November employment dips slightly in Tri-Cities

By Loretto J. Hulse, Tri-City HeraldDecember 27, 2012 

Fewer people were employed in the Tri-Cities in November compared with October, but the state says there's no reason for concern.

A total of 118,310 Tri-Citians were employed in November. That's a decrease of 5,800 compared with October and 4,100 fewer than November 2011, according to figures released Wednesday by the state Employment Security Department.

"But that's to be expected this time of year as agriculture and food manufacturing take a seasonal downturn. There's nothing alarming about these figures on any level," said Ajsa Suljic, regional labor economist for Benton and Franklin counties.

Nonfarm jobs grew between October and November to 99,300, but were about 3,000 fewer than November 2011. State and local governments each increased their payrolls since October, by a total of 800 people, and retail stores took on extra help over the holidays.

The number of unemployed area residents grew to 11,060, an increase of 970 compared to October and up .1 percent compared to the same time last year.

Benton County's unemployment rate was 8.1 percent in November, while Franklin County's was 9.8 percent. Nearby counties: Adams, 8.8 percent; Columbia, 10 percent; Grant, 9.1 percent; Walla Walla, 6.2 percent; and Yakima, 9.1 percent.

One bright spot is construction. Jobs in that sector actually grew this year by 200, up 3.2 percent.

For example, the number of building permits in Richland is growing. Rick Simon, the city's permit and development services manager, said permits were issued for 262 single family homes and 176 apartment units as of Dec. 21 this year. Permits were issued for 248 single family units and 342 apartments in 2011.

"We're just finishing up a boom in apartments. Single family units are up a bit from last year and that one was not a bad year for us," Simon said.

In the nonfarm job sector, Hanford contractors continue to lay off people, and professional and business services, where most Hanford jobs appear, experienced a year-to-year job loss of 12.8 percent.

The leisure and hospitality industry also lost 400 jobs in the past year because the boom in travel by those doing business with Hanford contractors is gone.

"The stream of Hanford's stimulus money drying up didn't just affect Hanford," said Kris Watkins, president and CEO of the Tri-Cities Visitors and Convention Bureau.

"2011 and 2010 were very, very good years for many sectors of the business. The entire industry felt the impact when the stimulus dollars came to an end," Watkins said.

Agricultural employment in Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties was up by 13.8 percent compared to the same time last year. There were about 15,120 jobs during November, an increase of 1,750 jobs compared to November 2011, according to the monthly Agricultural Labor Employment and Wages report.

-- Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513; lhulse@tricityherald.com

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