Kootenai Countys economy is expected to cool slightly but remain strong in 2006, following two years of intense growth.
A few of the sectors that are anticipated to post gains next year include health care and tourism, while construction probably will slow down, says Kathryn Tacke, a regional economist with the Idaho Department of Labor, in Coeur dAlene.
Kootenai County has enjoyed fabulous growth in 2004 and 2005, Tacke says. I just dont think we could possibly sustain that growth another year.
Employment in the county has grown by an estimated 7.4 percent this year, or about 3,300 jobs, Tacke says. She expects that growth rate will ease back to 3.7 percent next year, which still would be more than double the current national average of 1.5 percent.
She says the Northern Idaho Rehabilitation Hospital thats expected to open in Post Falls next year will boost the health-care industry. Also, a U.S. Bank call center that opened in Coeur dAlene last summer is likely to expand in 2006, which also will add more jobs, she says.
Tourism probably will remain strong next year. In addition, ski areas are anticipated to have a more robust season in early 2006 than they had in early 2005.
Meanwhile, construction is expected to slow down next year as mortgage rates rise and the residential real estate market cools, says Jonathan Coe, president and general manager of the Coeur dAlene Chamber of Commerce. Still, already announced commercial projects, such as the $40 million Parkside complex in Coeur dAlene, will keep construction momentum going forward for the next several years, he says.
We cant maintain this kind of growth forever, Coe says. But, while the economy may be slowing, I dont see it making a downturn in the near future.
Coe says finding enough skilled workers to fill various jobs in the area will pose a challenge next year. Steve Griffitts, president of Jobs Plus, the Coeur dAlene-based economic development organization, says community leaders are working on ways to increase professional and technical training at the high-school and higher-education levels.
He says community leaders are focusing on bringing manufacturing and technology-related companies to the area to diversify its economy further in 2006. This year, Buck Knives Inc. relocated to Post Falls, and Sysco Corp. opened a distribution facility there.
One sector of the economy that might see a decline next year is the timber industry, Tacke says, particularly because Stimson Lumber Co. is closing its Atlas Mill, in Coeur dAlene. Meanwhile, mining in the Silver Valley is anticipated to experience strong growth as precious-metals prices increase, she says. Manufacturing has had steady gains this year, but probably will flatten out in 2006.
Tacke expects government services will expand to meet the needs of the countys growing population, which she estimates has risen by a record-breaking 5,500 people this year. Rising population could cause the countys unemployment rate, which in November was at a 35-year low of 3.7 percent, to worsen, she says.
It might be a relief for the employers who have found it difficult to recruit workers this year, Tacke says. Part of a person wants to have spectacular growth, but solid and steady has advantages, too.
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