Tri-Cities sees 13th consecutive month of job growth

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldMay 20, 2014 

The Tri-Cities experienced its 13th consecutive month of job growth in April.

Seasonal increases in construction, retail and farm work helped push the Tri-City unemployment rate down to 6.9 percent, according to data released Tuesday by the state Employment Security Department.

The Tri-Cities gained about 1,500 nonfarm jobs during April compared to the same month last year, reaching a total of 102,600 nonfarm jobs.

"We are recovering after (the Hanford) layoffs and the slowdown in our economy," said Ajsa Suljic, regional labor economist for Benton and Franklin counties.

It's the lowest April unemployment rate that the Tri-Cities has seen since 2008, said Cos Edwards, executive director and CEO, Benton-Franklin Workforce Development Council, which operates WorkSource Columbia Basin.

Edwards said the Tri-Cities hasn't seen such a positive decrease in the unemployment rate between March and April for more than a decade. In March, the rate was 8.6 percent.

"This is a good time to be looking for work in the Tri-Cities," he said.

The local economy might have finally turned the corner away from the "malaise" of the last three to five years, Edwards said.

Still, the Tri-Cities remained above the average state unemployment rate of 5.6 percent in April. Benton County's rate was 6.6 percent, while Franklin County's was 7.8 percent.

The number of Tri-Citians out of work who were actively searching for a new job dropped to about 8,800 in April -- a 20 percent decline compared with April of last year.

While that seems like good news, the Tri-Cities, like the state and nation as a whole, saw the number of unemployed residents shrink more than can be explained by additional jobs, Suljic said.

That might mean that residents who were searching for work got discouraged and quit the job hunt, she said.

Overall employment in all industries increased to about 118,300 last month, up by about 1,000 jobs when compared with last April, according to the data. But unemployment dropped by more than 2,200 Tri-Citians.

Year-over-year job gains were seen in construction, manufacturing, retail, education and health services, leisure and hospitality and administrative and support services.

The most growth was seen in education and health services, with 700 more jobs than compared with the same month last year.

Construction and manufacturing added 300 jobs each, while retailers hired an additional 400 workers. Administrative and support services was up by 200 jobs, while leisure and hospitality added 100.

It's unclear what the impact to the local economy will be with recent announcements that up to 75 workers at Hanford's Waste Sampling and Characterization Facility may be laid off by Sept. 25.

Other Hanford companies are adding jobs, so it's possible that the additions may compensate for the losses and the Tri-Cities may actually see some gains in that industry, Suljic said.

WorkSource Columbia Basin is seeing an uptick in job availability and job seekers, Edwards said. That can cause some traffic jams for those coming for help in their job hunt on Mondays and Tuesdays, and during the hours of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays except for Fridays.

April unemployment rates for other area counties: Adams County, 6.3 percent; Columbia County, 8.3 percent; Grant County, 7.3 percent; Walla Walla County, 5.4 percent and Yakima County, 8.1 percent.

-- To submit business news, go to bit.ly/bizformtch.

-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com

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