Custer County and nearby communities have been left reeling after 104 workers were laid off last month from the Thompson Creek Mine.
Thompson Creek Metals, which owns the molybdenum mine, has suspended the stripping aspect of the operation. Stripping refers to the removal of overlying soil and rock.
"A lot of businesses in the area survive off of wages that are earned and spent by Thompson Creek employees," said Will Jenson, regional labor economist for the Idaho Department of Labor. "When there's a layoff of 100 people, it won't just be limited to those 100 people."
The mine, in operation since 1983, is 35 miles southwest of Challis in a historic mining area.
Chairman and CEO Kevin Loughery said the declining value of molybdenum and weakening demand for it domestically, as well as in China and Europe, prompted the cut.
Loughery said the company would save about $100 million by halting stripping.
The remaining workforce of about 300 will continue mining ore that already has been stripped until the end of 2014, he said. The company then will re-evaluate the operation. If the market doesn't rebound, the operation will close until the market improves, Loughery said.
"There's no question about that," Loughery said. "If between now and the end of 2014 there's no stripping, we won't (resume operations)."
The Denver-based company, which also operates mines and owns mine-exploration sites in British Columbia, lost $48.2 million in the quarter that ended Sept. 30, including a goodwill impairment loss of $47 million because of the suspension.
Melissa Fitzgerald, executive director for the Challis Area Chamber of Commerce, said layoffs have a big impact on the local economy.
"We recognize this is a big blow to the individuals in our community," Fitzgerald said.
Jenson said luck and circumstance could help the newly unemployed mine workers.
Formation Capital is in the process of securing funds to open a cobalt mine in the Salmon area. The project website, Idahocobalt.com, says the mine would employ 157 workers in the area.
Jenson didn't know when the cobalt mine would open or whether the laid-off Thompson Creek workers could move to positions at the cobalt mine, which won't be an open-pit operation.
"If funding came through (to open the cobalt mine), it would be great to see some of these recently laid-off miners transition to the cobalt mine," he said.
Loughery said the laid-off workers were mostly truck drivers and mechanics who worked on the now-idled trucks.
Truck drivers are in demand, Jenson said, and many can probably find new jobs.
"There's an increase in demand for truck drivers nationwide and even in eastern Idaho," he said. "Trucking schools are operating at or near capacity. If you have a clean driving record and the commercial driver's license, you can find work pretty quickly."
The Idaho Statesman contributed.