As with the rest of the nation, accurately estimating the size of the gig economy in Idaho remains a challenge. While measures such as part-time employment and self-employment show unimpressive growth trends, other indicators like the growth of staffing agencies and nonemployer establishments tell a different and perhaps more believable story – the gig economy in Idaho is alive and growing.
What is a gig?
The word “gig” spontaneously invokes images of bar bands, freelance writers, Uber drivers and TaskRabbit workers. A common thread with these workers is that work is on-demand and oftentimes uncertain. The formal definition of a gig, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is “a single project or task for which a worker is hired, often through a digital marketplace, to work on demand.”
Not only can gigs vary in frequency, duration and skill level, the gig worker can have many faces as well. One gig worker could be self-employed with one or multiple gigs forming the bulk of his/her income; another could be a part-time worker using gigs to supplement traditional employment. These variances are part of the difficulties faced in estimating the size of the gig economy and workforce.
Proxy datasets used to represent the gig economy capitalize on some of the typical elements of gig work namely that gig workers are often part-time, contingent workers and are self-employed. These datasets are imperfect indicators that offer only a glimpse of this gig economy. The following are some of these indicators.
The retail industry has been on a roller coaster ride over the past 25 years with a slightly negative trend line as shown in Figure 1. The housing bubble created tremendous demand for household furnishings and goods, which then plummeted with the Great Recession that caused shuttering of a handful of furniture stores and car lots in Twin Falls. Small retail businesses throughout south central Idaho suffered from the economic downturn ending in fewer local retail outlets available in rural areas.
Several area ski resorts have begun their winter seasons. Lookout Pass opened the first weekend of November, while Silver Mountain and Schweitzer opened Thanksgiving weekend. Source: Spokane Journal of Business
Water Solutions Inc. is building an office building with an attached manufacturing space in Rathdrum. The company, which sells drinking water purification units, began as a sole proprietorship in 2001 in Rathdrum and anticipates a workforce expansion commensurate with their growing business and new facilities. Source: Spokane Journal of Business
The city of Hayden issued building permits for a $13.7 million, 96-unit apartment complex. The complex is the first phase in a larger development plan by Coeur d’Alene-based Hayden Village LLC, which will eventually develop 64.4 acres in Hayden. Source: Spokane Journal of Business
The Parks and Recreation Committee in Coeur d’Alene voted to ban offshore businesses in the city’s water corridor on Lake Coeur d’Alene. The decision will affect enterprises like the Hooligan Island jungle gym barge and boats that sell food. The committee sited the danger of motorized boat traffic near the beach, in water that is generally full of kayakers, paddle-boarders and swimmers in the summer. Source: Coeur D’Alene Press
Developers Philip Wirth and Rick Robinson have announced plans to create a 233-acre technology park on Highway 41 in Post Falls. The complex is being designed with technology and aerospace manufactures in mind, and the developers have specifically cited proximity to North Idaho College’s technical schools in Rathdrum as a draw to the location. Source: Coeur D’Alene Press
Idaho’s new business establishments have added more than 10,000 private sector jobs per year over the past two decades, accounting for between 20 to 30 percent of private sector gross job gains and nearly all net private sector job growth. Since the end of the last recession, the share of private sector new businesses in Idaho’s economy has risen faster than surrounding states and the nation as a whole, growing from 7 percent of all establishments in 2010 to more than 11 percent in 2016. Job creation by these private startup businesses, however, remains in decline.
Idaho startup rates and failure rates are higher than national averages
In Idaho, as with the rest of the nation, the rise in the number of businesses entering the economy was significantly stymied by the most recent recession that started in December 2007. At the end of the first quarter of 2010, the number of establishment entries in Idaho had sunk to less than 3,000 from its prerecession peak of 5,073. Since then, the downward trend reversed and establishment entries have returned to pre-recession levels.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistic – Business Employment Dynamics. Startups are establishments less than a year old and do not include non-employer establishments
Northern Idaho witnessed at least 21 reported wildfires in July. While the actions of the forest service and other authorities prevented any of the fires from forcing evacuations or threatening structures, the number of fires was above average for July. Source: Coeur d’Alene Press
Construction work began on a new commercial complex in Athol, which will eventually include the town’s first grocery store as well as a hardware store, a hotel and additional light industrial and commercial space. Source: Coeur d’Alene Press
The Idaho Transportation Department and North Idaho College are partnering to offer a free three-week heavy equipment operator course, which aims both to fill labor needs in the construction industry and offer career opportunities to veterans, women and minorities. Source: Coeur d’Alene Press
Nineteen Idaho counties – from Washington County in western Idaho to Teton County in eastern Idaho – are within the “path of totality” and are expected to see a large influx of visitors during this year’s total eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017.
