Thursday, March 18, 2010

The facts might set us free

The Idaho Statesman's Kevin Richert penned a column in today's paper about new research from a Brookings Mountain West report showing that the Treasure Valley faces a highly uncertain path to economic recovery. Kevin does a good job outlining the study's findings, which included the sobering statistics that the Boise Metropolitan Statistical Area has seen some of the nation's steepest declines in housing prices and employment levels. (In both areas, we rank among the worst six of the nation's Top 100 metros.)

The Brookings report also was the topic of yesterday's Urban Lunch at the Boise Watercooler, featuring talks by Dean Melissa Lavitt of Boise State's College of Social Sciences and Public Affairs and Boise City Councilman David Eberle. My main take-away from the session was that - for the first time ever - the Boise metro area has extensive, fact-based research with which we can compare ourselves to other metro areas in the Intermountain West.

For as long as I've lived in Idaho (21 years this spring, including six years in Boise and 15 in Twin Falls), we've considered ourselves too small and too remote to be included in serious public policy research, and outsiders have certainly seen us that way too. But Lavitt and Eberle both made the point that BSU's participation in the five-school Brookings West consortium - coupled with the Boise metro area's population growth - make that serious research possible for the first time.

Unfortunately, the results may not please us as much as the myriad (albeit subjective) Top Places to Live-type lists that Boise has deservedly found itself on over the past decade. But facts are facts, and Boise's abysmal placement in employment and housing value metrics - together with Idaho's long-term lack of support for higher education and blurry economic development vision - should make us all take notice. We know what a great place Boise is to live, but it won't stay that way if we don't realize that this is the first recession that we can neither build our way out of nor solve through outdated economic development policy.

Update: The Idaho Business Review's Robb Hicken has a report on the study, too.

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