The Spokane-Coeur d’Alene area and the broader Inland Northwest have enjoyed healthy gains in most economic sectors this year, further obscuring unpleasant memories of the Great Recession and the sluggish recovery that followed.
Some—but certainly not all—sectors now are reporting activity and volume levels that surpass the lofty levels just before the recession, showing that certain areas of industry here have mended fully and now are moving toward new growth benchmarks.
To be sure, those gains have been aided greatly by record-low interest rates and pleasantly constrained fuel prices that have worked—together with initially delayed, but recently accelerating job growth—to prop up consumer confidence. Who knows how long those market forces will continue to provide the steady lift they have created this year, but certainly the momentum is encouraging.
As Christmas approaches, and in the spirit of a list for Santa, we traditionally offer in this space a few of the wishes we’ve got for the coming year. Minus the milk and cookies, here are some of our hopes for 2016:
• Swift progress on groundwork for the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine here, for which Washington State University Spokane recently submitted crucial documents seeking accreditation. The university hopes to gain preliminary accreditation next summer and to welcome its charter medical school class in the fall of 2017, but there are hurdles it will need to clear along the way. Similarly, we wish the University of Washington all of the best in its quest to expand medical student instruction here through its multistate WWAMI program. Together, we see those efforts providing a significant boost to the economy here and to health care regionally.
• Further solid gains not only in jobs here, but also in wage and salary levels, which continue to lag state and national averages. Job growth exceeded expectations this year, with Inland Northwest employment surpassing pre-recession levels about a year earlier than anticipated. Encouragingly, economists here say much of the job growth has been in industries that pay higher than average and that the tightness of the job market should cause wage growth to accelerate.
• Additional growth in the commercial and residential real estate and construction markets, where soft pockets remain dating back to the recession. It’s nice to see that upward trend remains strong in some of those areas, such as home sales, with transactions through the Spokane Multiple Listing Service increasing nearly 18 percent through the end of November, compared with the year-earlier period. On the commercial side, a fresh wave of public-sector projects should help provide plenty of jobs, but private-sector work is looking spottier.
• Strong investment and incentive support for the post-recession “entrepreneurial boom” that is sweeping the tech sector, nationally and locally, and driving new innovation that ultimately could translate into more jobs here. Examples of such startup success abound here, and hopefully 2016 will bring even more of the same.
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