When Bear Lake County leaders wanted to know how a proposed phosphate mine near Paris would affect the region, they turned to Idaho State University’s Bengal Solutions for help.
“We wanted them to flesh out information for local businesses… to help them understand the impact of the mine on the community,” said Kathy Ray, the executive director of the 4-County Alliance of Southeastern Idaho. 4-CASI is a public agency that promotes economic development and job growth in Bear Lake, Caribou, Oneida and Franklin counties.
Ray and her team contracted with Bengal Solutions in 2013 after the Canadian company, Stonegate Agricom Ltd., began exploring the possibility of constructing an underground phosphate mine just west of Paris. The company is currently seeking state permits for the Paris Hills Phosphate Project and searching for a buyer for the ore. The mine has the potential to employ up to 350 people, said Ray.
4-CASI wanted to know the impact on community infrastructure, local businesses and the potential for indirect job growth. Leaders wanted to avoid the stumbling blocks of other boom towns. Would there be enough grocery stores to handle the influx of shoppers, enough classroom space to handle new students? Were local businesses equipped to support the mining industry?
Founded in 2009, Bengal Solutions is housed in the ISU College of Business. A tool to fuel Idaho’s economy, Bengal Solutions draws on the talents of top-notch MBA and Master of Accountancy students who lend their business expertise to private companies, governments, corporations and nonprofit agencies.
“It’s a wonderful collaboration that allows students to get great hands-on learning and real-world experience and allows businesses the opportunity to get solid business and consulting advice,” said Bengal Solutions Director Kolton Woodbury.
In the last five years, Bengal Solutions has conducted market research, created business plans, surveys and economic impact reports for close to 100 clients. Fees range from $3,000 to $4,500, a fraction of what comparable studies in the private sector would cost. The money goes back into the program in the form of tuition scholarships and graduate assistantships, says Woodbury.
For the Paris Hills Phosphate Project, graduate students prepared an economic impact study, using research models and rigorously analyzing resources in the region. They determined Bear Lake County communities from Montpelier to Bloomington would see a significant boost to local business once the mine was in full production.
Here are some of the highlights.
• Miners and their families would spend close to half a million dollars a year at restaurants—enough revenue to support a new fast-food chain or two family-owned eateries in the area.
• They’d spend money on medical services, boosting local health care revenues by as much as 12 percent.
• Each year, they’d spend as much as $1.45 million at local grocery stores, creating eight to 10 new jobs. They spend another $2 million on transportation costs, which includes household vehicle purchases, fuel and maintenance costs and car insurance.
• Local elementary, middle and high schools could comfortably handle the influx of new students.
“The report was a good eye opener for the businesses in Montpelier because there was a lot of speculation. You know… ‘was the mine going to be a huge impact or no impact at all?’ This gave them a realistic picture of how they could plan for expansion,” said Ray.
Take it to the bank
Also important was the fact the economic impact report could serve as a document local businesses could take to lenders when applying for loans to expand their businesses.
MBA student Will Anderson was one of six students who worked on the Paris Hills Phosphate Project. “I would say Bengal Solutions has been the best part of the graduate program because it’s taking the things you are learning in the classroom and applying them to actual business scenarios where real money is being spent and decisions matter,” said Anderson.
As for Ray, she appreciated the “fresh look” Bengal Solutions gave her group. “It was an inexpensive way to get a high-quality report. I’m sure we will be using them again,” she said.