Boise does well in this new study. So why do we trail Seattle and Salt Lake City?

So how many of us are happy with Boise’s growth?

Mayor Dave Bieter shares a few statistics from a biennial citizen survey.
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Mayor Dave Bieter shares a few statistics from a biennial citizen survey.

Boise ranked near the top of the best-performing economies in the nation, according to a report issued Thursday.

Boise climbed 14 spots from last year to land at No. 12 in the Best-Performing Cities index for 2018 prepared by the Milken Institute, a California-based think tank on business, economic and health issues.

But before Boise’s promoters tout this news, consider that some of the City of Trees’ Western brethren did even better. Provo-Orem, Utah, topped the rankings of 200 large metros. Seattle ranked eighth and Salt Lake City 10th.

Seattle’s strong ranking was due to strong wage growth. Its per capita income was $72,574 in 2017, compared with $50,392 nationally. The Provo and Salt Lake City rankings were bolstered by low business costs and a low cost of living. Adobe, Twitter and Electronic Arts all have offices in the metro area dubbed “Silicon Slopes.”

The Milken analysis included metros with populations of 268,000 or more. Boise’s evaluation includes the entire, 700,000-population Treasure Valley, taking in Ada, Canyon, Boise, Gem and Owyhee counties.

Three other Idaho cities placed in the top half of a separate Milken list of small cities. Coeur d’Alene gained 24 spots to rank No. 5, while Idaho Falls was 24th, Lewiston 38th and Pocatello 66th among 201 cities.

Growth in the Treasure Valley since the economic recession of a decade ago has put a strain on existing traffic arteries in Ada County.

‘A great place to find work’

“There is significant interest in doing business in Boise, which is making the metro a great place to find work and enjoy relatively high wages in a low-cost area,” Jessica Jackson, a senior research analyst at the Milken Institute and co-author of the report, wrote in an email. “It is likely Boise’s population, employment, and wages will continue to grow in the near future.”

Boise’s rise was fueled by a 4.1 percent increase in jobs between 2016 and 2017, fourth-highest of all the larger cities, the report said. Between 2012 and 2017, the number of jobs increased by 23 percent, 13th highest.

Many of those new jobs were in professional, scientific and technical services areas. They showed an increase of 38 percent over five years ending in 2017, the report said. Micron Technology, which employs 34,000 workers worldwide, has 6,300 employees in Boise.

“Though Micron is a major employer in the field, Boise’s low business costs have also been drawing in startups,” the report said. “Tech startups like Black Box VR, Wevorce and TSheets have all selected Boise as their home.”

Black Box VR, founded by founder and former CEO Ryan DeLuca and Preston Lewis, created a virtual reality gym. Wevorce offers web-based services to help couples divorce in an amicable way. TSheets, headquartered in Eagle, offers online timecard services.

Five Treasure Valley mayors speak at a forum by the Idaho Statesman and Boise State Public Radio.

‘They’ve heard Boise is hip and cool’

Boise benefits from an influx of young professionals, said Bill Connors, CEO of the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce. Sixty-seven percent of those moving to the area are under 40.

“They’re young technology workers who can’t afford to live in Seattle or the Bay Area, and they look around the Intermountain West and say they’ve heard Boise is hip and cool,” Connors told the Statesman. “That’s to the advantage of not only legacy technology companies but to all the startups and other companies in town.”

While Boise State University provides educated workers for Boise’s burgeoning tech scene, the supply isn’t enough to meet the demand for skilled labor, the report said. It also noted that 32 percent of Boise residents hold a bachelor’s degree or higher diploma, a “relatively low” figure.

Boise’s low cost of living was listed as an asset for workers moving to the Treasure Valley from other states. It noted that the median price of existing homes increased by 22 percent in 2017, the latest year Milken studied. (Last year, the median in Ada County increased 17.2 percent, to $290,000).

New construction has unsuccessfully tried to keep up with housing and commercial development demand, despite adding 8,060 construction jobs between 2012 and 2017, the report said.

For 51 straight months dating back to autumn 2014, the supply of existing homes in Ada County has fallen compared with the same month a year earlier.

Here are the highlights and perils of a bike ride along the eastern Boise River Greenbelt, the only extended stretch that was dry and open when the river was high and this video was made in April 2017.

The man behind the Milken Institute

The Milken Institute has published its rankings annually since 1999. The index measures growth in jobs, wages, salaries and technology output. It also evaluates high-tech fields whose concentrations in a metropolitan area are higher than the national average.

Michael Milken, chairman of the Milken Institute, became a billionaire after helping to create the “junk bond” market that led to numerous corporate takeovers in the 1980s. He served two years in prison after pleading guilty to securities fraud in 1990.

Milken later founded K12 Inc., a for-profit education company whose schools include the Idaho Virtual Academy and the Idaho Technical Career Academy.

Other large Western cities that made the list include Las Vegas at No. 23, Denver at No. 24 and Portland at No. 33.

Supporters of LGBTQ and human rights rally on the steps of the Idaho Statehouse and parade through Downtown Boise during Boise Pride Fest.

The Boise Basque community celebrates its heritage and culture with the San Inazio Festival Saturday, July 28, 2018 in Downtown Boise. Basque chorizos, paella, music and the Oinkara Dancers entertained a crowd on the Basque Block.

Boise is one of the nation's fastest-growing cities. Here's a look at what's already been built and what's to come for Idaho's capital.

Architectural historian Dan Everhart leads a tour of historic homes along Main and Idaho Streets near 2nd Street in Boise. The Boise Planning and Zoning Commission is considering the creation of its first historic district in 16 years.

Reporter John Sowell has worked for the Statesman since 2013. He covers business and growth issues. He grew up in Emmett and graduated from the University of Oregon.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.