North Central Idaho: 2014 in Review

North central Idaho continued its economic recovery in 2014. Unemployment rates fell to relatively low levels, and nonfarm payroll employment reached an estimated 45,100, but jobs were still 3.5 percent – about 1,280 jobs – lower than in 2007.

Unemployment Rates by County

Nez Perce Tribe

The Nez Perce Tribe completed expansion of its Camas Express convenience store near Winchester on U.S. Highway 95. The new center includes a public rest area, one of three partnerships between the Idaho Transportation Department and other parties to improve driver services. The Environmental Protection Agency awarded nearly $200,000 for a Brownfields grant to the tribe to clean up a former mill site on U.S. Highway 12 about a mile east of Orofino. The 39 acres had been contaminated over the years by creosote, lead and other pollutants from a wood treatment plant, an asphalt batch plant, a fireworks stand and trap shooting range. The tribe plans to use the site as a recreational area with a convenience store and tackle shop, cabin rentals and a boat ramp.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture also awarded a $22,000 Rural Business Enterprise Grant to the tribe to provide federal contracting certification training and business assistance for small businesses.

This fall, the tribe shut down the construction management group it formed two years ago. Originally intended to work on tribal contracts and then transition to other projects, there was not enough work available.

Clearwater County

For the first time since 2006, Clearwater County added nonfarm payroll jobs with an estimated increase of 4.7 percent from 2,766 in 2013 to 2,897 in 2014. Almost all sectors showed some growth. This summer the county’s unemployment rate fell below 10 percent for the first time since March 2008.

Manufacturing created 50 new jobs to total 310 in 2014. With demand for wood products rising, Tri-Pro Cedar Products changed from a 40-hour shift to a 60-hour shift at its sawmill near Orofino. Nearly 100 people worked there, twice as many as two years earlier. Among the Orofino manufacturers adding jobs in 2014 were AAA Tool and Cutter Grinding, sign manufacturer ASE and Stone Mountain Archery, which makes bow strings.

The National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Academy opened in Pierce in January 2014. The program handles two classes of 100 to 120 students a year. The boot-camp-style program lasts for 22 weeks and then offers a 12-month follow-up with mentors. Students who come from all over Idaho must be 16 to 18 years old and either dropped out of high school or be at risk of dropping out. The federal government pays 75 percent of the cost. More than 40 people work at the school.

Health care added about 20 jobs in 2014. Clearwater Valley Hospital in Orofino began building a $5 million, 20,000-square-foot clinic about half a mile from the hospital in April and expects to open the clinic in February. The new clinic will include 24 exam rooms while the 20-year-old clinic contains 17.

The Rex Theatre in downtown Orofino will continue to offer movies after a U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Business Enterprise Grant allowed it to install equipment to run the new digital pictures.

Clearwater County commissioners declared a state of emergency Aug. 18 after hail caused severe damage to wheat farms on the Weippe Prairie. The storm damaged about 1,200 acres of spring wheat near Fraser. The U.S. Department of Agriculture designated the county a natural disaster area, making farm operators eligible for emergency loans and other assistance from the Farm Service Agency.

More tourists visited the county. Total hotel-motel receipts reported to the Idaho Tax Commission grew 11.6 from $2.19 million in the first 11 months of 2013 to $2.44 million in the first 11 months of 2014.

With employment rising and more tourists, retail activity increased. Total taxable sales, according to the Idaho Tax Commission, grew 2.3 from $35.9 million in January through September 2013 to $36.7 million in the same months of 2014.

Idaho and Lewis Counties

For the third year in a row, Idaho and Lewis counties added nonfarm payroll jobs. Idaho County added about 40 jobs in 2014 while Lewis County added about 30. Nonfarm jobs in both counties grew between 1 percent and 2 percent.

Logging and lumber mills added 30 jobs in 2014, while other manufacturing remained unchanged. Manufacturing employment hovered around 680 in 2014, just as it did in 2013. In the past two years, manufacturing employment has been at its highest level since 2003.

Manufactring Jobs in Idaho, Lewis CountiesTourism picked up. Total hotel-motel receipts in Idaho and Lewis counties, reported to the Idaho Tax Commission, grew 12.3 percent from $4.8 million in the first 11 months of 2013 to $5.4 million in the first 11 months of 2014.

With improved consumer confidence and incomes for local residents, along with increased spending by visitors, retail sales grew. Total taxable sales in the two counties increased 9 percent from $92.9 million in the first nine months of 2013 to $100.4 million in the first nine months of 2014. Retailers added about 20 jobs in 2014.

Health care grew an estimated 5.6 percent from 725 jobs in 2013 to 765 in 2014. Syringa Hospital in Grangeville began a $2.5 million upgrade this summer.

The Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests celebrated the opening of its new supervisor’s office in Kamiah May 14. Over the past eight years, the Forest Service’s budget has declined 25 percent, dictating the consolidation of two forests into one and a plan to close the headquarters in Orofino and Grangeville and open a new one on existing Forest Service property in Kamiah. By combining the forests, the agency has eliminated 81 staff jobs since 2006.

Idaho County plans to spend $3.3 million on a major renovation of its Grangeville airport next year. Complete replacement of the aging runway could begin by next summer. As well as handling growing private traffic, the new runway will keep the airport a priority firefighting facility for the Forest Service for the foreseeable future.

