Nonfarm jobs help make up for Hanford losses

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldMay 21, 2013 

April brought the Tri-Cities a shower of nonfarm jobs that helped make up for Hanford layoffs.

Construction, manufacturing, education and health care have added enough positions for the local economy to shoot ahead of Hanford job losses, said Ajsa Suljic, regional labor economist for Benton and Franklin counties.

That brought the Tri-City unemployment rate to 8.5 in April from March's 9.5 percent, according to data released Tuesday by the state Employment Security Department.

It was the third month of consecutive year-over-year nonfarm job growth, Suljic said.

If current trends continue, it will be a good year for the Tri-Cities, she said. But officials are not yet sure what affects sequestration will have on local employment and industries.

Already this month, Energy Northwest hired more than 1,300 workers for the Columbia Generating Station's maintenance and refueling outage. The nuclear power plant's outage is expected to last until mid-June.

Most nonfarm industries saw jobs added in April compared with the same time last year. The two exceptions were professional and business services, with a year-over-year drop of 1,100 that reflects Hanford layoffs, and a year-over-year job loss of 100 in food services.

On the plus side, education and health services grew by 600 jobs in April compared with the same month last year. Construction increased by 500 jobs, manufacturing added 200 positions and retail was up by 200.

Suljic said the 8.5 percent jump in construction jobs over last year is significant, especially when compared to slower growth in that industry statewide.

The Tri-Cities also has seen the financial sector add jobs in the last four to five years, Suljic said.

Overall, nonfarm jobs totaled 99,600 or about 600 more than in April 2012.

Still, the Tri-Cities lagged behind the state's average unemployment rate of 6.5 percent for April. Benton County's rate was 8.2 percent, while Franklin County saw 9.4 percent unemployment.

About 11,100 people were without jobs in the Tri-Cities during April. That's a drop of 1,400 workers from the month before and 420 fewer than last April.

The total number of Tri-Citians employed stayed the same at about 118,900 people between March and April, according to the data. That was about 900 jobs fewer than last April.

The April farm employment numbers are not available yet because of a lack of survey responses, according to the state.

Asparagus harvest, and planting for potatoes and onions, are among the farmwork going on during the first few weeks of April, Suljic said.

Alan Schreiber, executive director of the Washington Asparagus Commission, said while labor has been tight, farmers have been able to keep up and prices are good.

"Every asparagus grower wishes he had more asparagus right now," he said.

About 14 employers will be looking for workers for food processing, farm labor and trucking at WorkSource Columbia Basin's annual agricultural job fair on Thursday. The job fair is 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Kennewick office.

Michelle Mann, WorkSource Columbia Basin representative, said job listings have grown to more than 800.

There is everything from low-skilled, minimum-wage positions to high-skilled and well-paid ones.

April unemployment rates for area counties were: Adams County, 7.9 percent; Columbia County, 10.1 percent; Grant County, 8.7 percent; Yakima County, 9.7 percent and Walla Walla County, 6.4 percent.

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