Idaho’s whirlwind of new business announcements, financial incentives, and commerce Web sites is reshaping the state’s economic forecast.
Idaho has established industry clusters in the fields of recreational vehicle manufacturing, high technology, aeronautics, and food production. But over the last year, Southeastern Idaho has seen expansion and growth in the alternative energy sector, supported by the collaboration of Idaho National Laboratory (INL) and Idaho State University’s (ISU) Accelerator to create the Energy Systems Technology and Education Center on ISU’s campus. This center will focus on training workforce for the energy industry. This enhances the Idaho Technology Corridor in the southeast of the state, where recent companies including Peterson Incorporated (wind towers and nuclear energy), Hoku Materials (solar energy), Nordic Windpower (wind turbines), and Premier Technology (nuclear energy) have chosen to locate.
But the most recent boost to Idaho’s energy growth has been the addition of Areva, a French company that announced its decision in May to locate its first U.S. uranium enrichment facility in Bonneville County, ID. The $2 billion plant will be built 18 miles west of Idaho Falls, close to INL, and will employ more than 1,000 workers to construct the building, which will be operational by 2014. The Regional Development Alliance estimates the overall economic impact to the region will be approximately $5.1 billion, and more than 250 people will be employed full-time to process natural uranium for use in U.S. commercial nuclear power plants.
“While we had several attractive sites to choose from, we opted for Idaho Falls, which has strong ties to nuclear energy, and which welcomed Areva and its proposed enrichment facility to become a new member of its community,” says Michael Mc-Murphy, president of Areva Inc. “We look forward to a productive and long-term partnership that will deliver diversity and strength to the regional economy.”
Idaho was one in five states considered for the uranium plant. Washington, Ohio, Texas, and New Mexico were also in the running, but the Idaho Department of Commerce and Grow Idaho Falls, Inc. worked together to satisfy the 39 physical and economic criteria in a state-to-state comparison. “Areva is a natural fit for Idaho because both are world leaders in nuclear research and technology,” says Senator Mike Crapo.
The Idaho Legislature recently passed several tax-related bills designed to make the state more competitive. One in particular, the Small Employer Tax Incentive Act, is currently available for businesses that invest a minimum of $500,000 in new Idaho facilities and create at least 10 new jobs that pay at least $40,000 annually plus benefits. Qualifying companies receive a 3.75% investment tax credit up to $750,000 in any one year; a new jobs tax credit starting at $1,500 per job and climbing to $3,000 per job; a 2.5% real property improvement tax credit up to $125,000 in any one year; and a 25% rebate on sales tax paid on construction materials for new facilities. But effective this July, House Bill 431 modifies the computation used to determine the group average earning needed to qualify for this incentive to include wages of less than $12 per hour, resulting in the possibility of more qualifying companies.
This year has also seen the launch of Idaho’s revamped Department of Commerce Web site, which links to another new site, the Gem State Prospector (www.gemstateprospector.com). This tool gives users instant demographics and property availability, both by size and type of property. Site inventory is gearing up throughout May and June, with input from local economic development partners and realtors throughout the state. The Web site will be an indispensable resource for companies looking to relocate. Several states offer similar site search engines, while others scurry to compete.