Mike Thomason quietly lays groundwork for the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley’s current and future business scene
Mike Thomason retired from a career at Avista, but didn’t slow down much. He’s president of the Port of Lewiston Commission, a board member at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center and more.
By ELAINE WILLIAMS of the Tribune
Mike Thomason could be one of the most influential people in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley.
He’s president of the Port of Lewiston Commission, overseeing a budget of $2.15 million. He’s the only person on the St. Joseph Regional Medical Center board who lives in the region and isn’t employed by the hospital. He also is a board member of Valley Vision, a not-for-profit group. That organization helps existing businesses and recruits new ones to the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley.
He holds those positions in retirement following a 30-plus-year career with Avista that ended with him working as the Lewis Clark regional business manager.
None of that is obvious in Thomason’s demeanor. He listens more than he talks at board meetings and is quick to hand the credit to others. Asked about his biggest accomplishment at Avista, Thomason said, “I was very fortunate to work with some really great people, people who were willing mentors and patient bosses and very skilled and highly trained and committed employees.”
Business Profile: Why did you stay involved in the community when you retired?
Mike Thomason: I retired thinking that I would be semiretired. It took me a little while to determine the sweet spot between being relaxed and being involved. I was enjoying the economic development work, and so I continued on that path. I joined the hospital board just prior to retirement, and I really enjoy that as well. I think both the hospital and the port have had a significant positive impact on Lewiston and Nez Perce County and really the entire region.
BP: What does the hospital bring to our region?
MT: It gives the residents here and in the counties surrounding us the opportunity to have quality cancer care, cardiac care, orthopedic care and many other specialties that might not otherwise exist. The hospital contributes tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in care to people who are indigent and unable to pay. They employ hundreds of quality, well-paid people. They have been willing to partner with free clinics and the nursing school at Lewis-Clark State College. If you tick down the list of things that are important to companies that are relocating or seniors that are changing their address or whomever, it’s how are the schools? How is employment? How’s health care? Is the community safe? Is it close to things I like? The hospital is certainly one of those things.
BP: What can you share about the contributions the port makes to the area?
MT: I recently saw an advertisement was placed in the Lewiston Tribune in 1958 before the port was formed. It talked about creating industrial and commercial space and creating jobs and building the tax base. The port has been a good partner in doing those things. I’m one who believes that private industry and entrepreneurs are primarily responsible for jobs. But it’s nice to have somebody help with infrastructure. In a community that has experienced growth of about 1 percent for many years, it’s difficult to find entrepreneurs willing to develop large parcels of land because there’s some significant risk involved. But the port has done that. The retail area where Home Depot is and the Port of Lewiston Business and Technology Park brought in about $2,900 in property tax, and now they generate over $1.1 million in property tax and a significant amount of sales tax. (One of the developers of Nez Perce Plaza) said the port was instrumental in development of the streets and utilities.
BP: The port is working on a telecommunications project that will improve service throughout Lewiston. How is that going?
MT: We brought dark fiber to the north side of the Clearwater bridge, and now we’re continuing that process throughout Lewiston. We are building the backbone, which would be the downtown area, up 17th Street, clear to the south side of the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport. We would expect that work to be completed within this current year or early in 2017 depending on digging conditions and lots of those kind of things that are beyond our control. Work is proceeding well at this point. We already put in several thousand feet of aerial and buried line. We’re not intending to light that fiber.
By putting the fiber conduit there, we believe more telecommunications providers will be willing to compete for the business of Lewiston’s residences and businesses. The benefits will be faster upload and download speeds for large files. That’s helpful if you’re doing engineering drafts and you’re communicating with a corporate headquarters in a different location or with a customer in a different country. It’s also important to have security, which we think will be enhanced. It is helpful to have redundancy. If a fiber line gets torn down in one part, there’s a back door loop to get the information out. You’re not shutting down people.
BP: Early this month, U.S. District Judge Michael Simon gave the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation two years to create a new approach to salmon recovery in the Snake and Columbia rivers. He suggested that breaching one or more of the Snake River dams should be considered. What do you make of that decision?
MT: It will be an interesting two-year period for the parties to continue to build on the consensus that was developed the past several years. I personally wouldn’t venture a guess on where it will end up. I continue to support the dams. I recognize there are people that don’t. I personally see the value of clean, carbon-free power generation and the reduced-carbon transportation option as well as the economic benefit for shippers in the Inland Northwest.
BP: Valley Vision recently announced that P. Kay Metal would open in Lewiston. This is one of the biggest wins of the organization to date. How did it happen?
MT: Much of what Valley Vision does is confidential because the clients they serve want it to be confidential. Valley Vision gets dozens of inquiries. It’s impossible to know up front which ones merit your attention, so you give everybody equal attention. At some point in the process, it becomes apparent you’re not going to have everything that company desires.
Recruiting P. Kay Metal has been going on for a couple years. I’ve seen lots of hours and lots of behind-the-scenes work by (Valley Vision Executive Director) Doug Mattoon and (the organization’s other employee) Debbie Baker. I’m glad to see 30 to 40 jobs with decent pay. Not only that, but it helps local manufacturers who are already here, like Vista Outdoor and Howell Machine, to have one of their major suppliers right on site. That always is a benefit if you’re not 2,000 miles away. One of the models for successful recruitment is if you can start picking up some suppliers of anchor industries and getting them interested in a local investment. That’s something other communities have done.
BP: The owner of St. Joe’s, Ascension Health in St. Louis, is in negotiations to sell the Lewiston hospital to Capella Healthcare in Franklin, Tenn. Is there anything new to report?
MT: I would say no.
Williams may be contacted at [email protected] or (208) 848-2261.