Sandpoint’s diverse and growing employment base is helping offset last year’s loss of major employer Coldwater Creek, several business representatives and observers there say.
Companies representing software, aerospace, biomedical, and manufacturing industries are among those planning to grow or expand this year, they say.
Jeremy Grimm, spokesman for Kochava Inc. and former director of planning and economic development for the city of Sandpoint, claims the Sandpoint area now is home to multiple companies that are world class in their respective industries, including Kochava, Tamarack Aerospace Group Inc., Quest Aircraft Co., and Percussionaire Corp.
“They are innovative, cutting edge, and dynamic,” Grimm says.
He says the Sandpoint area’s outdoor attributes attract and inspire such entrepreneurial ventures.
“Amenity-rich communities can attract people who have innovation, vision, and capacity to build companies like this,” he says. “They kind of grow organically.”
Kochava founder Charles Manning says his goal is to keep the growing company in Sandpoint, where he and his wife Kimberly have chosen to live.
Kimberly Manning is Kochava’s brand manager. She also is owner and creative director of 116 Design LLC, a Sandpoint graphic design company.
The two were living in Washington, D.C., and considering returning to California when they decided to conduct their own analysis of the best places to live.
“Five towns met our criteria and Sandpoint was No. 1, even though we didn’t know anyone here,” he says.
That was 10 years ago. “We’ve never lived anywhere that long,” Manning says.
Manning founded PlayXpert LLC, a gaming and software development consulting company, in 2006. That company evolved into Kochava, a leading mobile analytics technology company.
Kochava’s technology enables clients to identify and credit advertising platforms that lead users to download apps onto their mobile devices.
Grimm says Kochava’s software code is installed on 2 billion devices, and the technology tracks 2 million clicks a minute.
Kochava’s clients include some of the biggest companies in the world, including Microsoft and McDonalds.
The company has 47 Sandpoint-based employees, having hired seven new employees within the last month, he says.
Grimm says the average annual salary at Kochava is $65,000.
Kochava also has a handful of employees in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Toronto, and Beijing,
The company moved last month into 9,000 square feet of office space with a boardroom view that spans beyond downtown Sandpoint and Lake Pend Oreille to include the Cabinet range of the Rocky Mountains.
Grimm says Kochava expects to continue to grow in Sandpoint and worldwide as the market adopts its technology.
Its new headquarters should have enough space to provide a comfortable home for the company throughout its 15-month lease, he says.
“We’ll be here for over a year,” Grimm says. “That gives us time to assess and react to growth.”
Grimm says he’s often asked why the company is based in Sandpoint.
“I tell them I work in a mountain town in North Idaho with a ski resort at the back door, no traffic jams, and office space priced at 1/50th of theirs a month,” he says.
Tamarack Aerospace Group Inc. also anticipates explosive growth in Sandpoint. The company, located near the airport in north Sandpoint, is in the final stages of certifying a new patented technology called an active winglet that’s lighter than conventional winglets.
Winglets increase fuel efficiency by reducing drag produced by aircraft wings in the course of creating lift. Conventional winglets require structural enhancements that add weight to the aircraft, meaning their effectiveness is partially offset by increased load.
The lighter, active winglets will enable aircraft to carry more fuel, passengers, or cargo, than aircraft with passive or no winglets, Tamarack spokesman Bill Mitchell says.
“Our future is incredibly bright,” he says.
Wichita, Kansas-based Cessna Aircraft Co. has signed an agreement to market, sell, and install Tamarack’s active winglets exclusively for some of its Citation business jet models.
Tamarack plans to assemble winglets in Sandpoint.
“Our company president, Nick Guida, the inventor and designer of winglets, wants nothing more than to keep the company based here in Sandpoint,” Mitchell says. “He loves the area. His children went to school here, and they’re going to state universities.”
Guida, a highly regarded aerospace engineer, was working for a company in Switzerland 15 years ago when Quest Aircraft recruited him while the Quest Kodiak light plane was still in the design stage.
Although Guida since has been involved in other endeavors, he has remained in the Sandpoint area.
Tamarack Aero-space Group has 20 employees. “We’ll probably put on another 10 employees for the first model,” he says. “As we work through business jets, we’ll increase (employment).”
Some commercial jets likely will be too large to fly into Sandpoint.
“We will go where we need to go to do planes and modifications there,” he says.
The impact of Coldwater Creek closing has been softened by Bonner County’s overall economy, which is more diverse than five years ago, says Alivia Metts, Coeur d’Alene-based regional labor economist with the Idaho Department of Labor.
Though, Coldwater Creek had employed 300 people in Bonner County when the company filed for bankruptcy protection, it didn’t cause a mass exodus from the county, Metts says.
Bonner County’s population at year-end 2014 was 41,600, up 2.2 percent from a year earlier and outpacing the statewide population growth rate of 1.3 percent, Idaho Labor statistics show.
Bonner County had total employment of 17,300 as of March 31, up from 17,000 a year earlier, and a March unemployment rate of 5.7 percent, down from 7.4 percent a year earlier, and close to the U.S. unemployment rate of 5.5 percent in March, Labor statistics show.
Post-Great Reces-sion unemployment peaked in Bonner County at 12.1 percent in 2010.
Aaron Qualls, senior planner for the city of Sandpoint, says life is coming back to the Coldwater Creek campus.
Litehouse Foods Inc., another Sandpoint company, bought a portion of the campus last year and moved its corporate offices there.
A group of Sandpoint-area investors bought the rest of the 12-acre campus last month, Qualls says.
Thorne Research Inc., a manufacturer of dietary supplements, is leasing space there, and Percussionaire Corp., a Bonner County-based maker of cardiopulmonary ventilators and related equipment, is among companies looking to expand there, Qualls says.
State incentives are helping to attract and keep companies in Sandpoint, even companies that have been acquired by larger national and international companies, Qualls says.
“We have good partnerships with the Idaho Department of Labor and the Department of Commerce,” he says.
One Idaho incentive program enables qualifying companies that locate or expand in rural areas, including Sandpoint, to qualify for up to 30 percent reimbursement on payroll, sales, and income taxes for 15 years if they add 20 jobs at or above the average county wage, Qualls says.
Minneapolis-based Polaris Industries Inc. last month acquired Sandpoint company Timbersled Products Inc., maker of the Mountain Horse snow bike.
Timbersled had been planning to expand in Sandpoint prior to being acquired.
“I’ve reached out to Polaris recently and let them know about these programs, and we’re anxious to work with them,” Qualls says. “I’ve heard they are still going to re-engineer their building.”
State incentives also are helping to keep Lead-Lok USA, which does business as Lead-Lok Biomedical Innovations, in Sandpoint, where it plans to expand. Lead-Lok was acquired last year by New York-based Graphic Controls, he says.
Qualls says the city of Sandpoint and Bonner County are working together to deliver a fiber-optic loop for high-speed Internet service through downtown and into Sandpoint’s industrial areas and the Bonner Genera Health hospital complex.
“We’ve almost completed the engineering for our portion of the network,” Qualls says. “We’ll lease out fiber strands … to hook up to local businesses.”
Access to a high speed fiber network is vital to attracting and growing tech businesses in the Sandpoint area, Qualls says.
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