Commercial Magazine


The Gem State looks to accommodate its growing population.

By Neil Pierson

Idaho, also known as the Gem State due to the wide variety of mineral deposits found within its borders, is the 11th-largest state by area but the 12th-smallest by population. Its 1.7 million residents are scattered across some 83,000 square miles, partially due to the numerous mountain ranges that stretch from its northern to southern borders.

Much of Idaho’s population lives along the Snake River Plain in the south-central portion of the state, where the fertile land creates a thriving agriculture industry. Idaho has nearly 25,000 farms and ranches that produce about 185 different commodities, according to the state’s department of agriculture. In 2017, agriculture and processed food and beverage sales totaled nearly $16 billion, equating to 20% of the state’s total economic output.

Manufacturing is another large employment sector in the Gem State. It is responsible for more than 9% of Idaho’s jobs and cleared $8.3 billion in economic output in 2017, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) reported. Four subsectors — computers and electronics; food, beverage and tobacco products; wood products; and fabricated metal products — each produced more than $500 million in goods in 2016, according to NAM.

A report released this past April by the Idaho Division of Financial Management said that “population growth has anchored economic growth,” with at least 18,000 new residents expected to move into Idaho annually from 2019 to 2022 — two to three times higher than the growth occurring as recently as 2014. Consequently, housing starts in the Gem State are expected to reach nearly 19,000 by 2022, easily eclipsing the 7,100 new homes that were built in 2012.

This past May, a report from the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, called Boise — the capital and largest city with 217,000 residents — a good place to start a career or retire, due to a low crime rate, low tax rates and tech-job opportunities. The report went on to note, however, that Boise no longer has the same “critical mass” of high-tech companies. Hewlett-Packard has reduced its footprint by 5,500 employees over the years, while Micron Technology Inc. has shed about 6,000 jobs and elected to move a $3 billion, 1,000-job expansion to Virginia.

The Idaho Technology Council reported that 163 commercial real estate deals, with a total value of $1.73 billion, were closed statewide in 2018. Industries such as technology and software, materials and resources, and retail were responsible for the bulk of the transactions.

Treasure Valley office market

A first-quarter 2019 report from Colliers International showed that the Treasure Valley office market — which includes Boise, Ada County and Canyon County — had an average asking rent of $15.70 per square foot and a vacancy rate of 7.37%. In downtown Boise, the average asking rent exceeded $20 per square foot in the first quarter of this year, although that was down substantially from a rate of $25.84 in second-quarter 2018.

Colliers reported that the low supply of available office space is causing many owners to raise their lease rates by 15% to 30%, a surprising development for many tenants. That doesn’t seem to be hindering growth, however, as some 75,800 square feet of office space was absorbed across the Treasure Valley market in first-quarter 2019, including Boise’s first pediatric urgent-care center, located in an 18,000-square-foot facility.

Focus: Agriculture

A report from the University of Idaho’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences said that agribusiness is the Gem State’s largest industry in terms of sales and its second largest as measured by jobs and gross domestic product. More than 123,000 people, or 12% of the state’s population, were employed in agriculture in 2017.

According to the same report, Idaho produced $2.3 billion in milk and $1.8 billion in cattle in 2018. The Gem State ranked among the top five states in 2017 for international exports of dairy products, fresh vegetables and wheat. Six nations — Canada, Mexico, China, South Korea, Japan and the Netherlands — accounted for 71% of Idaho’s ag exports that year.

Idaho potatoes are world famous, with farmers harvesting 311,000 acres of potatoes each year and selling more than 400 pounds of spuds every second, the Idaho Potato Commission reported.


As of this past April, Idaho’s unemployment rate of 2.8% was tied for the fifth-lowest rate in the nation — trailing only Vermont, South Dakota, New Hampshire and Iowa, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. The Gem State also has consistently had a lower unemployment rate than the nation as a whole since 2009.

The Idaho Department of Labor projects the state will add 109,000 jobs from 2012 to 2022, a 16% increase over the decade. Several employment sectors are anticipated to have double-digit employment growth during that time frame, led by construction (39.3%); health care and social assistance (26.5%); and leisure and hospitality (24.2%).

The projected job openings in Idaho during that 10-year period, however, will require less education compared to the rest of the nation.

What the locals say

“[Boise] is a booming city, but a lot of people moving here are retirees or are moving closer to family. So, they’re adding to the economy in the sense of [the] service industry, restaurants, things like that, but they’re not necessarily bringing jobs. … I think Boise’s next step is to continue to attract major employers to bring in jobs to help people — young families, young professionals — be able to afford the homes that are being made available. … The rental [housing] market is crazy. It’s very expensive. And that kind of goes along with just how limited of a supply we have with houses.”

Dan Bureau

Senior vice president, Idaho Mutual Trust

3 Cities to Watch

Coeur d’Alene

Located on the shores of the 25-mile-long Lake Coeur d’Alene, this city of 51,000 people grew 16% from April 2010 to August 2018, U.S. Census Bureau figures show. Tourism is an economic driver, with the 18-story Coeur d’Alene Resort and nearby Tubbs Hill, a 120-acre nature preserve, among the attractions. The “Lake City” is about 30 miles from Spokane, Washington. Kootenai County’s major employers include Kootenai Health, North Idaho College and Silverwood Theme Park.


Forbes ranked the Idaho capital No. 1 on its 2018 list of the fastest- growing cities in the country. The publication also rated Boise among its top cities for young professionals. In 2017, the population grew 3.1% year over year, while employment grew by 3.6% and home prices jumped 11.6% annually. Each figure ranked in the top four nationwide. Boise appears to be benefiting from a tech-job migration as people from San Francisco, Seattle and Denver are looking to Boise as an affordable-housing oasis.


This city of 56,000 is the hub of southeastern Idaho and surrounding Bannock County. Outdoors enthusiasts flock to Pebble Creek Ski Area and Lava Hot Springs. Government jobs employ 20% of the county’s workforce, although the per-capita income of $36,987 in 2017 was well below the national average of $51,640, the Idaho Department of Labor reported. About 12,800 students attend Idaho State University, which offers 250 degree programs and in-state tuition of about $15,000 per year. The median home price is $204,000 and the cost of living is 10% below the national average, Forbes reported.


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