Published: June 25, 2024 | Updated: June 24, 2024

The successes and challenges of North Idaho's booming economy

Caroline Lobsinger

Caroline Lobsinger

Drive down any road in North Idaho and it's easy to see the economy is booming.

New homes are being built, businesses are undergoing renovation or being built. More people are discovering what a magical, special place North Idaho is.

Big lakes, mountain trails, and a starry sky that stretches forever on a clear summer night (with the occasional visit by the northern lights). 

Idaho's business-friendly focus while offering a high quality of life is attracting attention, Idaho Gov. Brad Little notes. Its "kitchen table" economics — a practical, conservative approach to governing — encourages economic prosperity while reforming tax policies, streamlining bureaucracy and putting the focus on its people.

Idaho governor is not alone in his assessment of the state's economy. U.S. Sen. James Risch is equally as positive, pointing to North Idaho's powerhouse industries of timber, mining and agriculture but noting the region's diversity with a booming tech industry, aerospace and a diverse array of small businesses.

That economic boom can be seen in the construction industry, where there is a shortage of workers needed to build North Idaho's homes and businesses. 

Over the last two years, Idaho Department of Labor data show that all five North Idaho counties have seen an increase in construction employment beyond the ability to meet the job postings.

The region's economic growth is both a blessing and a curse, IDL labor economists say.

In the past five years, the five northern counties have seen a combined population increase of about 12% overall, slightly outpacing the 11% population growth statewide. Two of the five counties are among Idaho's fastest-growing and, by percentage, are among the top 100 in the nation.

Overall, the economists note, the five northern counties have added more than 12,000 jobs in the last five years. There are more than 2,000 new employer accounts created in the state in the past five years — led by construction and health care — and most of which have fewer than 10 employees.

The business leaders of today are funding the dreams of everyone from future entrepreneurs, doctors, and teachers to computer technicians, electricians and linemen through a variety of scholarships and grants. Each year, hundreds of thousands of dollars are awarded to students throughout the region, helping them go to college or trade school.

“Scholarships generate economic impact in a variety of ways that reach beyond the direct impact to the student receiving them and what that saves their families keeping more dollars here,” said Dyno Wahl, Sandpoint Rotary member. “… We have had many scholarship winners return to the area after their studies are completed, some sooner than later, as doctors, nurses, teachers, linemen, computer technicians, business owners and more.”

With mountains to play on, lakes to swim and boat on and trails for miles (and a huckleberry bush or two to find), it's no wonder the region is booming. And why so many are attracted to North Idaho.

Dive on into this month's North Idaho Business Journal for a deeper look at what is driving the region's economy, where the growth is happening and how local businesses are handling both the challenges and successes that come with that growth.

— Caroline Lobsinger, NIBJ Editor