TWIN FALLS, Idaho • After a burst of economic expansion not seen in recent memory, Twin Falls has run out of shovel-ready space large enough to accommodate another industrial investment such as Greek yogurt giant Chobani.
Until more land is developed, Twin Falls marketing will focus more on strengthening existing assets, said Melinda Anderson, city economic development director.
“That’s something we haven’t spent a great deal of time discussing as a group, mostly because we’re still slow in both Chobani and starting to work on the Clif Bar project,” Anderson said. “So we’re really focused on that and not so much with attracting new business at the moment. We’re always open to talking with businesses that are looking at us, but we’re not going out there and not proactively marketing.”
Despite the lack of space, city and regional economic development leaders don’t consider it a pause in the region’s rapid expansion.
“When Chobani wanted to come here, we did not have the shovel-ready space available for them to come in, and we made it work,” said City Manager Travis Rothweiler. “Our answer will always be ‘yes’ to the possibility of large companies wanting to expand in Twin Falls.”
The strong development in Twin Falls also has squeezed wastewater capacity, so more wet industries won’t be possible until after March 2015, when the wastewater treatment plant’s first phase of expansion is done.
But that will not prevent more wet industry, Rothweiler said. “We can make the commitment today so long as they do not flow until the plant is done,” he said.
The city doesn’t have one parcel of land of 20 acres or larger that is ready for construction, Anderson said.
“The Jayco Industrial Park was the last really big acreage in the city of Twin Falls that was shovel-ready,” she said. “Shovel-ready meaning it’s developable. You can go get a building permit for it.”
When Clif Bar announced in October that it will build a 300,000-square-foot bakery in Twin Falls, it acquired the city’s last piece of shovel-ready land, she said. Space available for industrial expansion is limited to farmland and undeveloped lots along Pole Line Road.
Some Twin Falls developers banded together in September to help transform that land along Pole Line into shovel-ready space when opportunities arise. The group, Twin Falls Futures, will be a useful tool to foster more large-scale industrial development, Rothweiler said. “The city of Twin Falls’ doors for economic development are not closed.”
But even with Chobani, he said, “we had to work hard to bring together 200 acres. Melinda is right. We do not have any more shovel-ready land, but if the right circumstances present themselves, we could move forward in a way that would let us get (another large industry).”
Twelve miles north, Jerome has plenty of land ready for development, but no capacity for new wet industry, said City Administrator Mike Williams.
“We have some very prime industrial ground in the city of Jerome and some of our urban renewal areas. For us, land is not an issue,” Williams said. “…For the immediate future, we would not be able to accommodate a large industry that would need to go through a wastewater treatment plan.”
But Jerome, which also is expanding its wastewater plant, can attract investors because large dry industries have plenty of sites to consider. And Twin Falls’ ability to commit to more wet industry after March 2015 speaks to its advantage in industrial recruitment.
The contrast in community assets, and the cities’ willingness to work together after competition over site selection is done, is one of the tools that the regional Southern Idaho Economic Development Group (SIEDO) uses to attract investors.
“Every community wants the business they’re competing for,” said Jan Rogers, SIEDO executive director. “If they don’t land the business, they are extremely supportive of the community that does win it.”
While Twin Falls might lose steam temporarily until it develops more land, the region will not lose its momentum, say Rogers and Rothweiler.
“Certainly, if a company came into one community and they couldn’t meet the criteria in the timeframe the company needed, then we would open it up to other communities in the region,” Rogers said.