Resilience for

South-Central Idaho

Annual Report Open For Comment


The ability to avoid a shock


The ability to survive a shock


The ability to bounce back quickly from a shock
While the area is a powerhouse in agricultural production and processing, the paramount concern is how to improve efficiencies to insulate the region from external forces and take the region to the next level of global competitiveness? How does the region make the best use of its assets long- term? What hurdles must be overcome to safeguard the region?

Economic Forces

Workforce Utilization

People remain the most important piece in the regional economic development puzzle. Maximizing local talent is critical to the continued success of the region. On the surface the labor market has positive indicators. The regional unemployment rate in recent years has tended to be lower than both the state and national rates. As well, the region’s U-6 rate of 8.2%, which includes unemployed, involuntary part-time, marginally attached, and discouraged workers, is also below the state rate.

Nevertheless, there are several demographics within the labor force that are cause for concern. The largest segment of the region’s workforce by age, is comprised of those over the age of 55. As this population retires and exits the workforce, the risk of labor shortages increases. Additionally, women account for less than half the region’s labor force, despite total population being divided nearly 50/50.

Overcoming language barriers among workers is another key component to fully utilizing the regions labor force. Over the last twenty years, the CSI Refugee Center has assisted in relocating individuals from over 14 countries. Hispanics comprised 24% of the total regional population in 2019, almost double the statewide percentage and 6% higher than the nation. Often with limited English proficiency, these workers often take on low-paying, low-skilled jobs, resulting in underemployment for a significant segment of the workforce.

Fully utilizing the entire regional population to develop a qualified labor force is needed to retain quality jobs within the region.

Dairy Capacity

Idaho has reached its limit regarding processing capacity of milk, preventing the ability of regional dairies to grow. The COVID-19 pandemic further highlighted this existing weakness in the dairy supply chain. Because milk processors serve specific markets and were unable to pivot when the market demand shifted due to school closures and community lockdowns, many producers were forced to dump milk. The need to grow and diversify the Idaho dairy market is a paramount concern. Regional stakeholders are striving to establish Southern Idaho as a leader in technological advancement and research for the food processing sector. This initiative and research will focus on improving processing efficiency, reduction of environmental impact, increased workforce safety, and the use of artificial intelligence in food processing.

The Dairy Industry has evolved into a high-tech field with the use of robots, nutritionists, and climate-controlled environments to ensure cow health and quality milk production.


Photo: Top Left - Modern milk bulk tanks;
Top Right – A robotic milking arm;
Bottom left – Specialized feed storage and trucks are used are necessary at large dairy operations;
Bottom right – Suntado Milk Plant under construction in Burley.

The region has never been short of resources; however, the region lacks centralized expertise for startups and small to mid-size food processors looking to expand or get a new product to the marketplace. The creation of a food innovation center and business incubator, with a niche in dairy, would create a unified foundation to provide opportunities for small businesses, entrepreneurs, existing processors, and local dairymen, farmers, and ranchers wanting to vertically integrate with value-added products.
Emergency Services
As the region grows and cities become more dense, emergency services face ongoing challenges to keep the communities safe. Updated equipment and expanded training is a priority for nearly every community in South-central Idaho. Adequate water supply for fire protection is also a concern. Many cities are still utilizing two- and four-inch pipe to deliver water, which does not deliver adequate volume for structure fires. Upgrading water lines, pumps, and storage tanks to keep residents safe is an enormous task due to the associated costs. Finding ways to complete these projects while keeping water rates low is a balancing act, especially for small rural cities.
Photos: Twin Falls Fire Department’s newest engine was put into service August 2022 and replaced a 30-year old engine. A six story mixed-use building in downtown Twin Falls required additional fire training to ensure quick and efficient emergency responses. Photos by Michele McFarlane

Climate Change and Natural Disasters

Invasive Species and Infestations
The agriculture and tourism sectors are particularly suseptible to damage due to insect infestations and non-native invasive species. In 2023 grasshopper and mormon cricket outbreaks were detected in three Idaho counties, including Cassia county. These insects can damage plant growth and seed production. Quagga mussels were also detected in the Mid-Snake River, which required implementation of a rapid response plan by the Idaho Department of Ag. This response plan included closing the effected area to watercraft and curtailed late summer tourism activities. Left unchecked, the mussels have the potential to cause hundreds of millions of dollars in damage by clogging water pipes and damaging wildlife habitat. The mussels also led Gooding County to declare a local disaster emergency.
Elevated fire danger is an unwelcome companion to the persistent drought and high temperatures experienced in the regional summer months. Each year, wildfires from within the region and beyond destroy private property, diminish air quality, and ravage public lands key for outdoor recreation, rangeland grazing, and wildlife habitat. Additionally, the smoke for wildfires leads to ozone pollution, which is harmful to crop production, particularly potatoes. The main methods used by city, county, and states to prevent human-caused wildfires are through education, burn permits, and fire restrictions. Active forest management is also used to prevent natural fires from becoming large-scale events. Finally, the Idaho Department of Lands Fire Management (IDL Fire) collaborates with rural fire departments to suppress and prevent fires on more than 6 million acres of forests and rangeland, with a goal to limit destruction to less than 10 acres.

