There is a hidden giant in the Idaho economy, whose story deserves to be told. Its name is the Idaho National Guard.
Most folks associate the Guard with the many deployments that are part of Idaho’s contribution to national security. Or they may think of the Idaho National Guard responding to emergencies or natural disasters, as recently as this winter’s snowstorms.
The Guard’s workers are split among four civilian and seven military classifications, so that few are aware that in total the Idaho National Guard had 5,255 employees in 2014. This made it the fourth-largest employer in the state, behind St. Luke’s, Wal-Mart and Micron.
Is there a catch to this claim? Well, nearly two-thirds of the Guard consists of traditional soldiers or air personnel, the so-called “weekend warriors” who work an average of 63 days per year for the Guard. This means the total payroll of the top three employers is much higher.
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However, let’s not belittle the economic role of the Idaho National Guard. Its wage rates are strong by state standards, and it provides a second paycheck that helps 3,411 families pay mortgages or college tuition, or keep a spouse at home with young children. The benefit package provides health insurance, education support for both Guard member and children, and a retirement pension if 20 years are served.
As for the impact on the Idaho economy? The Guard provides over $250 million per year in direct impacts. With the multiplier effect of indirect and induced impacts, the Idaho National Guard had $485 million in total economic output in 2014. Total employment impact is 10,742 jobs, or 1.2 percent of total Idaho employment. A rough estimate of the total fiscal impact of the Guard is that it generates $17.4 million in various state tax revenues. Only $6.5 million of state funds were appropriated to the Guard in 2014, so the organization represents a significant revenue generator for Idaho.
This study will soon be updated using 2016 data. The economic footprint of the Guard will increase as several new developments increase the capacity of the Orchard Combat Training Center to host units for training. Future improvements could mean hundreds of millions of dollars invested in Idaho, mostly just south of Boise. Construction impacts are one-time, but increased Guard capacity means increased annual impacts.
When you see fighter jets speeding overhead or military equipment rumbling next to Pleasant Valley Road, please remember that the National Guard is not only contributing to our nation’s defense, but also is a major player in Idaho’s economy as well.
Dick Gardner of Bootstrap Solutions is a consulting economist who conducted this study of the Idaho National Guard.