The Valley Vision public-private partnership was created by the local business community to focus on economic development and growth in the Lewis-Clark Valley. The area is composed of two counties in different states: Nez Perce County in Idaho and Asotin County in Washington. The reason for the collaboration between the two is that the city of Lewiston, Idaho and the city of Clarkson, Washington are only half a mile apart, separated by the Snake River.
Valley Vision focuses on business retention and expansion with the existing companies in the Lewis-Clark Valley to encourage further growth and create employment opportunities. Manufacturing is the most common type of business in the valley. The original manufacturer in the area was a paper mill, and today, the economy has diversified into other markets including ammunition, gun and aluminum boat manufacturing. The valley has experienced a fifty percent increase in manufacturing jobs over the last five years, and the economic development organization puts significant effort into facilitating workforce development programs to meet the needs of its large manufacturing community.
The Walla Walla Community College in Clarkston partnered with Valley Vision to establish the Business and Workforce Development Center. The new facility has a curriculum that the college put together to support entrepreneurs and provide career and technical education (CTE). CTE teaches students relevant academic and technical skills that prepare them to succeed in in-demand careers while becoming lifelong learners. Students at the business center learn about welding, machinery, programming, electrical and millwright skill sets.
Valley Vision also works on attracting new business to the area. It is marketing the Lewis-Clark Valley in other parts of the country to encourage small manufacturing companies to set up operations here. “We have such a strong base and a strong workforce,” says Doug Mattoon, the president and chief executive officer of Valley Vision. “The lifestyle we offer here is in a very special area right at the confluence of the Snake River and the Clearwater River.” All of the outdoor opportunities that go along with the unique location of the Lewis-Clark Valley are an added benefit to living in the region.
The tourism industry here has always surrounded outdoor recreational activities. However, the tourist population is currently growing in the Lewis-Clark Valley for two reasons. Firstly, there is an emerging wine market that attracts a lot of attention. The valley was declared an American Viticultural Area (AVA) approximately two years ago and has nine wineries and several vineyards. AVAs are designated wine grape-growing areas of land in the United States that have specific boundaries and are distinguishable by certain geographic features. The wine produced in Lewis-Clark Valley is high quality, award-winning wine. Secondly, tourism has increased since the introduction of several cruise boats along the Snake River, as passengers on the cruise are often captivated by the charm of the Lewis-Clark Valley and make sure to visit at a later date.
The outdoor activities among the incredible Idaho mountain peaks are still very popular in the valley for tourists and residents alike; the American Cowboy Magazine rated it one of the top places to live and visit in the west, and it was called the best place to live for access to hunting and fishing by Outdoor Life Magazine. The Hells Canyon National Recreation Area holds 652,488 acres of adventure that can be explored by trail, road or boat.
“It’s a lifestyle that is very desirable for anyone interested in outdoor recreation,” Doug reiterates. The low elevation of the valley provides residents with a much milder climate than the rest of northern Idaho and eastern Washington. “The river level is only seven hundred and sixty above sea level, and so we normally experience relatively mild winters here. We expect to play golf year round,” says Doug.
The Lewis-Clark Valley is often recognized as a great place to live and work. It was rated number six in US News and World Report’s top ten best places to live for pet lovers and rated the number one most secure place to live in America for small towns by Farmers Insurance as well as one of the best waterfront towns by the National Geographic Magazine.
The high quality of life has attracted many manufacturing businesses to the valley. “Manufacturing as an industry sector is the largest part of our economy at about twenty-five percent right now,” says Doug. Government, healthcare and education are also large employers essential to the region’s economy.
Valley Vision challenges itself to continue creating workforce development and training programs to support its growing manufacturing and healthcare sectors. In addition to the Business Center at Walla Walla Community College, Lewis-Clark State College recently announced plans for the construction of a twenty million dollar expansion for its career and technical education program.
Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston and Walla Walla Community College in Clarkston are the only two post-secondary, higher education options within the valley, and there are two research universities within thirty-five miles.
The primary challenge that Valley Vision is currently facing is to attract more young professionals to the community as employees. The valley has an aging population and is looking to recruit more engineers, accountants, doctors, architects and other professionals. It hopes to fill those positions ahead of schedule for a smooth transition between generations.
Valley Vision also must balance the challenges that come with growth and business expansions. In the last year, there were two significant business expansions and one new business that came to the valley. Paper mill Clearwater Paper Corporation recently undertook a $160 million capital project of new technology for the mill, and Vista Outdoor completed its first phase of a new $100 million expansion of its ammunition manufacturing facility in Lewiston, Idaho. In addition, the valley attracted a company called P. Kay Metal that supplies the ammunition manufacturing companies in the valley with lead and metal.
This is a great location for business operations. Lewiston, Wilma and Clarkston are the three seaports that serve the valley and allow businesses to ship products directly out through the Snake River system to the west coast and Asia. The valley is only four hundred miles from the ocean. The valley has two commercial air service carriers at the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Airport and is served by both Delta Airlines’ and Alaska Airlines’ direct flights into Seattle, Salt Lake City and Boise.
Its location also benefits the valley’s workforce options. The unemployment rate in the valley is quite low at 3.9 percent, and it fortunately has a larger labor pool to draw from outside the valley. Its population is only about sixty thousand. However, it is the economic center of a large rural area, and when those surrounding communities are included, there are approximately 125,000 residents in total. The population is gradually increasing, and the state of Idaho as a whole had the highest percentage of population growth in the US last year at 2.2 percent.
Another advantage to operating a business in the valley is that residents and employees in Idaho are known for their strong work ethic. “The people that live here have ancestors who were farmers, loggers and miners, so they work hard, are very entrepreneurial, and it is an extremely friendly community to live and work in,” says Doug.
There are certain profitable advantages for businesses looking to open in a valley that straddles two states. According to the Valley Vision website, “On one side of the Snake River is a corporate income tax state (Idaho); on the other side is a gross receipt tax state (Washington). They each present different regulatory environments, depending on the nature of the business.”
Objectives for Valley Vision are to continue increasing the growth in the manufacturing sector, to expand its wine industry to gain more tourism and attract new businesses to the valley.