Joe Hulett’s by-the-numbers background provide him with the perfect skill set to give back to his adopted home.
Hulett and his wife, Pat, moved to Lewiston in July 2011, the day after he retired as controller and CEO of Crites Seed Inc. in Moscow. They came to Lewiston for the blue skies and warm climate, but lessons learned in Moscow about that community’s Urban Renewal Agency and his own background as an economist and manager convinced him he could contribute in a positive way as a board member of Lewiston’s Urban Renewal Agency. He was appointed to the board in 2014, and currently serves as chairman.
“I love Lewiston and Clarkston. ... I always think of the word, unpretentious. Lewiston and Clarkston are unpretentious,” he said. “They are what they are, they don’t try to pretend to be something else.”
Craig Clohessy: You have a diverse background, both education and work history. You grew up in the city of Palouse and worked on a farm as you went through school. Talk a little bit about that, both your education and your work background and what led you from point A to point B to point C.
Joe Hulett: It was a rather torturous route, but I always loved working on the farm, and so that’s how I ended up ... in agricultural economics at Washington State University. ... I got both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in ag econ there. Several of the faculty members had graduated from Iowa State and they strongly suggested that I continue on and get a Ph.D. and recommended I go to Iowa State. ... I did that and finished in 1970.
I got a job at Texas A&M in the economics department. My degree at Iowa State was in economics, not agricultural economics. I made a little bit of a shift there. And my specialty was what they called public finance, which is the economics of government sort of broadly defined. ... I decided I would rather (be) a practitioner rather than a theoretician or a teacher. I got a job in the private sector, a really interesting job working at Conoco at the corporate headquarters in Stamford, Conn. ... I worked there for almost four years. My dad had been manager of Wallace Grain and Pea Company at Palouse, ... a smallish pea and lentil processing firm. ... He was ready to retire and I was given the opportunity to take over for him. So I quit my job at Conoco and came back out to Palouse and I worked there for 22 years.
Most of our owners were quite old and didn’t want to put more money in the company, so we sold Wallace Green and Pea and I had to shift gears a little bit and I worked as controller at Co-Ag (Cooperative Agricultural) in Rosalia for two and a half years and then came to Crites Seed in Moscow, a really good seed company. I started out there as controller and continued as controller. The three and half years before I retired, I also assumed the CEO’s position.
CC: Share a little bit about what made you seek appointment to the Lewiston Urban Renewal Agency Board?
JH: A number of things. For one, as I mentioned, the end of my economics training was in public finance. So that aspect of it was certainly of interest to me. I wanted to find something where I thought I could do something significant and worthwhile in Lewiston. ... I had become somewhat familiar with urban renewal while I was working at Crites. Crites’ facilities and their office in Moscow are right in the middle of what is now the Legacy Crossing revenue allocation area of the Moscow Urban Renewal Agency. I had numerous opportunities to talk with Bill Belknap and Gary Riedner, the community development director and city supervisor there. Ideally they would’ve liked Crites not to have been there, you know, because what they’re trying to do there is to establish a connection between the south end of downtown and the university, a clear connection.
I didn’t know anything about Idaho Urban Renewal before that and I learned about tax increment financing and so on, and I thought, wow that’s pretty interesting, that’s pretty clever, it makes sense. ... An opening on the Lewiston Urban Renewal Board came up and I applied for it and didn’t get it. That was when Jo Ann Cole-Hansen joined the board and that was a good thing. Another opening came up and I applied for it and rather surprisingly got it because the Urban Renewal Agency Board didn’t recommend me, they recommended someone else, and Commissioner Doug Havens and some other people helped me and, lo and behold, the city council chose me.
CC: The agency is in a bit of a lull right now. Funding assistance from the URA helped with the U.S. Highway 12 interchange project, which was recently completed at the bottom of 21st Street. What’s next on the horizon?
JH: We’re sort of maxed-out right now. There’s a statutory limit on how much of the assessed value of a city can be included in urban renewal areas. We’re fairly close to that limit right now. Some things are happening that will change that. The oldest of our areas is the downtown area. There was a bond issued for that urban renewal area ... in 2012. It was scheduled to mature in 2027, but we’re going to get it paid off either this fiscal year or perhaps for sure in the fiscal year of 2021. When that’s done then I suspect that the next step will be to see if and how the urban renewal agency might be able to play a role in the downtown strategic plan, which was just recently ... developed and approved by Beautiful Downtown Lewiston and adopted by the Lewiston City Council.
CC: For a project like that, how can the agency assist? Is it with funding for infrastructure?
JH: There are a lot of possibilities and not many constraints. ... What we’ve done so far, when you think back about what the agency has done around town, it’s mostly infrastructure. My guess is that there will probably be more of that. And that’s where you can really help and especially in partnership with the city and other entities. ... The agency ... has played the role of a catalyst to get some of these things going. It’s fairly agile, it can get things going in a hurry, relative to some other processes. So I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t play that kind of a role again.
CC: Anything else you’d like to add?
JH: Pat and I have been married for 19 years. Between us we have five grown sons. We envy people whose families are centered around the valley and it seems like a lot of them are. Ours are spread all over in Richland, Portland, Batavia, Ill., Boulder Creek, Colo., and London, England. We don’t get to see as much of our family as we would like, but they’re certainly a very important part of our lives.
CC: You get to do a little traveling then?
JH: Yeah, we do, that’s right. We’ve been to Chicago numerous times, we’re going down to see Pat’s son, Craig, in Boulder Creek. ... We’ve been to London three times, so there’s an upside.
Clohessy is managing editor of the Lewiston Tribune. He may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 848-2251.