Tri-Cities has state's lowest cost of living

By Drew Foster, Herald staff writerOctober 27, 2009 

Jordan Blasdel recruits employees for the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

She returned to the Tri-Cities from the Seattle area in July 2008, so she knows what many potential employees want to hear. Her experience has become her pitch.

"Across the board, everything is less expensive here," said Blasdel, who grew up in Franklin County.

The latest ACCRA Cost of Living Index agrees. Of the state's top five metro areas -- Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, Spokane, Tacoma, Yakima and Kennewick-Pasco-Richland -- the Tri-Cities remains the least expensive place to live.

In the third quarter of 2009, the Tri-Cities had a composite index of 92.1, compared with 93.8 in Spokane, 96.9 in Yakima, 107.7 in Tacoma and 121.7 in Seattle-Bellevue-Everett.

The Tri-Cities' composite index jumped from 88.6 in May, when it also was the state's lowest.

The Council for Community and Economic Research, or C2ER, based in Arlington, Va., compiles the index. It measures relative price levels of groceries, housing, health care, utilities and transportation in more than 300 metro areas nationwide.

Volunteers supply the data quarterly to C2ER, which determines average costs by analyzing price samples and population samples.

Blasdel said the Tri-Cities' low cost of living is one of PNNL's best recruiting points. Telling potential clients her own story strengthens it.

"(Cost of living) is usually one of the first questions I ask because I relocated for this job," she said, adding, "It makes them feel much more comfortable talking to somebody who's been through it."

Rochelle Olson, corporate communications officer for Energy Northwest, said the Richland-based power supplier "fully leverages" the low cost of living when recruiting new employees.

"I just hired three people for my staff directly, and they are all coming from bigger markets," she said.

Mike Paoli was one of them. He moved to the Tri-Cities from Springfield, Va., just outside Washington, D.C. "I certainly have noted a lower cost of living," he said.

Paoli, a public affairs supervisor, started at Energy Northwest in mid-September after working at the Pentagon. He said the Tri-Cities' low cost of living played about a 50 percent role in his decision to move across the country. Although he's still living in a motel, he said a home comparable to his $500,000 house in Virginia would cost him $250,000 to $300,000 here.

Blasdel said she paid about the same for her 2,200-square-foot home in the Tri-Cities as she did for her 900-square-foot condo near Seattle.

Paoli also noted he lived about 10 miles from metro D.C., which was as close as he could afford.

"I can live as close to Energy Northwest as I want," he said. "Cost is not a factor."

He also noticed that food is less expensive here. "The D.C. area is not quite New York City, but it's not far from it, as far as how far a buck goes," he said.

Blasdel has seen a lower bill at the grocery store as well. She said Seattle's demand for organic produce can lead to a heftier sum at checkout. She thinks the Tri-Cities' proximity to locally grown produce saves her money, especially when she ventures to farmers markets.

Carl Adrian, Tri-City Development Council president, said an area's cost of living often factors into a business's decision to relocate. "It probably gives some hint that the cost of doing business is going to be competitive."

Adrian called an area's cost of living a "snapshot in time."

"It is all bottom line-oriented," he said.

Blasdel helped recruit 100 people to PNNL in the past year. She said about 60 percent heavily considered the Tri-Cities' cost of living.

"It actually factors in quite a bit," she said.

-- Drew Foster: 585-7207; dfoster@tricityherald.com

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