Today in the New West: Idaho’s lieutenant governor on searching for a new Director of Commerce, Aurora’s Gaylord Rockies Hotel gets an influx of development money, and a Ramaco coal mine planned for Sheridan, Wyoming is stuck in court.
Current Idaho Director of Commerce Jeff Sayer is staying on until the end of 2015, before he leaves to become a consultant. Lieutenant Governor Brad Little, according to an interview with the Idaho Statesman, is charged with creating a committee, which is in turn charged with creating a shortlist of applicants for Governor Butch Otter to review. In his interview, Little said he is looking for someone who can “sell the state of Idaho” and work well in all levels of government:
Q: What do you mean by “selling the state of Idaho?”
A: For incoming businesses, their contact is the director of the Department of Commerce. The director is the face of Idaho in many instances.
Q: Who’s going to be on the search committee?
A: I’ll chair the committee. I know Mark Warbis, who handles commerce for the governor, and two or three cabinet members will be on it. There will be three or four from around the state. We’d like to get a local economic development person.
Q: By “local economic development person,” do you mean from the Treasure Valley?
A: Maybe, but it could be from the local level anywhere around the state. Roads, bridges, sewer, water and zoning are all critical issues for expanding, existing businesses or for businesses coming in. We have a role at the state level, but the governor and I prefer to serve as a kind of service agency for local economic development people.
Little added he prefers candidates who are at least “familiar with Idaho” as a whole, not just Treasure Valley. He also addressed a comment from Sayer regarding workforce development program funding:
Q: Sayer made news recently when he said that the state should prioritize funding workforce development programs instead of cutting taxes. What was your reaction to those comments?
A: I don’t know that he meant it was an either-or situation, even if it came out that way. The governor and Legislature have already agreed that the next available dollar will fund the governor’s education task force’s recommendations. There’s some things we need to do with workforce even above that. Jeff feels that’s very important.
Q: So, no tax cuts in the near future?
A: I think a tax reduction is still a good idea. Idaho is in an unenviable position, because three neighboring states have no income tax, and there’s states with no sales tax. We don’t have gaming to finance state government like Nevada has. We don’t have oil and coal like Wyoming does. Jeff reflected what he hears from businesses: that a little decrease in tax rates might be offset by improving the talent pool for business. I don’t think that was far off of our priority of where we spend our next dollar.
Down in Colorado, the Gaylord Rockies Resort and Convention Center, which neighbors Denver International Airport, announced a $500 million commitment for the project, according to the Denver Post. The development has been fraught with controversy since it broke ground earlier this year, most notably over whether Colorado illegally awarded the project $81.4 million in tourism money. The hotel, as well as DIA, was also hit with news that they would not be included in new enterprise zones around Denver and Adams Counties, which would given them tax breaks and other perks for development. The resort is projected to have 1,500 rooms and its proximity to the airport would no doubt make it an enviable destination for travelers and companies.
Finally, in Wyoming, Ramaco LLC, a Lexington, Kentucky-based company, remains stuck in court over a proposed coal mine (Brook Mine) outside Sheridan. The company, which applied for a mining permit in November 2014, something feted by Governor Matt Mead in a news conference, has been met with challenges alleging the company has no legal access to the land. Currently, according to the Billings Gazette, Brook Mine is on track for the courtroom, complicating Ramaco’s attempts to secure a permit. The heart of the issue lies over an old deed. From the Gazette:
The disagreement over access to the Brook Mine centers around a 1954 deed. The document gives a Ramaco subsidiary, Brook Mining Co., ownership of the mineral rights to the property. But a second mining firm disagrees.
Big Horn Coal Co., a Lighthouse Resources Inc. subsidiary, operated a former mine at the site for more than 30 years.
In 1983, when mining ceased, Big Horn was granted a release from its mining lease by the property’s former owner, the Sheridan-Wyoming Coal Co. The release, Big Horn contends, gave it the right to the property’s surface.
Ramaco later purchased the deed to the site.
The court case essentially boils down to a debate over which document has legal precedent: the release or the deed.