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Employment & Economy in Southwest Idaho

Employment & Economy in Southwest Idaho

Mountain Home AFB Employment and Economy in Southwest Idaho


During the 1849 gold rush to California, only a handful of pioneers settled in Idaho and they were generally merchants who supplied the needs of the wagon trains, but in the early 1860s, the discovery of gold in Idaho as well resulted in a population boom. At that time, Elmore County’s population was concentrated in Rocky Bar and Atlanta. These early mining communities reflected a mixture of people from all walks of life. Some were petty thieves or restless unfortunates who rushed from strike to strike with visions of wealth in their eyes. Others were destitute Southerners who had lost everything in the Civil War who came to the gold fields in search of a new start.

Early farmers and ranchers arrived upon the heels of the miners, and small ranches and farms began to spring up around the waystations. Settlement was encouraged by the offer of up to 320 acres to each individual who could “prove up the land” by finding water and making certain required improvements to the property. The ranchers and farmers continually expanded operations to supply agricultural products to the booming mining communities, and Elmore County continues to have a large agricultural base today, including farming, ranching, dairies, timber and mining. In addition, the county is home to Mountain Home Air Force Base, a major employer.

Elmore County and the state of Idaho offer many resources to meet the needs of entrepreneurs and small business owners, including:

  • Urban Renewal Agency
  • Small Employer Growth Incentive
  • Idaho Business Advantage
  • Hire One Tax Credit
  • Workforce Development Training Fund
  • Mountain Home Chamber of Commerce

The median age in the county is about 30 years old, meaning the workforce skews younger. The median household income in Elmore County is $43,848, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Rail and Transit Access

Aside from the mining communities, the first permanent settlements in Elmore County began in 1883 when the Union Pacific Railroad built its main line across the county’s southern part. Railroad transport opened markets and stimulated agriculture, and Elmore County became one of the leading stock-raising counties of Idaho. Mountain Home, the county seat, was moved from its location on Rattlesnake Creek to its present location on the railroad line. Elmore County continues to be served by the main line of the Union Pacific Railroad, with sidings at Mountain Home, Glenns Ferry, Hammett and the Idaho Waste Site. The nearest commuter rail line is in Boise.

The main highways weaving through Elmore County are U.S. Route 30 and Interstate 84. I-84 traverses the southern part of the county from northwest to southeast, bypassing the incorporated towns of Mountain Home and Glenns Ferry. I-84 provides the main transportation route for the trucking industry in the northwestern section of the U.S. I-84 also provides good connections eastward to Salt Lake City and points beyond.

State highways 51, 67 and 20 converge in Mountain Home, providing a direct link to all of southwestern Idaho. Highway 67 is a four-lane, 10-mile road that provides access to Mountain Home Air Force Base. Denver, Phoenix, Portland, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Las Vegas and California are all within a day’s drive.

Natural Resources

Early settlers were attracted to Elmore County because of the promise of unlimited opportunities, and these opportunities still exist today, especially in recreation: skiing at scenic mountain resorts, hunting, fishing in rivers, streams and freshwater lakes, hiking, and mountain biking with hundreds of miles of trails to explore. These natural assets strengthen the local economy and improve residents’ quality of life.

Idaho’s southwest region has 10 state parks, one national forest and two national wildlife refuges with plenty of trails for hiking and biking in diverse terrain, as well as boating, kayaking, sailing, windsurfing, rafting and fishing in the nearby rivers and reservoirs. Rafting is a huge business in Idaho.

Mountain Home Air Force Base

Economists indicate that more than a third of the economic input into Elmore County and nearly half the county’s population are directly influenced by Mountain Home Air Force Base. Because of this symbiotic relationship, any change in the base staffing or mission directly affects growth or decline in Elmore County, particularly in the city of Mountain Home. Mountain Home Air Force Base is also a large contributor to the economy of the county and is one of the single largest employers. Mountain Home Air Force Base is estimated to have an annual economic impact of $342 million, according to the 2015 Mountain Home Air Force Base Economic Impact Statement. For more information, visit

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