TWIN FALLS — In his yearly State of the City address, Twin Falls’ mayor painted a picture of a growing community that is both welcoming to newcomers and can attribute its successes to its deep roots in its agricultural traditions.
“The city of Twin Falls is not the seven of us on the City Council,” Mayor Shawn Barigar said. “It’s not the city employees. It’s those of us who all live here and work here and play here.”
The speech was sponsored by the Twin Falls Area Chamber of Commerce. Barigar is also head of the chamber, but the tradition of the chamber sponsoring the yearly address predates his tenure as mayor.
Barigar’s speech came just before a ceremonial groundbreaking on the reconstruction of Main Avenue, a project that has been in the works for several years. Construction is scheduled to start soon, and the street and downtown will look very different when it is done.
It also came the morning after the City Council had voted unanimously to draft a “welcoming city” resolution, a statement of support for immigrants and refugees and a symbolic blow to opponents of refugee resettlement. Refugee resettlement has been one of the most controversial issues in town for the past two years, drawing national attention and news coverage to Twin Falls, both from more mainstream outlets — most recently, CBS’s “60 Minutes” ran a profile of Chobani owner Hamdi Ulukaya, who operates the largest yogurt factory in the world in Twin Falls — and from anti-Muslim and anti-refugee news sources.
Barigar noted this obliquely in his speech, saying we have “found ourselves as a community painted with a brush by artists who are not in Twin Falls.” He chose to start his speech by focusing on a different recent piece of national news coverage, a New York Times article that ran last week about economic development in Twin Falls, using it as a counterexample to the narrative of rural decline that has gotten much attention in the wake of Donald Trump’s winning the presidency as a possible explanation of the results.
The reporter who wrote the story, Kirk Johnson, grew up in Utah and wrote a blog entry the day after the story came out reflecting on his impressions while reporting it. Barigar seemed particularly taken by Johnson’s observation that “what was making Twin Falls hum was not some new discovery or innovation but rather a reliance on the old regional foundations I’d always known and loved: soil, irrigation and muddy cowboy boots.”
“I don’t think we have departed far from our roots as an agricultural community,” Bargiar said. “As a community of tight-knit citizens coming together for the common good.”
In Twin Falls’ first city election, 455 people from 12 countries voted, he said.
“I think we often forget that we all came from someplace else,” Barigar said.
Barigar placed much of his emphasis in the speech on the role individual initiative and non-governmental groups have played in helping to make Twin Falls a better place, giving examples from the past, such as neighbors helping each other during the Great Depression, and the present, such as the role private donations have played in raising money for the Canyon Rim Trail.
“I think it is really a reflection on (our) community being individuals who choose to step up and helped deal with the challenges but look at them as opportunities,” he said.
After Barigar was done, City Manager Travis Rothweiler spoke, thanking the nearly 300 city employees “who work tirelessly every single day on behalf of all of us” and outlining the major investments in infrastructure, the parks and trails systems, Magic Valley Regional Airport and downtown redevelopment the city has made over the past decade and is still in the middle of making.
Before he got into all this, though, Rothweiler had the lights in the theater turned on for a minute and asked everyone in the audience to introduce themselves to the people sitting next to them. Why?
“Community starts by getting to know your neighbor.”