Idaho’s small towns are a draw for people seeking a quieter life, but a new study shows that some of them are also economically exciting.
The Walton Family Foundation analysis looked at the economies of micropolitan areas — small towns with between 10,000 and 50,000 residents — to find the cities with the fastest growth and most dynamic outlooks for their residents. Of the 531 areas ranked across the country, Idaho claimed three of the 20 most dynamic locations.
The third highest overall ranking went to Jackson, Wyo., and the two Teton counties (Idaho and Wyoming) that have been aided by its success. The area’s success was credited to the year-round tourism to nearby Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks in the summer and the nearby ski resorts in the winter. Combining the outdoor options with the relatively low cost of living in Idaho allows nearby cities such as Driggs and Victor to draw in people able to work remotely.
“We’ve always been very active in the hospitality and tourism sectors of the economy, but we are seeing some of that shift as more remote workers enter,” said Kristie Eggebroten, program manager for the Teton Regional Economic Coalition. She and her husband are both able to do work online from Driggs.
Seasonal residents also have helped to put a lot of money into the area’s economy. Jackson had the highest income per capita of any city in the study, with the average resident making nearly $150,000.
Less than an hour’s drive west, Rexburg was ranked 19th overall in the study but recorded the second highest total short-term job growth. The student population at Brigham Young University-Idaho has grown dramatically over the last decade, rising from around 13,000 students in 2009 to more than 20,000 this fall. That growth also has forced the town’s economy to expand, as BYU-Idaho built new buildings on the campus and married students brought their spouses into the area.
The city’s economic growth isn’t purely related to the college students. Rexburg Area Chamber of Commerce President Chris Mann pointed to Hemming Village’s combination of student housing and stores as an example of how businesses have been attracted to the city. The companies located in the Hemming Village mall include both NAVEX Global, the international software company which expanded its office in the city last year, and a number of locally owned restaurants and startups.
“We have really tried to build up our entrepreneurs as a great feature of the city,” Mann said.
Those two regions were not the only highlights for Idaho from the Walton Family Foundation study. In between the two eastern Idaho cities in the rankings was Hailey, which used the success of Sun Valley to earn the sixth-highest ranking. Idaho was one of three states which landed that many areas in the top 20 of the study, along with Texas and Colorado. Sandpoint and Burley also made it into the top 60 among small towns and to the north of Yellowstone National Park, Bozeman, Montana, came in fifth on the list.