The following is a roundup of regional economic news compiled by the Idaho Department of Labor during April.
Benewah, Bonner, Boundary, Kootenai & Shoshone counties
- Three of four school district levies in northern Idaho were approved in March. West Bonner School District was the one coming up short. Its $3.5 million one-year levy failed. Passing were the Wallace School District’s $4 million levy for two years, the Kellogg School District’s $5.56 million levy for two years and the Lakeland Joint School District’s $4.8 million-a-year levy for two years.
- Nebraska-based West Corp., which hired about 200 call center employees in Spokane last year, is moving forward with a smaller wave of additional call center hiring. Over the next several months, West Corp. will add 30 employees to its Spokane Valley location. The company currently has about 650 employees in downtown Spokane and 330 in Spokane Valley. A portion of the company’s hiring is seasonal – usually around the holidays.
- Rivercrossing LLC, an affiliate of Liberty Lake-based real estate development company Greenstone Corp., plans to build 282 homes in two new subdivisions. The combined value will be over $50 million in the city’s River District. The homes are likely to range in price from $200,000 to $280,000.
- Sportsman’s Warehouse, the Utah-based national outdoor recreation and sporting goods chain, plans to re-enter the Spokane market with a new North Side store. New Sportsman’s Warehouse stores hire an average of 50 employees.
- A New York company has paid $4 million to purchase the assets of ReliOn Inc. of Spokane, which produces fuel cell systems. The 45 jobs will remain in Spokane. ReliOn originally was a subsidiary of Avista Corp. It was launched in 1995 as Avista Laboratories before spinning off as a privately held startup.
- Federal bank regulators have approved the merger announced last year of Umpqua Bank and Spokane-based Sterling Financial Corp. Umpqua is paying about $1.9 billion in stock for Sterling, the largest financial institution headquartered in Spokane County. Sterling has around 660 area workers and more than 2,600 across the service area, which includes Idaho, Oregon and California. It has 176 branches in those states and Washington. As of Dec. 31 Sterling Financial Corporation had assets of $10.3 billion.
- Rockwood Clinic PS of Spokane plans to open a primary care clinic and has started renovating a 4,800-square-foot space in a strip mall in Spokane Valley.
The last 10 years were quite a ride for the nation’s construction industry. Employment grew 13 percent nationally between 2003 and 2007 – Idaho experienced 41 percent growth. There is no doubt that Idaho’s tremendous population growth fueled the increased demand for housing.
Idaho’s population grew 10.4 percent between 2003 and 2007 while the nation only grew 3.8 percent. When ratios of construction employment to population are compared for each year, Idaho had – and still has – a higher concentration of construction jobs than the nation.
Employers are increasingly concerned about their ability to find workers with the skills they need to keep their companies successful. They call it a skills gap, and much of the attention has been on middle skills – those that require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year college degree. Typically that means one or two years of training or study beyond high school – associate degrees, certificates or even apprenticeships – and usually some on-the-job training.
Based on data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s O*NET database of occupations and education, experience and training requirements, about 53 percent of the jobs in the Idaho economy are considered low skilled – those needing no more than a high school diploma. Twenty-six percent fall into the middle-skills category while 22 percent are considered high skilled.
For decades food manufacturing has been a critical source of employment and economic vitality in southeastern Idaho. Multiple generations have worked in this industry. However, recent trends show a clear decline in employment levels.
Historically, food manufacturing has been an economically resilient industry. “People always have to eat regardless of the economy” was the view, and southeastern Idaho has some of the best potatoes in the world. Many food manufacturers took advantage of the crop by locating large processing plants in the region.
Despite signs of an economic recovery nationally, the last several months regionally have seen some food manufacturing plants close and others lay off workers. The local economic impact will likely be severe. Continue reading
While it seems the national housing market is moving again, there’s little evidence of that in eastern Idaho.
While the U.S. Census Bureau reports national construction spending rose 9.3 percent in January from a year earlier, marketing statistics from the Snake River Multiple Listing Service show no improvement in the combined housing market of Bonneville, Jefferson, Madison and Fremont counties. Continue reading
AmeriCorps members touch Idahoans in many ways.
Barbara J. Cunningham
From mid-2012 to mid-2013, the Idaho Health Care For Children and Families AmeriCorps group provided health screenings and follow-up care for over 3,200 children, ran over 400 health education sessions and recruited more than 450 volunteers to assist in various service projects throughout the state.
Clearly, they invested their time so Idaho’s future will be brighter. Like the scores of other AmeriCorps members serving across Idaho every year, they made a difference in their communities.
But their service also made a difference for two AmeriCorps members. In addition to the modest stipend they received during their AmeriCorps service, both members later found full-time jobs with Idaho Health Care for Children and Families – one as an interpreter and the other as a health education specialist.
Barbara J. Cunningham is a native of Idaho. She is project director for the Idaho Health Care for Children and Families AmeriCorps grant. Her primary responsibilities are to conduct the day-to-day management and administrative functions of this project and to coordinate activities with participating non-profit organizations. She is finishing her doctorate in political science and writing her dissertation about the self-attitudes of AmeriCorps members in Idaho and seven other states. She hopes to graduate with her doctorate in 2015.
The best source of wage information is the Occupational Employment and Wage Survey, a large survey of employers conducted in every state by the state workforce agencies such as Idaho Department of Labor, Oregon Employment Department and Utah Department of Workforce Services using the same procedures as developed by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That allows us to compare data from one state to another and know the results are reliable.