This week’s question: What are the most important policy changes needed in Idaho to increase economic development?
Wayne L. Hammon, CEO, Idaho Associated General Contractors. Idaho has done an excellent job positioning itself at the forefront of the economic recovery. All across the state communities are hard at work employing the tools made available by the Legislature to expand economic development. Growth has come both from the expansion of existing companies and the attraction of new investment.
However, despite our success, there are two factors that must be addressed soon if this wave of expansion is to continue. First, Idaho's infrastructure -- it's roads, bridges, water and waste water systems -- have become overwhelmed and must be updated and expanded. While the Legislature was wise a few years ago to invest more funds in highway maintenance, more must be done to expand our systems to keep pace with development.
Second, Idaho lacks the skilled tradesmen and tradeswomen to build the facilities demanded by the expansion. The Legislature must make CTE Education a greater priority and encourage more students to seek certification in a skills-based trade. Too often Idaho teenagers are told their only choices are a four year degree or a minimum wage job. The truth is there is a third option through the trades that provides a meaningful and rewarding career and a living wage right here in Idaho.
Rod Gramer, President and CEO of Idaho Business for Education.There is no silver bullet when it comes to improving Idaho’s economy. We must do many things well to expand economic opportunity for our people. But the single most important driver for economic vitality is education. When existing businesses look to grow or new businesses look to locate in Idaho, they have two major considerations. First, they look to see if there is a pool of trained and skilled workers. If this human talent is missing, existing businesses will have difficulty growing and new businesses cannot afford to move to our state.
Second, business leaders look to see if we have strong schools where the children of their employees and their executives can receive a good education. I’m told of one city that lost a major new employer because of the dilapidated high school in that community. If you doubt the importance of human talent, consider a new Georgetown University study that shows 95 percent of jobs created in the U.S. since the Great Recession went to people with post-secondary education. Indeed, Eric Hanushek, a senior fellow at the conservative Hoover Institute at Stanford University, says that if Idaho could raise its educational attainment to the level of Minnesota, we could improve our state’s gross state product by 236 percent!
Simply put, the states that have a skilled and educated workforce will win the economic race in the 21st Century. That’s why Idaho’s first and most important priority must be strengthening our educational outcomes so we can grow our economy and bring economic prosperity to all Idahoans. Strong schools equal a stronger Idaho.
John Zarian, general counsel, National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators. First, Idaho needs tax reform. Our income tax rates are the highest in the Intermountain Region, and higher than five of our six neighboring states (all except Oregon, which has no sales tax). Second, we need to continue to encourage innovation, in part, by facilitating the process by which universities and private companies collaborate and commercialize their research into new patents, products and companies.