Demand for craft beer has prompted Richland's White Bluffs Brewing to add tanks for the 28 recipes brewmaster Mike Sutherland has created.
If all goes well, the first batch of beer from the new tanks should be finished fermenting today.
Sutherland's 1 1/2-year-old business is one Tri-City company contributing to a growth in manufacturing.
Despite an increasing number of Tri-Citians finding jobs in everything from manufacturing to financial activities in the last year, the area still had about 2,000 fewer nonfarm jobs in February than it did a year ago, according to data released Tuesday by the state Employment Security Department.
Nonfarm employment stayed steady at about 98,300 jobs in February compared to January.
The Tri-Cities now is behind the national employment trend, said Mark Berreth, regional labor economist.
Part of that stems from the Hanford layoffs from last year, he said. The area is down by 1,200 jobs in professional and business services, which includes some Hanford jobs, compared to last year.
Most other industries saw jobs stay steady or increase compared to February of last year.
The Tri-Cities had an unemployment rate of about 10.1 percent, the first double digit unemployment since January 1996, after a round of Hanford layoffs. The January 2012 unemployment rate was revised to 9.8 percent, although the original estimate was 10 percent.
The state has been seeing an increase in job opportunities and has an employment rate of 8.2 percent, Berreth said.
Benton County had an unemployment rate of 9.6 percent in February, while Franklin County's rate was at 11.5 percent.
That means 13,460 Tri-Citians were out of work and actively seeking new jobs. That's 1,920 more than a year ago.
The number of people filing unemployment claims is up to 921 in February, compared to 690 for the same month last year, Berreth said.
Overall, the Tri-Cities had 119,510 people employed in all industries in February, 1,390 less than a year ago. That includes self-employed and agricultural workers.
Some of the drop in employment likely is from self-employed workers, Berreth said. When people lost jobs in the initial recession, some of them decided to start their own business.
Manufacturing is one of the areas where the Tri-Cities has seen job growth, with 300 more workers in February than the same month last year.
At White Bluffs Brewing, marketing manager Chris Collier said they have not added employees, but they plan to expand as the demand for their pale ales and French farmhouse-style beers increases. It would be the second expansion at their production facility and taproom at the Horn Rapids Business Center.
In the Tri-Cities, construction saw a growth of about 200 jobs compared to the same time last year.
T.R. Masterson Construction of Kennewick is getting ready to build about 10 homes in the Bellerive Springs subdivision in Richland. Owner Thomas Masterson said the end of the year was slow, but home building has picked up for his company in the past few weeks.
He expects to add to his field crew of five, but Masterson said he likely will re-hire some of those he let go during the slower months. His company plans to build homes just under the $150,000 price range because they seem to be selling well in the Tri-Cities, he said.
Meanwhile, hospitality is up by about 100 jobs from last year, even though the industry is seeing a decline from the last two years when Hanford stimulus dollars increased business travel, said Kris Watkins, president and CEO of the Tri-Cities Visitor & Convention Bureau.
Hotel occupancy was off 11 percent in January and February compared with the same months in 2011, she said. While the Tri-Cities has become more diversified in tourism with sports, conventions and leisure travel, Hanford business still plays a large role, she said.
Financial services increased by 100 jobs from a year ago. Berreth said that is promising because banks and financial advisors were among the first areas hit by the recession.
WorkSource Columbia Basin continues to see a steady stream of job seekers, said area director Michelle Mann.
WorkSource Columbia Basin's job fair March 15 resulted in a number of follow-up interviews, which is a good sign, Mann said. But it's too early to determine how many of the 400 attendees found employment.
The annual agricultural job fair runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 19 at WorkSource Columbia Basin's Kennewick office. Mann said they moved the job fair to a Saturday because last year, job seekers lined up out the front door and to the street.
Employers then will start recruiting for cherry harvest, food processing and corn, she said.
Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties saw a growth of 9.7 percent in farm employment in February compared to the same month in 2011. There were about 11,260 farm workers this February, compared to 10,260 last February, according to the state's monthly agricultural employment and wage report.
Asparagus harvest won't start until April. Jim Middleton, owner of Midd Farms north of Pasco, said he hasn't seen spears on his 130 acres.
Harvest depends on the weather, Middleton said. It is labor intensive because every spear is harvested by hand.
Middleton expects he will hire about 50 workers for the 10-week harvest. Most will be those he hired last year. "It's a marathon," he said.
February unemployment rates for area counties are: Adams County, 11.5 percent; Columbia County, 12.3 percent; Grant County, 12.3 percent; Yakima County, 11.9 percent and Walla Walla County, 8.4 percent.
-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; firstname.lastname@example.org