2018 ‘Prospering Business’ workshop offers ideas, inspiration
October 20, 2018

How can North Idaho recruit and keep a prospering workforce if their employees simply can't find affordable housing?

At a time when historically low unemployment means many area companies must vie for workers, what are some of the bigger labor issues employers must face?

What special problems do start-up companies face – and how do they handle them?

Those are just a few of the knotty business questions the fourth annual “What's Happening Up North: Prospering Business Workshop” will examine during a day-long conference Thursday, November 1, at the Sandpoint Technology Center, 130 McGhee Road in Sandpoint. Produced by the Bonner County EDC, the conference runs from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and includes lunch.

The event is free but space is limited and available on a first-come basis; to sign up, click to www.whatshappeningupnorth.org. Though it's free, we’re asking for a voluntary contribution of $10 per attendee to help cover the lunch cost.

As in previous years, the workshop will feature a host of notable speakers drawn from business and government, plus panel discussions and open forums to engage attendees.

The conference covers issues shared by Boundary and Bonner counties, and is organized by the Bonner County Economic Development Corporation in conjunction with the Boundary EDC, cities of Sandpoint and Ponderay, and others.

This year's conference is subtitled, “Housing and Labor: Issues & Solutions.” Paul Kusche, BCEDC executive director, said the focus this year has grown out of feedback he is hearing almost universally from companies in Bonner and Boundary counties.

“Affordable housing for employees – especially for companies that are in start-up or expansion – is a major issue I hear about,” said Kusche. “And while the economy is strong, that in itself brings a set of issues for our local companies to contend with.”

Bringing their perspective on the subject will be featured speakers from a pair of the area's start-up companies. Jason Giddings of Rhino Hide and Andrea Marcoccio and Kennden Culp of Matchwood Brewing companies will tell about their businesses and some of the challenges they've faced during their launches.

Among other speakers, Labor Economist Sam Wolkenhaurer from the Idaho Department of Labor is back again by popular demand to give a talk on the state of the economy in North Idaho.

Keynote speaker at lunch will be Idaho Department of Labor Director Melinda S. Smyser. Speaking on the topic “Labor Solutions” will be John Russ and Wendi Sechrists of the Idaho Workforce Development Council. University of Idaho Economist Paul Lewin will also talk about housing and labor impacts for rural economies such as ours.

Other speakers and panel discussion participants will cover a spectrum of the business community, including Aaron Qualls, Sandpoint city planner; Chris Basset of the Bonner Community Housing Agency; Realtor Raphael Barta; Cory Phelps of Idaho Housing & Finance; and a spokesperson for TING Internet.

One major project for BCEDC in the past year has been restoration of a commercial kitchen in Bonner County, which invites use by entrepreneurs from throughout the region, a project that Kusche will report on in his own remarks.

To register, click to www.whatshappeningupnorth.org.