will produce spent fuel for at least another 50 years.

The facility will be able to accept a new type of spent fuel shipping container, and it will contain a larger water pool to cool the radioactive material. Construction is expected to cost roughly $500 million, with the rest going to design, equipment costs and a management reserve, according to Navy officials.

The project would create as many as 360 construction jobs. Once the facility is complete, there would be about 60 fewer people working at NRF because the new facility would be more efficient. Roughly 1,300 people currently work at NRF.

Luke Ramseth can be reached at 542-6763. Twitter: @lramseth

Eastern Idaho residential construction sees banner year

Eastern Idaho residential construction sees banner year

Eastern Idaho residential construction sees banner year

Workers from Top Line Framing Inc., of Rigby, work on a house near outside Idaho Falls, near Sandy Downs, on Monday afternoon. Platinum Construction is building the home. Taylor Carpenter /

In an average year, Cody Fresh builds five to 10 custom homes spanning the region, from Island Park to American Falls.

The owner of Idaho Falls-based Platinum Construction said by the time 2016 is done, he’ll have built 15. Demand is high enough this year that Fresh hasn’t traveled far to fill his time — all his projects are located in the Idaho Falls area.

“This is by far the busiest we’ve ever been,” said Fresh, who founded his company a decade ago and specializes in homes that sell for $350,000 to $600,000.

Fresh isn’t alone. Homebuilders across eastern Idaho are doing more business this year than they have since before the economic downturn. Construction employment figures are growing steadily, though remainshort of their pre-recession highs.

Local homebuilders report long wait times for subcontractors, such as electricians and plumbers, who are running from job to job. The delays mean a home that used to take five or six months to complete now requires seven or eight, Fresh said.

Through November, the city of Idaho Falls had approved 255 home construction permits — the most since 2007, when 312 were issued for the year.

The growth is especially visible on the southern edge of the city, where several new subdivisions have taken the place of farm fields. In the Avalon development, by Rockwell Homes, a dozen concrete foundations were ready for framing on one street last month, with other homes throughout the community in various stages of completion.

Bonneville County approved 284 permits through October. That’s the most in several years — but well short of the 500 annually that were approved in the years leading up to the recession, said Steve Serr, a Bonneville County planning and zoning administrator. Much of the growth is around Iona, he said.

Ammon approved 73 permits through October, the most in at least five years, said Building Official Charles Allen. Through all of 2015, the city approved 57.

In Rexburg, 54 home permits were approved so far this year, similar to 2014 but down from 98 last year. Due to its surging college student population, the Rexburg market has been focused on adding apartments, not single-family homes, said Porter Wilkins, a city permit technician. Some 21 apartment project permits have been issued in the city so far this year, ranging in size from four-plexes to 75 units, he said. For comparison, Idaho Falls issued six apartment permits.

Data provided by the Idaho Department of Labor shows nearly 3,000 eastern Idaho workers were employed in June in the residential construction industry — about 300 more than two years ago. The industry’s growth in the region has been cautionary and steady, said Regional Economist Hope Morrow.

“Even though we haven’t reached pre-recession employment, we’re going about it in a smarter way,” she said.

Statewide, nearly 28,000 workers are now in the residential construction business, making up 3.8 percent of all employed Idaho workers, according to the National Association of Home Builders. That’s the second highest percentage of residential construction workers in the nation, following Montana’s 4.4 percent.

Some regional new home growth can be attributed to an increasing number of well-off retirees moving into the area, Morrow said. Those 65 and older continue to far outpace other age groups moving into the greater Idaho Falls area, she said.

But some can simply be tied to a healthy economy, as people feel comfortable financially graduating to a new and larger home. “They’re moving into their dream home,” Fresh said.

Fresh said he expects 2017 to be another healthy year, though rising interest rates could discourage some would-be customers. Whatever the case, 2016 has been a banner year, no matter what you do in the eastern Idaho housing construction industry.

“This year, everybody’s clicking,” he said

Luke Ramseth can be reached at 542-6763. Twitter: @lramseth

Blackfoot top pick for vets’ cemetery

Blackfoot top pick for vets’ cemetery

State and federal officials have recommended that a proposed eastern Idaho veterans cemetery be located in Blackfoot.

For the last four years, the Idaho Division of Veterans Services and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs examined more than 30 sites in the region before settling on 38 acres adjacent to State Hospital South, according to a news release.

