Southern Idaho Businesses Make a Perfectly Timed Pivot Amidst the Pandemic
Entrepreneurs find opportunity in the region amid pandemic struggles.
What can a Prohibition-era whiskey cache reveal about the current residents of Southern Idaho? When times get tough, resilient entrepreneurs in the Twin Falls region get creative.
Local investors Lisa and Dave Buddecke visited a specialty shop in Denver that combined food-based entrepreneurs in a space that beckoned images of European markets. The couple felt so inspired that they decided to launch a similar concept in Twin Falls – a food hall called 2nd South Market.
Hindsight may render new business ventures in 2020 risky, but as fate would have it, the Buddeckes’ vision was only able to be accomplished through the clever use of a new tax incentive and free time to renovate a building nearly a century old.
“An old Salvation Army building in an Opportunity Zone with an outside area went up for sale in November 2019,” Lisa says. “The tax program option was absolutely critical to our decision to purchase this building.”
Lisa says she and her husband researched Opportunity Zones using resources from the Idaho Department of Commerce and Twin Falls Economic Development to better understand how this potential purchase could potentially benefit them. Their accountant confirmed that the investment would significantly benefit the couple from a short- and long-term tax standpoint.
The market was rolling full steam ahead until the economy was zapped of its inertia due to the familiar foe of COVID-19. Southern Idaho was not exempt from the fallout experienced in the wake of responses to protect citizens’ health and safety.
Fortunately, there was enough excitement from the project that the Buddeckes were able to secure the food hall’s first tenants, and they used the extra time as the ultimate soft launch when the hall opened in October 2020.
Twin Falls‘ for-profit sector wasn’t the only entity reeling from the impact of the pandemic. Nonprofit service industries that drive local commerce, like the Twin Falls Visitor Center, were also feeling the pinch.
“International travel evaporated; tour buses are not running in 2020,” says Shawn Barigar, president and CEO of the Twin Falls Area Chamber of Commerce. “We had to adapt to a different type of visitor with different needs.”
The tourism pivot: When large groups stop rolling in, start rolling out individual experiences. “We hired information specialists to provide one-on-one concierge service to answer questions of visitors, direct them to local attractions and business services, and provide a more welcoming experience,” Barigar says. “As Idaho progressed through the reopening stages, we saw more and more visitors from a wider region.”
Faced with nearly total revenue loss at the beginning of the pandemic, the Visitor Center clawed back to just a 66% reduction in both visitor count and sales by the end of May 2020. After the “reinvention” of the Visitor Center, both visitor count and sales were actually up 30% by the end of August 2020.
However, some industries didn’t have “tales of woe” as much as they had “tales of whoa!” Moss Greenhouses & Plantscaping is one example of a business that boomed during the pandemic.
“We were a business deemed essential, so we had to adjust how our small staff and limited overhead could handle that shift,” says owner Jennifer Moss. “We just held on for dear life!”
An unexpected outcome from stay-at-home orders and a restless population confined to their homes was that it produced a bumper crop of new gardeners. Moss Greenhouses had to tend to these new customers. In response, the nursery launched fresh digital content that included video tips and question-and-answer sessions with experts. Moss sees this as an opportunity for her business to grow in 2021.
“The best thing we can do as a local business is do everything we can to cultivate that new gardener and help them to succeed,” she says.
If you’d like to learn more about the Southern Idaho area, check out the latest edition of Livability: Southern Idaho.