State, industry leaders huddle on growth
<p>Tom Paine, director of government relations with Avista, and Gov. Butch Otter read over documents Thursday at the Post Falls Library during a meeting with legislators and business owners on ideas to help the private sector in this rough economy.</p>
| April 16, 2010 9:00 PM
POST FALLS - It starts with the private sector. That was a theme on Thursday when local legislators and Gov. Butch Otter met with business leaders at the Post Falls Library to discuss ways to shake the recession and create jobs.
POST FALLS - It starts with the private sector.
That was a theme on Thursday when local legislators and Gov. Butch Otter met with business leaders at the Post Falls Library to discuss ways to shake the recession and create jobs.
"Only the private sector can lead us out of the current economic doldrums," said Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls. "In Idaho, we are highly dependent upon smaller employers, those with fewer than 100 employees, to provide diversity and strength to the local economy."
Henderson said legislators need to help companies by reducing regulatory costs, minimizing taxes and expanding sales of services and products.
The meeting was the first of several planned to identify programs and policies that may require legislation or executive orders to spur employment growth.
"We can not wait until the next legislative session to make plans," Henderson said. "People are out of work now. Government revenues needed to pay for essential services like education will improve only after unemployment is greatly reduced and people can afford to buy cars, RVs, boats and other big-ticket items. Jobs are our first goal."
Ron Nilson, CEO of Ground Force Manufacturing, encouraged Otter to stay the course on maintaining a stable regulatory and tax base to spur economic growth.
"You have to stay steadfast on holding taxes and being sympathetic to the business community like you have been in the past," Nilson said.
Otter said he's "bullish" on what the state is doing with programs such as Project 60, an initiative to increase Idaho's Gross Domestic Product from $51.5 billion to $60 billion by nurturing existing businesses, recruiting new companies and encouraging foreign investment into Idaho.
Otter said Idaho's economy is more diversified than ever, which helps during a recession, and added that the list of companies interested in moving to Idaho has increased from 25 to more than 100 in the past four years.
He said decisions were made to "lean out" the government and a key will be to not grow it back at the same rate the economy is growing.
"When we do come out of this recession, I have every reason to believe Idaho will lead that effort (because the friendly business and tax climate)," Otter said.
But Henderson told Otter that economic development efforts could be enhanced with better communication between the Department of Commerce and local legislators. Otter suggested having the department's staff present when priorities are made.
Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, said some desirable changes will only need an executive order from Otter to be implemented.
"Some programs in the Commerce Department, for instance, may only need a new direction on how state personnel are used to assist Idaho businesses," Hammond said. "The governor can order such changes when justified by new programs to help smaller employers."
Lawmakers said they are frustrated past legislative efforts to crank the economy didn't fly, including a sales tax exemption on aircraft parts and phasing out the corporate income tax.
"We can help attract new industry to Idaho by reducing operational costs," said Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene. "I suggested this idea a year ago and was joined by my 5th District colleagues, but could not get broad support in the Legislature. It was proposed again this year, but went nowhere. Now that we are at the depth of the recession, maybe others can now see the necessity and opportunity to expand Idaho's economic base."
Hammond gave Otter and his staff another local economic concern to chew on when he said Idaho wastewater dischargers are being held to stricter proposed cleanup standards for the Spokane River than those downstream in Washington. Hammond said the Environmental Protection Agency is on board with Washington's proposal.
Otter said the EPA should treat states equally.
The governor said Idaho is ahead of many states on economic growth.
"They're having meetings on how to survive, not growth or helping each other," he said.