Blackfoot Mayor Paul Loomis, a veteran who served 26 years in the U.S. Army Airborne Rangers, was excited to hear the news.

“That’s just fabulous,” he said. “Blackfoot is a great central location for the veterans in Idaho Falls and Pocatello, as well as for veterans in rural areas to the east and west.”

Loomis said city officials, as well as officials from Bingham County, worked hard to persuade state and federal officials that Blackfoot was the best location.

A local group spent considerable effort over the past few years preparing suggested sites in Idaho Falls, Ammon and neighboring areas of Bonneville County.

“We’re a little disappointed that we couldn’t attract it to our county, but we’re really pleased it’s coming to eastern Idaho,” Bonneville County Commission Chairman Roger Christensen, one of the leaders of that effort, said. “We’ll do whatever we can to lend our support to seeing it happen for eastern Idaho.”

Idaho Falls City Councilman Ed Marohn, a Vietnam veteran who served in the 101st Airborne Division, agreed.

“I think the exciting part is that we get one in eastern Idaho,” Marohn said. “I think Blackfoot is a good location. It’s going to be in eastern Idaho and close to Idaho Falls.”

Preliminary estimates of the construction cost stand at $8.3 million, $7.5 million of which would be covered by the federal government. The Division of Veterans Services indicated in a news release it had already set aside funds to cover the remainder.

State officials indicated they hope to break ground as early as September.

The Division of Veterans Services will be accepting public comment on the chosen location through Dec. 30. Comments can be submitted in writing to Blackfoot Cemetery Comment, Idaho Division of Veterans Services, 351 Collins Road, Boise, ID 83702.

Loomis emphasized that the process still has a long way to go.

“I’m hoping that we’ll see something out there in the next couple of years, but we’ll all have to be patient while officials go through this process,” he said.

Idaho company considers future hub for freight drones

Idaho company considers future hub for freight drones

Idaho company considers future hub for freight drones

Nov 22nd, 2016 | By | Category: Pocatello News

Empire Unmanned DronePOCATELLO, Idaho (AP) — The founder of an Idaho company that introduced the use of drones in agriculture is dreaming bigger — literally.

Empire Unmanned founder Steve Edgar is considering using Pocatello Regional Airport as a future hub for possible freight-carrying drones, reported The Capital Press ( ). Edgar spoke about the possibility and the future of aerial shipping at Idaho State University last week.

It could be more than 10 years before the Boeing 747-size drones he envisions are hauling cargo, Edgar acknowledged, but he still plans to analyze the infrastructure at the airport and the surrounding community next year.

Pocatello is ideal because it has an under-served airport surrounded by open space, is a stop on a major rail line and has easy access to two interstate highways, Edgar said. He also pointed to expertise provided by the university and Idaho National Laboratory.

Airport Manager David Allen said the city should study how to best position itself if other investors share Edgar’s enthusiasm

“I think it’s worth looking at this,” he said. “It would be a fun bone to chew on.”

Currently, the Federal Aviation Administration only allows commercial drones to be flown within the pilot’s line of sight. Edgar said he is optimistic that the FAA will allow pilots to fly drones outside their vision sometime next year.


Information from: The Capital Press (Ore.),

REDI: A Year in Review

REDI: A Year in Review

REDI: A Year in Review

Nov 21st, 2016 | By | Category: Regional News

Journal Staff

REDI Regional AdRegional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho (REDI) has focused on its primary objective:  to diversify and strengthen the economies of the 14 counties of Eastern Idaho by retaining and attracting businesses to the region.

“Defining, marketing and driving opportunity to Eastern Idaho has been at the forefront of all of our efforts the past year,” said REDI CEO Jan Rogers.  “We started with the basics – branding the region as an Innovation Corridor, updating our web site to further support the region’s image and marketing to a local, regional and national audience.  We’re proud to say that we are already beginning to see the fruits of our efforts,” she said.

REDI reached regional, state and national audiences with its message attending 10 economic development related conferences, garnering Eastern Idaho stories in four national publications and 15 stories in local media.   A national ad campaign for Eastern Idaho’s four regions will debut this November in the Idaho Economic Development Business Magazine. And Making the Business Case for Eastern Idaho will be featured in the November December issue of Expansion Solutions magazine.

