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Idaho’s economy on road to good recovery

Mike Maharry
The Idaho Statesman

Idaho’s economy and that of the nation will continue to grow in 2004, Wells Fargo Bank officials told a gathering of Boise business leaders Wednesday. “After three very lean years, the economy is poised for a significant and sustained business expansion,” said Spencer Eccles, chairman of Wells Fargo’s Intermountain Banking Region.

Eccles and two other bank officials — Sterling K. Jenson, senior managing director of Wells Capital Management, and Kelly K. Matthews, executive vice president and economist for the Intermountain Region — spoke at the 36th annual Wells Fargo Economic Forecast at the Boise Centre on The Grove.

Here’s what they had to say about economic trends for 2004:

The U.S. unemployment rate for 2004 should average 5.5 to 6 percent, Jenson said, down slightly from the 6 percent average expected when final 2003 figures are calculated. Idaho should see 8,575 new non-agricultural jobs created this year, with unemployment averaging 5 percent, according to Matthews.

Inflation will remain in check, Jenson said, rising between 1.75 and 2.5 percent this year, compared to an estimated 2.4 percent in 2003.

Like the single-family home segment, total building activity should drop 10.6 percent this year, according to Matthews. But construction valued at $2.1 billion for the year would still exceed 2002´s total value of just over $2 billion.

Matthews expects 1,200 fewer single-family building permits to be issued this year, compared to the 10,200 issued in 2003. That´s a drop of 11.8 percent from 2003, but still above 2002´s total.

Matthews expects incentive programs to continue throughout 2004, leading to a 1.5 percent increase in total vehicle sales in Idaho, to a total of 161,640.

Idaho consumers will increase their spending this year to $11.8 billion for taxable goods, for an increase of 3.5 percent over 2003.