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Regional Economic Development plan in the works

Area counties and cities are beginning the process of creating a regional development plan. The idea is to bring businesses to the region, rather than focusing on individual cities and counties. But because this is still very new, some are hesitant about jumping on board, especially with no set plan in place yet.

“Having Eastern Idaho come together as a region could be one of the most powerful moments in Idaho’s history,” said Idaho Department of Commerce director Jeff Sayer.

At a forum Friday, about 70 people gathered at the headquarters of Idaho Central Credit Union to discuss some concerns and ideas about regional development.

Sayer and many others said selling the entire region’s best qualities, like two major state universities, multiple renewable energy research companies and the second-highest concentration of workers in the state – 250,000 people.

But even that may not be enough when multiple states in the Midwest are selling their areas as a region.

“Our real competition comes from states that are uniting as multistate regions in this country,” said Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper. “We really need to take this first step and become an Eastern Idaho voice.”

The mayors of Ammon, Blackfoot, Chubbuck, Idaho Falls, Pocatello and Shelley were all present, and all in favor of working together. However, there are concerns about how it will all play out.

“Consolidation doesn’t work but collaboration is extremely important,” said Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad. “When we’re collaborating and we have a win, everybody can celebrate that.”

Blad said it’s tough to get people to come together, especially when that hasn’t been the norm in years past. Additionally, there were some elephants in the room Sayer addressed, saying disagreements going back 10 years should be left in the past, and mayors Blad and Casper agree.

“As mayors, as leaders of the communities, we should showing support to the other communities,” Blad said. “That’s not something that has happened in the past.”

“I very much want everybody to know we are better together,” Casper said.

Sayer said he hopes local leaders will remember the department of commerce does not want to come in and take over any development. He said generally businesses come to the Department of Commerce to discuss where to potentially put a new business.

When he refers them to Southeast Idaho, there are 11 agencies to choose from. He said if one isn’t a good fit, the business may go elsewhere, because they didn’t get the full impact of what the region can provide.

“East Idaho has so much to offer and so many economic opportunities ahead of the region,” Sayer said. “This is hands-down, one of the most important things that could happen in Idaho.”

Leaders also said it’s important to note these things don’t happen overnight. They said looking at other examples around the state, it took one group 10 years to solidify a plan that works for them.

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