Episode 11 – Twin Falls, Idaho Guild Advisory Forum
Rick Weddle: Welcome to Site Selection Matter where we take a close look at the art and science of site selection decision-making specifically, and economic development generally. I’m your host, Rick Weddle, president of the Site Selectors Guild. In each episode, we introduce you to leaders in the world of corporate site selection and economic development. We speak with members of the Site Selectors Guild, our economic development partners, and corporate decision-makers to provide you with the insight into the best and next practices.
In this episode, we have as our guest, Nathan Murray, economic development director of Twin Falls, Idaho. Today, Nathan will talk with us about Twin Falls’ recent Site Selector Guild Advisory Forum, and how it helped advance his efforts to bring new investment and good quality jobs to his area. Knowing Nathan as I do, I would expect he might also have a few things to say about economic opportunities in the Twin Falls, Idaho area. Join me as we welcome Nathan Murray to “Site Selection Matters.”
Nathan, you recently hosted three site selection guild members in the Twin Falls area for an official advisory forum. That’s an event where key site selectors visit your area to see firsthand the advantages you have to offer, to get a better understanding of your assets, and provide feedback going forward. Take a minute if you will, and tell our listeners why you chose to host an advisory forum, and what you expected to get out of it?
Nathan Murray: Yeah, sure. So, Idaho is the third largest dairy-producing state after California and Wisconsin. And the region I’m in, Southern Idaho, is the largest processor of milk in the state. And we don’t think that that is a message that is widely known. And so, our Dairymen’s Association came to us and said, “We’d like to be a little more involved with economic development this coming year. What do you suggest? What are some things we could do to get our message out?”
And actually, the first thing I thought of was a site selectors forum. We just felt it was a good opportunity to get some exposure across the kind of a broad group of professionals that deal in the industry, but also that they would be able to give us some feedback into what they saw as our strengths, and what we could improve upon. And so, we planned out with our Dairymen’s Association, as well as one of the utility companies, a couple of the smaller communities in our region, to host the site selectors, introduce them to the area, get them familiarized, and then ask them the tough questions about how we could grow dairy and food processing and stand out amongst some of our peers.
Rick: Good idea. That sounds very interesting. Nathan, this forum involved Jay Garner, Angelos Angelou, Jim Renzas, and Rajeev Thakur, a really broad cross-section of our members each from different consulting firms. How did you go about selecting these specific individuals?
Nathan: I think it started first with geography. So, we had Raj from the Northwest, which is closer to where we are. And then Jim is in California, where we know that there are a lot of companies that possibly are looking to relocate or expand out of. And then Angelos was in Texas, and Jay in the Southeast. And so, that’s kind of where we started. But then we also looked at the size of the firm they’re with. Two are with a little larger firms. Two are with smaller firms. And so, we felt that just their exposure to different things might be different. And they will be coming with different perspectives based upon their portfolio of work. We really dove into some of their bios, see who their past clients had been, as well as we had gone as far to read some blog posts. We’ve seen that Jay had posted a lot of recent articles on food, and warehousing, and distribution. So, we thought that was applicable. And so, just getting together with our partners, these were the four names that we came up with.
Rick: So, the first step was really just to understand what you were looking for. And then identify site selectors that were a good fit for that profile, from geography, to industry, to focus and direction. So, it sounds like you came up with a good fit with these four individuals. I don’t want to give any trade secrets right now, but I’m sure our listeners would like to hear a little bit about what you learned from this advisory forum?
Nathan: Yeah, sure. So, we try to expose, in that first day, to a lot of the quality-of-life type stuff. We showed them some of the natural assets that we have here, the falls that we’re known for, and the canyon. The next day, we took a deep dive into dairy, and we spoke with the key associations in town and talked to some dairy folk. And then the next day, the last, final day, was about workforce before we had our kind of feedback forum.
And our biggest take away from us, and I was proud to hear this, was I think it was Jay that said, “Hey, you have a really great product here, it’s just that not enough people know about it.” And so, they then proceeded to give us some really good feedback on how we could market ourselves better, share our message a little broader. And so, I think we were happy to come away with some of that perspective that they have, and also to get some positive feedback that, “Yeah, you are heading down the right path, and you have a lot of good assets, and here they are,” but really just go share that with everybody.
Rick: Now, as I recall, earlier you mentioned that you ran through kind of a litany of partners. So, did you really pull together some partners to do this collectively to make it as almost a joint venture effort?
Nathan: We did. So, it initiated with the city of Twin Falls, of which I’m an employee and our partnership with the Idaho Dairymen’s Association. But beyond that, we also included Southern Idaho Economic Development, who is the regional marketing arm, the College of Southern Idaho, which is a community college here, which deals a lot in the tech training and certification, and then Idaho Power. So, those I guess five organizations were the kind of key sponsors, and all played a role in helping put it together.
Rick: Nathan, I saw coming right out of the advisory forum, I saw some very positive press coverage in the Twin Falls area for this forum. It looked to me like it made a positive impression or quite an impression on the area leadership and citizens alike. What has been the response to the visit, and to the consultants being there, what their findings were? And maybe what their recommendations are? How was it received locally?
Nathan: Oh, certainly received well. And media and press wasn’t really one of the goals of this. But I think as people caught wind of what was going on, they were interested to see what the perspectives would be from these outsiders so to speak. And so, the local news broadcast, they wanted to attend, and it was right about the noon hour. And so, they went live when our advisory forum was wrapping up and took some comments from, I think Jay and Angelos. The paper was there as well. And even though that wasn’t really the goal, I think it was significant for our constituency and the citizens here to see the efforts that are being made. And the potential of something like dairy, which sometimes in the back of people’s mind, yeah, it just sort of exists, but maybe they don’t realize the capacity that it really has as an industry, and it really is a growth industry here, and even though, yeah, it’s rural, and it’s ag, it really is a strong sector of our community. And so, I think they were excited to give that maybe some additional exposure.
