Boise Mayor Lauren McLean launched her economic recovery task force to help the city during the pandemic a little more than a month ago, but details are still limited.
In mid-May, McLean held a press conference announcing a 12-member, public-private partnership with representation from some of the Treasure Valley’s major employers to create a plan for bringing Boise out of the economic recession. At the time, she provided few details about the priorities for the group and these details remain slim today. According to internal emails about the task force obtained by the Idaho Press, the group met for the first time on June 15.
In late June, McLean put out a press release updating the public on the task force, but work to plan the economic recovery and actionable goals are still slim.
“Our Economic Recovery Task Force will help us launch an economic development plan, focus our efforts on strategic actions, and ensure we have something against which we’re held accountable,” McLean said in the release. “The Task Force met for the first time and one thing was clear: we all understand that things will be different, and the people of Boise are committed to helping us move our economy forward.”
One of the members of the task force, which includes Boise area leaders like Boise State University President Marlene Tromp, Albertsons Intermountain Division President John Colgrove and other leaders, is Marcela Escobari, Senior Fellow, Global Economy & Development from Washington, D.C.-based think tank The Brookings Institution.
Brookings made headlines during the 2019 election when it released a report analyzing the Treasure Valley’s economy that found significant challenges. While the economy is rapidly growing, Brookings said it found the average Boisean is worse off than they were in 2007, making growth potentially unsustainable now that the presence of major companies like HP, Micron, and Simplot have diminished.
When asked about Brookings’ role in the economic recovery task force, McLean’s spokeswoman Karen Boe said the decision for the think tank to participate was “mutual” and it is not being paid to assist the city.
Internal memo lays out plan
An internal memo about the task force obtained by the Idaho Press through a public records request outlined a three-month work plan for the group. It includes three meetings with the option of a fourth to identify weaknesses in the economy, come up with suggestions and prepare proposals for McLean to execute.
The memo lays out goals for each planned meeting. The first meeting was focused on a broad conversation of how COVID-19 has impacted the various organizations represented on the task force and identifying the region’s economic strengths and weaknesses.
According to some notes from the meeting, some “lessons learned” from the pandemic that the group identified include the high cost of higher-education, impacts to transportation patterns, an increase in demand for nonprofit assistance from low-income earners, difficulty communicating information about the crisis to minority communities and the critical need to address homelessness and racism.
The report also noted widespread mental health issues in employees, the need for supply chain resilience to keep products in stock and the importance of identifying which employees need to be in the office and who can work remotely.
“Opportunities” the group identified include the ability for more people to live in Boise and telework elsewhere than before, collaboration to solve problems in Boise, the importance of child care and insurance to the local economy and an opportunity to design new shared spaces for work.
At its second meeting on June 29, the task force began identifying strategic principals; the third meeting set for later this month will focus on what specific projects should be proposed to McLean.