Continued growth in jobs and wages in the Tri-Cities is being noticed nationally.
The Milken Institute has ranked Kennewick-Pasco-Richland among the top 10 metro areas that managed to create and sustain jobs in the face of a national recession.
The Tri-Cities retained the fifth spot it earned last year, said Armen Bedroussian, a Milken research economist who helped put together the latest report.
In the Tri-Cities, jobs grew 4.5 percent in the last 12 months, he said, noting that's the highest percentage growth in the nation. The bulk of the growth was the result of the federal stimulus money for Hanford, he said.
And he noted the role of the high-tech sector in pushing the job and wage growth for the long and short terms.
The Milken report is used for economic benchmarking, he said. Corporations use the data to scout locations that have economic momentum, and civic officials and economic development agencies use the information to compare their communities to other areas and take steps to stimulate growth, Bedroussian said.
Carl Adrian, president and CEO of the Tri-City Development Council, said it's good to be on the radar of the California-based think-tank that helps business and public policy leaders identify and implement ideas for creating broad-based prosperity. That can generate interest by new businesses to explore the Tri-Cities and appreciate the area's knowledge-based economy and the presence of a skilled work force.
"We have become more resilient to the ups and downs at Hanford," Adrian said. Also, the community is committed to developing a diversified post-Hanford economy that can create new types of jobs for the growing population in the area, he said.
The Mid-Columbia Energy Initiative is a good example, he said. The group wants to transform the Hanford site and the local community into a "carbon-friendly" power-producing, energy demonstration and manufacturing site.
The research initiatives of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Washington State University Tri-Cities will help pave the way to develop cutting-edge technologies that could be commercialized, Adrian said. The presence of companies like Infinia and InnovaTek in the community may encourage other clean-tech companies to set up shop in the Tri-Cities, he said.
"Clean tech is a natural transition for the area," said Diahann Howard of the Port of Benton. PNNL's experts already are working on various projects to enhance smart grid applications and developing other clean energy products, said the port's director of economic development and government affairs.
The Port of Benton, in partnership with other public agencies, has continued to improve infrastructure to help recruit and retain businesses in the area, she said.
The growth of medical equipment manufacturing, food processing, health care service industry and wine industry is helping economic diversification despite the continued dominance of Hanford, said Dean Schau, former regional labor economist for the Tri-Cities. About 1,350 workers are employed in the local wineries, he said.
Agriculture, manufacturing and energy production could help sustain future growth, he said.
The Tri-City economy also gets a big push from the retirees who have moved to the area for its quality of life and weather. They spend their money locally and help the retail sector, Schau said. The presence of an aging population also has led to the development of a regional health care industry that is poised for growth.
The Tri-Cities abounds in human and social capital that can help transform the economy in years ahead, he said.
For more on the Milken report, go to www.milkeninstitute.org.