SODA SPRINGS, Idaho -

Economic development leaders from rural communities across eastern Idaho have a plan to start growing our local economies.

On July 17, members from the Eastern Idaho Development Partnership and community leaders from 13 counties pooled together to find a way to drive-up the economic force in order to make our rural communities competitive and able to draw-in those big businesses.

EIEDP chairwoman Kathy Ray is also the Executive Director for the Four County Alliance of Southeastern Idaho, and said the purpose behind the meeting boiled down to the fact that these small communities have been left out of important economic development conversations with Idaho's three biggest cities, simply because these rural communities just don't have the money or resources to bring to the table.

"Our budgets are super tight and we just don't have anywhere near the amount of money and the private support these larger communities have," Ray said. 

The purpose for the meeting was to allow economic development leaders the chance to voice their concerns and to provide input about how they feel is the best way to approach a solution to grow the economy based on their own, individual communities.

Bannock Development Corporation Director John Regetz said, in fact, what came out of the meeting was far from any idea pertaining to 'individual' communities.

"The whole process was facilitated to develop input as to how we want structure, approach and collaborate with each other," Regetz said. "That was really the main theme that emerged, was that our communities want to work together."

Ray and Regetz both said our communities have always collaborated with each other, but Ray feels it's just not enough.

She said these rural communities just don't have the budget to fund individual marketing projects, so they are going to work together to market eastern Idaho as a whole to potential new companies who want to move in.

"People have this impression that businesses are knocking on doors to come into communities and business or government leaders are not letting them in. That is just so opposite of how it really is," Ray said.

She added, the market is extremely competitive so working off of a small budget, unable to advertise the region, is an uphill battle. 

"Our competition isn't the county next door to us, or even the city next door to us. Our competition is the world," she added, saying that our local communities are competing against up-and-coming countries such as China and India.

Both Ray and Regetz said collaborating within these counties will prove to be beneficial since, if one community doesn't have the resources to pull-in a prospective company, the neighboring county might have those resources instead.

Ray said more than half of the employees working at the Monsanto plant in Soda Springs commute from Bannock County, so the collaborative effort will create jobs for everyone.

And right now is a crucial time to start growing our rural communities.

Ray said another difficulty rural counties face, is the fact that these small towns in each county have different resources to offer, so it's hard to make one, all-encompassing business model for everyone.

Once again, using Soda Springs as an example: the town is extremely rich in the mining industry. 

But, since the market to draw-in big businesses is competitive, companies look at certain components before agreeing to move in: what the workforce looks like, if the community has the proper infrastructure needed to sustain that business, and if the community has an educated, skilled labor force to offer.

"The scary thing is, if something were to happen to the mining industry here, what would happen to Soda Springs?" Ray pointed-out.

So, Soda Springs would need to have another economic driver, another big company nearby, if something were to happen to the mining industry.

Regetz said more joint marketing efforts could spin from this past meeting, and the information that was developed still needs to be synthesized. Once that information is analyzed, they will then be able to develop new business models.

The Bannock Development Corporation will be hosting its annual economic symposium on August 28, with U.S. Senator Mike Crapo as one of the featured speakers.