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Posts tagged as “economy”

First take

There's been the sense over the last couple of years that the economy has been improving gradually, and it has, but now for the first time in a long time we see the B word - for "boom." It's being spoken of in Oregon, though, even as the unemployment rate bumped last month to 5.9 percent from 5.5 percent the month before - the reason being that the labor market is growing rapidly, with more people arriving in the state and otherwise entering. The key bit of news was that Oregon picked up 4,600 new jobs, just about doubling the number from the month before. Yet to be seen: Thorough breakdowns of where and what they are. - rs

A dairy decline

One of the biggest economic stories in Idaho over the last couple of decades has been the tremendous - you might say wild - growth in dairies, especially megadairies, mostly in the Magic Valley but partly also in southwest Idaho as well. These factory operations have become a key part of the state's economy, even as they present a series of environmental and other issues faster than those issues can be dealt with. Abruptly, dairies became the biggest, most important sector of the Idaho farm economy, accounting for about a third of money produced.

The overall troubled economy, though, has put a pause in the dairy growth, and even in places reversed it.

A new Associated Press piece cites massive cutbacks in some dairy operations, and says one industry figure reports "The dairy drop has cost the state's economy roughly $200 million in taxes and lost revenue since the beginning of the year."

While much of the economy drawdown attention has focused on construction and tech, other sectors are scaling down too, and some of them - like dairy - have about as much impact on the state.

Economy getting you down?

Well, the Olympian has a remedy, more or less.

Try this video from Olympian reporter Adam Wilson. Maybe the funniest take we've seen lately on the local state of the economy. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll cringe . . .

Tamarack’s closure

It was the first substantial new ski resort development built in the United States in 23 years. There may have been reasons no one else tried to do what Tamarack Resort tried to do. Certainly, though word now of its impeding closure stands to be buried in the avalanche of rotten economic news, the resort's troubles came well in advance of the nation's economic troubles. The causes may be related, but the problems at Tamarack were specific, too, unto itself.

We should be clear here: The closure, slated to March 5, may or may not be permanent. But it seems the decision came not from the Douglas Wilson Company, which has run the operation for some months, but rather that of a judge. So no one knows what may happen next, other than that the results are likely to have a lot to do with however much debt is involved.

It always looked a little problematic; the concept seemed to revolve around Bogus Basin crowds paying Sun Valley rates, a formula that never seemed (here anyway) very promising, however pretty the landscape may be (and that it surely is). The Idaho Statesman reports, "As of mid-February, skier visits were at 27,000, leaving the resort with an operating deficit of $304,000 as of Jan. 23, more than the $133,555 deficit anticipated two months ago by Douglas Wilson." Yeah, some of that is recession-based, but still. Once you sell off the real estate - that being the easy part, and even that not easy any more - how does it pencil out?

A lot of people will be puzzling over that for some time to come.

Closing the courts

Among the latest economic impacts: In Oregon, shutting down the courts, one day a week.

Oregon Chief Justice Paul J. De Muniz today announced that all state courts will be closed on Fridays beginning on Friday, March 13, 2009. The closures will remain in effect at least through June 30, 2009. Future closures depend on budget decisions the legislature will make later in its session.

“These budget reductions are a huge blow to Oregon’s courts and the people we serve and will affect public safety, the welfare of children, and everyone who needs their day in court,” Chief Justice De Muniz said. “Oregonians will have the unfortunate opportunity to learn how justice delayed means justice denied.”

Not to criticize the courts for the decision - which may be the best of several unpalatable options - but we should note that courts are among the lubricants in our economic system, part of what allows things like the credit system (which is at the heart of our current troubles) to function properly.

The business base

One of the key economic points we try to pay attention to is the matter of a local economy's base - the core of service or production that serves as the center of the economic engine. In times past, for example, you might have a group of farmers who raise crops; that production forms a center of economic production, which spreads outward toward crop storing and transportation, toward business and legal and medical services, toward needed retail, and so on and on. Usually such an economic base, its central engine, is manufacturing or production of some sort, or at least something generating value. If there's not a strong core generating value, then much of what happens in an area is simply the shifting around of money, and that can become a declining circle as everyone takes out their piece. A value, a wealth, enhancer needs to be somewhere central in the system, and best if the association is tight with one of the largest employers in the area.

So the throwaway line in the stories about Micron Technology's diminished employment in the Boise area - by August, estimated to be about 5,000 - have significance even beyond the considerable and very important direct loss of jobs. Micron, which for a decade or more has been the largest private employer in Idaho, also adds a lot of wealth as a manufacturer of high-tech materials, has been a wealth/value-creator, which has made it a very useful central economic engine.

What does it say about the structure of Idaho's economy that the pending biggest private employers in the state come August will be a hospital network - St. Luke's (about 7,600 jobs) - and a big-box retailer - Wal-Mart (about 6,900)? What sort of an an economic base do they form? Maybe even more than the raw loss of jobs, Idaho policy makers need to start considering seriously how the state's economy is structured.

‘Into a pit’

Now that the federal stimulus money has been signed off, but before any fallout from it (whatever that is, will take weeks at least to start to be felt), is a useful time for a review of where we are. The view in Oregon is not far off from many: Headed "into a pit," says the chief state economist.

A solid Oregonian overview runs today.

From the feds

While in Washington and Oregon there's a tone among political people that the federal stimulus money, welcome as it may be, shouldn't be run through too quickly or without thought, the attitude among many Idaho political people suggests that a really foul pile of landfill deposits is about to emptied on the state.

