Tri-City jobs outlook stays strong

For the first time since 2000, the Tri-Cities showed an annual loss in jobs, with about 200 fewer jobs reported in March, the State Employment Security Department said Tuesday.

Jobs were lost in construction, wholesale trade and transportation, manufacturing, and leisure and hospitality.

The Tri-Cities’ job loss was mild when compared with losses of 2,700 in Yakima, 7,700 in Spokane and more than 99,000 statewide as effects of the national recession and tight credit set in, said Dean Schau, regional labor economist.

During the year, Tri-City federal jobs remained steady and state government jobs showed a modest increase. Local government also saw a growth of 800 jobs for the same period, Schau said.

Public school districts, which are included in the local government category, increased employment by 4.3 percent, up from 6,476 in March 2008 to 6,759 last month.

“We appear to be relatively an island of prosperity amid a sea of economic despair,” Schau said. “But we’ve slowed down.”

The number of workers in the Tri-Cities–including those who are unemployed — declined from 124,520 in February to 123,880 in March, and the unemployment rate for Benton and Franklin counties increased to 8.9 percent in March, up from 8.3 percent in February.

That means unemployed workers in the Tri-Cities may face a tough time finding a job, Schau said.

But the increase in the unemployment rate surprised Todd Dixon, WorkSource’s area director for Benton and Franklin counties. He said job seekers at WorkSource Columbia Basin declined in March compared with the previous two months. Also, a relatively good number of jobs were available, he said.

Dixon said he’s also optimistic about growth in employment opportunities as more federal economic stimulus money flows into the Tri-Cities.

Schau echoed that thought. He said the almost $2 billion coming in stimulus money for Hanford projects will help create thousands of jobs and potentially revive the area’s housing market and retail sector.

Meanwhile, state job numbers show the retail sector added about 100 workers in March for a count of 11,100, and education and health services also jumped by 100 to 10,300.

Professional and business services also gained about 100 jobs in March, bringing the number of workers in that section to about 21,000. Administrative and support services increased 200 workers to a total of 9,900 in March.

Food services jobs remained constant over the month, but over the year the sector added about 100 jobs. The leisure and hospitality sector lost about 100 jobs over the year, but gained about 100 in March over February.

Schau said leisure and hospitality was boosted by visitors from elsewhere in the state as well as many Tri-Citians spending money locally. The sector employed about 8,600 workers last month.

Dixon said WorkSource has a few job orders for restaurant workers, and landscape workers are needed for projects that will become available in late spring.

In the agriculture sector, growers hired 8,500 workers in March from the local labor supply, Dixon said. More seasonal ag jobs will open as food processing production ramps up.

Dixon said he expects a lot of general workers will be needed at Hanford together with skilled craftsmen as the federal stimulus work begins. That will allow unemployed construction workers to rejoin the work force, he said.

The additional economic activity in the Tri-Cities also may help the wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing sector, where the number of jobs declined from 16,200 in March 2008 to 15,300 last month, Dixon said.

Source: Tri-City Herald

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