Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho (REDI) held its fourth annual “What’s Up in Eastern Idaho!” conference Friday at The Waterfront at Snake River Landing.
REDI CEO Teresa McKnight provided a general economic overlook for the region. REDI covers 16 counties and 29 cities in eastern Idaho representing a total population of 441,979.
“Eastern Idaho has really become what we call a power place,” McKnight said. “First of all, the quality of life here is amazing. … We have incredible employers all across our region that are providing wonderful jobs for the people that live here.”
REDI works to expand the economy by attracting businesses, assisting existing businesses with retention and expansion and providing advocacy and marketing for the region. The organization also provides “workforce development and education opportunities, fosters entrepreneurship and research and builds community partnerships to improve the area’s competitive position economically,” according to its website rediconnects.org.
“Over the past four years, 113 companies have expressed interest in the region,” McKnight said. “It’s basically been a record for this region and REDI to have that many.”
In 2022, REDI received 23 requests for information from companies or for site selectors. Three of those projects located in the region; eight are still in process and 12 projects shut down, didn’t respond or were lost to other states.
Last year, REDI assisted 67 regional corporations with expansion and retention.
“Talent attraction continues to be more important than project attraction,” McKnight said. “This is where our focus has been the last six months.”
In 2022, REDI implemented a new trailing spouse program that filled 51 jobs.
“REDI is hand delivering resumes of professional employees to regional employers, saving costs to do outside recruiting. It’s working really well in helping our regional employers have access to employees they would not have otherwise,” she said.
The regional economy features seven top-producing clusters or sectors, she said, including advanced manufacturing, agriculture, banking and finance, energy, health care, information technology/cybersecurity and outdoor products and recreation.
Job growth has risen 4.38% every year since the COVID-19 pandemic, but eastern Idaho’s GDP growth has slowed for several years, increasing 1.2% from 2020 to 2021.
“As the lead regional economic development organization for Eastern Idaho … we understand the importance of regional collaboration and the role it plays on the growth and well-being of our region,” McKnight said in a news release. “REDI has been instrumental in pulling business, industry, university, civic and community leaders together to strategically focus on those areas that make our region the best place to live, work, learn and quite frankly experience one of the best qualities of life.”
Keynote speakers Jeff and Taylor Woodbury, from the real estate development company Woodbury Corporation, shared insights into “Building communities of innovation,” highlighting their work building master-planned developments, fostering culture and driving economic development in communities.
“It’s not about bricks and mortar,” Woodbury Corporation Senior Vice President of Development and Acquisitions Jeff Woodbury said. “It’s more about building culture. It’s more about building an environment where you get a community to understand what that community needs to become to invite businesses, to invite the world to come to your community.”
At the conference, former Idaho Central Credit Union CEO Kent Oram was recognized with the “Eastern Idaho Regional Innovative Leader” award.
The presentations also featured panels with local and regional experts on higher education, energy and the future of non-carbon resources and promoting cybersecurity.
Ultramarathoner Michael McKnight presented on resilience and shared his journey becoming the first person to complete a 100-mile race on zero calories.
Education continues to be a strong focus for REDI. Within the region, the number of graduate degrees has increased 16% since 2017.