Boise was the starting point for a region-wide analysis of Mountain West economic growth from the Christian Science Monitor this week.
Their thesis? The Rocky Mountain West economy is moving and grooving again. The driving forces? The same ones that drive some longtime locals nuts: in-migration of people and their newfangled jobs.
The article, which ran early this week, starts in Boise but sweeps wide, encompassing Reno, Casper and even dips into the Sierras.
Forget the Rust Belt. Ixnay on the OastCays. Out here, in the small- and medium-sized cities of the West, is where the growth is at, they say.
They quote experts from the New America Foundation saying that so-called “second- and third-tier cities” (that’s us, Boise!) will be the growth engines.
Why? Listen to Laural Carignan, my new neighbor, quoted in the CSM story: “My husband and I wanted to live where we liked to vacation.”
The boom looks like this, according to CSM: Rocky Mountain States have been adding jobs at nearly twice the national average of 1.5 percent. Idaho, yes, Idaho! is the growth leader: 4.1 percent more jobs this June than last. Whoa!
Why? “Growth itself is a spur,” CSM quotes Joel Kotkin from the New America Foundation.
And yea, the growth she spurs real estate. Which spurs building. Which drives up prices. Which spurs my wallet in the behind.
Hype doesn’t hurt either, thank you very much, Inc. Magazine.
When we were driving around with our own Realtor looking for our house this year, my wife and I quizzed her about the specter of the “Real Estate Bubble.”
“Realtor,” we said, “Are we in a bubble here?”
We got an eye-rolling and a small lecture: New York, San Francisco, Phoenix — there’s your bubble, she said.
“Boise? Nuh-uh!” said Realtor. “Now, quit horsing around and get a bid ready on this house, the price has gone up six grand while we sat here!”
Nope, no bubble here, nosirree. Just high prices.
Yes, as folks in McCall are finding out, growth has its costs, like, duh, higher property taxes.
Even more poignant is this eye-opening editorial from the seasoned eyes at the Idaho Mountain Express (full disclosure: I used to work there).
Their thesis? The boom of Ketchum, the base town for the Sun Valley resort, has wrought not just ski-bumming young folks but also (gasp) boring old people and their boring old jobs.
Here’s their damning critique of the Ketchum strategy:
“The city has imposed a de facto ban on new hotels, refused to build affordable housing, and fought practically every new idea that’s come down the pike.
New commercial spaces are not being filled by new tourist-related businesses, but by offices—finance, real estate and such. These aren’t exactly what people have in mind when they come to spend time and money in a resort town.”
Maybe Ketchum needs its own slogan: Keep Ketchum Kooky.
I took The Dog up to Ketchum for a bit of biking and visiting old chums earlier this summer, and lo, it was true: parts of the downtown do look a little more … polished … than before.
Part of me thought “This is what a grown-up town looks like.” But I remember the quiet times cherished by locals in between ski and summer season. It reminded me of living in Crested Butte, Colorado, too. Everyone’s favorite time there was the so-called “mud season,” when it wasn’t quite winter anymore but also not quite spring-and-summer yet. You knew it was down time when you saw dogs sleeping on Main Street.
Well, a dog sleeping on Main Street in Boise would be a pooch pancake in no time. Even in Ketchum they’ve begun placing orange flags at crosswalks so pedestrians don’t get mowed-over by dirt pimps in their HumVees.
No, there is no mud season in Boise. Or in many of the hip-and-hot growing towns of the New West. Time will tell if that’s okay or not.
Again, the CSM story provides the best kicker, which I’ll quote here, from Larry Swanson, an economist at the University of Montana’s Center for the Rocky Mountain West:
“If you come here in 15 years, the places you’ll want to go will be the places that managed it right. Some will and some won’t.”