In a mixed outlook for 2011, Kootenai County executives say tourism and manufacturing likely will begin to lead the economy there out of its downturn. Meanwhile, they're hoping that residential home sales will at least maintain their higher level this year.
Longtime Kootenai County watcher Katherine Tacke, now labor economist at the Lewiston office of the Idaho state Department of Labor, says she expects some improvement in the Kootenai County economy next year, despite persistent double-digit unemployment rates that edged upward in the county to 10.8 percent in October, from 10.3 percent in October 2009.
Tacke says the manufacturing sector has strengthened this year, especially in recent months.
"A lot of manufacturers expect to be growing and are preparing for the future," she says. For example, she says, Accurate Molded Plastics Inc., of Coeur d'Alene, recently completed a $2 million, 20,000-square-foot expansion and expects to increase its production of plastic parts used in aerospace, electronic, medical, and consumer products.
Todd Christensen, president and CEO of the Coeur d'Alene Chamber of Commerce, says some manufacturing companies that had laid off employees are hiring again. The tourism and hospitality industries have enjoyed some gains this year, and he expects that growth to continue in 2011, he says. He adds that attendance at Silverwood Theme Park, near Athol, Idaho, jumped by 10 percent this year, compared with 2009, partly because of the park's expanded spring and fall seasons.
Coeur d'Alene-area hotels enjoyed increased occupancy this past summer, following an unusually wet spring that brought a slow start to the main tourism season, Christensen says. Meanwhile, he says, the strong start to the region's ski season bodes well for the lodging industry in early 2011.
Kim Cooper, of the Coeur d'Alene Association of Realtors, says the number of single-family homes sold in Kootenai County edged upward for the second consecutive year, but there's still cause for concern in 2011. Some 1,634 single-family homes were sold in the first 11 months of 2010, up 2.4 percent from the year-earlier period and up 13.6 percent from the first 11 months of 2008, although that year marked the third straight year of steep declines.
The association hopes sales maintain their current levels in 2011 despite a recent increase in mortgage rates and talk in Washington, D.C., about possible elimination of the federal income tax deduction for home mortgage interest as part of deficit reduction, he says.
"Those concerns are causing people to delay making decisions to buy homes," Cooper says.
Home prices haven't stabilized since the market downturn started, and through November the average sale price for a single-family home in Kootenai County was $180,393, down 5 percent from the year-earlier period. Foreclosures have been high, which likely will prevent home prices from rebounding significantly, he says.
The greater Coeur d'Alene area is focusing on its future by supporting education, even in challenging economic times, Christensen says. Voters in the Coeur d'Alene, Post Falls, and Lakeland school districts approved levies to build a $9.5 million professional-technical high school on the Rathdrum Prairie. Christensen says North Idaho legislators want construction on that project to start in 2011, rather than wait until all of the funding is in the bank in 2012.
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