Nestled between the rolling hills of the Palouse Region to the west and the forested mountains of the east is Latah County, Idaho. In 2016, a five-entity organization was founded to bring business, government, education and community leadership together for the purpose of strengthening Latah County as a whole. Together, the University of Idaho, the City of Moscow, Latah County, Moscow Chamber, the Avista Corporation and Emsi formed The Partnership for Economic Prosperity, Inc. (PEP).
“PEP serves as a catalyst for enterprise and economic growth, a conduit for information and opportunity, an advocate for future economic expansion, and most importantly, having a single unified voice supporting prosperity throughout all Latah County, always focused and always with a sense of purpose and urgency,” Paul Kimmell, Business & Public Affairs Manager at Avista Corporation, tells us.
The Partnership works to foster a synergistic, business-friendly environment by encouraging the retention and expansion of existing business and industry, the attraction and recruitment of new businesses, and the continuing diversification of its economic base. We at Business in Focus magazine have spoken with four of PEP’s board members in order to discuss the features that make Latah a great place to conduct business.
“Latah County is a truly beautiful area with hills, fields, mountains, forests, rivers and streams. Accessible via the major north-south highway in Idaho, it promotes industry while also having a number of biking and hiking trails that facilitate outdoor recreation,” remarks Daniel Ewart, Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer at the University of Idaho.
The unique geography of the county is notably diverse, making the location all the more suitable for supporting a variety of industries and also providing residents with work-life balance and opportunities to experience the great outdoors. The hills of the Palouse have a mystical, bucolic element reminiscent of the green hills of Ireland. The climate is temperate and pleasant, with summers full of sunshine and snowy winters, though the temperature scarcely dips below zero.
“The county seat, Moscow, is a fun, small city with a vibrant downtown and an outstanding symbiotic relationship with the University of Idaho. The small cities of Latah County provide numerous opportunities to work and live in quiet, peaceful locations in close proximity to one another,” Ewart continues.
Established in 1889, the University of Idaho serves as a major employer for the region’s educated and sophisticated workforce, and has about 12,000 students. It is located in the City of Moscow. Just outside of the county lies Washington State University in Pullman, home to approximately 23,000 students and another significant source of employment for the residents of Latah.
Two college towns in such close proximity make the Palouse Region a powerful place for innovation and creativity, with an entrepreneurial start-up culture. Nearly 45 percent of Latah’s population possesses a college degree, and many of them also pursue postgraduate studies.
“Moscow offers a great college town experience full of shops, restaurants and a vibrant Main Street. Other smaller towns often reflect the industries which built them—timber, farming, and mining. Several driving loops provide visitors with some great scenery and small-town charm,” Kimmell informs us.
In 2017, PEP completed a Latah County Region Economic Vitality Report that is available on its website, www.pepedo.org. The top three industries in Latah County are education, healthcare, and forestry and timber products, with secondary industries of retail, government and hospitality. Manufacturing also continues to bolster the economy.
Emsi, or Economic Modeling Specialists, is one of the county’s largest private employers. The labor market analytics firm is owned by CareerBuilder. Before it merged, those who founded it opted to stay in Moscow, Idaho, rather than move to the acquisition’s headquarters.
The Partnership’s Executive Director Gina Taruscio tells us that Emsi is one of several businesses that chose to locate or remain in the community specifically because of all it has to offer. Many companies have even passed up opportunities at famed business hubs like Silicon Valley and the Bay Area.
“You can experience a city like Moscow, watch a movie and eat a great restaurant, and within 15 minutes be in the middle of nowhere in a forest or down in a canyon. You can experience such a wide variety of things to do, things to see in our county, that I think you don’t find elsewhere very often,” says Taruscio.
Additionally, Latah is a friendly, safe community that is a good place to raise a family. In fact, Taruscio herself moved to Latah County from just south of Oklahoma City because she found it was the best place to raise her children. High in intellectual capital due to the universities, the county also has a strong primary and secondary, public and private education system. There are a large number of National Merit® Scholars who graduate from Moscow High School, and there is also a private, Classical Christian K-12 school called Logos School.
“There’s a biomedical testing firm in town that the owner will tell you should really be located in San Francisco because most of their clients are located there. They won’t move because they like it here,” adds Taruscio.
Moreover, with the boom in technology, Latah County has been nurturing several tech businesses over the last 20 years, and The Partnership aims to continue this trend.
“We have a technology business park, which was started in 1996 in order to provide a campus atmosphere for those businesses. It’s a subdivision where we have controlled property values in order to encourage businesses that are emerging from the laboratories of the University of Idaho,” explains Gary Riedner, City of Moscow Supervisor.
By clustering businesses strategically, they can synergistically grow together in the communities that contain the resources they need. Indeed, the Board of Directors firmly believes that the common tide raises all boats.
“PEP was formed in believing that something that happens in Potlatch, Genesee, or Belleville—tiny communities—is just as good as something that happens in Moscow. The fact that PEP is an advocate for all of those communities is key. It’s so dramatically different from what has been done before, it’s so positive, and it’s the right time for this to happen in Latah County,” Taruscio emphasizes.
The Partnership has just begun a county-wide strategic plan, to provide an economic plan to each incorporated city or town in Latah to bring more business to the county as a whole. Breaking down the bigger picture of the ultimate goal will bring together these cohesive smaller communities. This is very important in a county such as Latah, which has a population of 39,000 people in total—25,000 of them residing in the county seat of Moscow alone. A collaborative approach gives smaller communities a chance to thrive alongside and in partnership with Moscow.
“We have businesses that are located in very small towns of maybe 350 people, and we are supportive of them as well. The idea is that if someone comes to the Palouse or to Latah County, Gina [Taruscio] can steer those businesses to the communities that best support what the business wants. So if it is resource-based or has certain needs that can be served by Troy, Genesee, or Potlatch, all communities within Latah Counties, we give those communities opportunities to fulfill those needs,” says Riedner.
“We do a lot of work with our Department of Commerce and our State Department, so when there are site selectors inquiries—and they happen fairly often—we can act as the promoter of these small communities that either wouldn’t know about these Requests for Information, or wouldn’t have the wherewithal to put a package together to submit,” adds Taruscio.
Currently, the Partnership is investing almost $120 million dollars into its PUW Regional Airport. The Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport now has four flights a day to Seattle, and in the future will be able to support even larger jet traffic and commercial air service. The county is also spending $45 million in additional upgrades on its major highway (US Hwy 95), which provides a link to the Port of Lewiston and access to international trade markets in Asia and Pacific Rim countries. Having access to these markets is a desirable quality for any business that needs to ship or receive products.
In addition, the Partnership is soon starting a series of community discussions, called PEP Talks, to provide a wide variety of business development information and networking opportunities for entrepreneurs and business owners in the scenic county. This spring, PEP will also fulfill its website plan: an agreement to host a website including all of the incorporated communities in the county, which has all the information of interest to a site selector. Speaking to The Partnership’s collaborative nature, its ability to offer this website plan is the result of a local internet service provider joining the organization and offering this as part of their membership dues and volunteer service to PEP.
Though it took a number of government officials, university representatives, and business leaders nearly 18 months to forge this important partnership, The Partnership for Economic Prosperity is still a very new organization. Of course, PEP is only as strong as the partnerships it has forged.
“We spend a lot of time talking about what our funding entities want and what our communities want, trying to do it right. We find out what the people want, and then we tailor our services to meet those needs,” says Riedner, anticipating many exciting initiatives coming to fruition in the near future.