Rick: Well, sometimes you find the best way to get the message out is to really get the message in and get coverage at home about what you’re doing. Take a minute, if you will, remind me, you work for the City of Twin Falls. Tell me a little bit about your job, and your role, and what your responsibilities are?
Nathan: Yeah, so it’s the economic development director for the city. And really, it’s kind of the chief promotions officer. I guess the end message is sharing it with a lot of the clubs, the service organizations, building exposure for the community around different ad campaigns. We have a seat at the table with a lot of the partnering organizations like the college, and the hospitals, and the schools, and so forth and really create that kind of united front to move forward, and not only attract new companies, but to build from within.
And that was actually another message we got from the site selectors as well was that as far as successful, as you guys have been…And we have in recent years, we attracted the world’s largest yogurt factory, and Chobani was built here, and Clif Bar built their first bakery here, Glanbia Nutritionals, which is another big global food producer, expanded pretty heavily in our downtown, their message to us was, “You guys can really do a better job at fostering some of that ground-up growth in food companies.” Maybe there is someone in their garage who has a great chocolate bar or something like that’s that next big company, that we could do a little better message of growing from within, which I think was important for us to hear.
Rick: Yeah, that’s a great idea. I think that saw cuts both ways. You want to bring new investment in, you also want to grow your own, expand, and take care of the business that you have. From what I’ve learned through this process, Nathan, it seems pretty clear to me that Twin Falls has a very well-developed selling position or offer, if you will, and that you can take this to market over time. Could you just take a few minutes and tell us, from your perspective, why new companies should invest in, or locate in your area, and why talented workers or workforce should consider Twin Falls as a location?
Nathan: Sure. What I like to tell people is kind of they’re getting in on the ground floor. I think for a lot of years, our community was looked at as small and rural, and we didn’t show up on some of the radars of different site selectors who run their metrics for different things. But as our workforce capacity has expanded in the last decade or so, and we’re now a metropolitan statistical area, I think we’re starting to show up just on certain radars, as I said. And it really is a unique opportunity to really make a difference for your company, as the city expands and grows.
And there’s very few barriers to entry. I think you can get to market quicker. From first shovel in the ground to product coming off the shelves for Chobani, within 326 days. And because we’re a certain size, I think there’s just fewer degrees of separation between your company and the key decision-makers in the community, and within the state level to make things happen. So, we encourage people to come here for that very reason to really come, grow with us, and make a difference here.
Rick: So, if I’m moving to Twin Falls, what’s the population I would find in the area? And how does your cost-of-living rank in terms of the national averages and things of that sort?
Nathan: So, we at city proper, is just over 50,000, county, about 95,000. And then we draw, I would say, our labor pool is an 8-county area that has just over 200,000 people in the region, and we say 30 to 40 miles of drive. That actually means 30 to 40 minutes in our community, so very low commute, very low cost of living. And then utilities are amongst the lowest in the country. I think it’s for that reason, it’s easier. Your dollars go a lot longer. What I’ve heard from people new to the community, that have moved here from, say, a surrounding state where they went to school, how much they like being able to get in and make a difference.
And people can be just parts of different clubs and service organizations. You can find a seat on maybe it’s the rec board if you’re really passionate about recreation, or the utility commission, if that’s one of your expertise. I think people can actually get involved that way in a real meaningful way. In terms of just comparison, with surrounding states, we border Washington, Oregon, and California. It’s just a stone’s throw. And you can get to, if you’re processing goods here, in Southern Idaho, you can get to ports in Seattle, and Portland, and Oakland, and San Diego in less than a day. And so, to get your goods out, you can do that pretty quickly at a lower cost than those other states, usually.
Rick: And I guess it’s safe to say that for industries that fit your target profile, the red carpet is really rolled out. You’re really open for business?
Nathan: We are and our governor likes to say, “We move at the speed of business.” Probably not an original saying, but that’s something he touts. And like I said earlier, you’re not that far away from him. I mean, I think I can get in one, two phone calls access to him. And he was here just last week when Chobani did a ribbon-cutting on a new $20 million research and development facility. They’re bringing a lot of their food scientists from the New York area out here. And so, they’re really looking to expand and make a difference in research and development type of activity in this area.
There’s research in sugar. There’s research with fish, with clear springs, and the same with…I mentioned Glanbia, which is a milk processor. A lot of that is starting to happen here as well. As again, we get to that certain size of population, you’re seeing it’s a desirable place for even these mid to later tier professionals that want to have that maybe type of lifestyle, and still do some quality research here.
Rick: Well, Nathan, you’ve really given us a lot to think about today. What a great conversation, and what a great job you’re doing in getting the message of Twin Falls, Idaho out to the market, to bring new business and new industry to your area. But that’s all the time we have today, Nathan. So, let me say thanks to you for talking with us today on this episode of Site Selection Matters.
Nathan: Okay. Thank you for helping us share.
Rick: Thanks for listening to this episode of Site Selection Matters. And a special thanks today to Nathan Murray for helping us get inside and better understand Twin Falls, Idaho and the many advantages it has to offer. What an informative discussion, one that leaves us with a lot to think about. Again, I’m Rick Weddle, president of the Site Selectors Guild. We hope you’ll subscribe to Site Selection Matters podcast on Apple Podcast, on Stitcher, on Spotify, or wherever you listen to your podcast. We look forward to bringing you some great discussions in the year ahead. Until next time, good day.