Strength in Nez Perce County’s manufacturing sector is powering an economic recovery in north-central Idaho.
The unemployment rate in Nez Perce, Latah, Idaho, Clearwater and Lewis counties was 6.8 percent in July, down from 7.4 percent at the same time last year, according to figures released Friday by the Idaho Department of Labor.
Lewiston manufacturers, including Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories and Howell Machine, added 500 jobs in 2012 and have started off 2013 at an even higher rate of 50 new jobs per month, said economist Kathryn Tacke with the Idaho Department of Labor in Lewiston.
Nez Perce County’s unemployment rate fell by four-tenths of a percentage point for the 12 months ending in July to 6 percent. Other counties have benefited, too, with residents of Asotin and Latah counties taking some of the jobs in Nez Perce County, Tacke said.
Asotin County’s unemployment rate was 6.5 percent last month, compared with 8.2 percent in July 2012, while Latah County experienced a drop of half a percentage point to 5.7 percent.
Latah County residents are also seeing more opportunities at SEL in nearby Pullman, Washington State University in Pullman and the University of Idaho in Moscow, Tacke said.
Health care, technology real estate, leisure and hospitality are among other fields expanding in Latah County.
Like Nez Perce County, manufacturing is strong in Lewis County, where 50 new factory positions were created between July 2012 and last month – along with 20 positions in the service sector. Lewis County’s unemployment plummeted from 6.9 percent last year to 5.4 percent in July.
Unlike Nez Perce, Latah and Lewis counties, Clearwater and Idaho counties continue to struggle. Their July unemployment rates were at 12.9 percent and 9.3 percent, respectively. Rates were lower than a year ago in both cases, but still above the state and national unemployment rates of 6.6 percent and 7.4 percent.
Nightforce Optics is the bright spot in Clearwater County, exceeding 100 employees after adding more than one dozen jobs between June and July, Tacke said. But that gain in manufacturing that coupled with an uptick in logging was overshadowed by losses in health care, services and retail.