Jack Riggs life has been full of projects.
A retired Coeur dAlene physician, former Idaho state senator and lieutenant governor, and current president of a nationwide restaurant chain, Riggs says nearly every endeavor he has undertaken in his professional life has involved problem solving.
He opened what he claims was the first freestanding urgent care center in North Idaho in the mid-80s because he saw a need for faster, more cost-effective health care for patients whose conditions werent critical enough for a hospital emergency room.
He went into politics in the mid-90s because he wanted to help steer health-care and welfare reform in Idaho. During his time in public service, he also worked to improve U.S. 95, Idahos main north-south artery.
Now, Riggs is focusing his attention on expanding the Pita Pit USA restaurant chain that he bought last year with a group of investors. Since the purchase, franchisees have opened 32 new restaurants across the country, including one in Spokane, and franchisees plan to open 45 more within the next year, which would give the chain 149 outlets. Pita Pit is similar to a Subway restaurant in that customers order their sandwiches a certain way, but in this case pita bread is used.
Riggs also currently sits on the board of the Seattle-based Federal Home Loan Bank, a cooperative that provides liquidity, funding, and services to financial institutions in eight states and two U.S. territories. Additionally, he is the co-chairman for the capital campaign thats seeking to raise money for the Salvation Armys planned $65 million Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Coeur dAlene.
Although Riggs has shown he isnt shy about taking on projects, he got into medicine by avoiding one. Born and raised in Coeur dAlene, Riggs graduated from Coeur dAlene High School in 1972. He enrolled at the University of Idaho to study chemical engineering, but discovered he had to do a semester-long project for one of his engineering courses, and decided instead to become a pre-medicine student.
Its kind of a paradox, I guess, Riggs says. Working on projects is clearly part of my personality, and yet I went into pre-med because I was trying to get out of one.
Riggs graduated from UI in 1976, then enrolled in the University of Washington School of Medicine. He chose to specialize in emergency-room medicine, because he liked the idea that ER doctors help patients immediately, rather than over the course of months or years, as many other doctors do.
Each patient is a project, and you get the immediate satisfaction that youve actually helped somebody, he says.
The U.S. military paid for part of Riggs medical school education in exchange for his commitment to serve in the military for three years. From 1981 to 1984, he served as chief of emergency medicine at Nellis Air Force Base, in Las Vegas.
After leaving the military, Riggs returned to Coeur dAlene, where he worked for about six months in the emergency rooms of both Kootenai Medical Center there and Valley Hospital & Medical Center, in Spokane Valley.
While he was working in KMCs crowded ER, he decided to build an urgent care center in Coeur dAlene. He opened North Idaho Immediate Care in 1986, and initially only employed himself and a nurse, Sandi Teall.
Riggs then began seeing a need for similar centers elsewhere in North Idaho, and opened facilities in Post Falls in 1993, Hayden in 1996, Rathdrum in 2003, and Sandpoint in 2005.
Teall says developing those clinics was part of Riggs ongoing effort to help the community.
Hes very community minded and saw that the care center was something that the community really could use, Teall says. Hes very hands on and put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into the buildings.
Riggs continually worked to improve care for patients, she says. In the early days of the clinic, he would allow patients who couldnt afford to pay for their visits to do odd jobs around the clinic as a form of payment. He also offered free physicals for low-income children so they could participate in school sports.
Going into politics
As the clinics grew, Riggs moved into an administrative role there, and in the meantime became involved in political discussions in North Idaho about the direction of health care and welfare reform, he says. He became a Kootenai County precinct person in 1994, which meant he represented the Republican party for his precinct.
In 1996, Riggs was elected to the Idaho Senate and was re-elected twice thereafter.
I had been working on and had a growing interest in welfare reform in North Idaho and was giving suggestions to the Legislature, Riggs says. I thought, Why not be in the Legislature, where I can vote?
During his time in the Senate, Riggs worked on the committee that created charter schools in Idaho.
In 2001, Riggs was appointed lieutenant governor by then Gov. Dirk Kempthorne to fill a vacancy left by C.L. Butch Otter, who had won a seat in the U.S. House. Riggs and Kempthorne had been acquaintances since their college days at UI, he says.
Riggs ran for a full term as lieutenant governor in 2002, but was defeated by then State Sen. and now acting governor Jim Risch in the Republican primary.
It was a six-way primary and I came in second, he says with a wry smile. But I won (Rischs) counties.
John McGee, a campaign adviser to Riggs and now state senator, says Riggs medical background helped him in politics because he tackled problems systematically, as a doctor would do when treating a patient.
Jack is about three steps ahead of you when you talk about an issue or an idea, McGee says. He understands all the different aspects of projects, and I think thats also what makes him such a good businessman.
After he lost the primary election for that post, Riggs returned to Coeur dAlene, thinking hed finally have a break after 30 years.
But there was work to be done at his medical practice. The urgent care centers by then employed 80 workers and contracted with 18 doctors. For a year, Riggs worked on putting together a group of doctors to buy ownership in the practice, and in 2004, he created North Idaho Medical Care Centers PLLC. That company now is owned by 11 physicians, including Riggs, who isnt practicing currently but still is licensed and board certified.
That same year, Riggs son and son-in-law opened a Pita Pit franchise restaurant in Santa Barbara, Calif. Through their involvement with the chain, Riggs heard that its Canadian owners, who also operated a Pita Pit chain in Canada, were looking to sell the company that operated the U.S. eateries.
I saw that it was a great concept, offered fresh, healthy food, and that it had a bright future, he says.
Riggs assembled a group of 20 investors, the majority of whom live in Coeur dAlene, and bought the U.S. company in April 2005. Since then, Pita Pit USA has outgrown its 1,000-square-foot headquarters space, at 105 N. Fourth in downtown Coeur dAlene, and is adding another 1,800 square feet of space to accommodate growth, he says. The company has 20 full-time employees, and operates a corporately-owned restaurant in downtown Coeur dAlene.
Sitting in his office wearing sandals, shorts, and an open-necked shirt, Riggs says that in his spare time he plays mens league basketball, making sure to point out that even though hes 51 years old, he plays in the under-50 division. He also spends time on his boat on Lake Coeur dAlene. Riggs has two daughters, a son, and two grandchildren.
Riggs says he wont be slowing down at all in the near future, and that he plans to stay involved in projects in the community.
Rather than complain, its important to get involved, he says. It might sound clich, but its really just all about trying to make the world a better place.
Contact Emily Brandler at (509) 344-1265 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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