COEUR d'ALENE — Manufacturing has a gross regional product of over $800 million annually in Kootenai County, the third highest for all industries behind government and retail trade.
The industry contributes $100 million just from purchases within Kootenai County. Jobs in manufacturing have an average wage of nearly $70,000 annually.
"It is still a growing industry in our region," said Gynii Gilliam, president of the Coeur d’Alene Area Economic Development Corporation.
The industry provided 5,199 jobs in Coeur d'Alene in 2015 and has grown to 5,781 jobs in 2023, an 11% increase. Manufacturing has steadily been increasing in Kootenai County. From 2004 through 2008 it experienced increased growth that fell off after the housing boom and then regained steadily until 2015, but has been increasing again since 2018. This is in contrast to the U.S., where manufacturing has been more level.
In 2022, manufacturing was estimated to add about $803 million in “Gross Regional Product,” which is how the overall value of economic activity is measured, explained Sam Wolkenhauer, labor economist with the Idaho Department of Labor.
About 7% of households in Kootenai County rely on manufacturing jobs, many of which do not require conventional four-year degrees. They instead require career technical education certifications and the like.
"This makes it unique as an industry with above-average wages that does not require extensive higher education for entry," Wolkenhauer said.
He said projections expect manufacturing employment to grow by about 1.8% per year, or a little under 20% over the next decade.
"That growth projection is slightly faster than average, which is a good thing because manufacturing wages are higher than average, so for obvious reasons it’s good when higher paying industries grow more rapidly," Wolkenhauer said.
Gilliam said the CDAEDC is still actively trying to grow the industry, and it is also growing organically.
She said one of the objectives as an economic development organization is always to build enough of a “critical mass” in a particular industry sector so it also grows on its own, as companies try to complete the supply chain.
"One of the other things that also helps grow the sector is when there are enough skilled workers in the area," she said.
The economic development corporation is targeting sectors within the manufacturing industry that fit with regional strengths.
"That’s the reason for the focus on aerospace and aviation," Gilliam said.
She said Kootenai County's proximity to Seattle had already formed a small cluster of suppliers — third- and fourth-tier suppliers — to the industry in the joint region of Coeur d'Alene and Spokane metropolitan statistical areas.
"We built on that when we started the I-90 Aerospace Conference and Expo in 2015 with eastern Washington," Gilliam said, specifically the Inland Northwest Aerospace Consortium, which now has a different name, and formerly the Idaho Aerospace Association, which is now part of the Idaho Manufacturing Association.
"Our objectives were to give the manufacturers a venue to meet each other to help localize the supply chain, to hear about the latest information about the industry, as well as to meet the larger original equipment manufacturers and larger Tier 1 and 2 suppliers," she said. "The conference is doing all of those things; and we will continue to help strengthen the manufacturing industry in the region."