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Annual economic development symposium gives hope of jobs on horizon

Economic Development Symposium

POCATELLO, Idaho - Regional economic development leaders say the outlook for local economic development is looking pretty good. But, that outlook isn't looking too hot when it comes to bringing-in higher-paying jobs.

Idaho State University's director of research and development Dr. Howard Grimes spoke to a crowd of economic development leaders from across the state today during the Bannock Development Corporation's annual economic symposium, saying there are many challenges the realm of higher education is currently facing.

One of those challenges is the threat of technology sweeping over more and more entry-level jobs these days, so students, employers, and the university have to find a way to change the higher ed. system to move along with the way technology is heading.

"You're not going to be able to just go into college and stay there until you have all of the credentials you need anymore," Grimes said. "Higher education is going to have to think on a more innovative level about how to create multiple on-ramps, off-ramps, and back to on-ramps for people as they move through career development."

Grimes said economic analysts estimate roughly 48% of the entry-level jobs universities are training students for, will be completely automated within the next two decades.

ISU College of Technology student Gabe Raymond is going back to school after getting laid-off so he can get a higher degree in order to secure a future position.

"I got laid-off and I got tired of being laid-off and so I wanted a job that has good future growth," Raymond said. "I want to make myself indispensable."

He feels as if the instrumentation automation program he's enrolled in at ISU will help prepare him to learn how to adapt to changes in the future, so he'll be job-secure as industries continue to change.

Grimes said there are big opportunities in advanced manufacturing here in southeast Idaho and the university is working to build related infrastructure and integrate that with private sectors such as the INL.

He said one idea he has been considering is to how to build a curriculum structure so that people holding jobs can go back into the educational environment in order to take themselves to the next level to advance their careers.

"It's a whole new approach as to how we structure the collegiate and post-collegiate for our workforce and our students," Grimes said. 

He one positive aspect that could come from this is that now we will start to see more higher-paying jobs moving into the region.

And without that higher level of education, we could continue to see a brain drain from students moving out of the region, or even out of the state, in order to pursue those higher-paying job opportunities.

"People who aren't thinking about this will inevitably see an exodus of the best talent from their region," Grimes added.

Bannock Development Corporation director John Regetz said we could expect to see a few new larger companies move into the area by next year. He said one company will create upward of 80 new jobs and another will create more than 100, while other symposium speakers estimate at least another 50 new jobs could move-in on top of that.

Although no spoilers have been revealed quite yet as to who these companies are, we could expect to see the region next to the Pocatello Regional Airport start to flourish next year.

This will come at a time when southeastern Idaho has been grappling with the loss of several large employers: the J.R. Simplot plant in Aberdeen, Heinz, and even the mail center in Pocatello is on the chopping block once again.

American Falls also faced a devastating closure of its FMC Corporation, but is in the process of building the new $1.5 billion Magnida fertilizer plant, which is expected to create ancillary jobs from that as well.

Yes, the region is seeing a good number of big and small companies moving in, but the concern to many economic development experts is that we also need those companies to be providing higher-paying jobs in order for the region to succeed economically.

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