POCATELLO — The recurring theme among the speakers at Bannock Development Corp.’s Southeast Idaho Economic Development Summit on Tuesday was the importance of working together to achieve economic greatness in the Portneuf Valley.
The annual summit, which was held at the Stephens Performing Arts Center in Pocatello, was presented both in-person in a scaled down capacity and via livestream.
Shane Hunt, the dean of the College of Business at Idaho State University, played emcee at the event and his optimism as a new Gate City resident was apparent throughout.
“When you think about the brilliant people that we have on this campus and at the hospital and throughout our community, what I will tell you is palpable from someone who’s an outsider is that our best days as a university, our best days as a community, and our best days from an economic development standpoint are ahead of us,” said Hunt, who relocated from Arkansas to Pocatello with his family about 10 months ago.
MiaCate Kennedy I, CEO of Bannock Development Corp., was the keynote speaker at the summit. In her speech, she outlined the different ways Bannock Development works for the community.
“To us, it never is really just dropping a business in somewhere,” she said. “I want us to dispel that myth and allow us to open up to realize that we’re all working together as strategic partners, hopefully, in this process so that we can all be engaged in what happens in the communities that we live in. All of us together in the region are building this.”
While working with businesses to try to get them to locate in Bannock County is a big part of Bannock Development’s job, Kennedy says the organization helps strengthen the business community in other ways as well.
“We create jobs and that’s an important factor but it’s just one of the many things,” she said.
Here’s a sampling of other ways Kennedy says Bannock Development works for the community:
— They work with businesses to retain employees and expand operations.
— They spend time researching what kinds of jobs and businesses the region really needs (and what it doesn’t need).
— They make decisions to try to protect the community from economic downturns.
— They attempt to improve the quality of life for people in Bannock County.
All of that, Kennedy says, can be better achieved when all the players in the community come together to make it happen.
“There’s something about working together that makes sense,” she said. “The pandemic brought despair, stops and roadblocks. It brought tragedy and despair, especially when suddenly we had no way to be together, work together or grow together. But there is something neat about human nature that draws us together and we figure it out.”
Other speakers at the summit also echoed Kennedy’s sentiment that working together is the best path toward a prosperous future.
Don Zebe, a commercial real estate developer with Colliers International in Pocatello, said, “It’s important for us to throw support at Bannock Development because they are going to do a fabulous job for all of us in a way that we feel good about raising families here. We need to come together and have a plan and develop smart growth.”
Hunt also said that partnering with Bannock Development is the right thing to do.
“I think where communities make the biggest mistake is that they don’t all work together,” he said. “The public-private partnership we have here (with Bannock Development) provides an ideal model for how we can go forward as a community.”
For his part of the partnership, Hunt says his goal is to make sure ISU students are prepared as they enter the workforce.
“I’ve never been around smarter, brighter, more engaged students than what we have here,” he said. “The thing we’re going to do on our part is we’re going to help create that next great talent pool, that talent shed that all of you need — from health care administration to finance to engineering and everything in between.”
Hunt said that the vast majority of his students want to stay in Southeast Idaho, so it’s important to come up with a plan to make sure there are jobs available to those students when they graduate.
“We can only do that if we work together to find ways to win jobs and win companies,” Hunt said. “We have the ability to seize that right now.... Now is our time.”
Additionally, ISU’s College of Business is a resource businesses can use to get off the ground or to find ways to grow.
“We’re going to be there to help business grow and develop and help entrepreneurs be successful,” Hunt said.
Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad spoke about some of the struggles Pocatello has had in the past year, but said that businesses came out ahead and that is a testament to the good things that can happen when people prioritize their community.
“Our community this past year has had some challenges, but one thing I love about living in the community that we live in is that when there’s a challenge, we band together and we make it happen,” Blad said.
Dan Cravens, a management professor and director of Bengal Solutions at ISU, outlined the economic outlook for Bannock County — and he says it looks good despite the coronavirus pandemic’s effect on the past year.
Despite home prices rising and a low inventory of homes available locally, Cravens said he is optimistic that with the new housing developments being built that there will be more real estate options available soon.
“We’ve got opportunities to build new houses, to have that real estate available to attract new people to our community and places for new office buildings, new businesses as well,” he said.
Cravens said unemployment in Bannock County is currently almost the same as it was in pre-pandemic January 2020. Additionally, more people locally hold both bachelor’s and master’s degrees compared to a decade ago.
Bannock County’s current unemployment rate is 3.5 percent, compared to a national average of 6 percent, according to data Cravens presented. At the start of the pandemic when states shut down and businesses were forced to close, Bannock County’s unemployment rate was 10.4 percent while the national average was 14.8 percent.
“Folks, we have come a long way,” Cravens said. “We are making a lot of progress to getting back to where we should be.”