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TWIN FALLS — Jayleen Miller is no longer living paycheck-to-paycheck.

The young Twin Falls resident had been working customer service at a loan agency when many of her customers talked to her about Clif Bar. Miller, who had previous temp experience at Chobani, decided to apply for a sanitation job at the bakery when the opportunity came up in the spring of 2016.

Though the benefits were what really drew her attention, the higher wages were certainly appreciated.

“I was able to pay off my debts,” said Miller, now 28.

With help from a company incentive, she bought a 2013 Toyota Prius. And she saved up for that travel trailer she’d been wanting.

Miller isn’t the only Twin Falls resident now benefiting from a higher-paying job. The Bureau of Economic Analysis in March reported that Idaho led the nation in earnings increases from 2016 to 2017 — and local data shows that in Twin Falls County, average wages are still on the rise.

“The wages increased in part due to the growth in employment,” Idaho Department of Labor Regional Economist Jan Roeser said in a statement. “As more jobs are created, more folks are working, reducing the labor pool. Because we’re in a tight labor market, employers are increasing their wages to retain existing and attract new workforce.

“It’s good news for workers,” she said.

In comparing wages over a one-year period ending the third quarter of 2017, total wages in Twin Falls County grew 5.6 percent, with average wages growing 2.8 percent. The area’s food manufacturing, agriculture and construction sectors were major contributors to state wage and employment growth.

But Idaho’s wages still lag behind the rest of the country. In 2017, Idaho ranked 44th in the U.S. for per capita personal income. The average wages in south-central Idaho and Twin Falls County were even lower than the state’s.

Clif Bar, which opened its Twin Falls bakery in 2016, employs just shy of 300 workers. When production started, the bakery had 220 employees, but it since added a third line and went to a 24-7 operation on two production lines.

The company offers what it calls a “living wage” — where the lowest paid wage at the company is enough to support a family of four with two wage-earners, General Manager Dale Ducommun said.

“Everyone believes that’s the right thing to do,” he said.

Even so, Clif Bar takes stock of the competitive market and adjusts wages about every two years.

“We are thinking of moving it to an annual basis because of the market how it is,” Human Resources Manager Susan Potucek said.

But for today’s workers, even higher wages aren’t necessarily enough to encourage them to change jobs.

‘The cherry on top’

Christina Wilson had been working for Lamb Weston for several years when she heard about Clif Bar coming to town.

“I waiting and waited until they broke ground,” said Wilson, who had been doing computer-aided drafting.

And then, in September 2016, her dream job opened up: a similar position with more responsibilities and learning opportunities at Clif Bar.

“I told my boss ‘This is my job. Call me,’” Wilson recalled about her job interview.

What made Clif Bar so attractive? It wasn’t the wages. Though slightly higher than her previous job, they were just the “cherry on top,” she said. What she’d been waiting for was a company where she felt like family.

“You don’t want to feel like a number at a company,” she said. “With a lot of the manufacturing companies around, that’s what you feel like.”

At Clif Bar, she said, you feel like you can truly be yourself. In fact, it’s expected. Interviews at Clif Bar may include questions such as “What is your favorite Disney princess?” — things that can’t be learned from a resume, Ducommun said.

“As a company, we want the whole self,” Potucek said.

At the end of each year, the company recognizes people for “just acting the way we wish everyone would perform.” Miller last year got an award for how she interacts with other people. The award itself came with a monetary bonus.

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Other incentives the company offers includes a stipend for energy-efficient vehicles, paid time to work out and employee stock. Workers also get paid days to do service projects in the community.

Raising the bar

Clif Bar certainly isn’t the only Magic Valley company that boasts of competitive wages. As unemployment continued to decline in 2017, Amalgamated Sugar raised its starting wage for harvest positions and Jerome Cheese Co. sent out flyers advertising its starting wages increased as much as $4 per hour or more.

The city of Twin Falls also got on board. In February 2017, the city raised wages for cops and firefighters, and all city employees got pay increases in October.

Police Chief Craig Kingsbury said it’s a little early to tell whether the raise has helped with employee retention. As of this week, all but three of 77 allocated positions in his department were filled.

“I think that the pay scale did a lot to increase morale and meet the financial needs of the police officers within the department,” Kingsbury said.

He still lost one officer to Meridian about a month ago, but that officer took a pay cut to move where his family wanted to be. The Twin Falls police department tries to be competitive with Treasure Valley agencies, specifically Meridian and Nampa, Kingsbury said.

The pool of available officers is shallow compared to previous years, he said, making it harder to fill positions.

When companies choose to offer higher wages, Ducommun said everyone benefits because employees have more money to spend in the community. He certainly hopes Clif Bar’s wages and philosophy will have an impact around the Magic Valley.

“I just think that companies need to realize that in order to attract and recruit people, they need to change their philosophy on how they treat people,” he said.

As Twin Falls companies are committed to retaining workers, Economic Development Director Nathan Murray expects the city’s average employment and total wages to remain strong.

“There aren’t enough people for the jobs that are out there,” Potucek said. “We are all recruiting from the same pool, so we have to be competitive.”

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