Randy ShumwayAlthough Idaho’s great outdoors are thought of by some to be a bit off the beaten path, thousands of tourists flood gateway communities throughout Idaho every year, bringing much-needed economic activity.

Gateway communities have a special relationship with the tourist destinations they border—residents offer services and products for visitors, and tourism boosts the standard of living for gateway residents.

Rexburg is one such community. Bordering the Tetons and Yellowstone National Park, Rexburg benefits economically by providing services for the outdoor enthusiasts who pass through annually. Rexburg is just five miles from the world-renowned Yellowstone Bear World, which attracts a large number of Yellowstone visitors each year and has a $20-million impact on the surrounding region. Tourism has a huge trickle-down effect: some estimate that every dollar spent on gasoline or food turns around four to seven times before leaving the community. Between May and October, the park welcomes about 30,000 vehicles and upwards of 160,000 people. Ninety-seven percent of those guests come from outside a 70-mile radius, bringing dollars to the community for hotels, food, and travel.

For gateway communities, rising park attendance and outdoor attraction participation means higher income in property taxes and greater numbers of jobs. Over the past few years, the number of visitors to Bear World has increased about 10 percent annually. Since 2007, Bear World has paid $120,000 to Madison County in property taxes. Each year, it funnels more than $600,000 in wages into the economy. As of 2014, approximately 60 people in the region were employed at Bear World. Teton Valley is another tourist destination that brings people to the area. It is home to beautiful scenery and amazing music shows all year long. Tourists headed to Teton Valley bring economic activity to areas like Driggs, Swan Valley, and the appropriately-named Tetonia, among others.

The biggest challenge for Idaho’s gateway communities in boosting this flow of economic input is facilitating easy access for visitors—particularly in more rural areas. For instance, when construction on the Thornton Interchange was first announced, many community members were concerned that access to Yellowstone Bear Park would be too inconvenient for tourists to justify. On days when freeway access is limited and visitors have to take back roads, locals have seen attendance drop. To facilitate tourist access and economic growth in this case, construction schedules were arranged to keep Bear World Drive open until October when the tourist crowds begin to taper.

Tourism dollars spent at Yellowstone Bear World, Teton Valley, and Idaho gateway communities near Yellowstone provide livelihoods for resident employees who guide tours and expeditions, maintain campsites, operate hotels, and operate restaurants.

Idaho’s wildlife and outdoor beauty contribute immense value to state economics—particularly for the residents of surrounding gateway communities, whose income and employment are affected by park tourism. By facilitating easy access and providing great service for tourists, gateway communities will continue to reap economic benefits.

Job Report. Idaho’s unemployment rate decreased 0.1 percentage point to 3.9% in March, and the national unemployment rate increased 0.1 percentage point to 5.0% in March.

Housing Market. In March, the CoreLogic® Home Price Index (HPI) for Idaho, which measures home price appreciation, experienced a year-over-year increase of 7.3%.  Nationally, the HPI increased 6.7% during the same period.

Inflation. The U.S. Consumer Price Index increased 0.4% from February to March. Year over year, the index increased 0.9%, which is below the Federal Reserve’s target annual inflation pace of 2%.

Consumer Confidence. The U.S. Consumer Confidence Index® decreased 1.9 points to 94.2 in April. The Present Situation Index increased 1.5 points to 116.4, and the Expectations Index decreased 4.3 points to 79.3.