TWIN FALLS • Major pieces of the Magic Valley economy are coming together, fostering more population and economic growth in Twin Falls now than in more than a century. A far-reaching collaboration between city, community and economic leaders resembles the ambition shared by the town’s founders.
There have been visionaries throughout Twin Falls history but there has never been everyone at the same table before, said Twin Falls City Manager Travis Rothweiler. Although Rothweiler started an economic think tank last year called “The Ready Team,” widespread teamwork among leaders started in the early 2000s.
Southern Idaho Economic Development Organization (SIEDO) joins private and public economic sectors throughout the region. SIEDO Executive Director Jan Rogers helped 40 corporations expand and/or move to the Magic Valley since 2001. Now that the area’s agriculture core is strengthened by dairy and there are solid plans for downtown Twin Falls and the commercial center along Blue Lakes Avenue, Rogers said the next step is to package those pieces with Idaho’s natural beauty.
“They never packaged and marketed it in a way to make it resonate,” Rogers said. “Now is the time to do that. Not just because of the economy but because of the way we diversified our core as well as outside of our core. We’re not as vulnerable as we used to be or the way other places are. What can we do to create that place image in peoples’ heads that works for business, life and scenery?”
Dairy kings, city people and economic developers agree, dairy restored and strengthened the core of southern Idaho.
“Dairy stabilized our core business: ag,” Rogers said. “Before we diversified the core, it was tsunamis. Everybody was talking about diversifying away from ag and we have done some of that. We’ve layered the core with some really tasty business and opportunity on top of it but what we really did to solidify the region was dairy. Once the milk producers came in and the processing started, the milk grew.”
Despite the variety of change Twin Falls is going through, Rogers said growth will remain anchored to agriculture.
“The next big thing has already happened,” Rogers said. “What we have to recognize is how we build off of it. Chobani was the next big thing. It’s the gift that’s going to keep on giving for a lot of years. It’s a perfect fit within our core business. What you’re going to see over the next few years is a lot of value added because they’re here.”
When compared to how prominent dairy is becoming and how diversified the Twin Falls economy is, Rogers said tourism in the Magic Valley is one of the legs of growth that hasn’t reached its full potential. Many other communities have done more with less in terms of natural beauty, such as billion dollar Midwestern tourism centers like the Wisconsin Dells.
“I’m almost willing it to happen,” Rogers said. “I’ve been speaking it for years. You can have the most incredible thing in the world but if no one knows it’s there it doesn’t matter. Our biggest Achilles heel is that we haven’t packaged and marketed what we have in a way that resonates with people who (enjoy outdoor recreation).”
For more than a decade Southern Idaho Tourism Director Debbie Dane has been working on packaging the Magic Valley’s natural beauty. She sends out more than 10,000 magazines, “Livability Southern Idaho,” per year, highlighting all of the things to explore in southern Idaho.
“Name a state or a country and they get a copy of the magazine,” Dane said.
Despite her efforts, Dane said tourism generates 10 percent of Magic Valley’s economy. With world renowned rock climbing, base jumping, fishing, skiing, whitewater rafting, just to name a few, Dane said the potential of Magic Valley tourism is much more than a fraction.
“We’re the front door,” Dane said. “We work to capture that. We have the potential and that’s where we work with traditional economic development to capture that potential.”
Although lodging sales throughout the region are projected to double this year, Rogers said part of the reason tourism has been slow to follow the success of other sectors of growth is a lack of funding. Dane is one of the only people throughout the Magic Valley who is paid to market the area’s unique beauty.
If state funding doesn’t pick up to expand southern Idaho tourism, Rogers said they’ll have to leverage an existing asset within the community.
“You got an idea? Pull yourself up by the bootstraps and git ‘r done,” Rogers said. That’s the mentality here and it works.”
There are plenty of ideas going around, Rogers said. After hearing a radio ad passing through Arizona about medical tourism, Rothweiler said he thought about matching St. Lukes Magic Valley Medical Center with the “extreme” outdoor appeal of the area.
“Get your yearly exam in Twin Falls and then go push your body to the test,” Rothweiler said. “You go to the cardiologist, they say, ‘your heart is great,’ then you say, ‘I’m going to go jump off the bridge.’”
With the diversity of natural beauty in the region and a “destination” medical system, Rothweiler said the two are a natural fit.
“We could do medical tourism here better than anyone else,” Rothweiler said. “One of the challenges that we have is beginning to match our strengths to create new opportunities. …Why not develop a medical tourism type approach that allows us to take advantage of a phenomenal community asset in St. Lukes with a phenomenal cultural and regional center?”
Commercial and Industrial Economic Development
Another incomplete area of growth in Twin Falls is the beautification of an old fashioned Main Street, it’s getting there but many say its just beginning. Rogers said the location of Chobani and development of Glanbia’s innovation center will bring a lot of young professionals into downtown looking for a cool place to hangout.
“We can take downtown to the next level,” Rogers said. “We can make it catchy. Cool places for cool spaces. We have developers here that have that vision. …It would not be reinvented. It would be restored to its former glory. That’s what people are looking for. You come downtown not to do things that you used to do. You come downtown because it’s a cool place. We need to create that cool place.”
The Twin Falls Urban Renewal Agency’s plan to expand their tax-increment financing district 60 acres into downtown will incentivize development by fixing things like broken sidewalks.
The industrial presence next door to Twin Fall’s historic downtown is the engine that moves it all. Many leaders including Twin Falls Chamber of Commerce President Shawn Barigar, say Chobani and Glanbia will cause a “domino effect” for downtown and beyond.
“There are a lot of pockets of very successful businesses in our region that talk to people in that worldwide market now and people go, ‘hmm, Chobani is a successful company, why on earth are they choosing Twin Falls Idaho?’ and they may come and kick the tires.”
In addition to large corporations like Chobani and Glanbia in town, there are so many commercial developments that Blue Lakes Avenue is running out of room, Rogers said.
“Pole Line is the natural path for expansion,” Rogers said.
“If you look at Pole Line and think it’s overdeveloped, it’s been built that way for a reason. It’s a part of our city’s strategic plan to prepare for growth.”
The diversity that is generated by commercial development may provide long term economic stability, Barigar said.
“We’ve got diversity and that’s good because as the economy goes through cycles, hopefully those diverse industries aren’t experience the same downturns at the same time and we can balance it out,” Barigar said. “Now we’ve gone back to our ag roots.”