More grist for the China-Idaho blog rumor mill? Commerce chief steps down

UPDATED, 10:23 a.m. Wednesday, with details from letter, comment from Otter's office.

Idaho's chief salesman is returning to the private sector.

Commerce Department chief Don Dietrich has resigned, effective Sept. 2, after nearly 3 1/2 years as Gov. Butch Otter's point man on economic development.

No successor was named, and a news release said only that Dietrich is returning to the private sector.

Dietrich has come somewhat under fire, along with Otter, from bloggers and even the state Republican Central Committee, which has questioned the state's overtures to attract business investment in China. "The Chinese are looking for a beachhead in the United States," Dietrich said in a June 2010 Statesman article, in a quote widely recycled on the right-wing blogosphere.

Dietrich's resignation letter, hand-delivered to Otter's office Friday, makes no mention of the China issue. This morning, Otter spokesman Jon Hanian said the controversy and the GOP central committee's action played no role in Dietrich's decision.

Here's the Otter news release:

Gov. C. L. “Butch” Otter announced today that Don Dietrich, director of the Idaho Department of Commerce since April 2008, is resigning effective Sept. 2 to return to the private sector.

“Don has been a key member of my team for more than three years now. On his watch we launched our Project 60 efforts, we worked to attract the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to Idaho bases, and we initiated the ‘Just Make the Shift’ program to attract businesses from other states where taxes and regulations are impeding their growth. We engaged local industry leaders from throughout Idaho with summits on business, finance and innovation, and we enhanced an already sterling international business reputation,” Governor Otter said.

“Don has been instrumental in attracting such great corporate citizens as C3 in Twin Falls, Allstate in Pocatello and AREVA in Idaho Falls. His professionalism and commitment have been exemplary, especially as all of us in state government learn to do more with less,” the governor said. “I appreciate his agreeing to help ensure a smooth transition. Don has my thanks for his service and my best wishes for all his future endeavors.”

Dietrich, formerly an executive with Aspen Technology and Cargill Inc., submitted his letter of resignation on Aug. 5. The search is under way for a successor to lead the Department of Commerce in building strong collaborative relationships in communities and with businesses throughout Idaho that nurture investments and career opportunities.

“I am proud of what we have accomplished during these challenging times. However, it is clear to me that a change is necessary — for the Department and for me personally — in order for you to continue building on these successes and to meet my desire to return to the private sector,” Dietrich wrote in his resignation letter.

“It’s important to remember that Commerce is part of a team that includes all state agencies devoted to seamlessly working with local leaders and economic development authorities to put Idaho’s best foot forward to the world,” Otter said. “We are doing the right things in Idaho — living within the people’s means and making the tough decisions that position us for future growth and prosperity. I am personally committed to ensuring state government continues doing its part to foster growth and put more Idahoans back to work, and I look forward to joining our new Commerce director in aggressively engaging at every level with the employers and decision makers who drive our economy.”

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What better time

to open up a chop suey shop on the Idaho beachhead.