What a difference a decade makes.
In 1987, the North Idaho economy had hit bottom when Duane Hagadone, Tom Richards and others rallied to raise $1 million in private money to recruit jobs. The housing market was shot. Unemployment was high. Wages were low. And parents despaired of their college-age children being able to find good-paying jobs when they returned home.
Worst of all, there was no relief in sight.
Today, the job picture in North Idaho and Kootenai County has improved so much that Coldwater Creek decided recently to hold off plans for a new Coeur d’Alene center. The Sandpoint company wasn’t sure workers would be available to fill 500 lower-end jobs. A booming economy, a slowdown in population growth and an influx of higher-paying employers have stiffened competition for the region’s workers.
The visionaries who launched Jobs Plus deserve a great deal of credit for the turnaround. So do developers and entrepreneurs, such as restaurateur Bob Templin and the Jacklin Land Co., developer of Riverbend Commerce Park. All shared a conviction in the dark 1980s that North Idaho’s beauty, tax structure and work ethic had much to offer companies seeking to relocate from congested cities.
In fact, some employers grumble now that the job promoters outdid themselves.
“Many employers are complaining about their ability to retain workers at this particular time, and we are seeing fewer applicants for most jobs than we used to,” said Kathryn Tacke, a labor market analyst with the Idaho Department of Labor.
The tight labor market, however, has prodded wages upward at an opportune time. Tough reforms have forced Idaho welfare recipients to look for work. Now, they are finding decent jobs along with increased self-esteem. GTE Northwest’s new $10 million order processing center, for example, is expected to open in April with 65 jobs paying between $8.50 and $14 an hour - salaries well above Kootenai County’s average wage.
“We are proud of that,” said Jobs Plus President Bob Potter.
Potter has a right to be proud.
In its first 10 years, Jobs Plus recruited 52 companies that have provided 2,200 jobs and have a combined annual payroll of $51 million. The companies occupy 1.3 million square feet of space and have made capital investments of $113 million. Significantly, the average salaries for the jobs recruited by Potter average $2,250 per year more than the average Kootenai County salary.
Successful recruitment of good-paying jobs on either side of the state line benefits the entire region. We’re interdependent. The Inland Northwest owes a debt of gratitude to those who saw beyond the gloom of the mid-1980s and envisioned what could be.
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board