Preparing for the total solar eclipse is taking center stage locally, regionally and nationally. Experts from Great American Eclipse.com anticipate anywhere from 93,000 to 370,000 visitors across the path of totality in Idaho, including Sun Valley, Stanley and Washington County. But the majority of visitors are expected in eastern Idaho, with NASA estimating upwards of 500,000 in eastern Idaho alone. Anyone trying to book a rental property in the region for that weekend using Airbnb will see a message that “2167 percent more people are looking for rental properties in Idaho Falls now (Aug 18-22) than on average.”
Eastern Idaho can provide roughly 8,000 units of rental sleeping spaces including hotels, motels, rental homes, lodges, campsites and RV parks. If each space is shared by an average of three people, the accommodation capacity is around 24,000 people – less than one half to one sixth of the visitor count expected to spend the night prior to eclipse day. Putting this into perspective, if 90 percent of the visitors are around only long enough to see the eclipse, using the region’s resources and infrastructure the economic benefits for the hotels, restaurants and retail outlets may be less than if they were to spend the night.
Recent tariffs imposed on Canadian softwood lumber should reduce the amount of lumber the U.S. imports from Canada and boost the Idaho lumber industry this year. Softwood lumber — made from pine, fir, cedar and spruce — is mostly used for framing new houses.
Last year, according to Wood Resources Quarterly, imports from Canada accounted for 32 percent of lumber used in the United States. Less competition from Canada should boost U.S. mills’ profits, production and employment.
The countervailing duties on Canadian lumber imported to the United States range from 3 percent to 24.12 percent, averaging 19.88 percent. The U.S. Commerce Department plans to impose additional fees that would mean some lumber importers would face duties as high as 30.88 percent. Commerce says Canada is unfairly selling lumber in the U.S. below production costs, aided in part by improper government subsidies.
The new tariff is the latest step in a 35-year-old trade dispute between the two nations. U.S. lumber producers argue that the Canadian government unfairly subsidizes its lumber industry, since most timber cut in Canada comes from provincial forests. Provincial governments set prices administratively and are lower than if they were set in a competitive market. Under U.S. trade remedy laws, foreign trade benefiting from subsidies can be subject to a countervailing duty tariff to offset the subsidy and bring the price of the commodity back up to market rates.
Intermax Networks is now serving Sandpoint’s new city-owned fiber optic cable service. Access to the city’s cable allows Intermax to nearly double its service in Sandpoint and supports the city’s goals of expanding the availability of fiber. Source: Idaho Business Review
Construction on The Crossings – a new 37-acre business complex in Athol – began in June with the first work on a new Super 1 Foods grocery store. The complex is designed to serve the significant rural population of northern Kootenai County and may eventually include medical and financial service providers. Source: Coeur d’Alene Press
The Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce has curtailed its financial support of the CDA Ironman competitions. After 14 years of full Ironman races, the city will instead begin hosting half-Ironman competitions beginning in 2018. Source: Spokesman Review
Silverwood Theme Park has fully ramped up for the summer season after opening its Boulder Beach water park. A representative from the park noted that sales of both season passes and individual tickets are up significantly from the previous year, when Canadian traffic dropped due to a weaker Canadian dollar. Season pass sales are up 23 percent over 2016, while individual ticket sales are up 20 percent. Source: Idaho Business Review
The city of Coeur d’Alene will postpone its planned widening and reconstruction of Government Way. The city received only one bid for the project, which was 34 percent higher than the city’s initial estimate. A city spokesman indicated that the narrow timeframe associated with the project was contributing to high costs, as the project would have required significant overtime work. Source: Spokesman Review
Automation and how technology will change the way we work is an overarching theme in economic analysis today. Computing power has made workers more effective and efficient in a variety of industries, and in some settings human workers have been replaced altogether.
Manufacturing is a prime example. Products assembled by long lines of robotic equipment are a visible reminder of how technology has changed the way Americans work. Since 2000, American industrial output – defined as the total value of the country’s factories, mines and power plants – has grown by just over 10 percent, adjusted for inflation. In that same period, total employment – the number of working hours required to create that output – has shrunk by 29 percent. Technology has made American industry more efficient than ever, and factories are getting increasingly more production out of a shrinking workforce.