Washington Employment Security Department: Job market showing more optimism

March 30, 2014 

The Tri-City job market is showing more optimism, with employers adding jobs and more job seekers finding them.

Meanwhile, state and national growth are still slowly improving. It's taking time for the financial and housing industries to recover from losses during the 2007 recession.

The Tri-City area has seen several months of solid job growth in many industries. Although Hanford jobs have been declining since September 2011, that is expected to level off in 2014 because of Hanford's stable budget for fiscal year 2014.

Last year, the Tri-City average annual unemployment rate was at 8.5 percent, which is below the area's 14-year high of 8.9 percent in 2012 but above the state's unemployment rate of 7 percent.

The Tri-Cities saw unemployment rise during the 2007 national recession and again in the 2011 local economic downturn.

The Tri-Cities entered the recession 26 months later than the state and took only 20 months to recover 3.4 percent of lost jobs from Hanford.

It was only during the second half of last year that the Tri-City employment and labor force both increased, showing more confidence in the local, state and national economies. People who were discouraged before have rejoined the labor force and have been able to find jobs.

Between September 2011 and April 2012, the Tri-City area lost 3,400 jobs, or about 3.4 percent. Employment was sluggish for the next 14 months.

After 20 months of job losses, the second half of 2013 had a significant improvement in local employment. The Tri-City region added about 3,500 jobs in the second half of the year.

Nonfarm employment in December 2013 grew by 3.3 percent from the 98,000 jobs the same time the previous year to 101,200.

One area of nonfarm jobs that saw continued improvement during the last five years was service-providing industries, which include retail trade, finances and warehousing.

Overall, service-providing industries saw a 1.5 percent average annual growth for the past five years. The local financial sector has been stable with 2.2 percent growth in the past five years. Education and health care have seen the fastest expansion at 3.1 percent.

The only unstable service-providing industry is the professional and business sector, which includes the majority of the Hanford jobs. However, it is most likely that area will add jobs because of the fiscal year 2014 budget.

Along with service-providing industries, goods-producing industries have also seen continued growth over the last fix years, at 0.2 percent. Manufacturing has seen a five-year average growth of 2.5 percent but construction is rebounding after yet another bust in 2012.

Construction employment is volatile, with a five-year average annual decline of 2.3 percent. Construction is dependent on investor and consumer confidence in the employment market. But while activity slowed, home prices have continued to appreciate. Homes have remained relatively affordable with many new housing projects in the area.

Agriculture is among the Tri-Cities' top industries with 11 percent of the total local employment share as well as contributing to the local manufacturing, wine, leisure and hospitality industries. Local agricultural products contributed to an overall increase in the state's agricultural product exports of 13.7 percent for the year.

Industries to look for in 2014 will be health care, educational services, financial services and construction thanks to the area's growing population, which is well above the state and national average.

The Tri-City population growth of 3.6 percent is one of the fastest in the nation. Franklin County's seven-year average annual growth in 2012 was at 4.9 percent, the fifth fastest-growing county in the nation. Benton County's growth in 2012 was at 2.3 percent.

Tri-City annual employment growth should be between 1 percent and 1.7 percent for next couple of years. That is better than the last two years but remains below the elevated levels seen in previous years.

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