TWIN FALLS • Twin Falls is at the peak of its biggest economic expansion cycle since irrigation established the city in 1904, officials say.
More than $800 million dollars in industrial projects alone have been invested or announced in the Magic Valley since November 2012, said Jan Rogers, director of Southern Idaho Economic Development Organization, SIEDO.
“Jan and I have stood at conferences and said that sentence 400 times,” said Shawn Barigar, Twin Falls Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO. “And every time the person would just stand there and say the same thing, ‘That is an awful lot of investment for a population of 200,000 people, and you’re where?’”
In the Magic Valley, $680 million of the $800 million in industrial investments happened in the city of Twin Falls, said Travis Rothweiler, Twin Falls city manager.
“The total taxable value of the city of Twin Falls, which has been building up since the formation of its time, is $2.153 billion,” Rothweiler said. “If you look at $700 million in a single year, it’s a 30 percent increase in the total taxable value in the community in a single year.”
The record breaking year blew away expectations that were already ambitious after 2012.
“This year has just been insane,” Rogers said. “We closed everything that we pitched. It is just ridiculous. …$800 million and considerably over 1,200 jobs in one year, I’m telling you, that gets everybody’s attention.”
A 1.000 batting average on industrial recruitment did not happen by chance, Rothweiler said.
“It was unprecedented, and I really hope, it’s also sustainable,” Rothweiler said. “It’s not wild growth. It’s not crazy growth. It’s very deliberate in our approach. …We’re incredibly selective about where we want to participate. We don’t say ‘yes’ to everyone coming into the door.”
The first domino fell when Chobani opened the world’s largest yogurt plant in Dec. 2012 in Twin Falls, Rogers said, followed by:
- Monsanto’s announcement in June to expand its seed facility in Filer
- The opening of Glanbia’s Cheese Innovation Center in August
- McCain Foods USA’s August announcement to expand in Burley
- Portugal-based fruit processor Frulact Group’s October announcement to house its first U.S. facility in Rupert
- Clif Bar’s October announcement to build its first bakery in Twin Falls
“When you get into the groove, when you get a momentum going like we have, that’s very positive because we’re spreading it throughout the region and it’s not all happening at once in the community,” Rogers said. “That allows us to grow at a respectable rate.”
Subhead: Magic Valley a Game Changer
Multiple large companies moving to the Magic Valley reflects a reprioritization in the way investors make decisions, Rogers said.
Company’s now look for a “connection” to a community, Rogers said.
That connection, Barigar says, is the laid back culture of Twin Falls and the diverse geography of the area.
“We don’t have to fake it,” Barigar said. “Those values are demonstrated over and over again on a daily basis. When you hear people say, ‘the people are so friendly,’ they’re not talking about the Chamber or the economic development people at the city.”
“We have to leverage the whole package because truthfully, you’d be hard pressed spending a weeklong vacation never leaving the city limits of Twin Falls, but you could easily spend a week white water rafting in Hagerman or rock climbing in Almo, going skiing in Sun Valley, jumping off the bridge in Twin Falls or gambling in Jackpot.”
Barigar, Rogers and Rothweiler say they expect 2014 to be another big year. Despite the accomplishments, Rothweiler said it’s important to keep the momentum calculated.
“The fact that you have different opportunities sprouting at different times, that allows for that sustainability piece to really occur,” Rothweiler said. “If all of these things occurred quickly, we would be challenged internally. …This is truly one of the special places and if we are not careful, we will cause all of our greatest strengths to go away and they will be replaced with a collection of weaknesses.”
With Portugal-based fruit processor Frulact Group’s October announcement to house its first U.S. facility in Rupert, and McCain Foods USA’s August announcement to expand in Burley, 2013 was also a record year for Mini-Cassia, only scarred by the closure of Dutchman Manufacturing.
“We also have a lot of internal expansions of existing businesses and others that are in the process of expanding,” said Doug Manning, Burley economic development director. “That’s the best kind of economic development, when businesses expand from within.”
The past decade has been a steady roll for growth in the Mini-Cassia area, Manning said. Like Twin Falls, the Mini-Cassia area is appealing to investors.
“We have low electricity costs, plenty of wastewater capacity, a lot of really good water, a pretty good workforce and CSI is really good about putting together programs for the training for various companies,” Manning said.
Manning said Burley hasn’t seen this type of growth since at least the 1950s, when potato plants sprouted in the area.
“It’s going to be pretty steady,” he said. “There’s going to be some opportunities on the horizon for people. Our goal is to try to create opportunities for young people so they don’t look for somewhere else to go.”
To the tune of Twin Falls and Burley, this has also been a tremendous growth year for Rupert, said Kelly Anthon, Rupert city administrator.
“Rupert has had an exceptional year, and a historic year,” Anthon said. “Rupert, and really all of southern Idaho, has received a lot of press for being an international hot spot.”
In addition to the big announcements like Frulact, Anthon said Rupert has received a lot of business leads.
Subhead: Downtown Revitalization
When it opened in 1986, Magic Valley Mall led an exodus of businesses from downtown Twin Falls to Blue Lakes Boulevard. Small business owners have been working on various revitalization efforts since. This year is a testament to those efforts.
Around 30 businesses opened downtown in 2013, contrasted with only six new vacancies.
This has been the best year for downtown merchants since pre-Magic Valley Mall days, said Tony Prater, co-founder of Downtown Alive, a non-profit that helps downtown business pool advertising dollars.
“The difference that we are seeing is that the community wants to support the heart of the city and that is the downtown and old town districts,” Prater said.
When Glanbia’s Cheese Innovation Center opened in August, it hired about 100 employees and caused a ripple effect of downtown foot traffic.
“Twenty-three new businesses in the downtown core in a year? Five years ago people would’ve said, ‘you’re crazy if you think 23 new businesses are going to open downtown,” Barigar said.
In addition to an uptick of small business development this year, First Federal Savings Bank made a multimillion dollar investment in a new building downtown.
“First Fed is going to help solidify that growth downtown,” Rothweiler said. “They are going to be a quality corporate citizen.”
Industrial growth, Rothweiler said, is a seed that propagates throughout every corner of the economy, and downtown growth, Rogers said, is a reflection of what she calls, ‘an economic circle of life.’