While Idaho County made great strides in the economic and business sectors in 2014, many challenges lie ahead for the coming year.
“The most pressing economic issues for Idaho County in 2015 include housing, workforce and commercial real estate,” said Melissa Bryant, economic development specialist with Ida-Lew Economic Development Council, Inc.
Bryant explained the stock of housing in Idaho County is relatively old.
“There haven’t been many new properties added and most of the units added were built for the homeowners. There haven’t been many rental properties added to the available stock. The age of the housing stock also means that some homes eventually are no longer habitable and must be destroyed,” she said.
For example, Bryant said, more than 62 percent of the houses in the county were built prior to 1970 and only a little more than 4 percent have been built since 2005. At the same time, the county has had a considerable number of retirees moving in who live part of the year in other states and use the Idaho County house as a second home.
“In addition, there are many people who don’t live in the counties that own vacation homes in the counties. So, that reduces the housing stock available for workforce,” she said.
According to Bryant, the available workforce in Idaho County is shrinking, with unemployment reaching a low of only 4.6 percent in October 2014. She said since 1970, the lowest unemployment in Idaho County was 4.3 percent in September of 2007. Out of the county’s existing workforce, more than 25 percent are 55 and older. Statistics show that in many industries requiring skilled employees, employers are reporting that much larger percentages of their workforce is 55 and older. The issue is that younger employees are either not entering the local workforce or if they are entering it, they are not entering as skilled labor, but as entry level with little or no post-secondary training.
“During the past year, Idaho County has drawn quite a bit of attention by site selectors and companies looking to expand. Following up with the companies on their progress to expand into the county, all cited either the lack of suitable empty buildings or affordable vacant land as reasons to continue looking for a more appropriate location,” Bryant stated. “The area is attractive due to its growing manufacturing and health care industries as well as strengthening population numbers. While some of the cities in the county have experienced declines with in the city limits, some have experienced double-digit growth in their zip code area.” Grangeville has declined by 3 percent within city limits, but grew by 17 percent outside the city limits (within the 83530 zipcode area between the 2000 and 2010 Census.)
Bryant feels county goals for the coming year include increasing housing options, finding new ways to provide skills training opportunities, and create opportunities that encourage area young people to live here, including addressing wage issues.
“I want to work to bring private enterprise in the county together to work toward more new housing starts and create additional rental units and homes,” she said. “As our local businesses are doing a great job growing and creating jobs, we can better support them if the people coming to work for them would be more inclined to relocate here or stay here if there was suitable housing.”
The Idaho Lewis County Partners group has worked with the ILCTE Foundation to create a strategic plan for a regional technical education center. Until the center can be established, local schools and regional colleges are partnering to find new ways to provide relevant skills training to both youth and adults on the local level so they do not have to travel out of the area.
“As local businesses grow, so do the opportunities for better careers for our young people to either stay here or come back to our community,” Bryant said. “Part of making bigger steps to increase the attractiveness to young people is to address the issues we face with wages.” The 2013 average personal income wage in the U.S. was $50,012, in the state of Idaho was $37,800, but in Idaho County it was only $34,514, she said.
“At the same time, our local employers do deserve some kudos for their efforts. In our county wages grew by 5.4 percent between 2012 and 2013, and the profits businesses made from those employees only grew by 3.5 percent.” Bryant said elsewhere in the state and nation wages saw much lower increases and company profits saw much larger profit increases per employee. “Translation – our local employers are making an effort to raise wages — paying their employees a little more and making a little less per employee.”
Bryant praised the local education systems for preparing students for the future.
“We have great elementary and secondary schools in Idaho County. Our young people leave high school well educated and we have some very impressive youth growing up in our communities,” she stated. “If we can make strides to make our community, housing, career opportunities and wages more attractive, we have a better chance of retaining them here.”
Bryant said some of the high points in the county for 2014 included:
*“The relocation of The Gym to Highway 13 in Grangeville made a big difference for the surrounding community. The efforts of Lance and Eve McColloch to create a facility for health related businesses that lead to the opening of new businesses such as Wee Watch Daycare, Let’s Face It, Mountain Smoothie Bar and Signature Salon. The building also includes Chromaticity, Life Balance, Permanent Looks, Sole Therapy, Healing Hands, Massage for Health, Massage Therapy Justin Jensen, and Real Life Ministries. Eve and Lance’s purchase of the building finalized the last piece of the former USFS headquarters to be sold. What had long been an empty grouping of three large buildings and acreage, has become a booming business hub. Also thriving at the location are Extreme Auto Repair and Mountain View Dentistry.”
*The Riggins/White Bird area held a conference in January of 2014 and began exploring the possibility of growing wine and table grapes in the region as well as creating wine and opening wineries.
*Bud’s Power Sports built and opened a new facility and showroom on U.S. Highway 95 just outside of Cottonwood and significantly increased its operations.
*Syringa Hospital in Grangeville installed a new CT scanner, began renovations to the hospital building and front parking area.
*Jack Wimer renovated the former Prairie (Cottonwood) kindergarten building into retirement housing.
*The Idaho-Lewis County Technical Education Foundation was able to raise $14,000 and complete a strategic plan for a regional technical education center. This center would provide instruction individually to three groups of students: Juniors and seniors from school across the region, adults needing to retrain or upgrade their job skills, and offenders from North Idaho Correctional Institution. Training towards industry recognized and dual credit certifications would be made available for careers including medical assistant, phlebotomy, medical billing coding, dental assistant, automated manufacturing, industrial welding and metal fabrication, pre-engineering, precision machining and information technology.
*”The 3rd annual Warbird Weekend in Grangeville was a huge success with 2,000-2,500 in attendance and 18 planes that participated. Each year the event grows and more airplanes with enthusiastic pilots take to the air with authentic war planes,” she said.
Largest employers in Idaho County for 2014:
The 200-299 employee range: U.S. Forest Service; 150-199: Idaho Forest Group, Mountain View School District 244, St. Mary’s Hospital and Clinics, Syringa Hospital: 150-199; 50-99 Advanced Welding and Steel Inc., Cottonwood Joint School District 242, Grangeville Health and Rehabilitation, Idaho County, Idaho Department of Corrections, Seubert Excavators Inc.; 20-49: Salmon Rapids Lodge Inc., Anderson Aeromotive, Inc., Asker’s Harvest Foods, Baker Truck Service Inc., City of Grangeville, Clearwater Valley Harvest Foods, Debco, Inc., Gortsema Motors, Inc., Idaho County Free Press, Idaho Sewing for Sports, Idaho Transporation Department, Irwin Drug Inc., J C Uhling Products Co., Lochsa Lodge, Pacific Cabinets Inc., Salmon River Joint School District 243, Seuberts Quality Home Care, Sundance Services Personal Home Care, U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
— Idaho Department of Labor