The Lewiston City Council gave the nod Monday for its staff to go after nearly $1 million in federal funding to help recover not only the jobs lost during the coronavirus pandemic, but boost overall business and employment into the future.
A grant application for a $900,000 piece of approximately $3 billion in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development COVID-19 emergency funding would be used to help start Councilor John Pernsteiner’s proposed “Job Accelerator Program.”
Pernsteiner, an economic and labor market consultant, has been working with local economic development agencies and city officials on the plan, which he hopes will help lift the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley out of the aftermath of the tremendous job losses created by the economic shutdown.
“What I’m going to propose is merely one piece of an economic recovery plan,” Pernsteiner said. “Economies are infinitely complex. So this is not a silver bullet, but I hope a sizable-caliber bullet that we can aim at this project.”
Pernsteinter said Lewiston City Manager Alan Nygaard, Community Development Director Laura Von Tersch and Library Director Lynn Johnson have worked with him to develop the program with the assistance of economic development agencies Valley Vision, Beautiful Downtown Lewiston and the Clearwater Economic Development Association.
He estimated the effort would cost between $1.2 million and $1.5 million. In addition to the $900,000 HUD grant, the city could use $300,000 in additional HUD funding the city has through the Community Development Block Grant program plus $146,000 in emergency HUD funding and $64,000 left from the existing block grants to fund the program, Pernsteiner said.
A major component of the program would be a business incubator that would help entrepreneurs create new businesses and new jobs that could help drag the community out of the economic recession that is likely to plague the area for years. The incubator could include a physical location for a “coworking” facility that could be a new, common home for the economic development agencies to work alongside the startups.
Pernsteiner suggested that the incubator could be housed in one of the unutilized or under-utilized buildings downtown, helping further the revitalization of that historic district.
Another prong of the program would be utilizing resources like local colleges and libraries to help retrain people for remote work opportunities. Remote work, where local residents perform jobs electronically for out-of-town firms, has become a strong movement in the workforce. Pernsteiner said many cities are even offering incentives to promote remote working opportunities. For instance, Tulsa, Okla., is offering $10,000 to people who move there with a remotely performed job.
Those kinds of jobs are a big win for the community, he said, since they bring in completely new income that is spent locally. Then that spending has a ripple effect by creating even more jobs.
“It really is job creation,” Pernsteiner said. “It’s a job that wasn’t in the valley that now is.”
Remote work can also help stem the loss of local youth after they graduate from high school and college, he added, since it provides them an opportunity for employment they can perform from home. Those types of jobs are also less likely than the local manufacturing jobs to be lost to automation.
The city council offered enthusiastic support for the program, save for Councilor John Bradbury, who said the city should first focus on making itself more attractive to new businesses. He said Lewiston has problems with its reputation, including odors from the Clearwater Paper mill, a lack of regional flights at the airport and a perception as regulation-heavy for new companies.
But Pernsteiner countered that his program isn’t designed to attract new businesses, but spur people who already live here to found startups. He cited statistics that say about 90 percent of job growth comes from businesses started by people who already live in their community.
In other business:
The council received the results of a fire station study that found land the city purchased at the corner of Fifth Street and Bryden Avenue in the Lewiston Orchards would be suitable for a new station to replace the aging Station 4 near the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport.
The study also recommended that the city eventually move Station 1 near the Nez Perce County Courthouse closer to 21st Street. Combined, the two moves would improve emergency response times significantly, especially to North Lewiston, East Lewiston, the county club neighborhood and the rapidly developing subdivisions near Community Park.
Public Works Director Chris Davies briefed the council on the plan for a May 30 graduation parade that will replace the COVID-19-canceled regular graduation ceremony for Lewiston High School seniors.
In general, the parade route will start at Lewis-Clark State College at 1:30 p.m. and head east through Normal Hill. It would turn south on 14th Street after passing the old high school before turning east onto Burrell Avenue, north onto the city’s other 14th Street in the Orchards and finally west on Warner Avenue to the location of the new high school.
Davies said approximately 350 cars are expected to participate in the parade, which was concocted to help maintain social distances and prevent the spread of the coronavirus while still honoring the seniors for their achievements. Parents of graduates are encouraged to ride and take photos in the same vehicles as their children to avoid having too many people close together on the streets at the end of the 4-mile route.
Mills may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 848-2266.