by Anne Wallace Allen
Whether it’s tennis balls, a T-bone steak, or a place to live, chances are you’ll find it for less in Idaho.
A new cost-of-living calculator assembled by economists at Boise State University makes it simple to calculate the financial costs and benefits of living and working in Boise, Idaho Falls or Twin Falls.
A pound of Parmesan cheese sets you back $5.50 in Seattle and just $3.94 in Boise. Tennis balls: $3.82 in
Seattle vs. $2.38 in Boise. Housing in Boise is 41 percent less expensive, and groceries are 16 percent less. And that T-bone steak is $9.95 in Seattle and just $8.51 in Boise.
The calculator was created by the Business Research and Economic Development Center, or BRED, part of the university’s College of Business and Economics. BRED was created to help local businesses thrive and attract new business.
The cost-of-living calculator is just one small piece of BRED. Ultimately Director Brian Greber hopes the center will be the first place prospective companies look when they want to analyze how Idaho would help their business.
Next up: an economic indicator for the state to show academics, business leaders and the general public where the state’s economy is likely to be four to six months in the future. BRED will use original research for the indicator and also data from state government.
“This has the potential of being an extremely valuable tool for people,” said Kenn Lamson, a principal at the Boise-based Harmonic Investment Advisors who works with Greber on the economic indicator.
Other Idaho groups produce economic outlook forecasts, but there’s not another tool that boils economic growth in the state down to one specific number that is easily accessible, publicly available, and easily understandable, Lamson said.
Eventually BRED will provide economic analysis and research white papers. Greber would like BRED to be the place where the business community looks first for independent economic analysis.
Research is a niche that hasn’t been addressed, said Bill Connors, the president and CEO of the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce, which also provides technical assistance to businesses. More research would help groups like the Chamber’s Boise Valley Economic Partnership learn how to better attract business, expand existing business, and study what makes business successful in the Treasure Valley, he said.
Idaho has many organizations that provide business advice. Some, such as the Idaho Small Business Development Center, are at Boise State, and BRED steers new and existing businesses toward those resources.
“This initiative is meant to get the resources of the college involved with all the businesses in the valley,” Greber said.
Cost of living lower; wages too
Boise State University’s new Business Research and Economic Development Center, or BRED, is a great place to find out how the cost of living in Idaho measures up against costs in similar-sized cities like Little Rock, Ark. (where prices are similar, though a doctor’s visit will cost 10 percent more in Boise) or Spokane (where most prices match up, though utilities will set you back 13 percent more in Boise).
It’s well known wages are lower in Idaho than in other states. According to 2009 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Idaho has a mean hourly wage of $18.83 (about $38,000 annually), almost the same as in Little Rock. But while Spokane’s cost of living is similar to Boise’s, pay in Spokane is higher, with a mean hourly wage of $19.72 and a mean annual wage of $41,010.
Business leaders have long said education is a big reason for the wage difference.
“We need to continue to find ways to diversify and improve the labor force to make it attractive to larger-scale industries,” said BRED Director Brian Greber. Institutions like College of Western Idaho, which opened in 2009, help a lot, he said.
“I was shocked when I moved here at the lack of technical education in the state,” Greber said.
Brian Greber is director of the Center for Business Research and Economic Development in the College of Business and Economics at Boise State University.