The Tri-Cities officially has had two years of continuous job growth fueled by the private sector.
Nearly 118,000 Tri-Citians had jobs last month, according to data released Tuesday by the state Employment Security Department. That’s just under 2,000 more people who were employed in February and 4,000 more than in March 2014.
For Jesus Higareda, owner of Super Mex El Pueblo Market in Pasco, there’s plenty of reasons for him to celebrate: the past two years have been good enough that he’s opening a new party supplies store next to his business May 5 on 20th Avenue and has hired 20 new employees.
“A lot of parties are coming up,” he told the Herald.
Construction, manufacturing, professional and business services and educational and health services all made job gains and the regional unemployment rate dropped from 9 percent a year ago to 7.5 percent. A few sectors saw no changes in their employment levels or some slight declines.
The total number of nonfarm jobs was at more than 105,000, up from 104,000 in February and 102,000 a year ago. The addition of about 800 employees in administrative and support services, which includes Hanford workers but also accountants who gained clients during tax season, was the biggest gain of any sector.
Manufacturing, an industry that tends to have higher wages than the area average, added 700 jobs. Public education is the likely reason for the additional 600 jobs attributed to local government, said regional economist Doug Tweedy. Educational and health services added 500 positions.
There also were more agricultural workers in March as asparagus harvest started earlier than normal and farmers rushed to finish pruning and other tasks because of an unusually warm winter and spring.
The region still has a higher unemployment than the state average of 5.7 percent. Benton County’s unemployment rate was 7 percent in March while Franklin County’s was 8.6 percent. The region’s growth, however, is steady and healthy, Tweedy said.
“You have to go all the way back to March 2008 for a lower unemployment rate,” he said of the region. “The growth Benton and Franklin counties is experiencing is now more diversified.”
There are some sectors of the Tri-City economy, such as hospitality businesses like hotels and restaurants, still recovering from the recession, Tweedy said. But new hotels are opening in the region at the Three Rivers Convention Center and central Richland.
“They’re still below their peaks but they are gaining ground,” Tweedy said.
Neighboring Walla Walla County had a 6.2 percent unemployment rate and Yakima was at 9 percent. Adams County had 8 percent unemployment, Columbia County 6.6 percent and Grant County 8.1 percent.
Nationally, job growth in March was the lowest monthly gain in more than a year with employers adding only 126,000 jobs. Economists partially blamed a labor dispute at West Coast ports, which disrupted shipping, earlier this year for the sluggish growth. That affected growers and exporters who were unable to ship apples, potatoes and other produce to outside markets.
But other issues that hampered job growth nationally, such as lessened demand for oil and harsh winter weather, didn’t greatly affect Washington state.