Businesses in the urban areas of Eastern Washington plan to have more than three times as many job openings this coming spring as they did during spring 2013.
Almost 37,200 job openings should be available, according to data released last week by the state Employment Security Department.
The trend seems encouraging, said Sheryl Hutchison, the department's communications director. The state has seen the number of job vacancies grow steadily during the past three or so years, meaning businesses are growing and employers are feeling optimistic.
The report does not break down data for specific counties or the Mid-Columbia region. It lumps Benton, Franklin, Yakima and Spokane counties into the so-called "east urban" area.
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The east urban counties saw the average starting wage drop to $11.46 per hour in spring 2013, about a dollar less than in spring 2012. The median starting wage remained unchanged at about $9.48 per hour.
Both were under the state's average starting hourly wage of $13.67 and the state's starting median of $9.99 per hour, according to the report.
More than 6 percent of the open jobs in spring 2013 were in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, fields. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and other technology companies in the Tri-Cities have continued to seek employees with those skills.
The Tri-Cities has been focusing economic development efforts on leveraging the region's knowledge-based work force, said Diahann Howard, the Port of Benton's director of economic development and governmental affairs.
It's critically important for the region to attract and retain technology jobs, which have high wages and help support other industries within the Tri-Cities, said Howard, who serves as the Tri-Cities Research District's executive director.
The community has focused on developing a plan around STEM fields, which is part of the reason Delta High School has been such a shining star in the state, she said.
The Tri-Cities is in a good position to meet the job demands for energy and high-tech agriculture companies, Howard said.
The Tri-Cities has seen growth in nearly all industries except for Hanford-related ones, said Ajsa Suljic, regional labor economist for Benton and Franklin counties. Construction, manufacturing, retail, health care, education and food services and accommodations have all been adding jobs.
Statewide, the occupations with the most vacancies in spring 2013 were farmworkers, retail sales representatives and cashiers, the same as the previous spring, the report said. And the industries that saw the most vacancies continued to be accommodation and food services, health care and social services and retail trade.
Overall statewide, the highest number of vacancies occurred at smaller companies, such as those with 10 or fewer workers.
About 26 percent of the vacancies in the east urban counties were newly created jobs in spring 2013, according to the data. That's up from 21 percent in spring 2012. Nearly 79 percent were for full-time work, better than the state average. And almost 80 percent were permanent positions.
The total number of employees hired in spring 2013 was about 31,300 for the east urban counties. That was up about 65 percent from the previous year.
Most of the jobs open statewide had no education requirements or asked for at least a high school diploma.
Of those employees hired, nearly 3 percent were in STEM occupations, according to the data.
-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; email@example.com