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Albertson Foundation chair to business crowd: the time is now to make changes, calls for leadership

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The Boise Valley Economic Partnership held its third-annual Economic Outlook event at the Boise Centre Thursday. A crowd of several hundred business, political and education leaders gathered for a 90 minute program on some of BVEP’s efforts.

The event opened with BVEP Executive Director Clark Krause talking about a number of stats on the Treasure Valley – including an estimate of population in the area hitting one million residents in the next 20 years. He also said Boise ranks seventh in the nation for the retention of college graduates. Said another way – more folks who graduate here stay here than all but six other areas across the nation.

“I think, and one of our challenges should be – we should be number one,” Krause said. “We need more jobs, higher wage jobs that can keep those kids here so they can be part of why we all love living here.”

[‘City at a crossroads:’ Brookings says Boise’s prosperity is fleeting, bold action needed]

Education, leadership and growth

The event focused on a question-and-answer session with JA & Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation board chair Jamie Jo Scott.

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Scott is the great-granddaughter of Joe and Kathryn Albertson – and noted she is a fifth-generation Idahoan. The session centered on a primary focus for the foundation: education in Idaho, and how the community at large can be part of the solution. She also discussed growth and the policy that surrounds it.

“Leadership looks like taking a complex problem and just starting to chip away at it. If you want to be liked, sell ice cream. Don’t be a leader,” she said to laughs.

Roger Quarles, who serves as executive director of the foundation, asked Scott what things she would like to grow, keep or change about our area.

Scott on what to grow, keep and change in Idaho

In efforts she would like to see grow, Scott talked about a multi-agency effort to build the new Meridian YMCA. The project combines efforts from the Y, the City of Meridian, the West Ada School District, Brighton Corp., St. Luke’s and others.

“We have to start to deploy resources differently, especially with so much growth,” Scott said. “I’m really interested in smart growth. Getting these groups together and signing (a memorandum of understanding) is no small feat. But there was a willingness by those entities to do something bigger.”

Scott said she would like to see Idaho keep “our pioneering spirit and fiscal conservancy. That’s what made our state great. It’s going to be hard as we have an influx of people to keep.”

Her comments on what she thinks could change in the current environment were the most extensive.

Boise’s lifestyle can breed apathy to challenges

“I think for many years, a small group of people made decisions for a large group,” she said. Scott said there are pitfalls to that approach, and adding more voices to the conversation can build better solutions.

She said living in the Boise area is easy for many – citing how efficient the Boise Airport can feel after a trip travelling to other parts of the country.

“But when life is easy and convenient, there’s a danger of becoming apathetic. Through our work in thinking about education, we see scary data coming down the pipe.”

She said now is the time to start taking some of the challenges seriously and getting to work solving them.

She talked about what she called the “Boise bubble,” — what others might derisively call the ‘great State of Ada.’

“We work statewide and over 50% of our kids in school are in poverty. We have the lowest ‘go on’ rate in the country. If you think the things happening forty miles away don’t affect Boise, I think it’s short-sighted.”

Scott on limited government and career politicians

Scott said she is generally a fan of limited government, but said it can start to “hinder visionary leadership.”

“I’m tired of serving on task forces that don’t end in action. I think you have to have a vision and some courageous leadership that sort of transcends this idea of limited government and career people in office.”

That line got a round of boisterous applause from the crowd.

Scott alluded to the criticism the Albertson Foundation faces in its efforts.

“Often wealthy people are criticized for wielding too much influence. And I think there’s truth to that. We try to stay in a lane that is appropriate, and it isn’t always easy.”

She said the prevailing conversation around education in Idaho is about money. She says that’s part of the issue, but there’s more to it in her view.

“It’s about leadership. Without vision, without accountability, it doesn’t do a damn thing.”

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