Seasonal slowdowns contributed to the Tri-Cities seeing job losses for a sixth straight month in December.
But regional labor economist Ajsa Suljic still expects the final analysis of nonfarm jobs last year will end up showing some modest gains for the year.
The Tri-Cities lost 3,690 jobs between November and December, according to data released Tuesday by the state Employment Security Department.
Benton and Franklin counties had 115,890 employed workers in December, which was 6,120 fewer than in December 2010. That's a 5 percent drop.
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But the Tri-Cities did not lose any nonfarm jobs when the average employment last year is compared to the average in 2010, Suljic told the Herald. The exact numbers will be released in a couple of months, but she anticipates a growth of 1.9 percent for the year.
Gains in other industries helped offset jobs eliminated at Hanford, she said.
About 2,200 Hanford-related jobs were lost through layoffs last year.
A couple hundred layoffs in December happened at the vitrification plant and by Mission Support Alliance, Suljic said.
Overall, the Tri-Cities' unemployment rate climbed to 9.7 percent from November's rate of 8.1 percent.
In Benton County, unemployment grew from 7.9 percent in November to 9.2 percent last month. In Franklin County, unemployment jumped from 8.6 percent to 10.9 percent.
That's higher than statewide unemployment, which fell from 8.7 percent to 8.5 percent in December.
State numbers show 12,470 Tri-Citians were out of work and actively searching for a new job in December. That's 1,930 more than the month before.
The local workforce dropped by 1,760 people in December to 128,360 workers.
Last month, 8,425 workers were collecting unemployment benefits, while 1,128 had exhausted their benefits. Another 2,886 people filed for unemployment benefits.
Job seekers came in to WorkSource Columbia Basin even during the snow and freezing rain last week, said Michelle Mann, area director.
They need jobs and aren't using weather as a reason not to search, she said.
WorkSource Columbia Basin plans a job fair from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 15 at its Kennewick office. The job fair is meant for veterans but is open to all job seekers. About 28 employers have confirmed they will attend.
Industries that saw job losses in December included manufacturing and state government, with 300 fewer jobs each, and professional and business services jobs, with 600 fewer jobs.
Government job losses were a result of budget cuts and layoffs, Suljic said. Professional and business services dropped as a result of the end of stimulus funding at Hanford. Manufacturing job cuts reflect seasonal job declines in food processing.
Leisure and hospitality businesses lost 100 jobs in December compared to November, but were up by 300 jobs compared to the same time last year.
The Tri-Cities has been drawing more leisure travelers and sports and conventions visitors, said Kris Watkins, Tri-Cities Visitor & Convention Bureau president and CEO.
But December is a slow month for travel in the Tri-Cities region and statewide, Watkins said.
Agriculture and business group conventions are going on in the Tri-Cities this month, and more sports events will be held in February, she said. This week, the Washington-Oregon Potato Conference is at the Three Rivers Convention Center, bringing about 1,700 people to the Tri-Cities, with many staying in area hotels.
Seasonal hiring in the hospitality industry doesn't tend to start until May in preparation for the summer, Watkins said.
Other industries that showed job growth in December compared to a year ago include manufacturing, with 200 more jobs, educational and health services, with 400 more jobs, and local government, with 400 more jobs. Local government includes school districts
Construction may have lost 200 jobs in December, but employment was the same as it was a year ago.
At Apollo in Kennewick, employment is up about 12 to 14 percent compared to last year, said Dan Briscoe, company vice president. The company employs about 100 people.
Job growth for Apollo has been because of work outside the Tri-City region, including in Oregon, Montana and Denver and for international embassies, he said.
Farm jobs in Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties dropped by 34 percent in December, from 14,760 jobs in November to 9,740, according to the state's monthly agricultural employment report.
But December had 390 more farm jobs in the three counties than December 2010.
-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; firstname.lastname@example.org