Numerous active faults in South-central Idaho puts Idaho at risk for both large-scale, infrequent earthquakes and small, frequent swarms of quakes. The most recent large-scale quake occurred in March 2020 and measured a magnitude of 6.5, the second largest in state history. The quake caused the Stanley Lake delta to liquify and collapse.

In the year following the Stanley Earthquake more than 3,200 aftershocks were recorded. The most recent aftershock on May 10, 2022, was detected at Triumph Mine, an abandoned lead, zinc, and silver mine which has been designated as a Brownfield site due to the presence of contaminated tailings and water discharge. The earthquake was detected on the lower tailings pile. While cleanup and mitigation of the site have lowered air and water contamination to below federal standards, damage to the discharge system piping due to an earthquake could cause the release of heavy metal contamination into nearby river systems. These seismic events serve as reminders of the active nature of Idaho’s faults and the need for planning and emergency preparedness.


In South-central Idaho, water is the lifeblood of practically every aspect of the regional economy. The region was nicknamed "Magic Valley" because of the blooming of the desert triggered by irrigation. The harnessing of the Snake River, Wood River and Snake River Plain Aquifer has created an agricultural oasis supporting many diverse crops. However, during times of drought, this oasis can turn on itself, crippling the regional economy. For example, known for its potato production, Idaho also leads the nation in potato seed production. This commodity can be severely impacted by hot, dry drought conditions, leading to reduced yields. Totally dependent on snowfall in the upper basins of Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, the fortunes of thousands rely on the sometimes stingy and capricious gifts from Mother Nature. In July 2021, all of Idaho was considered abnormally dry according to the National Integrated Drought Information System. South-central Idaho was categorized as in extreme drought with portions of Region IV counties categorized as exception drought. Snowpack for 2022 proved to be disappointing as snow was already melting April 1, the benchmark for peak snowpack. On April 29, 2022, Governor Little approved an Idaho Department of Water Resources emergency drought declaration for all 34 counties in Southern Idaho, with reservoirs between 20-65% of capacity.xii A year later, the region was blessed with above normal snowpack and a cool spring, which eased drought conditions and allowed for some aquifer recharge. While the region is currently in a good water position, that could rapidly change year-to-year. Being prepared for future drought conditions is essential to maintaining regional prosperity.

Although water is primarily used for agriculture, it is also necessary for industrial and domestic use. During 2022, water curtailments on the city and county levels became common with deepening concerns of the potential for municipal wells to go dry. Tourism impacts on the economy are also tied to the availability of water for fishing, boating, swimming, and skiing. Exploration and promotion of techniques to reduce water consumption and increase efficiency, such as converting irrigation canals to closed pipelines and implementation of soil moisture monitors is needed to ensure the region’s continued ability to produce agriculture products. As a result of this overwhelming connection between water and the economy, the region’s leaders must pay special attention to water quality and quantity issues.

October 2022
Year-to-Year Drought Conditions
October 2023
In concert with climate change, Idaho’s risk for flooding is increasing. Large segments of the region are currently unmapped by FEMA or have outdated maps. The lack of timely, relevant information concerning flood prone properties increases the difficultly in preparing mitigation plans. Collaboration among local governments to plan for worse-case scenarios in relation to flooding will maximize response efforts when a disaster does occur.
While uncommon, tornadoes do touch down in Idaho, causing property damage and potential injury to human life. Remaining prepared for potential weather related disasters is a necessary aspect of emergency preparedness for the communities of South-Central Idaho.

Health Care

Between 2018 and 2020 “Idaho lost 26% of its rural nursing workforce.”xvi Workforce shortages decrease access to healthcare and contribute to overall higher medical costs. Multiple times in 2021 and 2022 “crisis standards of care” protocols, including rationing or care, were activated in numerous Idaho hospitals. The COVID-19 virus and subsequent variants taxed the healthcare system to its brink, highlighting the states inadequacies. Numerous healthcare providers such as Family Health Services, North Canyon Medical Center, and St. Lukes Medical are working to expand access through establishment of rural community clinics, implementation of tele-pharmacy services, and construction of affordable housing dedicated to hospital staff.

