What’s Happening Up North economic summit recap

By Kate McAlister
Reader Contributor

If you attended the Economic Summit last week you certainly walked away with a head full of facts and a positive outlook on how Bonner and Boundary Counties are doing in the economic sphere.

Charles Manning, CEO of Kochava, kicked off the conference giving the technology neophytes among us an overview of Kochava product offerings.  Manning succinctly stated, “We track how you respond to ads on your phone.” The biggest ad tracking comes from games you play on your cellphone, like Candy Crush.  With 350,000 advertisers wanting your eyes on their products, Kochava’s product suite offers these major companies a way to achieve their goals.  Manning hopes to have his employee base grow from the current 60 to 129 by the end of 2016.

Following Kochava we heard from the three invited economists – Steve  Scranton, Washington Trust Bank, gave the Northwest Economic overview.  He shared Idaho has the lowest unemployment rate at 4.2%, compared to the U.S. 5.1%, Washington State, 5.2% And Oregon at 6.2%.  Idaho and other states are also experiencing slow wage growth due in part to companies paying more for employee benefits. From the worst case scenario for employment in 2009, when Idaho was the lowest, to strong growth to 2014, Idaho is doing well.  Scranton said a good sign of growth is to look at the building permits being issued in the area.  Bonner County is continuing to issue permits at a sustainable steady pace. Scranton’s parting advice is to ‘stay focused on your business and slow steady growth’.

Megan Lawson, Headwater Economics, author of the Bonner County, Idaho’s Resilient Economy, spoke about her findings during her research.  Lawson started her work on Bonner County right after Coldwater Creek announced their bankruptcy with the thought this could be devastating to the area.  To her surprise Bonner County has been able to maintain slow and steady growth since losing a major player like Coldwater.  North Idaho doesn’t conform to the model used for most areas our size, we keeping growing and changing despite the odds being against us at times.   Sandpoint is on pace with Bend, OR, as a fast-paced innovative town.  To read Lawson’s full report go to www.headwaterseconomics.org, under the Reseach tab and Local Studies.  This is an in-depth report highlighting our economy and comparing us to other small towns in the northwest.

The final economist, Sam Wolkenhauer, Department of Labor, was certainly the most entertaining.  From calling those of us Boomers ‘the plague’ to apologizing for his generation, the Millennials.  He stated, “the greatest weakness of our economy is human beings”.   With the boomers retiring at an alarming rate communities are experiencing an influx of those 65 and over.  Although this is not a bad thing overall, most retirees are not vested in their communities, demand more resources but do not add jobs. Retirees relocate for quality of life whereas Millennials leave or go to an area for economic reasons.  Wolkenhauer addressed the issue of Millennials being transient in their work-life and only staying, at the most, three years at any given job.  Retention is the key to the younger generation, more free time, being able to dictate their working schedule and being thanked for a job well done.  It’s definitely different from our grandparents working at the same company for 20 years and getting a gold watch.

The day continued with a variety of panelists speaking on topics ranging from Broadband to Schweitzer and the growing recreational industry.  Attendees also heard from Quest and the exciting growth happening in their company.

The day closed with Jeffrey Sayer, the outgoing Director of the Idaho Department of Commerce, telling us ‘Idaho is already doing all the right things.’ According to Sayer we need to focus on two things, capital and talent.  Idaho doesn’t have a large tax base and we must bring in outside capital in order to grow.  Sayer stated, “You are creating the momentum here in the north, everyone who can make changes are in this room.  Keep listening to existing businesses, this is your most powerful tool. Pay attention to what your businesses need.”  In regards to talent Sayer agreed with Wolkenhauer in regards to the ‘silver tsunami’.  When talking about talent Idaho cannot find enough talent to fill the jobs we currently have open in our state.  Idaho is projected to have 109,000 new jobs in 10 years, but will be have the enough qualified people to fill those jobs.  Trends show 108,000 people moving here over the next 10 years.  Looks good on paper right? Only a thousand jobs to fill.  This is deceiving since out of those 108,000 moving here only 14,000 will be eligible to fill those 109,000 jobs.  Everyone else will be over the age of 65.  Idaho will be 95,000 short of fueling our own economic growth. Sayer said, “In the foreseeable future states are going to stop recruiting industry and start recruiting for talent.”   Idaho needs to start developing a talent pipeline in order to fill these jobs and we need to be prepared to go to battle for talent.  We have to start looking at things differently and break out of the paradigm we are all used to adhering to.   Sayer’s most important message to everyone in the room, we MUST invest in education or we will be behind.

With all of this information we are ready to grow and create our own path here in North Idaho. We’ve already shown we can’t be defeated time and time again. Are you ready? I am.

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