Signs Point to Positive Growth in Southeastern Idaho

Recent employment and economic projections indicate southeastern Idaho’s economy may finally be heating up.

For much of the last decade, southeastern Idaho’s economy has struggled to grow. Impacted by the previous recession, covered employment in the region increased less than 2 percent from 2004 to 2014. While the region saw impressive growth leading up to the recession, growing 8 percent from 2004 to 2007, employment in the region began to fall as the housing crisis affected the economy. After peaking in 2007, the region lost jobs the following four years. By 2011, covered employment in southeastern Idaho had fallen by more than 5,000 jobs.

Although the region began adding jobs each year since 2011, the tepid growth has done little to make up for the jobs lost during the recession. By the end of 2014, total covered employment was still 3,500 jobs shy of the region’s pre-recession peak, and total job growth over the decade increased less than 2 percent – well below the statewide growth of 10 percent over the same time.

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Wage growth in the region has proven more resilient. The average wage in the region has increased from $26,370 in 2004 to $33,687 by 2014, growing by an annual average of 2.5 percent over the decade. This outpaced the statewide annual growth by a tenth of a percent. It should be noted however, that after accounting for inflation the actual buying power for the average wage earner improved slightly more than 2 percent over the decade.

While the current expansion has been relatively slow in recent years, preliminary numbers for 2015 indicate the recovery is gaining steam. Data reported by Help Wanted Online – a job posting analytics website provided by The Conference Board – show businesses are hiring at an increasing rate. In 2012 reported job openings in the region averaged just above 1,300 per month. By 2015 that number increased to nearly 2,100. Over the same time period nearly 2,000 people joined the workforce, total annual employment increased by nearly 3,000 and unemployment dropped nearly three full percentage points from an annual average of 6.9 percent in 2012 to 4.0 percent in 2015. The combination of increasing job openings and the decreasing ranks of available unemployed workforce has resulted in a tightening labor market, falling from an average ratio of four unemployed workers to one job opening in 2012, to nearly one-and-a-half unemployed workers to one job opening in 2015.

chart-2--available-unemployment-workerschart-3---Ratio-of-UP-to-online-jobSource: Help Wanted Analytics, Idaho Department of Labor

As the number of available jobs openings intensify, projections by the Idaho Department of Labor indicate the trend will likely continue. Based on the department’s most recent regional long-term employment projections, covered employment in the region should add 8,500 jobs to the economy between 2012 and 2022, growing 13.4 percent over the coming decade.

With southeastern Idaho’s aging population and a strong reputation as a regional hub for medical care, jobs in health care have the highest projected job growth of any industry in the region. The health care industry as a whole is expected to add more than 2,200 jobs to the economy – a 29 percent increase, followed by construction at 1,100 jobs – a 40 percent increase, and leisure and hospitality at 1,000 jobs – a 21 percent increase. The only two industries expected to contract are professional technical services and wholesale trade – each projected to lose fewer than 100 jobs.chart-4---SE-Idaho-industry-growthSource: Source: Idaho Department of Labor

As the economy continues to grow, knowing how to capitalize on future opportunities becomes the challenge. Knowing which occupations or jobs will offer the greatest opportunity can be difficult. To provide possible direction, the Idaho Department of Labor has evaluated and ranked each occupation to determine what the possible “hot jobs” are in the region. To be considered a hot job, an occupation must have a large employment base, a high projected growth rate and a high average wage.

table-1---Hot-JobsSource: Idaho Department of Labor

Occupations in health care and construction dominate the top of the list. Each score well in both projected and base employment, affording a high degree of job security and transferability, and many pay well above the region’s average wage. To view the full list of hot jobs visit the department’s labor market information webpage.

As the national economy continues to recover, and with so many jobs expected to be added throughout the state, southeastern Idaho is poised to see significant economic growth in the coming years. For this growth to become a reality, however, the current and future workforce need to have the skillsets that the region’s employers will require. A recent study by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce found the number of jobs requiring some form of post-secondary education is rapidly increasing. By 2020, Georgetown projects that nearly two of every three U.S. jobs will require some degree of post-secondary education and training.

Chart-5---required-training-levelSource: Georgetown Center on Education and Workforce

As education and technical training become increasingly necessary, Idaho’s technical colleges and universities will play a critical role in preparing the current and future workforce. Investing in the types of training and skills that will be needed is critical for both the local employers, ensuring they have the talent needed to grow their business, and for the local workforce, ensuring they are aptly prepared to capitalize on future opportunities. Whether someone is an employer or job seeker, investing in one’s human capital is the greatest catalyst for growth.

Christopher.StJeor@labor.idaho.gov,
Regional Economist (208) 557-2500 ext. 3077