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Blackfoot continues economic expansion

Blackfoot continues economic expansion

Posted: November 13, 2017 5:00 p.m.

Blackfoot’s water tower is seen on Monday. John Roark/
Abigail Vasquez, in green, delivers lunch to the Bird family at Rupe’s Burgers in Blackfoot on Monday. John Roark/
Jose Saldana replaces bearings on a swather at Agri-Service in Blackfoot on Monday. “The farming season is slowing down,” Saldana said “but we always stay busy.” Saldana has worked for Agri-Service three years. John Roark/
“There are housing shortages both north and south of us, and that continues to squeeze us,” Blackfoot Mayor Paul Loomis said. “So you take that and look at our situation … It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out (growth is) coming to Blackfoot. We’re right in the middle. So, we’ll get there.” Taylor Carpenter / Post Register file
Adam O’Neill, a framer with Five Guys Framing, measures out what will become a wall for a newly installed bathtub at the Snake River View Estates in Blackfoot on Monday. “I can’t believe how busy it’s been,” O’Neill said. John Roark/
City Hall and the Public Library are seen in Blackfoot on Monday. The city’s central location is attractive to commuters seeking a low-cost, high quality of life. John Roark/

New businesses in Blackfoot • Pappy’s Ice Cream (June) • Blackfoot Movie Mill (June 2018) • eCobalt (Spring 2018) • The 208 Home Services Group (January) • Artisians Corner Shopee (August) • Western Edge Salon (September) • Idaho Renal Center (April) • Milmore Event Center (October) • Milmore Downtown Apts (June) • Rise Fitness (September) • Ashley Furniture Home Store (August) • Jimmy John’s (committed 2018) • Soda Shop/Factory (2018) • Smoking Gun BBQ (February) • M&H Historic Building — Retail Clothing Chain (October) • Downtown Daycare (March) • D.L. Evans Bank (2018) • Civil Air Patrol Wing Headquarters (June) • Pacific Street Vape Shop (March) • Collecting Americana (March) • Snake River Animal Shelter (October) • Tadd Jenkins Ford (October) • Vasquez Mexican Restaurant (April) • State Vetran’s Memorial Park (2018)
BLACKFOOT — “Is Blackfoot back?” That headline from the Feb. 8 edition of the Post Register was the lead-in to an article highlighting recent development here. The article focused primarily on new houses and subdivisions being built within the town and surrounding areas. The construction was seen at the time as a feature that could spur further economic development in the city of about 12,000. Flash forward nine months, and several leaders in Blackfoot look back to that article with reverence, describing it as a crystal ball look into what was to come. “It’s kind of a prophetic headline,” Kurt Hibbert, planning and zoning administrator for Blackfoot said. In the months since the article, Blackfoot has experienced an economic boom in the region, bringing nearly two dozen new retail, food, entertainment and industrial businesses to the area. Those developments, some of which won’t be complete until 2018, were touted in a recent email from Julie Ann Goodrich, the executive director of the Greater Blackfoot Area Chamber of Commerce. To accompany the economic success, the continued construction of housing and expansion of infrastructure makes Blackfoot one of the region’s business success stories of 2017. “Since (February), there were things happening then, but not at the level that has happened (since),” Hibbert said. “There’s so much going on, and it’s something we’ve seen, not just with the subdivisions or in our construction industry, but our retail has boomed. Our food industry has boomed. And we’ve already had a lot of that here in the last eight months.” So what has sparked this growth within Blackfoot and its surrounding region? While there are several factors to consider, Mayor Paul Loomis believes there are a number of catalysts, one being Blackfoot’s central location along Interstate 15. “What really sold (businesses) on Blackfoot was being in the center of an employable workforce where you could draw people from both directions — Pocatello or Idaho Falls — and that just broadens your employment pool,” he said. “It gives you an opportunity to not just get bodies but people who are skilled workers.” The central location is attractive to commuters seeking a high quality of life — with low costs — as well as to businesses looking for an ideal manufacturing or business hub. “There are housing shortages both north and south of us, and that continues to squeeze us,” Loomis said. “So you take that and look at our situation … It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out (growth is) coming to Blackfoot. We’re right in the middle. So, we’ll get there.” Businesses such as eCobalt have bought into the economic upturn in Blackfoot, not only for its location, but the benefits the city and county can provide to help businesses and industries thrive. A Canadian mining company with a large mining operation in Salmon, eCobalt announced its intentions to construct a cobalt refining facility in Blackfoot, with the goal of hiring 60 to 90 people, each paid in the $60,000 to $70,000 range. “The great thing about it is, that’s a relationship that’s established with the mining industry up in Salmon,” Loomis said. “So there’s a close relationship there, refining in Blackfoot and shipping out from Blackfoot.” Another business that recently made Blackfoot its home is the farm equipment dealer Agri-Service. With 13 stores scattered across four states, Agri-Service opened its 14th location in Blackfoot in 2015. And the efforts to bring an Agri-Service location to Blackfoot was a cooperative effort between the city and county. “To get the road out for Agri-Service when they wanted to expand and come here to Blackfoot, there had to be a partnership between (Blackfoot and Bingham County),” Goodrich said. “The road cost $2 million, and with all of the fiber optics to get Agri-Service out there, it had to be a combined effort.”
“The county took the lead because it was in the county, but yet you had Blackfoot Urban Renewal support in the fiber optics,” he said. “You had the city in utilities — water and sewer. You also had the county giving some economic support and incentives, too. And only the county can do that. So it was that teamwork that made it happen.” Bingham County was able to provide economic support through grants and other incentives to help provide Blackfoot with the necessary tools to help bring Agri-Services and other businesses to the region. “The county has been absolutely key in working with us to make sure that we can be competitive,” Loomis said. “Our relationship with the county, I can’t speak highly enough about their support.” A catalyst of this strong relationship also has to do with the infrastructure Blackfoot provides within the county. With major road projects underway annually and a state-of-the-art water and sewage system that extends far beyond the Blackfoot city limits, the partnership between the two entities can only help the region’s economic growth continue. “The county came into the city and said ‘we need the infrastructure,’” Hibbert said. “The city said ‘we can provide that. Can we help you with the road as far as permits and grants?’” The infrastructure in Blackfoot is another major selling point for business relocation to the area, Hibbert said. “We’re one of the only communities that has water and sewer access and availability clear out of town, out into the county and into some of these areas where we can develop industries and not be right in the middle of town,” he said. “We are a prime location because they have access to all those municipal services outside of the city.” While these numerous factors are crucial to Blackfoot’s boom, all some businesses need is the “eyeball test” to determine whether or not they can make it here. And in Blackfoot, the rows of longstanding businesses that dot the town speak volumes to many looking at relocation, or to start a new business. “You’ve created an environment where people think they can thrive. Obviously, it stimulates investment,” Hibbert said. Goodrich said Blackfoot is no longer the region’s best-kept secret. These days she’s regularly getting information requests from across the West, including California and Nevada. “They’re looking for a place to bring their business and retire, yet still gives them the small-town feel where they feel like they can raise their children in a safe environment,” Goodrich said. Reporter Marc Basham can be reached at 208-542-6763.

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