Low unemployment

Most counties in south-central Idaho had seasonally adjusted unemployment rates higher than 3 percent back in January. But by August, the rates had sunk to 2.5 percent and lower. Gooding County had an astounding 1.9 unemployment rate that month, while Cassia County’s unemployment was down at 2.2 percent for three months of the year.

“Idaho continues to be a national leader in growth in jobs and incomes,” Lt. Gov. Brad Little said in October, when Idaho’s unemployment hit a record low of 2.8 percent. “But we cannot let our foot off the gas.”

Twin Falls County’s unemployment ranged from a low of 2.5 percent in August and September, to 3.5 percent in January. Labor analysts say 5 percent unemployment rates are typically still considered “full employment.”

The labor force growth over 2017 still didn’t quite meet demand for workers around the valley. As the year wore on, employers were still offering better benefits and higher wages in an effort to poach employees from their competition.

Manufacturing expansions

Despite the work force shortage, several large manufacturers still considered it a good time for expansion in the Magic Valley.

Clif Bar installed a third production line at the end of January, expecting to soon reach close to 300 employees. In an effort to accommodate its employees, it opened a gymnasium with fitness equipment and classes.

In the spring, McCain Foods in Burley had an even bigger announcement: a $200 million plant expansion would create 180 jobs. The company broke ground on the expansion in December.

Chobani, meanwhile, surpassed Urban Renewal Agency’s expectations for local investment. The company expanded within the yogurt aisle this summer behind its Chobani Smooth classic yogurt, and in November, broke ground on a multimillion-dollar community and innovation center in Twin Falls.

“I think what’s going to happen is this place is going to be like a Silicon Valley of food innovation,” Chobani CEO and founder Hamdi Ulukaya said in November.

That announcement was followed by a total company-wide rebrand, as Chobani focused more on being a force of good through food.

Also in Twin Falls, Jayco announced in October that a new building and expansion will create 360 new jobs through 2019.

Housing diversity

Several south-central Idaho cities continued to see interest from home builders in 2017. In Twin Falls, residential building actually slowed over the previous year, as contractors were swamped with more work than they could handle.

But developers began showing renewed interest in other types of housing. In October, Boise-based Summit Development Inc. received building permits for 20 fourplex buildings on Harrison Street, north of the Hilton Garden Inn. Construction has already begun, and the complex could open as early as next spring.

Another fourplex development could soon come to Elizabeth Street, and townhouses are planned in developments near the Snake River Canyon and the South Hills Middle School.

Big retailers closing

Just weeks after King’s Variety said it would return to Twin Falls, the 102-year-old company decided to close all of its stores. A company statement said competition from big-box stores and the Internet was at least partly to blame. Most of the 19 stores across several western states employed a dozen workers each.

The news came as a blow to some Idaho families.

“King’s is a place where a lot of people have shopped their entire lives,” Burley Economic Development Director Doug Manning said at the time. “Me included.”

Burley also lost its J.C. Penney at the end of July. Ross Dress for Less hung its banner on the building shortly after.

That same month, Macy’s announced plans to close its store at the Magic Valley Mall at the end of March 2018, following its trend of nationwide closures. In December, Old Navy announced it would close in January.

These changes have raised questions about the future of malls and the effects of online shopping on Idaho retailers. But Idaho Department of Labor Regional Economist Jan Roeser recently disputed that theory in an online blog entry.

“With recent reports of department store losses across the country and in Idaho, internet retailers have been the target of criticism and blame for these closures,” Roeser wrote. “But the data doesn’t support that theory. According to the U.S .Census Bureau, unadjusted e-commerce sales accounted for 8.2 percent of total retail sales nationally for the second quarter of 2017.”

Changes downtown

In accordance with the city’s work to renovate Main Avenue, Twin Falls’ downtown and old town areas experienced some business changes this year as well.

Wells Fargo announced the closure of its downtown branch in September, leaving a vacancy at one of the downtown’s core intersections. Moose Hill & Home Décor, Bath N Body Boutique and Canvas Creations also took their business elsewhere. In late December, Old Navy announced that it would close in January.

But the city also welcomed several new businesses. Yellow Brick Café opened in October to serve farm-fresh cuisine in a newly remodeled space. Gemstone Climbing Center opened to bring a new indoor recreation opportunity to Twin Falls. And an ice cream shop, The Lucky Scoop, and a new custom gift basket store, Gifted, also came to Main Avenue.

Twin Falls began to see exactly what it had hoped for as a result of the renovation: building owners reinvesting in their properties with new storefronts, signage and paint jobs.