Idaho's portion is thought to be somewhere around a billion dollars (ad about 17,000 jobs, a few more in the 1st district than in the 2nd) - substantial money, of course. But the lather could stand some easing off. The Idaho Statesman's Kevin Richert put the the money in some perspective in a blog post: "All state agencies [put together] received just over $1.9 billion from the feds. And unlike the one-time stimulus money, this represents year-to-year federal spending, outside the state's general fund." And remember that local governments get plenty of federal money on top of that.

Richert concludes: "Idaho has had a federal funding habit for a long, long time."

WASHINGTON/OREGON: Estimated job creation out of the stimulus in Washington is estimated at 75,000, and in Oregon at 40,000.

WA: An aggressive approach

Chris Gregoire

Chris Gregoire

The view of a sizable number of Republicans in Washington is that, while Governor Chris Gregoire and the Democrats didn't cause the national economic calamity, they are responsible for making worse the impact on government in the state, by pushing for more spending in the last few years than they might have. State spending has in fact risen quickly in the last few years, and if it had grown more slowly, state revenues and spending might be at least closer to alignment. (In Republican-run Idaho, where spending hasn't been increasing nearly as much, Republicans talk about how fortunate they are in that regard - and now need to make big cuts in spending.)

There's a powerful argument in that, and no doubt the Democrats in charge in Olympia are going to have a harder time maintaining in the fact. A few years ago you might have expected a bunch of Democrats to sign off on it, at least partly and in principle. But Gregoire, delivering her second inaugural address today, made clear that she doesn't and won't. A central segment:

Instead, we must renew hope for Washingtonians who are suffering today, and lay — for them — a platform for a better tomorrow.

First, we can and must quickly create new jobs for working families by rebuilding roads and schools, and creating a green economy for the 21st century — all in partnership with President-elect Barack Obama’s “American Recovery and Reinvestment” plan.

Second, like our struggling families and businesses, we can and will tighten our belts, balance our budget and focus on basic needs — protection of our children, our schools and colleges, our public safety, our environment and our economy.

Third, we won’t waste this crisis! We can and must reform state government. In this moment of clarity, we must grab the opportunity to reform so we can respond to the evolving needs of this century.

Fourth, we can and must approach all our challenges as a computer engineer might. Let’s build a new platform that makes Washington unique — that can support the exciting possibilities of the 21st century rather than the fading possibilities of the last.

And finally, this is the time for generosity among all Washingtonians.

So what we're seeing here is a call for activism, in a time of revenue diminishment - maybe a little less than in Oregon, a lot more than in Idaho. She has yet to lay out all the specifics, but the outline in her speech today seems clear enough: "We can quickly create thousands of new jobs this year and next by accelerating nearly $1 billion in public works projects. These projects will build new roads and schools, and create green-collar jobs to lay more groundwork for the prosperity to come. The time to act is now!"

Philosophical lines are being drawn - two very different approaches to dealing with the down times. We'll be able to do some sharp comparisons in the months ahead as they play out.

THE VIADUCT The apparent consensus decision among state, county and city officials (Gregoire, Chopp, King, Nickels and others) to go for the tunnel as the replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct seems of a piece with this. The tunnel is the most costly way of dealing with the need for action on the viaduct, and it may be the long-range quality solution, but it also is the most expensive. That is why so many people recoiled from it before. But now? There's no certainty about where the money will come from, and there's a distinct possibility (as the Seattle Times notes) of a taxpayer revolt. Will there be?

OR: The mission continues

Ted Kulongoski

Ted Kulongoski

Compare the state of the state addresses by Idaho's Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter and Oregon's Governor Ted Kulongoski, and you could hardly imagine they were delivered at nearly the same hour on the same day, each facing similar economic and social pressures. The speeches could hardly be more difference.

Both proposed transportation and some other infrastructure improvements (which, in each case, could tie into federal spending).

You can see references in Otter's speech in the post below. But consider what Kulongoski had to say - it was a short speech and the key sentences jump out:

"What do we have to do to restore prosperity and lay the groundwork for a future where our children are the best educated in America, our environmental leadership is unquestioned in America, and our economy stands ready to take full advantage of the green industrial and energy revolution that is stirring in America. . . . The ground on which – together – we will build a budget for the next biennium has shifted. But the pillars of that budget – children, education, health care, renewable energy, green technology, and transportation – cannot be shaken. . . .

"If we’re going to turn unemployment checks into paychecks, the state must invest in our human infrastructure. My top priority for this upcoming biennium remains education – because only by creating the best trained, best skilled, best educated workforce in America will we be able to create the employment opportunities that are this state’s future. I’ve been saying for months that the way to turn despair into hope, and uncertainty into prosperity, is to build a protective wall around funding for education.

"The time has come to rise to that challenge – and to accept the moral responsibility of making sure that every Oregon child from birth to age 19 has health insurance. Yes – that means finding the political courage to raise revenue. What are we afraid of? These are our children! . . . We’re also going to have to innovate, educate, and invest! That means more research and development into energy efficiency and conservation. Creating a larger science infrastructure that will attract and train scientists and engineers. And making sure Oregon businesses have the opportunity to generate a critical mass of brainpower, financial power, and marketing power. When it comes to fighting climate change, recently I’ve been hearing a chorus of naysayers singing a three-part harmony of – too costly, too burdensome, and too soon. But this chorus is out of tune – and out of touch – with Oregon’s future."