Deficiencies in Supporting-Clusters

Despite efforts to secure Idaho’s digital infrastructure, including the 2015 creation of a statewide cybersecurity task force, the state has continued to be bombarded with cyberattacks, including malware crippling Twin Falls County operations and county court proceedings in 2021. Regional leadership must prioritize adoption of the cybersecurity task force’s 18 recommendations, including public awareness and education to ensure our digital infrastructure remains safe and reliable.
Commercial Truck Driving
Seasonal agricultural commodities and value-added products produced in South-central Idaho rely primarily on the trucking industry to get products to market. High retirement rates among the existing workforce and increased demand due to increases in online shopping during the COVID-19 pandemic led to “almost 9,500 unique job posting throughout Idaho in 2021 for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers”.xv Intentional recruitment efforts, including a new registered apprenticeship program are steps in the right direction. Collaborations among Mountain West leadership to negotiate current age restrictions on interstate travel would also lessen the strain of too few drivers.
Succession Planning

An often overlooked aspect of owning an agricultural business is succession planning. “The average age of agriculture producers is relatively high compared with other industry sectors. In Idaho, the average age is 56.4 and varies among the mid-50s across all eight counties in south central Idaho.”xiv As the number of baby boomers retiring increases, the consequences of not having viable succession plans, is reflected in the diminishing number of farms due to consolidation of operations. The regions reliance on agriculture and food manufacturing demands initiatives be taken to preserve prime farmland from being developed for non-production uses.

Photo: The pond at Sun Valley Lodge by Michele McFarlane
Veterinary Shortage
The dominance of agriculture, particularly livestock, on the regional economy highlights the need for ample supply of related, supporting industry clusters, including large-animal veterinary services. U.S. Senator Mike Crapo contended “Qualified veterinarians in agricultural communities across Idaho and the Nation are a key part of maintaining animal health and welfare, and ensuring ranchers and farmers have access to care for their livestock.”xiii Nationally, veterinarians are in short supply with rural areas seeing the largest deficiencies. Six regional areas in Idaho were designated by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture as shortage areas in rural private practice for 2022. Additionally, the State of Idaho was designated as a shortage area for public practice. Both Cassia County and Twin Falls County were identified as having a shortage in private practice for rural area food animal medicine. Efforts to expand Veterinary Medicine educational opportunities and attract practicing veterinarians is ongoing with local, state, and national leadership engaged.

Political Unrest

Many aspects of the region’s economy have been disturbed by the political unrest saturating our everyday lives. A collective, regional response to combat these issues will be necessary to prevent future impact.
Political Relationships
As the 2022 Primary Election dominated national news, Idaho appeared as one of the most contentious political environments in the country with political parties becoming fractured and unstable. Cooperation among elected officials and community leaders will be necessary to move the state and region through the negative discourse to a collegial atmosphere where differing ideas can be debated for the betterment of the Idaho people.
International Unrest

The February 2022 Russian Invasion of Ukraine caused significant impact to the global economy. International sanctions again Russia and disruptions to Ukrainian exports, particularly in crude oil, natural gas, and fertilizer has led to volatility in the Idaho Agriculture sector which producers will need to overcome. Additionally, corporate decisions to forgo trading relationships with Russia influence the balance of supply and demand. For example, following the invasion of Ukraine, potato processing giant McCain Foods discontinued construction of a Russian processing facility and halted shipment of finished products. While based in Canada, McCain Foods is a significant presence in the food processing industry in South-central Idaho. Fewer consumers of Idaho grown potatoes, means a potential for supply to exceed demand.

The October 2023 conflict between Hamas and Israel has the potential of igniting a broader war in the Middle East and plunging the world economy into a recession. War in the energy-producing region would lead to more expensive oil which in turn would cause even greater inflation and a slow-down in growth. Events like this remind us how interconnected we are to events happening around the world.

While inflation has plagued every region of the U.S. over the last 18 months, the Mountain West, composed of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona, has experienced the highest rate. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 12-month percentage change of the Consumer Price Index in December 2020 was 1.0%, the fourth lowest in the country. By March 2022, the percent change was 10.4%, the highest regional increase. The rising cost of housing, utilities, food, and gasoline as well as staffing shortages and minimal unemployment are all contributing factors to the surging inflation. Finding ways to ensure household income keeps up with the inflation rate will be necessary for the South-central Idaho region to continue to prosper.

