veryone has to live somewhere. You might as well live someplace nice."
That's the philosophy of Martin Zacha, general manager of operations for ATK Armament Systems in Lewiston, Idaho.
It might as well serve as his company's site selection strategy too.
By expanding its work force by 150 employees to a total of 1,075 in Northwestern Idaho, ATK cast a vote of confidence in the business climate of a state that has long appealed to people with a love for the great outdoors.
"There is a very good work ethic here in the Northwest. The state of Idaho is interested in attracting new businesses in the outdoor recreation field," says Zacha, whose company is the largest supplier of commercial ammunition in the United States. "They are very helpful and willing to do things to help bring people here."
Zacha tells Site Selection that the business case for locating ATK in Idaho is simple: "We are an ammunition and accessory products business, and Idaho is all about the outdoors. It is about hunting and fishing. It plays well to what we do," he says.
"It definitely helps with our work force. Most of our employees know our products. They use them and understand them. People in Idaho grow up hunting and fishing. They appreciate the quality of our products and they know why quality is important."
Since acquiring the sporting division of Blount Industries in Lewiston in 2001, ATK has grown to become the second largest employer in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley.
"The state helped us acquire additional money for training of machinists and electricians," says Zacha. "Through grants from the state, we were able to set up apprenticeship programs with the local community college."
Today, ATK maintains plant operations in three locations in the valley, with a total of 3 million sq. ft. (278,700 sq. m.) under roof. The largest facility sits on 400 acres (162 hectares) in Lewiston, notes Zacha.
The company's growth, in many ways, mirrors the expanding business environment of the state. As entrepreneurs and outdoor enthusiasts alike have flocked to Idaho seeking a fresh start or a better way of life — or both — they have found a business climate that fosters creativity, a strong work ethic and an appreciation for clean communities.
From JayCo Inc. adding 30 workers at its camper-making factory in Twin Falls to Hoku Materials building a $220-million polysilicon materials plant in Pocatello, the attraction of Mother Nature is boosting the fortunes of many companies.
Using Solar Lights at Night
A case in point is Boise, where Mayor David Bieter found a strong ally in his quest to make Idaho's largest city one of the greenest communities in the U.S.: his existing base of industry.
Inovus Solar, one of several renewable-energy-based firms located in Boise, is leading the effort to position the area as a shining light of alternative power in the Pacific Northwest and beyond.
Clay Young, CEO of Inovus Solar and a self-described "serial entrepreneur," says that the "lifestyle of Boise makes it easy to draw top talent. Boise has very low crime rates, good school systems, low cost of living and a very laid-back lifestyle. People work hard and play hard."
They also churn out ideas and launch companies at a rate faster than just about anywhere else in the U.S. According to the Idaho Governor's Office, the state produces the second most patents per capita in the nation.
Inovus, for example, is a pioneer in the field of outdoor LED lighting, powered by solar cells, that greatly reduces reliance upon the electrical grid and CO2 pollutants. Founded in May 2007, the firm hired its first worker in the spring of 2008 and today has 23 employees. The company is making Boise greener by replacing the city's traditional outdoor lighting with new, solar-powered LED lights.
"We are focused on the mission of flipping the outdoor lighting paradigm on its ear," Young says. "The old system is very antiquated. We want to change it dramatically to something that eliminates the need to draw on existing power sources and to one that actually contributes to the grid."
Young admits that support from both the state and the community is a big reason why Inovus is flourishing so quickly in the Boise Valley of Western Idaho. "There is a very strong Department of Commerce that is definitely focused on the development of new business," he says. "The government of Idaho is probably more libertarian than anything else. It does not try to interfere or play any kind of aggressive role in the operation of a business. The state is not onerous in regulation."
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter says it is his mission to make Idaho's business climate even better. In an e-mail interview with Site Selection, Otter says that he launched Project 60 in January 2009 as an "ambitious initiative" to increase Idaho's annual GDP from $51.5 billion to $60 billion.
"The plan will create quality jobs for all Idahoans by fostering systemic growth, recruiting new companies to Idaho and selling Idaho's trade and investment opportunities to the world," the governor said. "One of these economic development successes we are looking to replicate through Project 60 was recruiting AREVA to locate its uranium enrichment plant 18 miles [29 km.] west of Idaho Falls. That project alone is expected to have a $5-billion impact on the state economy."
Linda Martin, CEO of Grow Idaho Falls Inc., says the $2.5-billion AREVA Eagle Rock Enrichment Plant is moving forward with due diligence and other activities to secure licensing and permitting from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. "In addition," she says, "the local community has received ongoing visits from potential vendors and contractors for the facility."
Idaho beat out stiff competition from Washington and New Mexico to land the windfall from the French nuclear processing company. Idaho also regularly recruits California companies seeking to lower their cost of doing business.
Small Firms Gravitate to Idaho
Meanwhile, other energy projects continue to land in Idaho Falls. Ridgeline Energy recently announced a 90-to-130-megawatt expansion of its Goshen II wind farm as a joint venture with BP Wind Energy — a deal that could generate more than $200 million in capital investment and about 100 construction jobs over the next year. Nearby Idaho National Laboratory also unveiled a series of expansions totaling about $80 million.
"There have been several small high-tech firms that have located in Idaho Falls, such as RFinity, 5D Robotics, U.S. Trademark and Technology Ventures Corp.," adds Martin.
Energy innovation drives much of Idaho's success, says Inovus Solar's Young. "Boise is one of the most enlightened places in the country in thinking about energy, conservation and clean technology," he notes. "There is a very progressive and visionary mayor here in Boise. They are focused on growing a green economy and environment."
Mayor Bieter says that is not by accident. "The Inovus Solar streetscape project was the result of energy-efficiency block grants that came through the stimulus program," he says. "We were looking for the right kind of program that aligns with our green city efforts. This was an opportunity to contract with local companies."
Bieter adds that he was "the first mayor in Idaho to sign the climate-change agreement. We have required all of our buildings to be LEED certified. We have one of the best geothermal heating systems in the whole country, and we have steadily expanded it over the past 30 years."
The mayor likes traditional industries too, which is why he worked to streamline Boise's permitting system for new plants. That effort, which lasted six years, resulted in the city landing a 700,000-sq.-ft. (65,030-sq.-m.) distribution center for WinCo.
"We worked with architects, developers and owners, as well as our own planning and development specialists, to arrive at this result — a project manager system," says Beiter. "Now, when you apply for a permit, you have a designated contact at City Hall who ferries you through the entire approval process."
ATK's Zacha says he has seen that same supportive attitude in Lewiston. "The support that we need to run our business has definitely grown in this region," he notes. "People know what our needs are. I have lived around the U.S., but I really like it here as an outdoorsman. From the mountains to the rivers, Idaho has it all."
When asked what that meant for his company, he said, "It means that we continue to expand our capacity. We are definitely growing and we will continue to grow."