COEUR d’ALENE — Idaho’s largest metro areas are growing faster than the national average, according to new numbers released by the U.S. Commerce Department Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Coeur d’Alene, Lewiston, Boise, Twin Falls, Idaho Falls, and Pocatello each saw the total value of their goods and services in 2017 grow faster than the 2.1 percent average among all U.S. metropolitan areas.
Among Idaho metropolitan areas, Idaho Falls scored the largest growth with an increase in its gross domestic product of 4.9 percent in 2017. Boise came in second with growth of 3.9 percent, followed by Coeur d’Alene and Lewiston each at 2.9 percent, Pocatello at 2.4 percent, and Twin Falls at 2.2 percent GDP growth.
University of Idaho associate clinical professor of economics Steven Peterson said the GDP growth was due to Idaho’s status as “an attractive, low-cost region to live.” He noted that migrants from other states picked up where it left off during the Great Recession, and has resulted in “considerable economic growth in its own right.”
Peterson also said the national economy’s growth is helping to lift Idaho. Peterson said growth in Idaho’s urban centers is due to the state’s transition from a natural resources-based economy to “an economy based on tourism, professional services, medical services, and high-technology manufacturing.”
He explained, “The high-skill work force needed to support these industries and services is increasing, particularly in the urban regions such as Coeur d’Alene and the Magic Valley.”
Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce CEO Steve Wilson attributed the growth to migration into the state’s urban areas, and the region’s quality of life.
Coeur d’Alene Area Economic Development Corporation CEO Gynii Abracosa Gilliam agreed. She singled out rising demand for services for the area’s growing retiree population as one of the reasons for local growth.
“With that growth in the baby boomer age retiring in the region, there’s an increased need for health care and related services,” Abracosa Gilliam said. “So, you see growth in several ‘connected’ industries: health care, social services, the service/retail industry, real estate, construction, etc.”
She also attributed Idaho’s GDP growth to the burgeoning high-tech sector in the Northwest. Abracosa Gilliam said her office is seeing companies relocate here because the cost of doing business is lower, and because they can be close to a growing pool of workers and customers. The lower cost of living here compared to Seattle and Los Angeles, plus high quality of life, also makes Kootenai County an attractive business locale, she added.
The area’s pro-business climate has also fueled its growth, she said.
“Our communities have taken great strides in making it easy for businesses to meet their ‘time to market’ needs so they can open their doors as quickly as possible. That goes a long way in terms of attracting businesses to our area,” she said. “Just today, at the Idaho Central Credit Union Topping-off ceremony, Kent Oram and Michael Wolsten mentioned that it was a pleasure working with the city of Coeur d’Alene, who helped them get to where they were today with their building. I’ve heard similar compliments for all of our communities and the county — all of them have put policies in place to ensure that staff is working with and helping businesses.”
Local political figures praised the growth but with some caveats.
Rep. Paul Amador said, “While there are a number of factors that can and do influence local and statewide GDP growth, I believe our strong economic indicators, including wage growth, historically low unemployment, and population growth are testaments to the efficiency and stability of our economic policy in Idaho.”
His election opponent, Democratic nominee for District 4 state Legislature Shem Hanks, said the recent statistics weren’t all roses.
“We need to be building an economy that works for everyone and not just some,” Hanks said. “No one should be disappointed that Coeur d’Alene is above- average in GDP growth. However, that growth is not trickling down as wages are staying stagnant. Kootenai County’s two leading occupations (Office and Administrative and then Food Service-based), on average, would not be able to buy a house in Coeur d’Alene if they were sharing a household with someone who worked in their same field. We have to make sure that our economic growth is translating into wage growth for local workers.”
Democratic nominee for District 4 state Legislature Rebecca Schroeder agreed.
“The rapid population growth Coeur d’Alene is experiencing contributes to an increase in our total output, and rising GDP,” she said. “I think people find Coeur d’Alene an attractive place to relocate because of our access to the outdoors, our clean air and water, and our relatively inexpensive cost of living. Retirees who have relocated to Idaho tell me that their dollars go a lot further here than they do in California. GDP growth, however, is not the only measure of a healthy economy, and does not account for low wages and income disparity.”
Hanks credited local GDP growth to “our community’s commitment to building a fun, vibrant tourist destination that will continue to bring outside dollars into our area as well as the continued development and vision of our local tech industry highlighted by the Innovation Collective.”
Sen. Mary Souza called the rising local GDP “the positive results of major decisions made by our Republican-controlled White House and Congress, along with important changes by our Republican-controlled Idaho Legislature to lower taxes, reduce regulation and welcome businesses offering good jobs.”
The Chamber’s Wilson added, “Key as we move to the future is to plan for and manage this growth so that our infrastructure and policies support the quality of life now enjoyed, and being sought after by others. This is one key reason that the Chamber is so committed and involved in Vision CDA 2030.”