Kootenai County’s job market grew at a record pace last year, snagging a fourth-place finish in a ranking of 416 metropolitan areas.
The number of new jobs created in the county grew by 6.8 percent in 2004. The construction industry alone added nearly 800 workers. Employers were also hiring in factories, schools, health-care facilities, call centers, government offices and retail stores.
St. George, Utah, which recorded job growth of nearly 10 percent, ranked No. 1 on the list, which is based on figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor. Spokane County ranked 238th.
Kootenai County’s ranking comes as no surprise to Kathryn Tacke, the state’s regional labor economist in Coeur d’Alene.
“For some reason, we think of ourselves as a depressed resort community, but that’s not the way it is,” Tacke said. “We know that we’ve had very strong job growth in the last 1 ½ years, while the rest of the nation’s job growth was more sluggish and disappointing.”
In real numbers, the gains translate into 3,100 new jobs in Kootenai County.
“When we drive around town and look at the growth, we shouldn’t be surprised,” said Scott Hoskins.
Hoskins is vice chairman at Jobs Plus, a nonprofit job recruitment agency. He’s also a manager at Verizon, a company that hired 150 directory assistance operators in Coeur d’Alene last year.
This is the first time that Kootenai County – known as the Coeur d’Alene Metropolitan Area in government records – appeared on the list ranking job growth, which is compiled by Arizona State University. The federal government recently expanded the number of “metropolitan designations” used for statistical record keeping. As a result, ASU added more than 100 communities to its tracking system.
Spokane County’s rank on the list has been higher in previous years, said Randy Barcus, chief economist for Avista Corp.
Last year, however, Spokane County’s employment base grew by a sluggish 0.9 percent, adding just 1,800 net new jobs. Unusual layoffs in health care and government detracted from employment growth in other sectors, Barcus said.
“It’s been slow and steady and unexceptional,” Barcus said of Spokane’s job market. Kootenai County’s job market, on the other hand, has accelerated over the past year, he said.
Barcus cites “jobs, jobs, jobs” as his top indicator of economic vitality. “If jobs are being created, it’s a barometric indicator of so many things going on,” he said.
Some people get overly nit-picky in analyzing the types of jobs created, Barcus added.
“There’s so much criticism about the quality of jobs,” he said. “So many people don’t understand that in call centers, there are supervisors and operations managers. Every single one of those workers needs a physician. If they’ve got kids in school, they need a teacher. … If the new jobs are bringing more money into the community than they’re sending out, that’s what economic growth is all about.”
In Kootenai County, the construction industry was one of the star performers. For three months during the spring of 2004, the county was adding construction jobs faster than any other spot in the country, according to the rankings. The county’s job growth, however, has been remarkably diverse over the past year, Tacke said. “We added jobs in all our major sectors.”
Competition for workers also boosted wages for many positions. Kootenai County’s annual average wage rose 5.2 percent in 2004, to $27,378.
“We especially saw that in jobs that you might call ‘strong-back jobs’ – construction, landscaping, janitorial and a lot of manufacturing jobs,” Tacke said.
In construction, the average wage was $30,000 in Kootenai County last year. It was $35,400 for manufacturing; $23,400 for call centers; and $21,300 for retail.
The 2004 employment numbers don’t reflect several large employers, including Buck Knives, which opened plants early this year. Those job gains will show up in the 2005 data.
“We could easily have another really good year,” Tacke said.