Idaho County economic conditions have been steadily improving for the past three years, according to information from the Idaho Department of Labor (IDOL), and the 2014 forecast is bright for more of the same.
Unemployment figures are down for the third straight year, according to a preliminary IDOL report released last week.
For 2013, Idaho County’s annual average was estimated at 8.8 percent; 645 unemployed out of a total 7,300 civilian labor force. This is down from 9.3 percent (691 of 7,393) in 2012 and 10.9 percent (800 of 7,355) in 2011.
This is also reflected in the annual averages for the Grangeville SMLA (small labor market area) that showed a preliminary 8.2 percent unemployment for this IDOL-defined region (740 unemployed of 9,031), down from 8.7 percent (791 of 9,141) in 2012 and 10.4 percent (953 of 9,155) in 2011.
What factors are contributing to this?
“Manufacturing, particularly the wood products industry,” said Kathryn Tacke, IDOL Regional Economist, “which has really come back since the recession began.”
Considerable growth has been seen in both logging and wood processing, and area manufacturing in general has improved since the recession, with one of the most impressive, she added, being Advanced Welding and Steel in Grangeville. County manufacturing growth overall was especially noted from 2010 to 2012, but it was slower last year.
Area hospitality and tourism industries have also seen growth, according to Tacke, as tourists are spending more money in the county. Benefitting in the last four to five years have been the regional wholesale and retail industries, particularly due to support from agricultural producers.
“It’s been a good period for farmers,” Tacke said, “and they’ve been able to increase their spending at a time when others have had to decrease their spending.”
Interestingly, another factor in county unemployment rate improvements was due to a decrease in total labor numbers, attributed to discouraged job seekers dropping out of the workforce, according to Tacke.
“This is partially because of people giving up looking for work,” she said; however, she tempered that with the fact Idaho County’s population is older than the national average; baby boomer generations and earlier, who are less likely to drop out of the labor pool. And the county’s labor force decrease has been between 50 to 60 people, which is not a huge amount, she added.
For county unemployment, one of the contributing factors is the employment decline with federal agencies, particularly the Forest Service, according to Tacke.
“Since 2010 there’s been a loss of about 80 Forest Service jobs,” she said. Some of this is attributable to the consolidation of the Nez Perce and Clearwater national forests and the corresponding job losses through redundancy and attrition, as well as the supervisor’s office relocation from Grangeville to Kamiah. “It’s also partly because of the sequestration, which has reduced Forest Service spending, particularly in recreation.”
Within the past month, Idaho County unemployment levels remained static: a preliminary 7.7 percent reported for December 2013, the same percentage as in the month prior. This is down from the 8.1 percent unemployment reported for December 2012. For last month, 6,655 were employed in Idaho County out of a total 7,300 labor force.
On that 7.7 percent figure, Tacke noted this is the lowest unemployment rate for Idaho County since September 2008, when it was also 7.7.
“Many economists are feeling hopeful about 2014,” Tacke said. U.S. economic improvements should be helpful for Idaho County’s economy, particularly in tourism, as well as increases in construction that will benefit local manufacturing and wood products industries.