The Tri-Cities continued to see encouraging employment growth in March, with more jobs than during the two previous years since Hanford layoffs tore a chunk out of the local economy.
Unemployed Tri-Citians and new workers entering the Tri-City job market were able to find jobs last month.
New restaurants and homes, more school jobs and Kadlec Health Systems' continued expansion helped pushed the March unemployment rate down to 8.7 percent, according to data released Tuesday by the state Employment Security Department.
The Tri-Cities has recovered much of the Hanford jobs lost during the last two years, but almost all of the jobs have been added in non-Hanford industries, said Ajsa Suljic, regional labor economist for Benton and Franklin counties.
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And while the March nonfarm jobs of 102,500 are more than 1,000 jobs fewer than March 2011 when Hanford employment peaked, it is actually up by 3,500 positions when compared to March 2010, she said.
Education and health care services has experienced significant growth over the last year, Suljic said. In all, that industry added 400 jobs compared to the same month last year.
Most of those jobs were with Kadlec Health Systems.
Kadlec, which has been expanding its services and has added more than 370 employees over the last year. Jim Hall, Kadlec spokesman, said Kadlec reached more than 2,640 employees this month.
Trios Health also has been expanding by building a new hospital but has not added new positions, said Lisa Teske, Trios spokeswoman.
Local schools and colleges also added jobs, helping the area see the addition of 600 local and state government jobs, Suljic said.
New restaurant openings, particularly in Kennewick's Southridge, Pasco's Road 68 and Richland's Queensgate areas, have helped add to leisure and hospitality jobs, which were up 400 from March 2012, Suljic said.
New housing is attracting more retail and restaurant options to the area, she said. "It's adding a lot of good jobs to the community."
Improving confidence is helping the Tri-Cities see gains in construction employment. It's up 200 jobs from the same month last year, Suljic said.
Most construction businesses in the area are small contractors, so when residents feel more comfortable and decide to remodel their homes, that adds jobs, she said.
Manufacturing, which mostly includes food processing, added 400 jobs compared to March last year.
Nonfarm industries grew by 1,000 jobs between February and March. That allowed those industries overall to add about 2,600 more jobs than March 2013.
Still, the Tri-Cities remained above the state's unemployment rate of 6.9 percent. Benton County's unemployment rate was 8.1 percent, while Franklin County's was 10.4 percent.
About 11,200 Tri-Citians were out of work and actively searching for a new job, down by about 1,100 people from the same month last year.
Overall, nearly 117,000 Tri-Citians were working, up by nearly 1,800 jobs from February.
Prepping for this year's apple and grape harvest also helped increase farm jobs during the month of March.
Overall, there were nearly 14,000 farm jobs in Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties last month, up by 11 percent from the same month last year. Farmers added more than 1,100 jobs between February and March.
Suljic said the Tri-Cities was fortunate to avoid frost damage during March and farmers were able start work sooner.
Farm and nonfarm employers are looking for new employees. WorkSource Columbia Basin had about 1,080 job openings listed on its website, said Joe Perez, WorkSource Columbia Basin administrator.
CRF Frozen Foods of Pasco is holding a hiring event 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 8, and an agricultural hiring fair is planned for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 16. Both are at WorkSource Columbia Basin's Kennewick office.
March unemployment rates for area counties were: Adams County, 9 percent; Columbia County, 9.3 percent; Grant County, 9.6 percent; Walla Walla County, 7 percent and Yakima County, 10.1 percent.
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