What’s Happening Up North Economic Summit 2016 – coming Nov. 3
March 23, 2016

Mark your calendar now for Nov. 3, 2016 - the date of the 2016 "What's Happening Up North" Economic Summit. Bonner County Economic Development Corporation is coordinating with the D. A. Davidson/Chamber of Commerce Economic Forum on Oct. 13, 2016, so plan on attending both for an expanded economic view of the Northwest, northern Idaho and Bonner County.

Quarterly News Update from the BCEDC:

In the Bonner County Economic Development Corporation's quarterly newsletter, area economists weighed in with their updates to the 2015 What's Happening Up North Economic Summit.

Solving economic growth barriers is key to our future success. The number one barrier from the Headwaters Economics review of Sandpoint and Bonner County was effective broadband. With the recent announcements from TING, the BCEDC is looking forward to listening to the community talk about our area as a state-of-the-art gigabit community with crazy fast connectivity.

Housing and growing our labor force continue to be the other drivers that are critical to our continued economic growth, along with expanded educational opportunities to train our youth and keep them at home in Bonner County.

County population growing

As of January 2016, Bonner County has experienced rapid population growth. Its beauty, recreational opportunities, and quality of life attract thousands of new residents. From 2004 to 
2014, however, the county's population grew only 7 percent from $38,836 to $41,585 while Idaho's population grew 17 percent, and the U.S. population grew 9 percent. The county, though, has hundreds of summer residents.

Current population statistics:

  • Sandpoint; 7,760
  • Ponderay: 1,136
  • Kootenai: 770
  • Dover: 607
  • Priest River: 1,751
  • Clark Fork: 540

Economy continues to diversify

Bonner County has enjoyed considerable success in diversifying and expanding its economy. Manufacturing jobs rose 27 percent from 1,486 in 2000 to 1,880 in 2010, while they fell 26 percent statewide. The aerospace sector has taken off in Bonner County with companies like Aerocet, Quest Aircraft, Cygnus and Tamarack Aerospace Group. Also contributing to the expansion were Litehouse, Inc. (salad dressings), Unicep Packaging (plastic applicators), Thorne Research (nutritional supplements), Diedrich's (coffee roasting machines) and Encoder Products (electronics). But the recession claimed nearly 450 manufacturing jobs. The county's mainstay, sawmills, have been suffering from low prices. Since 2006, the Priest River area has lost 650 sawmill and logging jobs.

The development of Schweitzer Mountain Resort and Sandpoint's reputation as a haven for the arts contributed to tourism growth. Schweitzer's expansions since 1990 have boosted winter employment at local motels, restaurants and stores. But as important as the winter is, the summer brings even more tourists.

Labor market looks healthy

The labor market is poised to build on strong growth from 2015, according to Samuel Wolkenhauer, regional economist with the Idaho Department of Labor. At the end of 2015, total employment in Bonner County was up to 17,179 - an increase of roughly 400 people over December 2014. The unemployment rate for Bonner County dropped from 6.6 percent to 5.9 percent, with a decrease in part-time work. At the height of the recession, as much as 7 percent of the labor force was employed part-time for economic reasons, says Wolkenhauer. "Our estimates for the start of 2016 show that number has halved as full-time work becomes available," he said. Average wages have gone up by around 1.5 percent since 2014. "Between lower unemployment rates, decreasing part-time employment, and an upturn in wages, all the signs are pointing at a healthy 2016 for the labor market in Bonner County and in Idaho as a whole."

Economic insights from BCEDC

Paul Kusche, executive director at BCEDC, says that Idaho is experiencing faster growth than the U.S., and northern Idaho is participating in that growth. While Sandpoint is enjoying organic company growth that is replacing the hole created by Coldwater Creek's closure, Bonner County faces a growing affordability problem as it relates to residential home prices.

Idaho outperformed the U.S. in 2015 job growth, and the U.S. saw year-over-year jobs growth of 1.9 percent. In comparison, Idaho saw 4.4 percent jobs growth, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Kusche notes that this data shows jobs growth was not all southern Idaho based. "Although the state of Idaho does not have employment data reported past 2014 for Bonner County, I have to believe that Bonner County probably did better than the U.S. as well in 2015," Kusche said.

Real estate remains attractive

In gauging business growth, published data on commercial real estate transactions are not necessarily reflective of the real activity, according to Tom Puckett with REALM Partners. Idaho is one of the few state where commercial transactions can remain private and not be publicly reported. Puckett said commercial property drivers in the area include Kochava, Litehouse Foods, Biomedical Innovations (Lead-Lok), Tamarack Aerospace, Quest Aviation, Timbersled/Polaris, Thorne Research, and Allurable Kids.

While the average home price in Bonner County remains higher than Kootenai County (the average is close to $270,000 in Bonner County), this appears to be tied to outside money viewing Bonner County as a very attractive market for retirement or second home purchases. This is great news for a seller, bad news for current homeowners as property taxes rise on the increased valuations, and also bad news for the average worker and first-time homebuyer. In addition, sales volume for waterfront property in Bonner County dropped in 2015 but the average sales price rose. However, Sandpoint remains a far more attractive choice for people looking to buy a second home when comparing the average home price among popular second home markets, according to Denise Lundy with Fortus Realty.

  • Ketchum, Idaho: $1,400,000
  • Sun Valley, Idaho: $990,000
  • Bozeman, Montana: $525,779
  • Hood River, Oregon: $398,912
  • Sandpoint, Idaho: $269,577