Idaho's economic health is in the middle of the pack compared to all 50 states. Unemployment in June reached 8.8 percent, slightly higher than the U.S. average. High-tech manufacturing is a key industry, with many jobs in memory chip production. That sector had been struggling prior to the downturn, and was then severely damaged due to lack of demand for computers and associated hardware once American consumers tightened their belts.
Fortunately, when the IT industry picked up steam across the country in the middle of 2009, Idaho benefited. "The state is still losing jobs in the IT sector and still struggling," Valletta says. "We have not seen any employment growth there, but earnings reports from key companies are up."
Boise's Micron Technology, a large semiconductor producer, has posted "positive income" for the last three quarters, Valletta says. In non-IT sectors, employment "seems to be growing at a solid pace."
Utah's diverse economy wasn't hit as hard as the other two states, Valletta says, and much of that has to do with the state's active natural resources of gas and energy, and manufacturing. Both helped offset negative activity in other sectors. "Also, Utah did not experience as severe a housing market downturn as did the other Mountain States," points out Valletta. Its 7.2 percent unemployment rate, the fifteenth lowest in the country, is another plus for the economy.
CEOs Weigh In
In a survey by Chief Executive magazine of the best states for business in 2010, three of the six Mountain States were among the top 10. More than 600 CEOs rated all 50 states on criteria including work force quality, living environment, regulation, and taxation. Nevada took the fifth spot, followed by Colorado in eighth, Utah in ninth, Idaho in thirteenth, Wyoming in fifteenth, and Montana in twenty-eighth.
There's no doubt that the Mountain States, known nationally for their pro-business economic development assets, support a wide variety of new and expanding businesses. As the recession winds down, they will be an integral part of the solution of getting America back on track and regaining lost ground in the global economy.