Utah Tops List of Where Growth is Happening

Utah’s population topped three million people in 2016, with the state being the fastest growing in the 12-month period starting July 1, 2015. The western flavor continued with others at the top of the list including Nevada, Idaho, Florida and Washington.

Now, approximately 38% of the population lives in what the Census Bureau identifies as the South, with 24% in the West.

Kiplinger goes a step further, with cities where it expects job creation to thrive going forward. At the top of that list (with a reason or two cited) are:

  • St, George, Utah: magnet for tourists visiting Zion National Park and retirees seeking pleasant weather
  • Bend and Redmond, Oregon: also strong in tourism and drawing retirees
  • Cleveland, Tennessee: home to a wide range of manufacturing operations
  • Prescott, Arizona: cooler climate makes it an attractive alternative to Phoenix
  • Savannah, Georgia: home of the fourth-busiest ocean port, which will grow once its harbor is deepened to handle larger vessels

Waiting … and Waiting on a Highway Funding Fix

30449450Federal highway funding is running low. Nothing new there. The Indiana Chamber, and many others, have called for long-term solutions from Washington instead of short-term fixes that simply extend the uncertainty.

How are states reacting to the current dilemma. According to the Kiplinger Letter:

  • Arkansas, Georgia, Wyoming and Tennessee have postponed 440 projects totaling more than $1.3 billion
  • Iowa, South Dakota and Utah have increased gas taxes. Others that may follow include Georgia, Idaho, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Carolina
  • Seeking funds from advertisers: Virginia sells space on highway rest stop signs to GEICO; Travelers Marketing sponsors highway patrols in Massachusetts
  • Partnering with private investors: Florida is seeking private funds to rebuild portions of Interstate 4; New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia are seeking similar ventures

Kiplinger editors add:

But states can only do so much on their own. Ultimately, Congress must act. Odds favor another temporary fix this fall. A long-term solution will likely wait until 2017. Congress and a new president will have a fresh opportunity to tackle broad tax reform, including a possible hike in federal fuel taxes, which no longer approach what’s needed to pay for highway work.

Not what many want to hear in terms of the time frame.

Gigerich: Indiana Business Climate is Good News, Bad News Scenario

Larry Gigerich of site selector Ginovus penned an informative column for Inside INdiana Business about Indiana's business climate. While we have come a long way and are currently envied by many states, there is still work to be done. He writes:

A few weeks ago, the Kauffman Foundation and Thumbtack.com released an annual ranking of states for their friendliness to small businesses. Indiana ranked 15th for 2013. The study analyzed several factors including items related to tax climate, work force development and regulatory issues. Eight-thousand small businesses were contacted for feedback regarding the study's criteria. Here is how Indiana ranked in each category.

1. Overall Friendliness: B+
2. Ease of Starting a Business: B+
3. Ease of Hiring: F
4. Regulations: C
5. Health and Safety: D
6. Employment, Labor and Hiring: C-
7. Tax Code: D
8. Licensing: A-
9. Environmental: D
10. Zoning: B-
11. Training and Networking Programs: C-

The grades given to Indiana are not surprising. Work force development and job training have been a focus of Governor Mike Pence and the legislature since the beginning of the year. Indiana's educational achievement, continuing learning for adults in the work force and availability of certification/credential programs have not been where they need to be. While progress has been made, there is still much to be done by government, educational providers, not-for-profits and the private sectors.

Indiana has been recognized as a relatively easy place to start and grow a business. This report points to that in terms of licensing, zoning and other factors affecting the launch of a new business.

The tax code ranking is a bit surprising, but the survey asked small businesses if they were paying too much in taxes for their locations. The elimination of the state inheritance tax, which impacts small and family-owned businesses, could help improve this ranking.

Indiana continues to struggle with rankings where health and environmental issues are considered. In particular, the state's obesity and smoking rates are unacceptably high. These items impact healthcare costs, number of missed days of work and quality of life. In terms of the environment, Indiana's long-term large manufacturing presence has impacted water, air and soil quality. While important steps have been taken in the areas, there is much left to be done.

The top five states for small businesses are (in order): Utah, Alabama, New Hampshire, Idaho and Texas. The bottom five are (in order): Illinois, California, Hawaii, Maine and Rhode Island.

In summary, Indiana's ranking relative to the rest of the country is good. Policymakers in the state should focus on ways to improve our weaknesses in order to move Indiana into the top 10. Due to the fact that Indiana has never been a location for large headquarters for companies, small businesses are and will continue to be the lifeblood of the state's economic growth.

Did Idaho Rep. Cross Line with Teacher Email?

Politics and policy came together inappropriately when an Idaho legislator tried to recruit teachers and students to fight proposed education reforms. The line appears to be clear between encouraging government class discussions and actively seeking referendum opponents. The Idaho Statesman reports:

House Minority Leader John Rusche told Rep. Sue Chew on Monday that an email sent from her legislative account to nearly 800 addressees was inappropriate.

The May 12 email suggested high school government classes focus on referendums seeking to overturn three education reform laws authored by GOP Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna.

“Allowing students to register to vote and keeping them informed of upcoming events, such as the referendum, is a way for the teachers to instill the rhetoric from class within their students’ lives,” said the email.

Under the subject line, “Next steps?” the email went to many teachers, mostly to private email accounts, but about 30 went to school accounts.

