Idaho commerce director outlines strategy for attracting gun manufacturers to state
Earlier this week, Gov. Butch Otter announced his intent to solicit gun manufacturers from around the country to move their businesses to Idaho.
IdahoReporter.com spoke one-on-one with Jeff Sayer, the director of the Idaho Department of Commerce, who has taken the lead with Otter’s agenda with the gun industry.
IR: What are you proposing here?
Sayer: One of the things that many people don’t realize is that we already have over 180 firearms-related companies in this state. We have an industry sector in this state that we call “rec tech,” which stands for recreational technology. It is, in essence, our effort to support any company that makes a product that you’d find under a Cabela’s roof.
Idaho has the largest contiguous wilderness in the lower 48, we have the Rocky Mountains going right through our state, and part of our image, part of our heritage is the outdoors. There are a lot of reasons why this fits, and we believe that there is an announcement that we need to make to that industry to let them know that they’d be welcomed in Idaho. We are a state that will support Second Amendment rights, and we’d love to have them in our state and to support them.
IR: Why are political conditions in Idaho significant to gun manufacturers?
Sayer: There are shifting political winds that we’re taking advantage of because other states are shifting towards anti-gun policies. We just feel like that Second Amendment is in our fiber, and it’s something that we’re going to protect, and we’re offering a safe haven for those companies and not only to be in a great business environment, but be in a politically safe environment.
There are moments in life when common sense just clicks and this is one of those moments. This just makes sense for Idaho to support firearms’ manufacturers, so we’re going after it.
One of the things I like about this is that one of our challenges in Idaho is helping companies to come to our smaller, rural communities, and these companies, many of them, like to be in rural areas, and many of them already operate in rural areas.
IR: What does it mean to “go after” these gun manufacturing companies? What does this “courtship” involve?
Sayer: That’s a great question, and it’s a little more involved than people realize. A lot of these companies are getting a lot of attention because other states are going after them. We’ve taken a very strategic approach. We’ve taken a step back and have said, ‘OK, instead of going after the ones that everybody else is going after, we’ve actually spent some time and have done a fair amount of research and have said, OK, here are the states that are trending toward anti-gun policies, and here are the size of companies that we know we can be successful in supporting.’
One of the challenges we face in Idaho is that the bigger companies are often courted by the bigger states and those bigger states are writing big checks to get them. That doesn’t necessarily fit our philosophy in Idaho. So we’ve targeted our companies to include smaller- and medium sized companies, companies that we know will have good business reasons for being in Idaho, companies where it will be easier for us to access the principles and direct owners of the company, and then be the state that makes a really credible argument for them to come to us.
We’ve pulled together a select list of these companies and when we presented it to the governor he was very enthusiastic and supportive. Now the letters have gone out, and it’s up to us to follow up and make the phone calls and start the conversation with these companies.
IR: But what does it mean to court these companies? In some state agencies around the country, courting companies means lavishing private businesses with all kinds of taxpayer-funded benefits, job training paid for with the taxpayers’ money, the costs of the move paid for with the taxpayers’ money, and so forth. At times it can be hurtful for taxpayers. What do you have in mind?
Sayer: I appreciate you asking that question. That’s what I was alluding to, in terms of how we’ve gone about this. We’re saying that Idaho has a business reason for people to be here and we have a compelling and predictable and safe business environment for them to come to. We’re going to put that on display, first. And we do have, you know, some incentives, and we do have some things that we can use to help companies get started, and move to this state but it’s not like what other states use.
Our arguments when we talk to companies are focused on the business environment, and it’s about what we can do to help them grow their business, it’s not about writing another big check to get them here.
IR: What do you have in mind for incentives?
Sayer: Our state has a small package of incentives that we can use. We do have an incentive that can train workforces and that can add skills to workforces, and that’s one of our favorites and so we’ll put that on the table.
And any monies we put in to getting companies to move to Idaho have to go in to infrastructure, and so our monies go into building capacity for communities in our state. So if for some reason a company decides to leave after they’ve been here for a few years, then we still have the infrastructure that we built to get them here.
IR: What do you hope for in terms of job creation in the state, in terms of numbers of jobs to be created?
Sayer: That’s a great question, it’s the one that’s on everyone’s mind, and it’s the hardest one to answer. What I can say is that we’ve sent out 79 letters and we’ve targeted the small- and medium-sized companies with whom we know we can be competitive when we’re talking with them, and those companies range anywhere from 20 to 80 employees each.
The process now is that we get on the phone and work our connections with those companies and sit down with them. It’s hard to predict what will happen, but we know we have a good story to tell and we love to tell it to them.