Supply Chain

The perishable food products South-central Idaho produces relies on a dependable, efficient transportation system to move products from the farm to the producer, and into the hands of the consumer. The national lack of interstate commercial truck drivers and backlogs at the nation’s ports disproportionately affects agriculture. Solving this issue will require collaboration amount regional stakeholders and Congressional representatives to find solutions to these bottlenecks and the unintended consequences to changes in transportation regulations over the last few years.


Photo: In June 2023 RIVDA hosted a Workforce Hosing Symposium to bring together community members, business leaders, and experts in housing to discuss solutions.

Photo: The Quigley Farm development currently under construction in Hailey, Idaho blends for profit and nonprofit models in an effort to provide both purchase and rental affordable housing options

As one of the fastest growing states in the country, Idaho is experiencing a housing conundrum. Housing inventory has been unable to keep pace with demand, which has driven home prices out of reach of many locals who are now competing with out-of-town buyers who have larger budgets due to the elevated real estate markets they are escaping from. Zillow found Idaho home prices rose 20% in 2020.xvii Rental properties are also seeing extreme influxes making finding affordable housing increasing difficult for “young, single, and lower income persons”.xviii The housing crisis is not unique to Idaho metropolitan areas or resort towns. The same concerns are being echoed across the state as more and more residents struggle to find suitable housing. 18% of Idaho middle income households are considered cost burdened, where they are spending more than 30% for housing and utilities. Because these households have an income above the county Annual Median Income (AMI) support is rarely available.

Collaboration among city/county leadership and community stakeholders to identify realistic solutions will be necessary to combat this increasingly urgent crisis. Action to be considered include:

  • Updating city/county zoning ordinances to make construction faster and less expensive
  • Promoting Brownfield assessment and cleanup to revitalize blighted properties. This has the added benefit of protecting public health from contamination, taking pressure off greenspace, and curbing urban sprawl.

In May 2022, the City of Ketchum proposed to voters a local option tax which would have provided a revenue stream to implement a Housing Action Plan focused on providing workforce housing. Failure of the proposed tax has sent city leadership back to the drawing board to identify ways to finance implementation of the housing plan. Private efforts, such as the Quigley Farm development are working to address the housing shortage, but a broad, long-term plan is needed to combat the growing crisis.

Child Care

Photo: Lincoln County Youth Center by Adeanna Jenkins.
Photo: Midway Street Park in Filer by Brenda Hastreiter
In February 2021 the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children and the University of Idaho’s McClure Center for Public Policy Research released a needs assessment of Idaho’s childcare system. The report identified that 50% of Idahoans live in a childcare desert where licensed childcare services either do not exist or there are more than 3 children for every spot at a facility. The study also found 81% of providers only operate Monday – Friday, making services unavailable to employees working weekends or 12-hour shifts. The high cost of childcare is also a stumbling block. Over the last two decades the cost of childcare has more than doubled, but wages have not kept pace. Individuals are being forced to decide between giving up their career or deter starting a family. Expanded services for both infant care and early childhood education are necessary to ensure our labor force is reliable. The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Child Care Gaps Assessment from 2019 found Twin Falls County had a gap of 32.6% causing an economic impact of more than $38 Million, including household income losses, business productivity losses, and tax revenue losses.


Transportation and transportation related issues are always at the forefront of economic development considerations. The region has been able to attract several manufacturing, processing, and distributing firms by capitalizing on our central location for the Pacific Northwest and Pacific Rim markets. Maintaining transportation infrastructure is a critical part of our overall economic development strategy.
Rail Service

While main and short-line rail services are available through Union Pacific Railroad and Eastern Idaho Railroad/WATCO, limited rail lines and the complexity of accessing rail cars increases both the cost and time to get products to market, which in turn increases the risk of spoilage of perishable agricultural products. 

The region also suffers a complete absence of passenger rail service. Amtrak discontinued the Pioneer Route, which ran between Seattle and Chicago, in 1997. The route had four stops in southern Idaho, including Shoshone. In 2023 the City of Boise and other stakeholders began an initiative to bring passenger rail back to the area. To move the project forward funding is needed to complete feasibility studies, engineering, environmental reviews, and construction.

Commercial Air Service

Friedman Memorial Airport (SUN) in Blaine County is Idaho's second busiest airport. It serves the communities of Blaine County, including Ketchum, Sun Valley and Hailey and the world-famous Sun Valley Resort. SUN offers non-stop commercial air service to Salt Lake City, Seattle, and Los Angeles. Due to site limitations, which cause winter weather-related diversions, an effort has been under way for some years to relocate SUN out of the relatively narrow mountain valley to flatter terrain to the south. 

