At the peak of the housing boom in 2007, construction jobs hit 53,250 statewide with an annual payroll just under $2 billion. In 2014, the sector had barely 35,000 jobs that paid $1.37 billion.
Construction has historically been strongest in southwestern Idaho – the state’s population center. Ada and Canyon counties account for almost 40 percent of the state’s population. The remaining eight counties add another 6 percent to bring total population of the region to over 737,000. From 2013 to 2014, the number of construction jobs increased just over 1,100 in the region, where almost half the state’s construction jobs are, while northern Idaho’s five counties – anchored by Kootenai County – posted the second largest increase at nearly 450.
Most regions have some balance between population and construction jobs. Southeastern Idaho, however, has 8 percent of the construction jobs but 10.2 percent of the population, a reflection of its slower population growth and less demand for more housing. The gap in north central Idaho was a little smaller but still evidence of anemic population growth.
In south central Idaho, the cities of Sun Valley, Ketchum and Hailey in Blaine County had the largest number of construction workers at 2,500 before the recession, not counting commuters from nearby Lincoln and Gooding counties. But Blaine County has struggled to recover from the recession, and its construction corps remains barely half the prerecession peak.
Chobani’s almost million-square-foot plant boosted construction in Twin Falls County during 2012, increasing the economy regionally, at least in the short term.
In some regions, contractors lack skilled workers as older tradesmen retired and many younger ones were forced by the recession into different careers or to other states like North Dakota with its oil boom. The housing bubble that generated the unsustainable growth in construction during the mid-2000s and caused the dramatic contraction once it burst in 2008 has now created circumstances that have made it more difficult or daunting for potential homebuyers to get back in the market or in it for the first time. In many areas that felt the housing boom a decade ago, single family building permits have still not approached prerecession levels. While the number is declining, some homeowners remain underwater – their homes worth less than they owe on them.
The areas where growth was slowest are recovering toward prerecession job totals more quickly. North central Idaho was less than 21 percent below its prerecession high in 2014 while southwestern Idaho was over 30 percent lower. It will be more than a decade before total construction jobs exceed the peak of 2007.
Jan.Roeser@labor.idaho.gov, regional economist
(208) 735-2500 ext 3639