Tri-Cities job growth continues

Federal stimulus money and a warm spring helped the Tri-Cities show some job growth at a time when other Washington communities are losing jobs.

Since May 2008, the Tri-Cities has gained 500 jobs in professional and business services, education and health services, leisure, hospitality and food services, said regional labor economist Dean Schau.

And since April, the local economy added 1,200 jobs — some of them seasonal — to bring the total nonfarm jobs to 95,200 in May.

That was thanks largely to Hanford and the construction, food processing, wholesale and retail trade areas, Schau said,

And though the number of workers in the community grew by 5,640 to a rate in Benton and Franklin counties dropped from 7.7 percent in April to 7.2 percent in May.

That’s a testimony to the fact that the Tri-Cities is continuing to grow, Schau told the Herald. “If you create 1,000 jobs, you’ll have 1,200 workers come in. That’s been like that for years.”

Several areas of the economy benefited from the federal stimulus money and the warmer weather that helped produce a good asparagus crop and drew tourists particularly from Western Washington.

Local employers including those in agriculture, food processing, retail and hospitality businesses, lately have come to WorkSource looking for employees for the season ahead, said Candice Bluechel, business services outreach manager at WorkSource Columbia Basin.

Many companies are even offering full-time, long-term jobs in security and transportation, she said, adding it could be a spinoff of stimulus projects.

“I’m feeling optimistic,” she said.

In contrast, Washington’s unemployment rate increased to 9.4 percent in May from the revised April unemployment rate of 9 percent, as the state lost 6,700 nonfarm jobs mostly in construction, information, financial and government areas last month.

In the Tri-Cities, the food services industry added about 100 jobs last month, and about 300 jobs since last May, said Schau, who is staying on with the state Department of Employment Security indefinitely despite his recent announcement of plans to leave the agency.

He said he suspects people are spending their money locally instead of vacationing far from home. Warm temperatures, wineries and outdoor activities may have lured many of them to the Tri-Cities.

Also, professional and business services, which includes engineering and wastes services, added 100 new jobs in May and about 400 for the year, Schau said.

For the next two to three years, Hanford cleanup will provide new jobs and save positions that were supposed to be eliminated, said Carl Adrian, president and CEO of Tri-City Development Council.

But the Tri-Cities is also being discovered by corporate America, which will help the area in the long run to diversify economically, Adrian said. For example, Cascade Natural Gas recently announced plans to move its main office to the Tri-Cities from Seattle.

Last month, the local government sector added 100 jobs as cities hired workers for summer recreational programs. But job growth in federal government has remained flat since April 2008, when it peaked at 1,300, Schau said.

The availability of a lot of fresh produce helped the warehousing sector gain 300 positions in May, compared with April. Growth in the financial services industry, which includes banking and real estate, remained stagnant. May saw a loss of 200 jobs compared with May a year ago. The health services industry also gained 100 positions in May.

Good weather helped create seasonal agricultural jobs, pushing the number of hires from 8,500 in April to 11,800 in May, Schau said. He said he expects seasonal ag hiring to continue because the cherry crop is expected to be good.

In late June and early July, workers will be needed for taking care of onions, peaches, apricots, watermelons and cantaloupe, said Bluecheel of WorkSource.

But no one is yet talking about an immediate recovery from the recession.

The state lost 116,000 jobs in the last year, a 3.0 percent decrease. “We’re still losing jobs, but at a lower rate than before,” said Mary Ayala, chief economist for the state Department of employment Security Department.

Source: Tri-City Herald

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