Tri-City employment outlook still promising

Job opportunities expected to increase in coming months

Job growth in the Tri-Cities may have lost its earlier momentum, but it’s still healthy. About 2,000 jobs have been added to the area economy since February 2008, a 2 percent growth.

Nonfarm jobs grew a little less than 1 percent over the year, the State Employment Security Department reported Tuesday.

Most gains were in professional and business services, education and health services, food services, leisure and hospitality industry and the government sector. Those helped offset a loss of 500 construction jobs.

Dean Schau, regional labor economist, said the job growth was significant, particularly in light of employment loses of 3.3 percent for the state and about 3 percent for the nation.

The decline of 100 nonfarm jobs last month was more of a cyclical phenomenon as area retailers let go extra workers hired for the holiday season, Schau said. In contrast, the state lost an estimated 28,200 nonfarm jobs and the statewide unemployment rate rose to 8.4 percent last month, up from 7.8 percent in January.

Employment opportunities are expected to increase in the months ahead as new construction projects funded by federal stimulus money to get under way and the agricultural season expands, said Todd Dixon, WorkSource’s area director for Benton and Franklin counties.

From January through mid-March, WorkSource got 300 jobs orders, which he said include entry level jobs with Hanford contractors, skilled worker positions in the food processing industry and in the health care sector.

There are also position available for cooks, janitors, office support staff and computer support specialists.  About two-thirds of those jobs are yet to be filled, Dixon said, adding “We’re going to be OK.”

Schau said the Tri-City economy is diverse and inherently strong thanks largely to agriculture, food processing, power generation and the medical equipment manufacturing sector. He said that will allow the Tri-Cities to survive the recession better than many other communities.

Health services, the second-fastest growing segment of the Tri-Cities economy behind K-12 public schools, added 100 jobs over the month and 600 over the year. Since 2000, Schau said, the area health care industry has grown by nearly 50 percent, and its local payroll this year is likely be a little over $333 million.

Since January, the financial services sector lost about 100 jobs, but over the year showed consistent employment of 3,500. In the third quarter of 2008, jobs in banking and insurance increased from 234 to 277 in Franklin County, while declining marginally from 1,647 to 1,631 in Benton County.

The trade, transportation, warehousing and utilities sector lost 400 jobs in February, bringing total jobs cuts in the sector to 900 over the year. This could be related to the ongoing recession, but the sector still employs more than 15,000 workers, Schau said.

In February, the leisure and hospitality industry had 8,600 workers, an increase of 100 from January. A similar increase in food services brought the number of those employed in that sector to 6,500.

Both tourists and Tri-Citians are helping wineries and restaurants generate business, Schau said. He said recreation and hospitality has seen strong growth in the last five years, from an average of 7,673 jobs in the third quarter of 2003 to an average of 9,082 jobs in the third quarter of 2008.

Agricultural jobs grew from 6,800 in January to 8,300 last month. February ag employment was up by 100 compared with the same period last year and up 700 over February 2007.

Economic development agencies such as the Port of Benton are counting on continued growth of wineries, said Diahann Howard, the port’s economic development director.

The port is developing an 18-acre parcel south of Vintner’s Village in Prosser that it hopes will help create up to 300 jobs by 2010. “There’s a waiting list for the lots.” Howard said.

The Tri-Cities can work to find new opportunities to leverage existing resources to attract manufacturers from other areas, Howard said. The port recently had a specialty label maker from Seattle come to its industrial park in Benton City.

In Washington, the state estimated 330,572 people are looking for work. Officials said the unemployed should visit a Work Source center to get help finding a job.






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