Spokane Journal of Business

Health care is bigger in Kootenai’s economy

Growth is due to population increase, plus expansion of services at Cd’A hospital

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Kootenai County may be most commonly known as a tourist destination, but its economy increasingly is bolstered by the health-care industry.


Health-care jobs account for one of the biggest chunks of the countys total payroll, far exceeding the total payroll for tourism jobs, says Kathryn Tacke, regional labor economist for the Idaho Department of Labor.


Whats more, the growth in health-care jobs has outpaced the growth in the countys total population by a good margin over the last 10 years, she says.


Consider:


Kootenai Medical Center, Coeur dAlenes acute-care hospital, is the countys largest employer, with 1,210 employees, according to a recent Journal of Business ranking.


The total number of health-care jobs in Kootenai County rose 62 percent over the last decade, to 3,965, compared with a 47 percent increase in the countys population and a 56 percent increase in total jobs in the county.


Health-care jobs represented 9.5 percent of Kootenai Countys total nonfarm work force last year, up from 8.8 percent a decade ago.


Health-care providers in the countynot including doctorswere paid $121.9 million last year, which represents 11 percent of the total payroll in the county. In contrast, tourism jobs paid just 6.8 percent of the countys total payroll, even though tourism employs about 2,000 more people in the county than health care does. Manufacturing tops the payroll list, accounting for 14.2 percent of total payroll last year, Tacke says.


Health care has risen in economic importance as the countys population has grown and become older, Tacke says.


As Kootenai Medical Center has added services, it has helped fuel the growth in health-care employment, says Joe Morris, CEO of the hospital.


We have become a more specialized medical community, so were taking care of more patients who used to go to Spokane, Morris says. Thats going to increase even more as we increase our cardiac services next year, he says, referring to KMCs plans to add open-heart surgery and interventional cardiology to its menu of services. The hospital expects to introduce those services next summer.


Across the state line, health care also is an important part of Spokane Countys economy, but that has been the situation for years. Last year, health care employed 22,600 people in Spokane County, or 11.4 percent of the total work force, which is virtually unchanged from the percentage of the total work force that the industry employed a decade ago, according to Washington state Employment Security Department records.


Tacke says that most of the health-care action in Kootenai County is centered in the Ironwood area that surrounds KMC, with 134 health-care providers there that together employ about 3,000 people. Thats not surprising, Morris says. The oldest part of KMCs campus was built in 1966, and at that time, the land around the hospital was vacant, he says.


Once you build a hospital, the highest and best use (of surrounding land) becomes medical facilities, he says.


Future growth of health-care jobs in Kootenai County could be more widespread, however, based on the construction of a new specialty surgical hospital in Post Falls. In addition, KMC has a satellite medical facility there.

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