Innovation in Southern Idaho is Thriving
Small businesses thrive on local products, values
Southern Idaho is churning out many innovative new products, often inspired by the state’s abundant natural resources, family traditions and caring values.
Twin Falls earned recent attention nationally for its small business environment and potential for future innovation. One of four communities recognized by U.S. Economic Development Administration, the city earned a grant through Smart Growth America, a national program focused on fueling small business development.
Nathan W. Murray, Twin Falls’ economic development director, says his city’s thriving business culture and changing demographics are likely what earned national recognition.
“In a lot of ways we have been kind of bucking the trend a little bit in terms of the overall economic success over the last few years,” Murray says. “We have been able to attract some really good employers and quality companies into a considerable market.”
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One such success is Liyah Babayan, who came to the U.S. from Armenia in the 1990s and has been running the Ooh La La Boutique clothing store for 10 years. Babayan recently launched Makepeace, a company that produces soap from Idaho potatoes and acts as a platform for Babayan to support causes she cares about. For every bar of soap purchased, one is donated to a person in a refugee camp.
“I thought about potatoes, because well, I live in Idaho and it is kind of silly, but I thought when life hands you potatoes, you ‘make peace’ out of it,” Babayan says. “I wanted to really connect people to the basic ability to connect with humanity in these horrific situations and still dignify and contribute to their human worth. So soap is as basic as it gets because human hygiene and physical dignity is, I believe it’s a human right, I believe it is everyone’s human right. To just have something accessible to you and clean yourself and reflect back your humanness, your clean, dignified version of yourself – regardless of circumstance – is absolutely everybody’s right and hygiene, of course those go together.”
Dry Creek Outfitters, located in Murtaugh, is another company inspired to innovate by Idaho’s natural resources. Founder Bob Perkins says he was compelled to go into business making high-quality, salt-saturated tube fishing baits when the designs that he wanted weren’t available. In order to get bait made to his specifications, he needed to have them custom manufactured in 4,000-unit increments.
“I soon realized that in a small, one-street town – with 4,000 tubes made at a time, for each color – I was going to have to wholesale them in order for me to have good tubes,” Perkins says.
He went on to design various tubes with the specifications and colors he wanted, as well as the amount of salt – a crucial factor to effective fishing in the nearby Snake River.
“We have designed a lot of different styles and colors,” Perkins says. “I sure didn’t invent the tube … but we’ve come up with some innovations that put us on the map.”
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A Tradition of Innovation
Tradition also drives innovation in Southern Idaho. Chris and Amanda Jones, founders of the aromatherapy company Plant Therapy, both grew up in the region and chose to stay because of their extended families, who also influenced their business. Amanda’s mother started a natural cosmetics, lotion and oils company that Chris eventually bought from her to revamp and rebrand, narrowing the focus just to the oils. Plant Therapy grew by almost 8,000 percent from 2011 to 2014, at which time it was named the 31st-fastest-growing business in the country by Inc. 500 magazine. After outgrowing two warehouses,the company is now located in a 40,000-square-foot facility that was once a car dealership.
The company’s mission is to make aromatherapy accessible by offering high-quality essential oils at affordable prices. Its new product line, KidSafe, is the first-ever essential oils products specifically for kids, targeting issues and ailments common among children ages 2 to 10. KidSafe essential oils do not include peppermint (a potential breathing irritant), thyme (potential skin irritant) or ylang-ylang (potential skin irritant).
The company’s success doesn’t stay just within the family; Plant Therapy has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to charities and people in need locally and worldwide.