Lewis County is mostly fertile farmland on prairies above river valleys. Agriculture – especially wheat, peas, barley, lentils, forage crops and cattle – is the major industry.
The county has enjoyed strong job growth over the last 10 years. Nonfarm payroll jobs grew 19.5 percent from 1,129 in 2000 to 1,349 in 2009. Health care and social assistance, especially home care for the elderly and disabled, added nearly 100 jobs to total 143. Manufacturing doubled to 160 jobs since 2000, and retail added 28 jobs. The strong job growth helped keep the county’s unemployment rate low. Even though it more than doubled between 2007 and 2009, it was only 5.6 percent in 2009.
Many of the new manufacturing jobs came from Hillco Technologies in Nezperce, which makes leveling systems for combines. The wood products industry also added jobs despite the recession and long-term pressures that have reduced wood product employment in most places. Kamiah was hurt by the 2008 closure of the Three River Mills with 108 workers just across the county line in Idaho County. The recent opening of the Blue North Forest Products mill at the same site is restoring more than half those jobs. By the end of 2010, the Ende Foundry will open in Craigmont, initially creating a handful of manufacturing jobs. It’s likely to employ 15 to 20 people by 2013.
Lewis County’s population remained essentially unchanged between 2000 and 2009, falling from 3,747 to 3,735. In the same period, the state’s population grew 19.5 percent and the nation’s population grew 9.1 percent.
The county’s tourism industry is small. The largest attractions are Flying B Ranch, an upscale hunting lodge near Kamiah; the Nez Perce Tribe’s small casino in Kamiah; Hearthstone Bakery and Lodge in Kamiah; and Winchester State Park.