Based on current projections, Idaho’s population could grow to 1.9 million by 2030. That’s an increase of almost 300,000 people. Just imagine adding at least five new cities the size of Idaho Falls to the state.
To support that kind of growth, we must make smart decisions about how to manage it statewide while respecting local goals. Some of those smart decisions include attracting new businesses and jobs to Idaho. But how do we compete against our neighboring states?
Anytime a business considers expanding or relocating, the owners weigh several factors. Will the infrastructure support the company’s needs? Will a new industry have access to skilled workers? Will current regulation suffocate innovation? Idaho can compete with any state to attract new businesses and jobs if we make wise choices and investments in these areas.
For example, when we talk about infrastructure, we tend to focus on the most obvious: roads and bridges. Of course, businesses need the certainty that they’ll have a safe and predictable network to deliver products to market. But they also require access to clean water, an affordable energy supply, and fast, reliable internet.
Right now, roads and bridges in Idaho receive most of their funding from dedicated funds. Those funds include dollars from sources like the Highway Trust Fund, Idaho’s fuel tax, and registration fees. But revenues from these dedicated fees continue to decrease with improved fuel efficiency and changes in vehicle ownership/driving habits.
We also need to tackle projects like updating aging water systems, improving our power grid, and expanding our broadband infrastructure. It’s clear we’ll need to get creative to address these funding issues to make these much-needed investments in Idaho. They will play a crucial role in our ability to attract new businesses AND support the coming growth.
Second, we can’t ignore the need for a skilled workforce. Idaho can supply the kind of workers today’s businesses need. By continuing to improve our K-12 system, we can prepare students to go on to college or pursue other advanced training. Ensuring Idaho can offer competitive and accountable schools fulfill two goals: 1) providing future employees for new businesses and 2) delivering a competitive education for the children of those employees.
Finally, we need to take a close look at our state regulations. Ronald Reagan could have been talking about government regulations when said that, “Government’s first duty is to protect the people, not run their lives.” What are we doing to create an environment that encourages innovation?
For instance, Lt. Governor Brad Little signed an executive order in 2017 to review Idaho’s occupational licensing requirements. State agencies must report to the governor’s office this summer with their assessment, including “recommendation for improvement, modification or elimination.” There’s no reason Idaho can’t undertake a similar process with other state rules and regulations that may hamper new businesses.
Idaho can and should take advantage of the changes headed our way. But we need to weigh our options with care and make wise investments in Idaho’s future that respect the great state we all know and love.
I’m excited to get to work. I hope you’ll join me.