Small Group Thinks Big To Save Aberdeen

ABERDEEN, Idaho - Small business advocates and economic developers met in Aberdeen on Thursday to tell Simplot employees about the opportunities for them after the town's potato processing plant closes in two years.

The closure puts Aberdeen in a difficult position, but with two years to plan, the group Thursday -- though small -- was positive. The people in the area have the ability to leverage time to work in their favor. But that doesn?t mean the employees feel any better about losing their jobs.

"Feels like somebody jerked the rug out from under me," said Jay Kennison, 51, who has worked for Simplot for 21 years.

Kennison came to Thursday?s meeting looking for answers.

"What do you do? You hope for a heart attack? I don't know what to do. Just like most of us over there, we don't know what to do," Kennison said.

But some solutions started surfacing during the afternoon session. Former Pocatello mayor and current Bingham Economic Development Corporation consultant Roger Chase has experience courting companies and said one is looking at Aberdeen. That company could bring in several hundred jobs.

"If you get a hundred applications, you might land one. And that's the real key for us, is over the next two years to make sure we're out there working every day to find a company that fits into Aberdeen," Chase said.

The two-year time span also gives the workers the ability to learn. Part of the conversation was about going back to school, and the workers are interested in bringing Idaho State University technology classes to Aberdeen, so employees can train close to home.

"Most of us aren't college-educated people. I got 21 years in there, and out of 21 years, I missed one day, but that's just a personal thing. And that's the best-selling trait I have," Kennison said.

Aberdeen Mayor Morgan Anderson said the town needs a new company to help pay for a newly mandated, million-dollar wastewater treatment plant. Anderson is fighting to save his town.

"If (these) 111 (families) moved out of here, I don't know what we would do really. But rules and regulations -- we have to go forward. We can't stop," Anderson said.

Anderson hopes the Simplot employees will go back and tell their co-workers about the support available for small businesses, and that they could help employ the people of Aberdeen. Kennison could be one of them.

"I have a couple business ideas, but, like he said, it's going to take two years to get them going. And I have two years left, so I better get on it right now," Kennison said.

The ISU College of Technology, the Small Business Development Corp., the United States Department of Agriculture, the Great Rift Business Development Organization, the Bingham Economic Development Corp. and others presented at the meeting, which was hosted by the Idaho Department of Labor. The next meeting between all of these economic development groups is scheduled to take place on Jan. 5.

Idaho Department of Labor regional economist Dan Cravens said the agency hopes to have more of these meetings for employees as the timeline for the Simplot plant runs out.

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