After several years of stagnation, Idaho County enjoyed healthy business growth in 2019, according to Kathryn Tacke, regional economist for the Idaho Department of Labor out of Lewiston.
Idaho County's nonfarm payroll jobs hovered around 4,200 between 2012 and 2017, and edged up to 4,280 in 2018. In 2019, they grew an estimated 4.2 percent to 4,460. Lewis County’s estimated growth rate also was 4.2 percent in 2019. That made Idaho and Lewis counties the fastest growing counties in North Central Idaho.
“Despite the recent growth, Idaho County hasn’t fully recovered from the severe recession that began in December 2007. The county’s nonfarm payroll jobs remain below their pre-recession levels. They peaked at 4,584 in 2007,” Tacke said.
The biggest gains in 2019 came from:
*Leisure and hospitality (40 jobs)—restaurants and hotels added jobs to serve tourists, in addition the expansion of The Gym contributed to growth.
*Construction (40 jobs)—because of growth in both residential and industrial construction activity locally and expansion at Advanced Welding & Steel.
*Manufacturing (40 jobs)—from small expansions at several operations.
*Professional and business services (20 jobs)—businesses providing support services to forestry, mill, and agricultural businesses were responsible for most of that growth.
*Transportation (20 jobs)—because increased logging and manufacturing activity created new trucking and warehousing jobs.
Idaho County’s retail sector lost about 10 jobs in 2019.
“The growth of on-line shopping has taken a toll on local retailers, contributing to the closure of Hoene Hardware in Cottonwood this summer,” Tacke explained. “Growth in population and tourists helped other retailers to expand employment in 2019. Most of the new jobs appeared at convenience stores, gift shops oriented to tourists as well as locals, and grocery stores.”
Government employment remained unchanged during the last few years. Government accounts for 27 percent of the nonfarm payroll jobs in Idaho County. Federal jobs average 320—mostly Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. They have lost about 110 jobs in the last 15 years. State government employs 130 people—about half at the correctional facility in Cottonwood. School districts employ 340. Syringa Hospital and Clinics in Grangeville is a government entity because of its taxing district. It employs more than 150 people.
Businesses grew at a healthy rate in 2019, according to Tacke. The number of employers in Idaho County grew 6.2 percent, from 569 in 2018, to 604 in 2019.
One factor contributing to the county’s economic growth is a recent spurt of population growth. After growing very little since 2010, the county started adding significant numbers to its population base three years ago. Data for 2019 won’t be available until April, but, Tacke said, there’s good reason to believe that 2019 showed similar growth to 2018 and 2017. That would mean adding about 140 people to the population base. (About 150 more people moved into the county than moved out in 2018, but deaths exceeded births by 13, offsetting some of the gain from migration. The high level of senior citizens in the county compared to young adults who are having babies explain deaths exceeding births.)
Labor Force: employed and unemployed:
The county’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped to a record low of 4.0 percent in April, and has hovered just above it in recent months. In November, the most recent month unemployment rates available, the rate was 4.2 percent. This is far below the historic average. From 1978 to 2008, the county’s rate averaged 10 percent.
The number of employed residents in Idaho County grew 2.1 percent from 6,161 in November 2018 to 6,290 a year later. Employed residents include the self-employed, agricultural workers, and nonfarm payroll workers—including local residents who work outside the county. In 2017, the Census Bureau found that 2,200 workers living in Idaho County worked outside the county. That was more than twice as many who did 15 years earlier. The increase came largely from people who took jobs in Lewis and Nez Perce counties.
Challenges for employers continue:
“Given the low unemployment rates and the aging of the workforce, employers continue to find it difficult to recruit and retain workers in the tight labor market,” Kathryn Tacke, regional economist for the Idaho Department of Labor out of Lewiston, explained. “One reason is the challenges posed by the retirement of baby boomers.”
*The number of folks who are retirement age has increased dramatically. Today, 31 percent of Idaho County’s payroll jobs are held by people older than the age of 54 years. (This is much higher than the state’s 22 percent). Fifteen years ago, 14 percent of Idaho County payroll jobs were held by people in this age bracket.
*In 2019, about 310 residents of North Central Idaho turned 65—the age when many people retire, while only 200 residents turned 16—the age when many people join the labor force. In 2000, 160 residents turned 65, while 280 turned 16. Now, there are more people turning 65 than16. This translates to fewer youth available to replace retiring workers.
*It helps that many baby boomers are continuing to work after they reach retirement age. Twenty years ago, about 19 percent of Idaho County residents 65 to 69 years of age participated in the labor force. Today, about 25 percent do.
*When long-term employees retire, the employer not only loses a person to fill the position; unless they do an exceptional job preparing for the retirement, they also lose the institutional knowledge of that worker.
“Another challenge is that today’s youth are less interested in participating in the labor force than youth in earlier generations,” Tacke said. In 2000, 50 percent of Idaho County residents 16 to 19 years of age participated in the labor force. Today, about 38 percent do.
A lack of affordable housing in the county also hampers the ability of employers to recruit new workers, Tacke stated, since people won’t move there for jobs if they can’t find a suitable place to live.
The number of people 25 to 64 years participating in the county’s labor force has dropped since 2000.
Tacke said the opioid crisis probably also is contributing to the decrease in labor force participation for workers 25 to 64 years old in Idaho County, as it has nationwide. The opioid crisis means that some workers can’t pass drug tests required to get and keep jobs. It also causes health and behavior problems that make people less likely to participate in the labor force.
More evidence of economic growth:
The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis released other statistics recently that give insight into Idaho County’s economic conditions.
Between 2017 and 2018, real (adjusted for inflation) personal income grew 5.4 percent to $580 million in Idaho County, while it grew 4.3 percent in Idaho and 3.4 percent in the U.S.
Real earnings of Idaho County residents grew 6.7 percent between 2017 and 2018, compared to 3.5 percent for Idahoans and 2.9 percent for U.S. residents.
It’s likely that personal income continued to grow at a fair clip in 2019. Farm incomes were down (mostly because of much smaller crop yields in 2019 than in 2018), but all other components of personal income should have risen. Wages and salaries, a very large component of personal income, look like they grew about 6.4 percent between 2018 and 2019. The average pay per job in Idaho County increased about 2.2 percent from $36,100 in 2018 to $36,900 in 2019. With population growth, increased tourism activity, and more businesses, nonfarm proprietor’s incomes should have grown significantly. (The Idaho Department of Labor found that the number of private-sector employers in Idaho County grew 6.9 percent, from 505 in 2018, to 540 in 2019.) Retirement income going to Idaho County residents is likely to have grown at the same rate in 2019 as in 2018—about 3.3 percent.