Several regions in Idaho are receiving the benefits of migration from surrounding areas. But their growth is coming at a cost to smaller regions.
Twin Falls County has grown by more than 2,450 residents since 2010. Between 2014 and 2015, it outpaced its five-year average and grew by 723 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
A lot of that growth is tied directly to new job opportunities that companies such as Chobani, Glanbia Foods and Clif Bar have created by opening in the area. But Twin Falls is experiencing several benefits not directly tied to those companies, Department of Labor Economist Jan Roeser said.
The influx has prompted the construction of new schools and the creation of new health services, Roeser said. New businesses have emerged to support the large newcomers.
“A big part of what first attracted Clif Bar was the press around Chobani building such a large Greek yogurt plant in Twin Falls,” Roeser said. “They came in and saw the canyon and the area and decided to come here too and now we have seen other businesses come in with the desire to be part of the supply chains for these large companies. It has really snowballed.”
But Twin Falls County is the only county in the Magic Valley that has experienced this level of growth since 2010. Its neighbors have seen their economies slow, and businesses are having trouble finding workers.
Jerome County experienced the greatest exodus of talent in the area, losing more than 830 residents between 2010 and now. But every south-central county except Twin Falls lost ground, for a total of about 3,000 residents lost across seven counties. For many small communities surrounded by federal lands, the population loss meant a decrease in precious property tax revenue and the scaling back of services and improvements, Roeser said.
“There is a nationwide trend of the younger generation moving to larger areas and Twin Falls meets that definition for our area,” Roeser said. “Twin Falls has spent a lot of money downtown to create a livable area to cater to this younger crowd and Boise does this even better than us obviously. A lot of smaller communities don’t have the resources to compete.”
It isn’t just small rural towns that are wilting in the shadow of nearby competing cities though. The power dynamic of the Magic Valley is playing out across a larger scale on the eastern side of the state. The 16 counties in eastern and southeastern Idaho have lost about 14,200 residents since 2010. Every county experienced a net loss in migration, and the businesses in those communities are finding it hard to grow. Many are considering moving out of the state, Regional Economist Chris St. Jeor said.
Pocatello, Idaho Falls and Rexburg have long lost residents to neighboring Utah and to the Treasure Valley, but new economic trends are exacerbating the labor shortage.
“Idaho Falls currently has a person-to-job-opening ratio of 1:1 which is significantly down from where we were in 2010 when there were often six people for every one position,” St. Jeor said. “The tight labor margin hurts companies. There are many businesses seeking to grow that can’t because there are no employees. Businesses are turning down jobs or looking to do their expansion projects outside of the state.”
The largest group moving out of the area is 18 to 30-year-olds seeking an urban area, St. Jeor said. The cities of Idaho Falls and Ammon are trying to combat this trend by adding downtown housing options, creating additional paved greenbelt trails and adding publicly owned fiber optic cable systems, but these efforts are all recent developments and could take years to stem the migration pattern.
“Salt Lake has had these things for a long time already and has so much more infrastructure,” St. Jeor said. “When you consider the trains they have in Salt Lake that you can use for free, you can see how you wouldn’t even need a car. Yes, we are doing a lot to address this, but that doesn’t mean we are doing anything different or that we are doing more.”