Certified public accountant Tom Baker has a gut feeling that North Idaho's economy is finally stabilizing.
He said one big indicator of how well the local economy is faring is the condition of the construction industry.
"This is the best year they've had since the boom years in 2007 and 2008; that's when things fell off," Baker said Wednesday. "The big boom years, things got away from us, everybody way over-built, too many homes for sale, too many rentals unoccupied."
Baker, whose office is in Hayden, said many of his clients are businesses, corporations or self-employed individuals. He just finished his 39th tax season, and as one who has seen economic booms and busts through the years, he foresees a stable, steady trend in North Idaho, at least for a while.
He said pent-up demand, the community's return to spending and building after a light period following the recession, is part of what is driving the economy, as well as people utilizing once-vacant and unoccupied inventory and buildings. However, people are being more cautious about lending, so he does not predict anything "earth-shaking" to cause another boom anytime soon.
"I don't see any indicators that this is going to run away from us like it did in '06-'07 and that era," Baker said. "We should be back to a nice even keel where it's not peaks and valleys."
With the IRS income tax filing deadline behind them, Baker and other local accountants shared their thoughts about the present state of North Idaho's economy. From the perspective of people who deal with private finances, many seemed optimistic about the future.
"We've seen, pretty much across the board, that 2014 was a good year, business-wise, for our clients," said Chris Harrison, a senior manager of tax services with Magnuson, McHugh and Co. in Coeur d'Alene. "Businesses are doing well, activity is up, more people are being employed and owners and employees alike are generally having better earnings than they have in the recent past. We've seen several great new businesses get started and be successful. All in all, it seems that our local economy has mostly recovered from the downturn."
Harrison said more people are employed in better jobs than they previously were while entrepreneurs are able to fund projects that lead to start-up companies that become fully functional operations, and that's good for business.
"I think there are many aspects to the health of our community, some of which we are very strong in, and some that need a little work, but as far as the economic/financial health of Kootenai County, I think the outlook is very bright," he said.
Toni Hackwith, CPA and manager at Anderson Brothers CPAs in Post Falls, said she also believes the economy is improving and will continue to improve, considering the "increasing excitement to bring new commerce to Idaho from around the country and world, as well as multiple signs of the tourism industry growing in North Idaho year after year."
"In terms of the increased income/revenue(s), and recent job growth in the area, typically, this means there is high potential for increasing positive changes for our community," Hackwith said. "When industry emerges in a state it can have a powerful trickle-down effect at the local community level."
Devlin Flamm, a senior accountant in the tax department of Dougherty and Associates in Post Falls, said while no two tax returns are alike, she has noticed the firm's clients to be having better fiscal years, reflected by an increase in taxes due.
"We tell them, 'tax problems are good problems,' because that usually means you made some money," Flamm said.
She said generally, clients from all industries have experienced growth in their businesses the last few years.
"Real estate markets are up, which has equated to greater profits for contractors in the construction and manufacturing industries," she said. "The service industry is also growing as consumers are overall making more money, and can justify spending money on personal services or luxury items. We are seeing people buying and selling businesses more frequently than we have since the economic downturn in 2008, which is a sign that the times are changing for the better.
"The economic outlook continues to be prosperous for the foreseeable future. We expect a busier year than ever; we won't be short on work anytime soon."