The word “Hoku” in Pocatello’s lexicon conjures up some pretty bad memories.
Hoku was the name of the Hawaiian company that announced in 2006 its plans to construct a massive polysilicon plant on the city’s north side. The company promised to employ hundreds of people at the plant and to pay them outstanding wages.
The plant was nearly completed and Hoku hired dozens of local people to work there when the Great Recession hit with full force and the polysilicon market along with the rest of the global economy tanked.
Those locals hired by Hoku were laid off after only months on the job and the naysayers in our community claimed victory.
Their mindset, which has somewhat prevailed locally since, is that nothing good can happen to Pocatello and anyone saying otherwise is something akin to a snake oil salesman. The bad experience that Hoku turned out to be for our community has caused us to look with a scrutinizing eye at any entity announcing big plans for our area.
Developers have caught on and usually the first thing they say about their projects is that their plans are “no Hoku” in reference to the big shuttered plant that still stands off Kraft Road.
But now it seems the Hoku plant that’s stood as proof of Pocatello’s misfortune for years is getting a second chance. And that second chance could mean some awesome things are in the Gate City’s future.
A British company, Solargise America, has purchased the former Hoku plant and last week announced incredible plans to not just make the facility operational but to open four other plants on the same north side property.
Hundreds of local people will be hired to work at those plants — which will comprise one of Pocatello’s largest industrial parks ever. Better yet, the average pay at those plants will be $55,000 annually.
If Solargise America’s Pocatello plans come to fruition, Pocatello’s lack of good paying jobs will no longer be a problem.
Solargise said it expects to have the former Hoku plant operational by late 2020. The company’s ambitious timeline has the other plants being built and operating shortly thereafter.
The construction phase alone of Solargise’s plans will provide work for hundreds of local contractors.
The naysayers among us will say all of this talk reminds them of the old saying, “If it sounds too good to be true....”
For the sake of our community, we pray that this time the naysayers are wrong.
If Solargise’s plans for Pocatello become a reality, a boatload of good things will occur in the Pocatello area.
First off, all of the new houses planned to be built in the Northgate area and elsewhere locally will have no shortage of buyers.
Northgate’s developers hoped to lure big companies to their prime real estate along Interstate 15, but thus far that hasn’t happened.
The thinking was that once those big companies set up shop their workers would buy the thousands of homes that Northgate’s developers have wanted to build there.
Having several factories operating at the former Hoku site will create a customer base for not just the houses planned for Northgate but also the ones developers want to build in east Chubbuck and on Pocatello’s west bench.
Having hundreds of people earning $55,000 or more per year will have an insanely positive impact on the Pocatello area’s economy. Our car dealers will sell more cars, our restaurants will have many more customers and every local business — from mom and pop shops to national chains — will get a bigger piece of the even bigger pie that is our local economy.
The days of the Pocatello area being left off the list when the Kohls, Targets and Olive Gardens of the world announce expansion plans will officially be over.
The complaint we’ve heard in recent years about the Pocatello area’s young adults having to move to bigger cities elsewhere to be able to make a comfortable living will also cease.
We can’t emphasize enough what a game changer for Pocatello it will be if Solargise’s plans pan out.
We’re all going to hear from the naysayers about Solargise in the weeks and months to come and that’s fine.
But even the naysayers need to be hopeful on this one because Pocatello’s fortunes are on the verge of their biggest change ever.
Here’s to hoping that the dice roll in our favor.