CALDWELL — When it comes to attracting manufacturers, Caldwell Economic Development Director Steve Fultz lives by one primary philosophy: to promise and deliver.
Fultz, who’s been working in Caldwell for more than 15 years, uses that philosophy along with his partnerships, which he calls the “secret sauce” to economic prosperity, to help attract large manufacturers — such as Fresca Mexican Foods and Capitol Distributing — to the Sky Ranch Business Park, the city’s hub for industrial growth.
“You’ve always heard the term, you under promise and over deliver,” Fultz said. “A lot of times my concern is if you under promise, you may never get the chance to over deliver. We know what we can promise and what we can deliver. I think that’s what’s been to our advantage as we’ve developed out here.”
This year, more than 200,000 square feet of industrial business has moved to Sky Ranch, bringing hundreds of jobs to Caldwell. As a result, manufacturing has added more jobs than any other sector and is growing at three times the rate of economic development in the city as a whole, according to the Boise Valley Economic Partnership.
Fultz is just one of many players who have helped put Caldwell on the map, which he said has led economic developers across the state to ask him, “How do you do it?”
“We do it by developing a strategy, finding the mechanism to fund it and then doing it — and doing it the right way,” Fultz said.
Some of those strategies include offering development incentives, like shovel-ready land and business incentive grants, to developers eyeing the area. Canyon County commissioners have also approved tax exemptions for several businesses in Sky Ranch so far, including Fresca, Southwark Metal Manufacturing Co., Capitol Distributing and AMFEC.
Developing Sky Ranch and making the city attractive for large businesses was the culmination of years of work. It was, and continues to be, a team effort among city officials and other business partners beyond City Hall, Fultz said.
“It wasn’t Steve Fultz that made this happen … (I) just introduced it and said that we can do all of this. Then I go to all the partners and say, ‘We can do all of this, right?’” Fultz laughed. “It’s through those partnerships that we’ve been able to make this thing happen.”
YEARS OF EXPERIENCE
Fultz began working in the economic development sector in Florida in the late ‘80s. Since then, he’s worked across the United States, including Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he first learned the importance of relationships and partnerships in development.
Years of experience are what made Fultz so marketable for Caldwell.
“We were so fortunate to get him,” Caldwell Mayor Garret Nancolas said. “His skills are exceptional — I would put him up against any economic development specialist in the nation. If he says something, you can take it to the bank and get change.”
When he first came to Caldwell in 2003, Fultz led the Caldwell Economic Development Council, a 501©6 corporation separate from the city that granted Caldwell’s Foreign Trade Zone and launched the Southwest Idaho Manufacturer’s Alliance, which the council eventually evolved into.
It wasn’t until about five years ago that Fultz took on the role as the city’s first economic development director, which pays roughly $87,000 a year.
Fultz initially decided to come to Caldwell because, at the time, it was a town with a clear vision for growth. From there, Fultz said the city began determining a strategic plan that would help them reach that vision.
“We developed an idea or strategy that actually, to this day, I still work on,” Fultz said.
When determining which businesses are best suited for Caldwell, Fultz and other city partners are specific and don’t hand out incentives to just anyone.
Two of the biggest factors Fultz said he takes into account are whether or not the company will provide livable wages and is well-established.
“As we’re targeting businesses, we’re looking for maturity in those businesses, businesses that meet our target, which is food processing, light manufacturing, distribution,” Fultz said. “Those are the ones we target in those marketing efforts.”
When he first joined the Caldwell team, Sky Ranch was a vacant plot of about 300 acres.
Now, there’s nearly no acreage left for development, with roughly 60 acres still being marketed primarily for commercial and retail, Fultz said.
“Right here (in Caldwell), you have one of the best economic developers in the country by far,” Clark Krause, BVEP’s executive director, said to a crowd at November’s Caldwell Chamber of Commerce luncheon. “Every one of those projects Steve has won for the community took weeks, months, multiple years … Steve has worked on some diligently for a couple years.”
It’s not only Fultz’s knowledge, but his “easygoing” personality and characteristics that play a role in the work that he does, Nancolas said.
Fultz, known for being a “comedian,” adds a fun element to city meetings, according to Nancolas.
“He is so funny. He’s quick, he’s witty ... You can’t help but like him,” Nancolas said. “He’s so honest and so forthright and that’s what the developers love.”
Outside of work, Fultz enjoys playing guitar at wineries along the Sunnyslope Wine Trail. His unorthodox style takes people by surprise — he’s left-handed and holds the guitar upside down, with the strings in reverse order.
“How he does that, I don’t know,” Nancolas said.
TEACHING FUTURE ECONOMIC DEVELOPERS
In the coming year, Fultz’s efforts will reach beyond Caldwell.
On Jan. 1, he will be named the president of the Idaho Economic Development Association, a statewide organization that works with economic developers and partners.
Fultz said during his time as president he plans to reactivate a mentoring program for younger economic developers to help better train them for the field.
“I don’t know if you’re ever truly accomplished if you haven’t taught someone else to do it,” Fultz said. “That’s something that again from a professional standpoint ... it’s like, OK, we can carry on with this profession into the next generation.”