How Jobs Plus Started

Tom Richards saw the dire economic forecast etched in the trees that fed his livelihood.

Dennis Wheeler had a mind to mine some goodwill for his company.

And Duane Hagadone turned a Spokane lunch into a launching pad that, 30 years later, is still paying dividends throughout Kootenai County and beyond.

These three titans of business — Hagadone from The Hagadone Corp., Richards from Idaho Forest Industries, and Wheeler from Coeur d’Alene Mines — founded Jobs Plus, Inc., the region’s economic development agency, in the spring of 1987.

One lunch led to another, and the rest is history.

Hagadone was too busy to take on more projects that spring of long ago. He was running this newspaper and 16 others. He was on the road at least three weeks out of every four. But when the phone rang, he couldn’t hang up on a bigger problem.

“I got a call from a good friend in Spokane inviting me to a business lunch to help promote Spokane,” Hagadone said. “Spokane was in trouble — no growth — as was Coeur d’Alene. They’d invited me to come and they wanted to include us, but everything was to go to Spokane. And I got to thinking, what the hell?”

That’s pretty much what Tom Richards was thinking, too.

Richards, who was running Idaho Forest Industries with his identical twin and co-owner, John, didn’t need his Stanford degree or MBA from Harvard to see what was happening.