Connecting state and local government leaders
“It’s increasingly more important,” state Sen. Kelly Anthon told Route Fifty.
For the right foreign company looking to invest in the United States, Dana Kirkham, the mayor of Ammon, Idaho, makes a case that her city has plenty to offer.
“We have cheap land, we have low property taxes, we have a ready workforce, we’re growing,” the mayor said.
Ammon, has a population of about 14,900 people, up from around 13,800 in 2010.
The city is located just east of Idaho Falls, which is home to Idaho National Laboratory, a national hub for nuclear energy research and development.
Kirkham, along with Mayor Shawn Barigar of Twin Falls and state Sen. Kelly Anthon, a Republican, were among those on hand from Idaho at a gathering of U.S. state and local leaders and prospective foreign investors, held in mid-June near Washington, D.C.
The mayors and the state senator sat down with Route Fifty to discuss some of their state’s efforts to attract foreign companies.
“It’s increasingly more important,” Anthon said of attracting foreign investment.
“If you looked at Idaho 10 years ago, it wasn’t on the radar,” he added. “But we’re realizing that there’s great opportunity.”
There are about 16,100 jobs in Idaho directly supported by majority foreign-owned business enterprises, according to figures the U.S. Department of Commerce updated last year. That amount is only about 1.6 percent of the roughly 948,000 total jobs in the state during 2015.
But in smaller towns it does not necessarily take a large investment or thousands of jobs to make a difference. “Fifty to 100 jobs in my community is revolutionary,” Kirkham said. “Particularly if they’re higher paying and more sustainable jobs. If they’re careers, that’s huge.”
Foreign companies with investments in Idaho include France-based Materne Industries, which specializes in dessert fruit and cream products, and Irish-based Glanbia Foods. Glanbia makes products including nutritional ingredients and cheddar cheese.
Anthon said he pitches Idaho’s location as an advantage when he speaks to possible investors, noting that swaths of the state are within 12 hours of major marketplaces in the western U.S.
“The ability to use the transportation system to get product to market, or to get raw materials into the factory, that’s pretty remarkable to a lot of the companies,” he said.
The officials also touted the state’s lifestyle and access to the outdoors as assets, particularly when it comes to attracting millennial workers. “We’re not the lifestyle for everyone. But we offer a pretty amazing, wide open space, little slower pace, safe, friendly environment,” Barigar said.
Takashi Suzuki is president and CEO of Sakae Casting Co., Ltd. The firm, which is headquartered in Tokyo and makes specialty aluminum products for semiconductors and computers, opened an office in Idaho Falls earlier this year.
“They really welcomed us to the state,” Suzuki told Route Fifty at last month’s event through a translator as he discussed opening the office.
“The environment seems to be really friendly to businesses,” he added.
The Idaho Falls facility is Sakae’s first U.S. location. There are three people working there, he said, including an intern. The company, he explained, is doing some joint research with the University of Idaho and if that goes well it may expand.
Asked about his advice for states and localities seeking to attract foreign investors, he said “they should probably shift their focus from big companies to small to medium sized companies.”
He also said that some companies in Japan may need to change their mindset if they’re looking to make inroads in the U.S. and that there can be a misperception that doing so requires engaging in processes that can seem overwhelming for small and medium sized firms.
“We were really lucky to find the state of Idaho,” he said.
Bill Lucia is a Senior Reporter for Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.