economic summit

Theresa Foxley, CEO of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah, addresses attendees of the Boise Valley Economic Partnership’s third annual economic summit on May 23.

BOISE — Idaho is growing at a rapid rate, and no amount of complaining or ill-will toward out-of-staters is going to stop it, said Clark Krause, executive director of the Boise Valley Economic Partnership.

While Idahoans commonly joke about sending Californians back to California, Krause said that attitude — which seems to be growing — is a real problem.

“When you target a certain race or people,” he said. “you risk changing this place more than the people that are coming here. … We need your help when it comes to correcting some of these attitudes out there.”

Krause was one of the experts who joined a series of other speakers at the third annual the Boise Valley Economic Partnership Economic Summit on Thursday at the Boise Centre. Stakeholders and companies from all over the state came to try to tackle pressing questions, like where the Treasure Valley is headed and how we can maximize opportunities that come with growth.

The Boise Metropolitan Area population is expected to hit 1 million in 21 years, according to the economic partnership, and is outpacing the average national metropolitan area growth of 5.9% more than three times over.

Theresa Foxley, CEO of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah, said the development industry needs to pivot its message toward the good that growth brings: job opportunities, a growing economy and a more diverse community.

“We could probably all improve our messaging on what a new project means,” she said. “New corporations want to be here because they want to be part of your community, they want to access what you have to offer.”

Foxley addressed key challenges Utah faces with its own population growth that mirror what could be in the future for Idaho.

Here are some the key takeaways from the summit:

Rural economies

Utah is the eighth most urbanized state in the country, Foxley said; 80% of people live on the Wasatch Front — the metropolitan region that includes Salt Lake City — and only 20% percent in rural communities.

Developing rural economies by capitalizing on what they already have to offer is the best strategy, she said. Tourism plays a major role in bringing business to small, rural communities.

Millennial and Gen Z generations are looking to spend more of their income “on experiences rather than things,” Foxley said.

Idaho, like Utah, has an abundance of land to offer, she said, which can be flagged as “megasites” — places of potential development that are kept ready for investment.

Talent pipelines

When developers and investors come to Krause about potential business in Idaho, he said, 80% of their conversations surround what the talent pool looks like and what it will look like years from now.

The state needs to look at better, higher-paying jobs to keep their college-educated graduates in the area, he said.

“We need to diversify the types of jobs and opportunities we have,” Krause said, “not just for us but for those kids and grandkids behind us.”

Foxley said Utah’s education system plays a huge role in the state’s economic growth, and the state has a focus on bringing industries of the future, such as artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies.

“Utah is thinking about how to create job opportunities for the next generation in an era that is rapidly transforming technologically,” she said.

Tackling problems of growth

Rapid growth brings its own set of problems.

Utah has seen a number of new challenges with growth, Foxley said. Housing prices have increased, traffic congestion has heightened and homelessness has become more prevalent.

“Homelessness is no longer a signal of decline, it’s a signal of prosperity,” she said.

Jamie Jo Scott, president of the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation, said that is where innovative leaders in the community need to step in, and there needs to be representation of a broad range of voices.

“I think for many years, a very small group of people made decisions for a big group of people,” she said. “When life is easy and convenient, there’s a danger of becoming apathetic.”

Scott named community leaders Jodi Peterson at the Interfaith Sanctuary and Ryan Peck at the Boise Rock School as examples of innovative problem solvers who are bettering the community.

Idaho needs leaders who aren’t afraid to solve complex problems, she said, something that the state, so far, has largely been “sheltered” from.

Riley Bunch covers federal politics as well as education and social issues for the Idaho Press. Reach her at rbunch@idahopress.com or follow @rbunchIPT on Twitter.