A new economic study says Idaho Falls is the second strongest metropolitan economy in the state.
In a nationwide ranking of metropolitan economies by the POLICOM Corporation, an independent research firm that analyzes local and state economies, the Idaho Falls metropolitan area ranked 108th, of the 383 metropolitan areas studied nationwide.
The study evaluated 23 different economic factors over a 16-year period and determined how an economy has behaved over that extended period of time. Data stretching from 2001 to 2017 was used.
Areas that retained a high standard of living and continued economic growth over that period ranked high.
The study evaluated both metropolitan areas and micropolitan areas.
A metropolitan area is defined as a county — or multiple counties — that has a city with at least 50,000 residents. A micropolitan area has an urban center with at least 10,000 residents but no more than 50,000 residents. Idaho Falls and Pocatello are metropolitan areas, while Blackfoot is considered a micropolitan area.
POLICOM ranked Idaho Falls second highest in the state behind the Boise metropolitan area, which ranked 39th. Idaho Falls ranked higher than some much larger cities in the region, such as Spokane, Wash., (126th) and Reno, Nev., (139th).
“The top rated areas have had rapid, consistent growth in both size and quality for an extended period of time,” said POLICOM’s president William H. Fruth in a news release. “The rankings do not reflect the latest ‘hotspot’ or boom town, but the areas which have the best economic foundation.”
Pocatello ranked 295th, jumping 31 spots from last year’s rankings. And Blackfoot ranked 359th among micropolitan areas, an 83-spot jump.
The top metropolitan areas in the rankings were Nashville, Tenn., Seattle and Austin, Texas. Salt Lake City ranked sixth.
Dana Kirkham, CEO of Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho, said Idaho Falls received a solid ranking, considering its competition.
“The fact that Idaho Falls ranks 108th out of 383 cities — and particularly when you consider you’re going up against markets like Nashville and Portland — that’s actually pretty positive placement,” Kirkham said.
Idaho Falls and Salt Lake City weren’t the only cities in the region receiving praise. Bozeman, Mont., ranked first in the nation among micropolitan areas.
REDI watches surrounding cities to pick up on regional trends.
“We’ve looked at Montana and their numbers and the fact that their metro areas have certainly been on the upswing,” Kirkham said. “We spend a lot time looking to Salt Lake and also to Boise. We see the markets to the west and to the south as markets to understand and capture overflow from.”
While business coming into the area is always welcome, the POLICOM rankings give more points to areas that can produce economic growth from within their own economies. POLICOM evaluated standard of living — impacted by jobs, wages and average income, among other factors — and consistent economic growth to judge areas’ growth.
According to the Idaho Department of Labor, the state’s unemployment rate was 2.6 percent in December. Eastern Idaho, which does not include counties south of Bonneville by the Department of Labor’s standards, had an even lower unemployment rate at 2.3 percent.
Eastern Idaho has strong science, technology and energy industries, as well as a strong medical service industry. High-paying jobs in these industries have an obvious impact on standards of living in the area, but, the POLICOM rankings show that more than just Idaho National Lab jobs provide a comfortable living.
While the average income in eastern Idaho is below the national average, quality of life remains high, partially because cost-of-living is low, Kirkham said.
“One of the things that attracts business, industry and people to eastern Idaho,” Kirkham said. “Even though your wage may be lower than the national average the cost of land, housing, utilities are all significantly lower.”
“You can live on less in eastern Idaho and have a good quality of life,” she added.
Kikrham said Idaho Falls can move up in the rankings next year by focusing on the average income. Increased average income will raise the quality of life and put money back into the economy, as residents will have more money in their pockets.
That can be done not just by raising wages but by creating more technical, more sustainable jobs, as well, she said.