After nearly seven years of hearing a constant barrage of bad news, it appears this community and others like it are in store for some good news this year.
Unemployment figures released by the Idaho Department of Labor earlier this month tends to support a trend that the number of unemployed people in the state is down, including those living in Elmore County. The data isn't an isolated bump but shows a steady rise in local employment.
Unfortunately, those employment figures don't indicate how much those new jobs pay these workers, so it's tough to determine whether people are doing well or are getting by earning minimum wage. But at least more people are working, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
At the same time, we know in this area that it doesn't take much to send those employment numbers crashing. We lack the cushion larger communities have if a company here suddenly closes its doors.
But for now, things are looking up.
Another thing that seems to support this positive economic outlook is the number of companies and corporations looking at Mountain Home as a place to build a new warehouse, factory or large-scale office complex. A report released last week by the city's economic development office showed that we're getting a lot more attention by these companies, who seem to be reaping the rewards of a strengthening economy.
There are a number of factors these companies look for when basing their decisions on where to set up "shop." They want their building close to the interstate with available railroad access along with electrical power and high-speed Internet services.
While we might be at a disadvantage regarding electrical power demands, Mountain Home meets those other requirements quite nicely.
In addition, it's faster for companies to ship goods from Mountain Home to the Treasure Valley than it does to drive the same truck from one end of the valley to the other. It's ironic that these towns are considerably closer to one another, but the traffic alone makes that short commute take a lot longer.
Speaking of ironies, it appears that Mountain Home is getting a lot more attention by companies and industries looking at our community as a place to expand because we have something they don't -- lots of shovel-ready property. Mountain Home has plenty of prime real estate for them to add in those buildings with all the infrastructure already in place.
Meanwhile, many major cities are running out of buildings for companies to expand, and it's getting to the point that it's cheaper for them to build their own warehouses and office spaces.
I nearly had to laugh over the irony of the situation. It used to be that we'd miss out on these opportunities for companies to expand because we didn't have a building ready for them to move into. While we still lack the buildings, we have the wide-open spaces that could lead to the breakthrough we've been wanting for a number of years.
Let's just keep our fingers crossed that fate will look to our favor.
Oh, and let's not forget that we have another resource other communities are quickly running dry -- plenty of vacant homes. If we do get the breakthrough we've sought for so long in terms of bringing in these companies and industries, it could mean bringing in more people to fill those jobs.
And more people means more tax revenue, and more tax dollars, means we can hopefully make the many improvements we've simply been unable to afford.
Most people tend to fall into that "glass half full; glass half empty" mindset, but I tend to look at it a bit differently. Any room left in that glass, no matter how great or small, represents room to add something else.
In the case of Mountain Home and communities across our county, it represents room for us to grow collectively. While I understand some people's hesitation to watching this city grow, we've had too many years go by where we've struggled to make ends meet with the people already living here.
All of this news comes as our community continues to work on finding ways to showcase what Mountain Home has to offer to an entirely different group of people. This summer, we will once again host the Mountain Home Country Music Festival, which as we all know doubled the city's population virtually overnight.
While the first year didn't yield the economic boost some businesses here expected, there are plans taking shape that could draw a considerable number of travelers right to the heart of our city. Even if we only get a hundred extra visitors as a result of those plans, that's a hundred more people than we wouldn't have had otherwise.
While I'd love to think everything will come up roses and we're on a roll, I know that things could move the other way for one reason or another. For now, however, it's nice to remain on the cautiously optimistic side of the equation for once.
For me, it's just depressing if you always look at the numbers and take a more negative approach.
Granted, I know there are a number of naysayers out there that could look at the same sets of numbers and come up with completely different results. However, they're not the ones doing all the research and collecting all the data.
Once, just this once, maybe we can remain cautiously optimistic at what the future holds. Let's do what we can to find ways to take advantage of what the new year has to offer.
-- Brian S. Orban