Falling wheat prices, caused by a global surplus, reduced farmers’ incomes while record high prices for cattle boosted ranchers’ income.

Latah County

Latah County had another year of sluggish growth. Nonfarm payroll jobs increased just 0.3 percent from 14,940 to 2013 to 14,980 in 2014.

Many Latah County residents found jobs in Whitman County, especially in Pullman’s booming construction sector, at Washington State University and at Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories. Both added about 150 jobs in Pullman in 2014.

The University of Idaho is north central Idaho’s largest employer. Its enrollment also affects the area’s population and spending power. For the third year in a row, the University of Idaho’s enrollment dropped while Washington State University’s rose. Since many Washington State students live in Pullman, Latah County’s college-age population may have remained steady.

Manufacturing employment continued to hover around 370 in 2014. The county’s largest manufacturer, the Bennett mill in Princeton, employs more than 150 people.

Technology transfer companies that spun off from research at the University of Idaho added about 45 jobs in 2013, bringing their employment in Moscow to more than 400. Economic Modeling Specialist International increased its employment estimate from about 70 in 2013 to more than 100 in 2014. Alturas Analytics landed on INC. magazine’s list of the 5,000 fastest-growing private companies in 2014. Created 14 years ago as a spinoff from Anatech Labs in Moscow, the company at Alturas Technology Park in Moscow tests the effects of drugs as they are developed. It also has helped the military develop anti-chemical warfare agents soldiers can inject as antidotes if they are gassed. Among the tech companies that have expanded in recent years are EcoAnalysts, the largest bioassessment laboratory in North America; Anatech Labs, which does water testing and other environmental work; and First Step Internet.

Growing incomes and greater confidence about their economic futures allowed consumers to increase spending. Taxable sales for Latah County reached $20.7 million in the first nine months of 2014, about 12.7 percent higher than $18.3 million in the first nine months of 2013, according to the Idaho Tax Commission. Retail employment grew from 1,863 in 2013 to an estimated 1,893 in 2014.

The Moscow Chamber of Commerce, the Best Western Plus University Inn and the University of Idaho have been working together in the past two years to bring more conferences to Moscow. As a result of their efforts, Moscow hosted both the Idaho Republican and the Idaho Democratic state conventions in June. The Fairfield Inn, which opened in 2013,  expanded Moscow’s capacity to provide lodging on big football weekends or other special university dates. Hagadone Hospitality also extensively remodeled its 173-room Best Western Plus University Inn, which now allows the facility to host more and much larger meetings and conferences.

Leisure and hospitality employment grew an estimated 3.1 percent from 1,736 in 2013 to 1,791 in 2014. Hotel-motel receipts in Latah County grew 13 percent from $766,687 in the first 11 months of 2013 to $869,486 in the first 11 months of 2014, according to the Idaho Tax Commission.

Nez Perce County

Nez Perce County’s economy stabilized in 2014. Nonfarm payroll jobs grew 0.7 percent from 21,261 to an estimated 21,410. Financial activities was the only major sector to lose a significant number of jobs with the loss of 100 insurance jobs.

After adding 653 jobs in 2013, Nez Perce County manufacturers added 42 jobs in 2014, growing 1.2 percent to 3,573. Clearwater Paper in Lewiston increased production, but its employment remained near 1,370. Forecasting slower growth because of the uncertain economic climate, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories announced in early 2014  it would complete the expansion of its Lewiston facilities more than a year later than originally scheduled. Idaho Forest Group made a multimillion-dollar investment at its Lewiston mill, adding log-processing equipment that allows it to process logs into lumber faster.

Although manufacturing did not add many jobs in Nez Perce County in 2014, the Lewiston metropolitan area, which includes Asotin County, Washington, added more than 70 jobs when Bennett Lumber Products reopened its mill at the Port of Wilma near Clarkston in April. The mill had been shuttered since 2009.

Man jobs in Nez Perce Co Retail activity was a mixed bag. Retail trade added 55 jobs, growing 2.3 percent to an estimated 2,457. Winco opened a new grocery store in Lewiston in November. Taxable sales, as reported by the Idaho Tax Commission, fell marginally in Nez Perce County – from $252.9 million in the first nine months of 201 to $251.3 million in the first nine months of 2014.

Tourism showed significant growth. Hotel-motel receipts reported by the Idaho Tax Commission grew 11.1 percent from $9.8 million in the first 11 months of 2013 to $10.9 million in the first 11 months of 2014. Leisure and hospitality jobs grew 3.4 percent from 2,050 in 2013 to 2,120 in 2014. Expansion at the Nez Perce Tribe’s casino was responsible for nearly half of that growth. An 81-room Marriott Fairfield Inn and Suites is under construction near the Village Centre Cinemas in Lewiston. The company chose Lewiston by looking at occupancy rates, room prices and the number of jobs being added by Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories and other manufacturers.

Health care employment continued to hover around 3,000. St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Lewiston began to build a 66,400-square-foot addition to the 400,000-square-foot hospital last fall. The $42.7 million expansion will house outpatient services including the oncology center and new technology and physician offices. Construction on the hospital’s west side will take up to three years. The first phase is the $14 million construction of a central energy plant, which will replace aging heating and air-conditioning systems. It also includes generators for emergency, backup power and a power vault that distributes electricity once it reaches the hospital. The second phase will be construction of the building addition, which will allow the hospital to provide more procedures in an outpatient setting., regional economist
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