OPINION: Let’s Keep Our Eyes on the Prize
Jeffery Sayer, Director
Idaho Department of Commerce
Idaho’s economy was robust when Governor Otter took office in 2007. We enjoyed strong growth rates, competitive employment levels, and our industry sectors were thriving. Idaho’s total economy was estimated at $51.5 billion, a number later revised by the federal government to $54.3 billion.
We need to remember what happened next. By the fall of 2008, the world economy suffered its most severe upheaval since the Great Depression. Our growth quickly turned to a deep and devastating recession that lasted for years. Idaho’s construction, timber and tourism industries suffered disproportionate losses, and as a result we experienced some of the largest economic declines in the nation – declines driven by global forces beyond our control.
Our response was forward-looking, prudent leadership. Governor Otter set a goal to grow our economy to $60 billion, despite the Great Recession. He called it Project 60. It was a bold vision that helped us look to what was possible. He and our state Legislature then made some of the toughest fiscal decisions in our history. Those decisions were unpopular with some, but they resulted in a clear benefit – Idaho emerged from the recession fiscally strong and ready to grow.
Other states still struggle with deficits, debt and growth-stifling tax increases. Idaho instead is back to investing new growth in the future of all Idahoans. Our state now is prepared to move forward at full speed.
We now are growing and facing today’s challenges while preparing for a brighter future. Like most states and indeed most economies around the world, the recovery hasn’t been as fast as we hoped. We continue to struggle with lower wages and income levels, and we are working to sustainably and responsibly invest in education and infrastructure that will enable our economy and citizens to prosper.
Idaho now has the fifth-best economic outlook among the states. The unemployment rate in March was 5.2 percent, down from a peak of 8.8 percent, and the number of employed Idahoans is the highest it has ever been. In fact, the biggest challenge for Idaho companies is finding enough skilled workers to fuel their growth!
Idaho is consistently recognized as a top state for business friendliness, and the business community is paying attention. Chobani, Clif Bar, Frulact, and GoGo squeeZ are world-class companies investing in Idaho. But it doesn’t stop there. Other Idaho companies such as Seekins Precision in Lewiston, Curtiss-Wright in Idaho Falls, and Zions Bank in Boise are all expanding and investing in our state.
Where do we go from here? Governor Otter recently announced his new vision for our state: Accelerate Idaho. His strategy simultaneously focuses on three critical priorities:
- Advance the earning capabilities of our individual citizens,
- Elevate our business environment to meet the modern economy,
- Strengthen our communities so they are better prepared for growth.
Together, these three priorities create a timeless economic foundation that will grow our economy for generations to come. (For more information refer to accelerate.idaho.gov)
There is a tremendous amount at stake for our future and we know the path forward. We can overcome our challenges and harness our limitless potential. Accelerate Idaho is a team effort and we all have an important part to play. Let’s keep our eyes on the prize!