“Our largest outreach so far for the region was at the SelectUSA conference in Washington DC this past June,” Rogers explained.  “The conference is for international businesses and governments interested in investing in the U.S.  Eastern Idaho’s team of eight joined 13 other Idaho economic development and state representatives at this global conference.  In working with other partners, we were able to secure Governor Otter as a speaker, just one of two governor’s represented.  His presentation was outstanding and really put Idaho front and center to a large national and international audience.  We made direct contact with potential investments for Eastern Idaho and will continue to foster those initial leads,” Rogers said.

Idaho’s media outreach was substantial thanks to Governor Otter’s presentation – over 60 million readers were reached with Idaho’s story, what would have cost $715,000 in advertising.

REDI is fostering five good new business leads that include both potential new investments as well as possible expansion of existing operations.  It is also working closely with the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes to support and coordinate economic development opportunities on reservations.

To address the talent development issue of attraction and retention, REDI commissioned an Eastern Idaho Millennial Research Study that is currently underway.  The study includes running five focus groups to find out what millennials like about our region, what they are looking for in regards to long-term employment and quality of place to remain here.  The results will be announced later this winter.

“Building relationships and securing economic development support within our communities is an important aspect of our ongoing efforts,” Rogers explained.  “By attending city and county meetings, summits and conferences, coordinating industry regional tours, networking, keeping our partners updated via our e-newsletter and participating in panel discussions, we’re able to keep engaged with our local, regional and state partners,” she said.

As REDI’s strong economic development efforts continue and regional collaboration takes hold, success will not only benefit each community but all of Eastern Idaho.

INL, REDI to host meeting on lab partnerships

Idaho National Laboratory and REDI, the regional economic development agency, are hosting a meeting next month to discuss ways of partnering with the lab.

The free Dec. 1 meeting will cover INL’s upcoming projects. Officials will discuss how to tap into INL’s people and capabilities and access grants. The lab’s educational partnerships will be covered, as will opportunities for small-business and tech-based economic development, an announcement said.

The event runs 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the INL Meeting Center, 775 University Blvd. in Idaho Falls. A Boise event is also scheduled for the same time Jan. 17 at the Boise Centre, 850 W. Front St.

Attendance is limited; the registration deadline is Friday. Go to to sign up.

Idaho unemployment rate remains at 3.8% in September

Idaho unemployment rate remains at 3.8% in September

Idaho unemployment rate remains at 3.8% in September

Oct 21st, 2016 | By |

Press Release
Idaho Department of Labor SignIdaho’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate held at 3.8 percent in September. Nationally the unemployment rate increased from 4.9 to 5 percent.

As the current business cycle’s economic expansion matures, Idaho continued to produce large over-the-year job growth in September, ranking third nationally. Total nonfarm jobs had a net gain of 21,500, or 3.2 percent, with all sectors except natural resources experiencing over-the-year job growth.

Month-to-month, growth in the state’s seasonally adjusted nonfarm payrolls remained constant as 2,000 jobs were added between August and September. Employers in the leisure and hospitality sector led the way, retaining more jobs than expected for this time of the year, increasing 2.8 percent. Education and health services, construction, government, manufacturing and natural resources also realized monthly gains. The remaining five sectors – other services, trade, transportation and utilities, financial activities, information and professional and business services – experienced job declines.

Idaho’s labor force increased 1,100 to 813,400, total employment grew by 1,000 to 782,294 and the number of unemployed Idahoans rose by 150 people in September to 31,100.

For the fifth consecutive month, the state’s labor force participation rate remained unchanged at 64.1 percent; nationally the rate increased to 62.9 percent.

According to the Conference Board, a Washington, D.C., think tank, there were nearly 24,800 online postings for Idaho jobs in September. Of those, 4,850 were classified by department analysts as hard-to-fill. Health care jobs continued to account for more than 23 percent of those and included physicians, surgeons, psychiatrists and occupational and physical therapists. By volume, registered nurses and truck drivers maintained the first and second spots for the largest number of hard-to-fill jobs.

Annually, unemployment benefit payments were up from September 2015 by 2.3 percent – from $1.16 million a year ago to $1.19 million for September 2016. The number of weeks compensated dropped 3.8 percent over the year.

Twenty-one of Idaho’s 44 counties had unemployment rates above the state rate. Madison County experienced the lowest unemployment rate at 2.3 percent. Five counties experienced rates above 6 percent: Clearwater (7.4 percent), Adams (6.8 percent), Shoshone and Lewis (6.7 percent) and Lemhi (6.1 percent).

