Idaho needs to grow knowledge economy, report finds

photo of girl scouts doing stem
To succeed in the knowledge economy, Idaho needs to encourage youth to look at technology careers, such as this annual Girl Scouts of Silver Sage STEM Exploration Day. File photo.

More than half of Idaho’s technology jobs are located in the Boise area, yet even there, they represent less than 10 percent of the jobs in the area. Idaho needs to look at ways to increase the number of technology jobs statewide because they pay much better than many other jobs, and Idaho’s per capita personal income is significantly lower than that of the United States as a whole.

This is among the findings of the Idaho Technology Council Knowledge Report, scheduled to be released today at the organization’s develop.idaho conference, in Boise.

“Earnings in high-tech jobs in Idaho are $102,106 vs. $49,880 for all Idaho jobs,” the report noted. “The average in the United States is $123,063, while all jobs in the U.S. are $65,369. Idaho needs to grow more sophisticated technology jobs that will help drive the economy and provide a stronger tax base for Idaho and its communities.”

photo of jay larsen
Jay Larsen

Jay Larsen, CEO of the Idaho Technology Council, described the report in April at the company’s Capital Connect Conference. “It will help us figure out what our strengths are, measure what we need to continue to do, and the prescriptive opportunities to act on building this knowledge-based economy,” he said. “You can’t sit there and watch it – you have to drive these prescriptive opportunities in our state.”

“Idaho is at a crossroads,” the report noted. “Kauffman Foundation and Milken Institute reports usually rank Idaho in the middle of the pack regarding technology and innovation. We either make significant strides towards growing technology and innovation in our state or we slide to mediocrity.”

The report focuses on a number of areas, including education, capital networks, commercialization of ideas, infrastructure such as housing and transportation, and quality of life.

The report also divides Idaho into six regions: southwestern, which includes Boise; eastern, which includes Idaho National Laboratory; north central, which includes Moscow and Lewiston; northern, which includes Sandpoint and Coeur d’Alene; south central, which includes Twin Falls; and southeastern, which includes Pocatello. While some regions have more technology jobs than others, every region has the potential for technology jobs, ranging from food processing in the south-central region to a Federal Bureau of Investigation data center in the southeastern region, the report noted.

Finally, the report divides the types of jobs into four categories along two axes: manual-cognitive and routine-complex. Jobs such as managers, engineers and scientists, and artists are cognitive-complex, while jobs such as office staff and telemarketers are cognitive-routine. In comparison, manual-complex jobs include food preparation and personal care, while manual-routine jobs include production and transportation workers. Routine jobs are most likely to be automated in the future, the report warned.

It’s important for Idaho to increase the number of jobs it offers in emerging industries because these industries in Idaho are forecast to grow 21 percent in the next 10 years while traditional industries will grow only 14 percent, the report noted.

“This has been a large-scale data project that has shed quite a bit of light on Idaho in general, and on the tech community specifically,” said Greg Hill, director of the Idaho Policy Institute at Boise State University, who is listed as one of the advisors to the report. “The results of the report should help inform decisionmakers throughout the state with matters relevant to Idaho’s growing high-tech community and how it fits into Idaho’s traditional economic contributors. This report is the first step in an ongoing effort to provide more and more information about the technology community in an open and transparent way.”

The Knowledge Report is in its first year. The organization also publishes the annual Deal Flow report in April. The Deal Flow Report, now in its fourth year, highlights private placement investments and merger and acquisition activity for Idaho companies.

The Idaho Technology Council is a nonprofit organization intended to help technology councils in Idaho start, grow and thrive.