June 22, 2005

A TALE OF TWO ECONOMIES

Guest Editorial by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo

â??A TALE OF TWO ECONOMIESâ?? Guest opinion submitted by Idaho Senator Mike CrapoIn many years of commuting between Washington, D.C. and Idaho, Iâ??ve never tired of the view as Snake River Plain drops away below the airplane, giving way to the Tetons and the Sawtooth National Forest. From the perspective of 20,000 feet, the sharp contrast of high plateau and densely-forested mountains brings to mind another contrast increasingly endemic to Idahoâ??the widening economic gap between urban and rural Idaho. One-third of Idahoans live in the Treasure Valley; the rest of the population spans the remaining 90 percent of the state. Urban areas statewide are experiencing promising economic development. In May, the Bureau of Labor Statistics rated Idahoâ??s non-farm job growth third in the nation. Forbes Magazine recently identified Boise as the top place in the nation to start a business or career based on business costs, educated labor force and cost of living. â??Cities Ranked and Rated,â?? listed Coeur dâ??Alene and Idaho Falls in the top ten â??emerging citiesâ?? last year. Both Outside and Sunset Magazines rated Sandpoint a national â??Bestâ?? small town this past year. For many of Idahoâ??s rural communities, the story is very different. Some have lost population, are experiencing failing infrastructure and losing higher paying natural resource industries jobs to lower paying service sector employment. Whether itâ??s the closing of a canning plant in Jerome, frozen foods plant in Lewiston, or a potato plant in Burley, or young adults struggling to find summer work in Latah and Nez Perce Counties, these communities are suffering economically. Historically, rural Idaho has provided our country with natural resource products. But, in recent decades, mills and mines have closed and farming has become consolidated and mechanized. The resulting job loss has been offset by creativity and innovation of the high tech industry, and growth in production and fabrication--with this caveat: many people must leave their rural roots to find financial security. This is an alarming trend. Our rural communities play a vital role in our overall quality of life and the â??ideaâ?? of Idaho. These important places must be re-invigorated from the inside and from the outside. While we encourage rural wage and infrastructure growth, we must also spread the word about our priceless rural resources. Their loss is the loss of our American heart. The intrinsic potential of rural communities can be cultivated with the right methods. The federal government has provided Payment in Lieu of Taxes from timber receipts and when those declined, a guaranteed payment under Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act. The Federal government can continue to play a role by supporting universal service for Broadband, rural telehealth and national transportation corridors. Furthermore, federal policies can be formulated which address specific needs of rural communities, such as infrastructure and the direct relationship between effective farm to market transportation and rural communitiesâ?? viability. These policies must also consider broader issues of energy and food source security, in short, the role that native natural resources play in national self-sufficiency. Innovative collaborative partnerships are key to rural revitalization. The Hayden Wastewater facility, the Kootenai Valley Resource Initiative in Boundary County, and the Owyhee Initiative are some examples of community-based collaboration creating comprehensive solutions. As local, state and federal agencies, private industry, advocacy groups, local residents and higher education engage in substantive dialogue, communities benefit directly and in the long term. This dialogue also achieves balance between economic and environmental concerns. Broad participation gives people a stake in the outcome, a reason to remain engaged and a reason to invest in their communityâ??s future. The success of Idahoâ??s rural communities will signal a happy ending to the â??Tale of Two Economies.â?? WORD COUNT: 601