The Idaho Falls metropolitan statistical area (MSA) reported the lowest unemployment rate of all MSAs at 3.2 percent, down from 3.3 percent one year earlier. The Coeur d’Alene MSA experienced the highest unemployment rate among the MSAs at 4.6 percent, down from 5 percent the previous September.

Details on Idaho’s unemployment picture can be found at

Voucher program provides opportunity for small businesses to partner with INL

Voucher program provides opportunity for small businesses to partner with INL

Oct 12th, 2016 | By | Category: Business news

INL Press Release

IDAHO FALLS — Small businesses in the clean-energy sector have another opportunity to submit Requests for Assistance (RFA) for technical help from U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) labs through the Small Business Vouchers (SBV) Pilot.

Johanna Wolfson, Technology-to-Market director in the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), launched the pilot’s third round on Oct. 10 at South By Southwest Eco (SXSW Eco) in Austin, Texas. The pilot, part of EERE’s Lab Impact portfolio, aims to help small businesses bring next-generation clean-energy technologies to market faster by giving them access to expertise and tools at national labs.

The Small Business Vouchers Pilot opened its first funding round in fall 2015 and launched its second last spring. Since then, nearly 800 applications have been reviewed, and 76 small businesses from 25 states have been awarded a total of $14.7 million in vouchers.

For this third round, EERE strongly welcomes the chance to collaborate with small businesses that have little to no experience working with a DOE national laboratory.

Individual vouchers range from $50,000 to $300,000 per small business and can be used to perform collaborative research or access to lab instrumentation or facilities. Companies selected must also provide a 20 percent, in-kind cost share for completing voucher work.

Vouchers are available in nine clean-energy research and development areas:

  • Advanced manufacturing
  • Bioenergy
  • Buildings
  • Fuel cells
  • Geothermal
  • Solar
  • Vehicles
  • Water
  • Wind

The SBV pilot gives our nation’s clean-tech small businesses the opportunity to take their innovative products to the next level. By supporting their growth, the U.S. helps these companies make a more meaningful impact on the economy and clean-energy sector.

Businesses interested in SBV funding must be U.S.-based and U.S.-owned, with no more than 500 full-time employees worldwide. In rounds three and four, $12 million is available for vouchers. Companies have until Nov. 10 to submit RFAs.

To learn more about Idaho National Laboratory’s expertise and the process to submit a RFA, please visit or contact Tammie Borders, (208-526-3992).

INL is part of the Department of Energy’s complex of national laboratories. The laboratory performs work in each of DOE’s strategic goal areas: energy, national security, science and environment. INL is the nation’s leading center for nuclear energy research and development. Day-to-day management and operation of the laboratory is the responsibility of Battelle Energy Alliance.

Shoshone-Bannock Tribes Plan to Open a $35 million New Casino

Press Release

Fort Hall, Idaho- The Fort Hall Business Council passed a resolution approving the funding for a new $35 million Casino Expansion Phase II project. The selected construction contract is Ormond Builders, Inc. of Idaho Falls, Idaho.  The new 72,984 SF casino project will be directly attached to the existing Shoshone-Bannock Hotel & Event Center.

Ormond Builders was one of several bids submitted & carefully reviewed by the Business Council and Tribes Project team that includes the Tribes Finance, Planning, TERO/TOSHA, and Gaming staff.  The scope of the work to be provided in the final construction agreement includes a one story new casino, an 8,084 SF Bingo Hall, and Pre-Function Corridor with connected Storage.  The Pre-Function Corridor and Storage, planned for location along the north side of the existing Chiefs Events Center, will complete functional requirements not undertaken during the Phase I construction of the Shoshone-Bannock Hotel and Events Center.

The new Bingo Hall will provide patrons immediate access to the games located on the Casino floor as well as the food and beverage venues included in the Casino Project.  Ormond Builders are eager to start project mobilization and construction beginning later this month. The official groundbreaking of the new casino has been confirmed for Monday, October 17, 2016 at 12 noon on the west end of the hotel.  The Council’s unanimous decision to engage Ormond Builders of Idaho Falls is another example of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes’ efforts to promote business opportunities for Eastern Idaho employers. Phase II Casino project is an expansion of the existing Shoshone-Bannock Hotel and Event Center.  The new casino and hotel & event center will be the premier entertainment destination in the heart of the Pacific Northwest.