A fruitful cherry and blueberry harvest helped the Tri-Cities see its lowest unemployment rate since November 2008 during June.
Benton and Franklin counties added more than 6,900 jobs between May and June, pushing the local unemployment rate down to 5.7 percent, according to data released Tuesday by the state Employment Security Department.
The bulk of the job gains came from farm activities, said Ajsa Suljic, regional labor economist for Benton and Franklin counties. Only 1,000 of the jobs added between May and June were nonfarm jobs.
A warm spring ripened blueberries early, causing some farmers to start harvest mid-June. Mother Nature also was kinder to cherries this year, with a more bountiful and higher quality crop than last year. Both blueberries and cherries are hand-picked, creating a significant need for seasonal workers.
Total employment reached about 126,700, up nearly 2 percent from the same month last year, according to the data. That made June the 15th consecutive month that the Tri-Cities has seen year-over-year job growth. Nonfarm jobs were the bulk of that growth, adding 2,000 compared to the same month last year.
“We have quickly recovered after Hanford layoffs and we have continuously ... added jobs to our economy,” Suljic said.
Still, Tri-City unemployment remained just above the state average of 5.4 percent. Benton County’s June unemployment rate was 5.7 percent, while Franklin County’s was 5.8 percent.
That meant 7,700 Tri-Citians were out of work and actively hunting for a new job last month, about 3,400 fewer job seekers from the same month last year.
Administrative and waste services, where many Hanford jobs appear, was in the black during June, with 300 more jobs than the same month last year. Suljic said workers who some Hanford contractors hired on earlier this year for specific projects are now on the payroll.
The Tri-Cities has seen significant expansion in health care since June of last year, Suljic said. Education and health services are up by 500 jobs from the same month last year, representing a 3.6 percent gain.
Manufacturing was a bright spot, adding 500 jobs between May and June, Suljic said. The industry, which is mostly food processing, has seen 5.3 percent growth since the same month last year.
Food processing is very dependent on receiving plentiful, high quality crops, she said.
The Tri-Cities is seeing more stability in construction, with a 3 percent gain in construction jobs compared to the same month last year, Suljic said. The industry is up by 200 jobs year to date.
The additional jobs have encouraged some job seekers who had stopped looking and brought in out of area workers. The labor force grew by 5,300 people to more than 134,400 last month, according to the data.
Last year was difficult, with many people exhausting all of their benefits and having a difficult time finding new work after being unemployed on a long-term basis, Suljic said. Hopefully some of those people are now searching and finding jobs.
So far, fewer Tri-Citians are using Kennewick’s WorkSource Columbia Basin while seeking jobs this month compared to June, said Jack Fitzgerald, administrator for the office.
About 1,500 job opportunities in Benton and Franklin counties are listed through the agency’s website, he said. Most are full-time jobs, but some part-time work also is available.
Occupations with the most openings include health care practitioners and support staff, installation, maintenance and repair workers, office and administrative support staff, sales jobs and transportation and material moving positions, Fitzgerald said.
Two hiring events are planned July 30 at July 30 at the Kennewick WorkSource Columbia Basin office. Employers will be looking for mechanics, production workers, field laborers, machine operators and forklift operators from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and for job seekers with sales experience from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
A Veteran’s Stand Down will be held 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 7 at the Kennewick WorkSource Columbia Basin office. Veteran services organizations will be available to offer services to local veterans including medical, dental, counseling, haircuts, VA medical, VA claims processing, employment services and clothing.
June unemployment rates for area counties were: Adams County, 5.3 percent; Columbia County, 7 percent; Grant County, 5.7 percent; Walla Walla County, 4.8 percent and Yakima County, 6.2 percent.
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