Spokane Journal of Business

Most sectors of Inland Northwest economy are rebounding well

Activity to be at, above pre-pandemic levels in 2022, some expect

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Most business sectors in the Spokane-Coeur d’Alene area are growing, and some are approaching recovery beyond pre-pandemic levels as we enter the new year.

Job numbers in both Spokane and Kootenai counties now are exceeding pre-pandemic levels, although employment in some sectors, such as hospitality, continues to lag.

The strongest job gains are in the warehousing and distribution, health care, and construction sectors.

Demand for technology jobs also is expected to remain high, as information technology experts predict cyberattacks and data breaches likely will increase, and employers will see the need to increase online security measures to accommodate growth in remote working.

The 2022 construction season is expected to show continued growth in the commercial sector, especially in warehouses, distribution centers, and manufacturing facilities.

The construction outlook for the city of Spokane includes about $100 million in ongoing and planned public works projects for 2022. 

Meantime, Spokane Public Schools is expected to complete two middle school projects with a total value of nearly $90 million.

While demand for housing is strong, the residential construction sector likely will be hampered by labor shortages and limited land availability.

Inventory in the residential real estate market is expected to increase, although demand will remain high, as millennial and Gen Z homebuyers are within prime buying ages. The median home price in Spokane County, which was $375,000 in October, is expected to increase 3% to 5% in 2022, following double-digit increases in 2021.

Some banks and credit unions saw 2021 as stronger than expected, and they hope that momentum continues. However, historically low federal interest rates are hampering income from loans.

The prospect of continued surges of COVID-19 cases and new variants of the coronavirus are adding to unknowns when it comes to projecting the outlook for the health care industry.

Representatives of MultiCare Health System and Providence here say recent increases in revenue have been offset by investments in staff and pandemic-related costs.

Taxable retail sales soared to pre-pandemic levels, according to the most recently available reports from the Washington state Department of Revenue, which show that Spokane County’s retail sales totaled $3.61 billion in the second quarter of 2021, representing a 30.9% increase compared with the year-earlier quarter.

Retail sales growth is expected to continue in 2022, albeit at a slower rate. However, sales in certain sectors, such as construction, auto sales, and home improvement likely will remain robust.

Tourism in Spokane is expected to soar back next year, and, in Kootenai County, it already has exceeded pre-pandemic levels by at least one measure.

In Spokane, the Spokane Sports Commission is predicting 150,000 visitors will attend events in 2022, about 20,000 more people than in 2019. Some of the increase can be attributed to Spokane’s newest sports venue, The Podium, which opened this fall.

At least 22 large conventions also are scheduled in Spokane for 2022.

In Kootenai County, lodging tax revenue is at record levels and is expected to increase in 2022.

Agricultural production is expected to improve in 2022 after 2021 lowered the bar, especially with important crops such as apples and wheat. 

The 2021 apple crop—Washington state’s leading agricultural commodity—was down 3%, and the wheat crop was down a devastating 52%, hitting Eastern Washington’s dryland farmers the hardest.

Fortunately, the current winter wheat planting, which will be harvested in 2022, is standing tall, and climate forecasters are predicting more moisture in the Pacific Northwest throughout this winter.

Mining companies active in North Idaho’s Silver Valley are bullish about 2022 and beyond.

Hecla Mining Co., of Coeur d’Alene, which supplies 40% of the silver produced in U.S., expects to see steady production at its Lucky Friday mine near Mullan as demand rises for silver used in “green economy” products, such as solar cells.

Bunker Hill Mining Co. expects to decide in early 2022 whether to restart the historic mine near Kellogg.

New Jersey Mining Co. is exploring the potential for extracting rare earth elements in addition to its gold mining operations near Murray.

Price volatility in wood products is expected to continue into 2022, as summer forest fires, followed by a U.S. hike in the duty on Canadian softwood lumber, have caused some disruption in the supply.

—Mike McLean

Mike McLean
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Deputy Editor Mike McLean has worked his entire journalism career in the Inland Northwest. Mike, who also lives to reel in fish and crank up music, has worked for the Journal since 2006.

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