“It’s inappropriate to talk about encouraging activity in the classroom around a specific position on the referendum,” said Rusche, of Lewiston. “I thought this was over the line and deserved to be corrected. She acknowledged that and said it wouldn’t happen again.”

The day after Chew’s email — but before he knew of it — Luna emailed a warning to school trustees and administrators that educators who engaged in political activity at school were subject to firing for violating their ethics code.

Luna received a copy of Chew’s email four days after his warning memo from Star City Councilman Gary Smith, a recipient. Wrote Smith: “I don’t want my taxes being used for political campaigns, especially when they are using their office and their position to influence our kids.”

Chew said she erred. “We’ll do things better next time,” she said, adding that her aim was to keep young people politically active after a heated debate.

Take Me Home, Country Roads

According transportation officials, $600 billion is needed to bring America’s rural highways up to speed. The Idaho Statesman reports:

The U.S. must expand and improve rural highways because its inadequate system can’t support the trade and tourism that helps drive the nation’s economy, a group of state highway department directors said Monday.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials released a report in Little Rock and in Wichita, Kan., saying freight shipped by tractor-trailers is projected to grow rapidly in the coming couple of decades and much of that travel will be on rural roads…

When most people think about highway work, they think of urban congestion and orange barrels on the road, speakers at an association news conference said. But the 60 million people who live in rural America equal the population of the nation’s largest 100 cities.

"Too often what we found, the needs of rural America … are not understood," Horsley said.

Good roads serve industry and create jobs, just as good schools enhance a community’s vitality, Mississippi highways chief Larry "Butch" Brown said.

"It’s time to provide (rural motorists) with a better system," Brown said.

The South and West are expected to undergo the greatest population growth in the years ahead, and roads and transit systems need to be able to keep up. Brown noted that in Idaho, for instance, major highways are far apart.

"To give you some idea of the scale of these distances, for a farmer to move his grain harvest in Idaho, he would have to cross the width of the entire state of Massachusetts to get from one major highway to the other," Brown said.

In Mississippi, 42,000 farms rely on the state highway network, but at various times during the year, residents must share their roads with hurricane evacuees from Alabama and Florida.

"Most of these evacuees are moving to inland counties, creating traffic backups and long travel times," Brown said. "Narrow two-lane rural roads cannot support the demand of travel if not improved to meet the demand. This is a health and safety issue and must be addressed."

The report notes that 66 U.S. cities with a population of 50,000 or more do not have direct access to interstate highways. The list includes Jefferson City, Mo., which is a state capitol. In Arkansas, Hot Springs and Jonesboro are on the list, although the state has the 12th largest highway system in the U.S., Arkansas highways director Dan Flowers said.

Public Television Taking Hit as Budgets are Cut

Debates over funding for public broadcasting are nothing new. The level of deliberations – and funding cuts – has increased dramatically in recent years, threatening the future existence of public television and radio outlets. Some states are currently being hit harder than others with many (including Indiana) suffering. Stateline writes:

Idaho Public Television already has seen its state funding cut by 61 percent since July 2008, necessitating layoffs, furloughs and the frequent airing of re-runs. The governor’s proposal, according to the agency, would force it to reduce or eliminate most of its local programming—and cease serving many rural parts of the state altogether.

"We’ve had to take a look at everything we’re doing in state government and asking the question, why?” Jon Hanian, a spokesman for (Gov. Butch) Otter, says of the proposal. “We’re looking at everything and asking, ‘Is this or is this not a proper role of government?’ We’re also differentiating between things that we’ve started doing because it’s nice and things that we must do because it’s necessary."

The challenges that Idaho Public Television is facing are emblematic of the decisions that public television agencies and stations around the country will have to make if states decide that public television is no longer a business they can afford to be in. According to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), state and local funding for public television stations nationwide declined by $36 million between 2008 and 2009. CPB forecasts an additional $45 to $49 million in state and local cuts for the upcoming fiscal year.

States have cut back on funding during previous economic downturns, says Mark Erstling, a senior vice president at CPB, but this downturn poses a new threat. "The revenue sources always made up the difference,” he says. “This time around, everything is basically down."  Total non-federal sources of revenue, including member donations and corporate underwriting, declined by $200 million from 2008 to 2009. CPB is concerned that member donations may begin to decline more sharply, as they tend to be the last source of public broadcasting revenue to drop during economic downturns.

Idaho Getting Creative With Energy Solutions, Tapping into “Back End” Infrastructure

Today’s riddle: When can a good idea also stink? Ag Weekly has the answer:

That odor wafting from 550,000 cows that make up Idaho’s growing dairy herd smells like energy independence and economic development to state energy czar Paul Kjellander.

Idaho is now America’s No. 3 milk producer, trailing California and Wisconsin. That also means it’s cow pie central.

Mountains of manure are fueling Kjellander’s dream of pipelines crisscrossing the Snake River plain, linking manure digesters at dairies large and small to central refineries that produce natural gas pure enough for homes or cars. Processed manure would be sold as plant bedding. Dairies could also fire turbines, shooting electricity into the power grid. And they could sell carbon credits in schemes to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

Kjellander, who heads up Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s Office of Energy Resources, is pushing a package of income tax credits, property tax waivers and other incentives in the 2009 Legislature starting Jan. 12 to transform Idaho’s southern heartland into a methane Mecca.

I was amused that the author used the phrase "cow pie central" when referring to Idaho. I believe that is also the name of the least popular train station of all time.