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Idaho jobs boom is just getting started: Gov. Otter

Idaho has ranked first nationally for job growth over six straight months.

Idaho Gov. C. L. “Butch” Otter
Source: Office of the Governor
Idaho Gov. C. L. “Butch” Otter

Idaho's economy is on a roll!

Our nonfarm employment-growth rate from 2014 to 2015 was the eighth highest in the nation. Both our population and gross state product grew at the 12th-highest rates in the nation during that same period.

But back then we were just getting started.

From April 2015 to this May, Idaho's seasonally adjusted nonfarm employment grew by 3.8 percent, the fastest in the nation. And we continued to lead the pack in job growth, ranking first nationally for six straight months.

Meantime, our seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped from 4.2 percent in April 2015 to 3.7 percent this May and June. Such positive numbers have resulted in overall state tax receipts growing by 3.7 percent from the same time last year — up 4.1 percent on individual income-tax revenue and 6.9 percent on sales tax. Only corporate income-tax receipts are down this year, by 18.5 percent after an exceptionally strong showing last year.

And while the economic outlook nationally and internationally remains a little shaky, Idaho is surging ahead. Our Idaho Division of Financial Management forecasts that:

  • Idaho's nonfarm employment will grow at a rate of 2.3 percent compared with 1.8 percent nationally.
  • Idaho housing starts will grow at a rate of 11.1 percent compared with 8.2 percent nationally.
  • Idaho's population will grow by a rate of 1.4 percent compared with 0.8 percent nationally.
"While the economic outlook nationally and internationally remains a little shaky, Idaho is surging ahead."

Yet tellingly, our inflation-adjusted personal income growth is expected to be just 2.6 percent, compared with 3.1 percent nationally. That speaks to the relatively low cost of living in most parts of Idaho and the caution and prudence of Idaho employers who understandably don't want to get out too far over their skis.

I'm sure that increasing competition among employers to qualified employees and other market conditions will push income levels — generally a lagging economic indicator — to rates more consistent with the kind of strength and diversity we're achieving.

It's up to Idaho's business professionals who hope to encourage continued sustainable growth to help instill in more Idaho employers the confidence to invest in their own future and the future of our state. How do we build that kind of enthusiasm for Idaho? We do it by ensuring that Idaho is the best place in the world to live, work and start or grow a business.

That means developing and refining reasonable, predictable and fair tax and regulatory systems. And it means providing education and training opportunities aimed at preparing Idaho's workforce not only for the jobs and career opportunities available today but also for an increasingly complex and connected economy that will be driven by STEM. That's the cornerstone of the K-Career investments we're making in our public schools, community colleges and universities.

Idaho is struggling to overcome a shortage of people with post-secondary degrees, certificates or other education credentials to meet employers' evolving needs. We've set a lofty goal of having 60 percent of Idahoans between the ages of 25 and 34 with a post-secondary degree or professional/technical certification by 2020. Right now we're at about 40 percent. And 2020 is just four short years away.

A five-year public education plan

The good news is that we are focused like never before on Idaho history improving our K–12 school system statewide. We are implementing a five-year plan for improvements that run the gamut from better, more performance-driven pay for educators and more preparation time and professional development opportunities for teachers to more local accountability, more and better use of classroom technology, and enhanced post-secondary counseling for students and parents.

It's all aimed at achieving the 20 consensus recommendations from a respected, broad-based Idaho task force on improving our public schools. But we don't stop there. We are just as focused on making sustainable and meaningful investment in the quality workforce we want and need in order for Idaho to keep on growing and topping those national rankings.

With the help of Idaho business professionals, the support of our legislators who understand what's at stake and for the benefit of the communities and state that we love, I know we will achieve our goals for building a stronger, smarter, more competitive Idaho for generations to come.

— By Idaho Gov. C. L. "Butch" Otter

Editor's note: This commentary was written before the release of the Top States 2016 data. The governor did not have knowledge of the rankings or the comprehensive data.