Regularly scheduled commercial air service is also available at the Magic Valley Regional Airport located roughly 10 miles south of Twin Falls. The airfield is capable of handling single engine aircraft, small private jets, and the occasional 727. Decreased travel demand, due in part to COVID-19, resulted in a reduction of flight offerings, The minimal service has created economic hardships for area business and tourism travelers. To ensure continued service to Salt Lake City, the City of Twin Falls and Twin Falls County approved a minimum revenue agreement with SkyWest in Spring 2022.

Photo: Magic Valley Regional Airport at sunrise by Tedi Thompson.

In July 2023 the City of Twin Falls launched a micro-transit system to provide on-demand service within the Twin Falls city boundary and to the Magic Valley Regional Airport. The system provides a valuable service to the community and highlights the need for expanded public transportation within the region. Multi-jurisdictional service would further accommodate residents, given the rural nature of the region.


Despite consistent efforts to improve mobility within the region, communities continue to face the ongoing issues of increasing traffic congestion, deteriorating roadways, limited alternatives to automobile travel, and archaic funding mechanisms that do not keep pace with the needs of the system. Notwithstanding efforts at the State level to add new revenue to address immediate highway improvement issues, funding for the roadway network has not kept pace with either maintenance needs or the need to increase capacity where traffic volume has grown most significantly. Several major capacity constraints exist throughout the region:

  • Along the U.S. 93/Idaho 75 corridor from Twin Falls through Ketchum
  • Overland Avenue in Burley
  • The Perrine and Hansen Bridges over the Snake River linking the City of Twin Falls with I-84

There is support for construction of an additional bridge by both the Jerome and Twin Falls County Commissioners, which could elevate traffic concerns entering and exiting the City of Twin Falls. An additional bridge would also simplify shipping routes for interstate trucking. U.S. Interstate 84 provides the major east/west transportation route through the Region. Just east of Burley, Interstate 86 branches off from I-84 toward eastern Idaho - Pocatello where it links up with Interstate 15 to Idaho Falls (north) and Salt Lake City, Utah (south). Another major north/south route is U.S. 93 which provides truckers a more direct access from Canada to California.


Photo: One of the few year-round outdoor ice rinks in the country, the Sun Valley Ice Rink hosts Olympic and world-class skaters in its celebrated ice shows throughout the summer.
The Pandemic decimated tourism throughout Idaho and the Region. COVID-19 led to a 29% decrease in overall spending during 2020, compared to 2019 (US Travel Association). Tourism related employment, which is 5.1% of Idaho’s total private industry employment, has been threatened by this decrease in spending and tax receipts. Expansion and diversification of tourism offerings will be necessary to prevent future losses. While spending decreased, the number of individuals accessing outdoor attractions such as the City of Rocks, dramatically increased during 2020 and 2021. Outdoor recreation became a paramount avenue for individuals during the pandemic who were seeking an escape from quarantine. In 2020 Idaho saw 7.7 million state park visitors, a 1.2 million increase from 2019. This increase put additional strain on Idaho Parks and Recreation facilities and park staff, as they worked to combat increases in garbage, sanitation issues, and public negligence. Additionally, the regions reliance on outdoor recreation opportunities creates a roller-coaster of demand with significant downturn during off-seasons. Expansion of indoor opportunities would assist in stabilizing the industry throughout the year. Initiatives of the development of convention center in the Magic Valley are being considered.


Identification of regional vulnerabilities allows RIVDA and its stakeholders to develop an action plan to ensure disaster recovery and economic resiliency. Among the initiatives to bolster the economy from potential disruptions includes workforce training, transportation/logistics infrastructure improvements, and supply chain development. The large concentration of food production and processing makes the region vulnerable to disruptions within the logistics systems which gets products to market. Fuel prices, driver shortages, skilled workforce deficiencies, and road/weather conditions contribute to price increases and delays. Current South-central Idaho food processors routinely voice frustration and concern over the lack of adequate labor force for good jobs. Commitments from companies hoping to build new and expanded processing facilities in the region have been delayed due to concerns surrounding the availability of a qualified workforce and water/wastewater infrastructure. Given global population increases are projected to require a 70% increase in food production by 2050, the ability to attract and retain a qualified labor force is a predominate issue for South-central Idaho.
Photo: Snake River Canyon seen from Jerome County by Lynn Rivers
Photo: Spring elk grazing in Ketchum. Photo by Michele McFarlane

Annual Report Open For Comment

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