Tri-Cities tops state in job growth

The national economic slowdown is seemingly catching up with the Tri-Cities if the latest job numbers are any indication.

But despite losing 800 nonfarm jobs in July, the Tri-Cities is the only major community in the state to see job growth in the last year, said Dean Schau, regional labor economist.

Most of the monthly job losses were in construction, financial services, education and health services and the public sector, he said.

Also, modest gains were reported in professional and business services, manufacturing, retail and the trade, transportaion and warehousing sector last month.

That helped bring down the unemployment rate in the Tri-Cities from 6.7 percent in June to 6.1 percent in July.

Since July 2008, the Tri-Cities gained 1,300 nonfarm jobs, an increase of nearly 1.4 percent, Schau said.

About 68,000 nonfarm jobs were lost over the year in the Seattle-Bellevue-Everett metro area, he said. And, Tacoma lost 13,500 nonfarm positions and Spokane was down 12,100 nonfarm jobs, bringing the tally of lost nonfarm jobs in the state to about 125,000.

The year-over-year numbers are a better indicator of economic trends, Schau said, adding the core of the Tri-Cities’ economic health lies primarily in agriculture production, food processing and electricity generation that provide consistent employment opportunities.

“We’ve an absolutely great economy to go into this recession,” he said. Yet, a lot of people, particularily in construction, real estate and finance are hurting, adding to the number of jobless workers in the community. held a job fair Tuesday in Kennewick to hire seasonal help, said Candice Bluechel, business services outreach manager at WorkSource Columbia Basin.

But otherwise hiring in the retail industry has remained slower compared with last year, she said, adding that many local retailers didn’t hire lots of workers for the back to school shopping season.

Cosumers have been cutting back on major purchases like cars and appliances, which may explain the loss of about 400 jobs in the retail sector since July 2008, Schau said.

The federal stimulus programs like Cash for Clunkers are helping the local economy, but they haven’t immediately translated into jobs, Bluechel said.

WorkSource has about 600 job openings, and 300 of them came in July, she said. Most are farm-related jobs for laborers, mechanics, and truck drivers, she said. Also, employers continue to look for technical writers, invoice clerks and office support staff.

The Tri-City economy definitely is in better shape compared with other regions of the nation, she said, adding she doesn’t know how it’ll play out longer term. “I’m going to be conservative ’til I see what happens to holiday hires,” Bluechel said.

Yearly gains of about 200 jobs were reported in the food processing industry, 600 jobs in professional and business services and 100 in trade, transportation and warehousing, Schau said.

Major declines came in construction with a loss of 1,100 jobs since July 2008. The financial services sector lost 300 jobs in the same period.

The number of unemployed workers in Benton and Franklin counties increased from 6,450 in July 2008 to 8,180 last month. In contrast, the number of unemployed workers in Washington went up from 178,200 to 315,850 in the same time.

The state’s unemployment rate fell one-tenth of a percentage point, from 9.2 percent in June to 9.1 percent in July, said Dave Wallace, a labor economist with the Washington Employment Security Department. It was partly helped by the gain of an estimated 4,000 nonfarm jobs last month. “(But) it’s too early to call it a trend (of recovery.)” he said.

Employment Security Commissioner Karen Lee said though the July numbers show the recession is slowing. “We expect to see some ups and downs for some time to come.”

Source: Tri-City Herald

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