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State leaders discuss Idaho’s economic and educational needs

The State Board of Education and a panel including economists and the state’s Lt. Gov. Brad Little recently acknowledged the importance of a solid economy and education system.

“The No. 1. thing we need to do in Idaho is grow the economy,” Little said.

With the need for large companies to come into cities such as Aberdeen and Blackfoot, economists and city leaders are saying it is vital to focus on improving education in order to entice these companies move-in after looking at the proper work and education skills our communities can soon provide.

“Every time a rural area loses an employer or somebody becomes more efficient, we have to provide an opportunity for a new business to come in to replace those so people can have higher incomes and a better lifestyle,” Little said.

Local economist for the Department of Labor Dan Cravens said Blackfoot falls fairly low on the state and national level when it comes to per capita income and four-year education attainment.

He said as of June, only 17 percent of Blackfoot residents earned a four-year degree. The state average falls at 24.5 percent and the national average sits at 28 percent of the population who have earned their four-year degrees.

When it comes to per capita income, Blackfoot is looking at $20,843 while Idaho is slightly higher at $22,788 which is still lower than the $27,915 that is the national average.

Little said right now, the state needs to be able to provide a workforce on an adaptable level.

He used the example of the Chobani plant moving into the Magic Valley, saying many of those employees were graduates of certain Idaho State University programs which helped students afford to earn their college degrees.

But with the Simplot plant moving out of Aberdeen by 2014, he said the city is “high on the radar” for the Department of Labor and the Department of Commerce.

“Idaho needs to be the home for very successful and rapidly changing companies,” Little said.

For now, he said he sees a bright future when it comes to bringing these big companies into the state, but it is just a matter of making sure Idaho keeps improving the state education system to make that possible.

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