Job growth, affordable housing could bring nearly 15000 new residents to Spokane-Coeur dAlene metro area in 2019

Job growth, affordable housing could bring nearly 15000 new residents to Spokane-Coeur d\Alene metro area in 2019
Job growth, affordable housing could bring nearly 15,000 new residents to Spokane-Coeur dAlene metro area in 2019
SPOKANE, Wash. – The economic future is looking good for the Inland Northwest, according to economists who presented that forecast to Greater Spokane Incorporated Wednesday morning. 

According to economists, for the last three years, business in the area has been booming. They say we have experienced almost double the growth of the rest of the country. And that's expected to continue. 

"The outlook for 2019 is for us to still do better than the U.S., but probably a little bit slower growth than we've experienced, especially in the second half of 2019," said Grant Forsyth, chief economist with Avista. 

Forsyth and another economist presented their predictions to give businesses an idea of what to expect in the coming year.  

"I think a lot of optimism as we have really strong population growth, as we continue to see great in-migration and a lot of movement in the economy," said Alisha Benson, COO of Greater Spokane Incorporated. "So, I think from a general business standpoint, people are fairly optimistic."

GSI says this report shows that now is a good time for businesses or those looking to start a new business in the area. 

"We have a really robust and growing startup ecosystem that we're proud to be a part of and a lot of partners that are thinking about how we help companies grow and prosper," Benson said. 

And Forsyth says there are several factors drawing people to the area, but a big one is our affordable housing market. 

"From an affordability point of view, it's much easier to get into a house here than some of those other urban areas. And you combine that with the fact that there are good job opportunities, that's really drawing people in," he said.

And if you're worried this growth could mean we'll look like Seattle any time soon, that may not be something to put too much though into. 

"We're pretty far from that. But, that doesn't mean people aren't feeling the growing pains and I think people are," said Forsyth.

About 740,000 people live in the greater Spokane-Coeur dAlene metro area, and that figure could swell by nearly 15,000 next year if the projected growth pans out.

Moves, not births, are fueling most of the population gains. The surge of new residents means more traffic, more construction and more conversion of open space into urban areas. For longtime local residents, the change can feel jarring, said Grant Forsyth, Avista Corp.s chief economist.

For those of us who are 50-plus, the region looks completely different, and it feels different because so many people are moving here, Forsyth said.

Job growth and affordable housing will continue to attract newcomers to the region, he predicted Wednesday at Greater Spokane Incorporateds annual economic forecast.

Spokane Countys cost of living is 14 percent below the Seattle areas and 5 percent below the national average, he said. Although Spokane Countys median home prices have risen to $235,000, they remain a deal compared to other West Coast metro areas.

Strong job growth will continue through the first half of 2019, but could slow during the second half of the year – especially if trade disputes with China escalate, Forsyth said.

If Amazon hires 1,500 workers next year to staff its West Plains fulfillment center as planned, however, the region is likely to see strong job growth throughout the year, he said.

But Forsyth thinks it might take Amazon longer than anticipated to hire a workforce of that magnitude. A tight labor market is something local employers will grapple with next year and into the future, Forsyth said.

Hiring that special someone is not going to be easy. Especially if youre in construction. Especially if youre in health care, he said.

Several hundred business people attended the economic forecast at the Spokane Convention Center. Forsyth and John Mitchell of M & H Economic Consultants offered predictions for 2019.

National outlook: The nation is nearing the 10-year mark for economic expansion. In seven months, well tie the longest expansion in U.S. history, Mitchell said.

Unemployment is at 3.7 percent nationally, wages are rising and people who previously had a hard time getting hired are working.

But companies are constrained by the lack of workers, Mitchell said. Nationally, the housing sector is showing signs of weakness, and changes in federal monetary policy could alter the U.S. economys outlook.

The local economy lagged behind the U.S. economys recovery from the Great Recession by about 2 1/2 years, eventually catching up, he said. Now, Washington and Idaho are creating jobs at a faster rate than the national economy.

Full- and part-time employees are working an average of 35 hours per week locally, which is higher than the national average of 34 hours.

Local home prices will finish the year with an average gain around 11 percent, Forsyth predicted. Hes expecting a smaller increase in the 7 percent to 8 percent range next year.

Trade war: Protracted trade disputes with China and other countries would be detrimental to Washingtons export economy.

It exposes us to much in the Northwest. It could undo so many of the gains weve made, Forsyth said.

Both agriculture and manufacturing are at risk. Agriculture is a huge source of income for the region, Forsyth said. Trade disputes affect not only jobs in the fields but in the transportation industry that moves goods from farms to ports.

Many local manufacturers also have an international presence, selling products overseas or buying materials or parts through a global supply chain.

Through most of our lives, the world has been on a path toward reductions in trade barriers. Global supply chains developed. Now thats being threatened, Mitchell said. There may be unintended consequences.


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