Brian Greber said Boise’s low cost of living was a frequent talking point during two decades he spent recruiting and hiring for wood-products giant Weyerhaeuser.
Yes, Weyerhaeuser paid less to employees in Boise than to those in its offices in Seattle, Denver or Vancouver, British Columbia, Greber told recruits. But after factoring in Boise’s lower cost of living, the difference in lost wages came out in the wash, he said.
Greber, now an adjunct economics professor at Boise State University, said it never bothered him when recruits chased higher paychecks in more-expensive cities.
“If they aren’t bright enough to compare the value of a dollar in Boise compared to the value of a dollar in the Bay Area, then I don’t want them anyhow,” he said.
Greber’s point remains true today, but not for every industry. The Idaho Department of Labor recently published a post on its blog titled “Wages Key When Attracting Talent,” highlighting instances where higher wages in other cities outpace their costs of living.
For example, in Colorado Springs, Colo., workers in computer and math, management, and life-, physical- and social-science jobs all earn average wages of at least 30 percent more than their Boise counterparts while paying an average of just 3 percent more for groceries, housing, transportation and other cost of living expenses.
Denver and Spokane also offered better costs-to-earnings ratios in most industries included in the Labor report. Portland’s ratio was similar in four sectors, though Boise’s mix of wages and expenses is better in architecture and engineering, business and financial, and computer and math jobs.
Bill Connors, the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, said the report highlights the need for Idaho to raise teacher pay. He said Idaho’s teacher career ladder, which began stepping up teacher pay this school year, should help the state recruit teachers.
“We have a weakness in teacher and education [wages], which is why we’ve been supportive of the teacher career ladder,” Connors said. “Hopefully, that will make us a little more competitive.”
95% Boise’s overall cost of living was 5 percent less than the national average in 2014.
94% Boise's relative cost for groceries
104% Health care
San Francisco’s cost of living is sky-high among cities in the West and 80 percent higher than Boise’s. Jess Whiting, founder of StartUp Grind Boise and a veteran of the Silicon Valley tech scene, said that cost can help Idaho tech companies draw Silicon Valley talent.
“For $1 million, you can either have what amounts to a tiny, three-bedroom apartment in the Bay Area, or you can have a really sweet spread here where you can own a horse,” Whiting said.
There’s a one-liner for recruiting from the Bay Area: Do you want to live next to a rock star, or do you want to live like a rock star?
StartUp Grind founder Jess Whiting
Whiting said Boise tech companies could reduce recruiting problems by increasing wages. The companies that offer higher wages now get the best talent, and some Boise startups are poaching employees from larger Boise companies by offering higher pay, she said.
While wage and cost-of-living comparisons matter, other factors can attract or deter people from taking jobs in the Treasure Valley.
For example, Boise’s reasonable commutes are often a strong selling point when recruiting Bay Area tech talent, Whiting said.
“There, you can have a two-hour commute,” she said. “That’s time you can spend with your family if you live here.”
Peter Crabb, a professor of finance and economics at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, said the Labor report is based on a flawed premise that the Treasure Valley lacks skilled and talented workers and that raising wages across entire industries is the only way to attract them.
“Perhaps this isn’t even the issue, and what is actually needed are actions to further lower the cost of living here,” Crabb said. “Policymakers could play a role in such case by lowering the tax and administrative burdens employers face [when] hiring new workers.”