Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho held its first virtual economic summit on the development and future of eastern Idaho’s economy. “What’s Up in Eastern Idaho” was held through Zoom. It discussed a range of topics related to the local economy.
The summit featured regional, state and national officials. The day kicked off with an introduction from Gov. Brad Little, before U.S. Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo took over to talk about the “Washington business outlook.” Matthew Thomson from the Idaho Workforce Development Council addressed “creating innovative programs in support of workforce training, recruitment and retention.” Idaho’s Department of Commerce Director Tom Kealey discussed “building innovative economic ecosystems to meet the demands of a growing tech-based economy.”
Jaime Casap, Google’s “education evangelist,” was the event’s designated keynote speaker. He addressed the “digitization and the future of work.”
Idaho State University President Kevin Satterlee, University of Idaho President C. Scott Green and Idaho National Laboratory Director Mark Peters addressed “working with eastern Idaho’s universities and federal partners.”
The second roundtable discussion looked at “preparing eastern Idaho’s K-16 students to meet eastern Idaho’s workforce demands.” Leading it was state Rep. Wendy Horman, state Sen. Dave Lent, College of Eastern Idaho President Rick Aman and Idaho State University College of Technology Dean R. Scott Rasmussen.
The final speech was on “the economic and housing outlook for eastern Idaho over the next decade” from leaders with the Research Business Development Center and Colliers International Idaho.
Technology is king: The importance of digital literacy will only continue to grow, speakers said. Casap noted that many assume because young people are growing up using technology their entire lives, they don’t need to be taught how to use it. However, much like children who have spent their lives around cars still need to be taught how to drive, young people need to learn the correct way to use technology to positively affect their future. Eastern Idaho should focus on helping students increase their digital literacy, Casap argued.
Fewer bachelor degrees: The biggest growth in higher education will be in non-bachelor programs, predicted Lent. More people fit into the category of needing something more than high school, but less than a bachelor’s degree. Eastern Idaho needs more students going to technical schools, getting associate degrees, certifications, apprenticeships and trade skills. The area is seeing significant demand for more laborers skilled in areas such as welding, plumbing, law enforcement, medical coding, medical assisting and automotive technology.
At the advice of Peters, Rasmussen created an associate degree in nuclear technology at the Idaho State University College of Technology. According to Rasmussen, the program has been successfully benefiting both students and the Idaho National Laboratory. Schools should work with local business leaders to locate the area’s highest labor needs, Rasmussen suggested.
Priming the pipeline: In order to meet this growing demand for skilled laborers, the community needs to “prime the pipeline” by getting people interested in these fields at a young age, Lent said. Ways to do this include talking to parents about their children’s career options, career-focused summer camps and getting technical workers talking to students.
Looking ahead: Idaho has the third-lowest unemployment rate in the nation. Even with the coronavirus, Idaho has been recovering much faster than other states. The outlook for the future of job availability is good in eastern Idaho, said Will Jenson of the Research Business Development Center. Science technology, health care and education will all see a growth in demand for employees. Upcoming projects at INL, such as the small modular reactor, will create more jobs in a variety of industries.
However, housing will very soon be a concern, said both Jenson and Jim Shipman of Colliers International Idaho. A growing population, shortage of construction workers and a building material shortage is driving housing prices up. The demand for housing is growing faster than the community can meet it, which will end up hurting long-term Idahoans the most, Jenson said.