Report: Tri-Cities tops nation in job growth

By Michelle Dupler, Herald staff writerMarch 3, 2010 

Tri-City leaders boasted Tuesday that the community leads the nation for job growth during what has been described by some economists as a "jobless recovery" from a lengthy recession.

A March 2010 report from Atlanta-based consulting firm Garner Economics ranked the Tri-Cities first in the nation for job growth in the second half of 2009. The report cited an average of 3.4 percent monthly job growth in year-over-year monthly comparisons by the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

The Tri-Cities was one of nine metro areas in the United States with positive job growth in the report covering January to June 2009. The report shows the Tri-Cities with job growth during every month of 2009.

"The March 2010 Garner study is further evidence that the Tri-Cities economy is the bright spot in Washington and is among the top performing economies in the U.S.," said Carl Adrian, president and CEO of the Tri-City Development Council.

"Of course, we have to recognize that a portion of the growth we have experienced occurred because of stimulus funding received by Hanford contractors, but we believe health care and our food processing industry were also important contributors to the positive ranking," he added.

Regional economist Dean Schau said the Tri-Cities added 2,300 jobs, for growth of about 2.5 percent, over the last year -- mostly due to stimulus funding.

After losing 108,000 jobs since January 2007, Washington saw its first gains in more than a year in January 2010.

While an estimated 12,400 jobs were added statewide, the unemployment rate increased slightly to an estimated 9.3 percent from December's revised rate of 9.2 percent, state officials said Tuesday.

"It's encouraging to see jobs finally coming back," Employment Security Commissioner Karen Lee said in an e-mailed statement. "I hope it signals the beginning of a job-full recovery, not a job-less recovery."

December's unemployment rate originally was reported as 9.5 percent, but it later was revised down to 9.2 percent. The highest rate in the state since the mid-1970s was in November 1982, when unemployment hit 12.2 percent.

"This is great news for Washington state, and yet another sign that our economy is on the rebound," Gov. Chris Gregoire said in a statement.

Officials emphasize that because the unemployment rate tends to lag payroll employment, there could be ticks up in the rate in the coming months.

The state's jobless rate has hovered around 9 percent since summer, and Arun Raha, the state's chief economist, has said he expects it to peak at about 9.8 percent in the spring.

The national unemployment rate for January was 9.7 percent.

"I remain cautiously optimistic as there is still an amount of economic turbulence, and any recovery is certain to be uneven," said Dave Wallace, chief economist with the Employment Security Department.

The industries that saw the greatest job gains included retail trade, which added 3,000 jobs, educational and health services, up 2,800, and construction, which gained 2,700 jobs.

Schau said the local retail industry lost about 300 jobs from December to January because of Christmas seasonal jobs ending, but overall retail employment in the Tri-Cities was up by 400 jobs over the year.

Statewide, leisure and hospitality gained 1,600 jobs, and professional and business services added 1,000, as did manufacturing. Other gains included information, up 900, wholesale trade, up 800, and aerospace and parts manufacturing, up 600.

Some industries still felt losses in January: 900 jobs were lost in transportation, warehousing and utilities, and the number of jobs in other services fell by 800.

Jobs lost statewide since January 2007 represent a 3.7 percent decline. Nationally, employment declined by 3.1 percent during the same time. Year-over-year, all sectors except education and health services lost jobs.

Construction has taken the biggest hit, losing 32,700 jobs between January 2009 and January 2010.

Schau said the local construction trade was down about 300 jobs for the year, but had not been as adversely affected as other regions around the nation.

"Construction activities throughout the year were likely enhanced by subcontracting activities connected to the vit plant project at Hanford," Schau said.

Geoff Tyree, spokesman for the Department of Energy's Richland Operations Office, said stimulus money saved 285 jobs and created the equivalent of 1,538 full-time jobs from April through January.

"The Recovery Act is helping us to get cleanup work done sooner, it's kept experienced people on the job, and it's allowed us to hire and train a new generation of environmental cleanup workers," Tyree said.

About 360,000 people still were looking for work in Washington in January, and more than 305,000 people received unemployment benefits.

The highest unemployment rate in the state in January was 16.2 percent in Ferry County in the northeast. Whitman County in the east had the lowest mark at 6.2 percent. The largest county, King, was at 8.8 percent.

Benton County's unemployment was lower than the state's at 8.2 percent, while Franklin County's was above the state average at 10.6 percent.

The numbers are not seasonally adjusted.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this story.

-- Michelle Dupler: 360-753-0862; mdupler@tricityherald.com

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