2014 Data Shows Economic Promise for Northern Idaho

Northern Idaho’s economy showed real life in 2013 and the data currently available for 2014 are stacking up well.

Despite the continued slowness of the state’s economic recovery, the most recent preliminary data for 2014 through June shows regional employment up 1.8 percent over the first half of 2013 with the same three counties leading the way: Kootenai County was up 3.6 percent, Boundary County up 2.1 percent and Bonner County increased by 1 percent. Benewah County also saw fractional employment growth but not enough to offset a 5 percent decline in Shoshone County.

Bonner County was hit hard with the closure of Coldwater Creek – 339 employees were laid off in Sandpoint with an additional 104 jobs lost from the closure of the Coeur d’Alene call center. Those layoffs could also affect the jobs of nearly 500 workers in other sectors of the economy – 360 in Bonner County and 110 in Kootenai County – but Bonner County has diversified over the past six years, and that could help blunt the impact of the closure.

Health care plays an increasing role, as manufacturing – including traditional wood products, high-tech, aerospace, chemical and others – remains a major player in Bonner County’s economy. High-tech is also growing in Bonner County. Kochava – a platform technology for tracking mobile ad spending – continues to grow at a rapid pace and has recently taken advantage of the state’s new tax reimbursement incentive to expand. A new venture in Sandpoint – MakersPointe community shop – provides high-end equipment for prototyping and expertise for training, serving essentially a community center with tools.

Shoshone County is caught in an economic cycle. As the economy recovers, metal prices drop leaving some mines in the Silver Valley in flux, but the Superfund remediation of the area has provided jobs through the depth of the recession. Still, there has been no real overall job growth the past two years. Manufacturing took some hits after the sale of Formation Metals and the Sunshine Refinery. With Dave Smith Motors leading the way, retail has been recovering at a rapid rate and is approaching 2008 levels. Timber industry employment is down slightly, but production has been running strong as housing starts rise. Most mills across the region are running at full throttle, particularly in Benewah County where Stimson and Potlatch continue working overtime to keep up with orders.

Falling oil prices have helped the timber industry and manufacturing, bolstered by rising consumer confidence. When the timber industry thrives so does retail, which has strong sales in Benewah County – up 19.3 percent during the first half of 2014. However employment has not kept pace, lagging the recovery in surrounding counties. Sales near the Canadian border sales have not been as strong. Taxable sales were down 16.6 percent in Boundary County over the first half of 2014, but overall, employment has been recovering well and exceeds levels posted during the first half of 2007, according to preliminary data. The Kootenai Tribe opened its new Twin Rivers Sturgeon and Burbot Hatchery, and the hops farm and tree nurseries had exceptional growing seasons, given the temperate weather. The most recent county level data show building permits increased 51 percent regionally from 664 in 2012 to 1,001 in 2013, and Kootenai County alone recorded over 850 in the first nine months of 2014, the highest level since 2007. Single-family building permits, however, were down 0.4 percent, reflecting the shift in focus to multifamily units and commercial development. Construction employment was up significantly in Kootenai County, but still over 2,600 below the 2007 peak.

As the population ages and more and more retirees migrate to the area, demand rises for health care and other services. Health care continued to add the most jobs on a monthly basis in Kootenai County followed by hotels and restaurants. According to preliminary data, health care jobs were up 6.8 percent in the first half of 2014, and hotels and restaurants were up 4.1 percent. Another leading indicator – initial unemployment insurance claims – is showing signs of impending employment growth in 2015. All five northern counties posted significant declines in new claims filed throughout 2014.

Inital claims by LOInitan UI benefit claims by LOAlivia.Metts@labor.idaho.gov, regional economist (208) 457-8789 ext. 3486