Spokane Journal of Business

Signs point toward sustained growth in North Idaho

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Manufacturing, health care, and tourism will help sustain economic growth in Kootenai County, and the residential real estate market will continue its modest rebound, observers of the economy there say.

The October unemployment rate was 8.7 percent in Kootenai County, down from 10.7 percent in October 2011, as the county gained 1,466 jobs in the year-over-year comparison, says Alivia Metts, Coeur d'Alene-based regional labor economist for the Idaho Department of Labor.

Two major manufacturing employers, Coeur d'Alene-based Advanced Input Systems and Post Falls-based Ground Force Manufacturing LLC, continue to expand, says Steve Wilson, president and CEO of the Coeur d'Alene Chamber of Commerce.

In addition, Kootenai County will see some major construction projects in 2013.

In August, voters approved three school-funding measures totaling $38.7 million.

Other projects under way or planned for 2013 include the $15 million SpringHill Suites hotel, in northwest Coeur d'Alene; $14.2 million first phase of McEuen Park improvements, near Tubbs Hill; a $9 million medical office building near Kootenai Medical Center; and a 30-bed rehabilitation hospital in Post Falls.

An Aspen, Colo.-based developer also is proposing to construct a $20 million-plus high-rise building on the west side of downtown Coeur d'Alene.

Consumer confidence is returning to prerecession levels, which should bode well for the retail and tourism industries, Metts says, although she adds that tourism is heavily dependent on weather.

Wilson says advance bookings for conventions at the major hotels are up, compared with bookings last year.

The residential real estate market in Kootenai County is showing its best year of growth in about five years, says Kim Cooper, a spokesman for the Coeur d'Alene Association of Realtors, and a broker at Select Brokers LLC, in Coeur d'Alene.

In the first 10 months of 2012, 1,369 homes were sold through the association's Multiple Listing Service, an increase of 6 percent compared with the year-earlier period, while the 2012 median sales price through October was $155,000, up 4 percent from the year-earlier period.

Strong fall and winter sales indicate that spring sales could continue to climb.

"It looks like the worst is over, but so much depends on what happens with Congress between now and the end of the year," he says.

Cooper says commercial real estate trends usually follow residential trends. "We're looking for modest improvements in the coming year," he says.

—Mike McLean

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