The Tri-City economy should weather the national recession with fewer pains than other areas, thanks to its inherent strengths, a labor economist said Wednesday.
Though dependent on federal funding for Hanford cleanup and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the Tri-Cities over the years has successfully diversified its economic base to help create hundreds of jobs, Dean Schau, regional labor economist, said at the 2009 Regional Economic Outlook Forum sponsored by the Tri-City Development Council.
Growth in agriculture, food processing, power generation and the medical equipment manufacturing sector along with wine tourism and the absence of a real-estate “bust” will provide a cushion for the Tri-Cities, he said.
Local real estate and retail experts who spoke at the forum agreed about the unique nature of the Tri-Cities, which they say continues to attract developers and businesses to the area.
Last year, more than 2,900 homes were sold and the average price was down about $1,400 from the previous year, said Glen Clark, president of the Tri-City Association of Realtors. The Tri-Cities is still a stable market compared to other communities nationwide, said Clark, who predicts an increase in home sales this year.
The Tri-Cities also is a regional shopping destination, said Kim Harvey, marketing director for Columbia Center mall. Retail sales revenues in 2008 would have been higher but for a cold snap in December that kept away shoppers, she said.
In 2009, consumers will continue to be careful about spending their disposable dollars, but the retail sector hopes to bring them back to stores by adding “value” to a shopper’s experience, she said. Local retail businesses will continue to do well, aided by visitors to the Tri-Cities, Harvey said.
But some of the tourist traffic may not grow at a fast pace this year, said Troy Woody, TRAC general manager. Annually, visitors to the Tri-Cities spend about $53.5 million at area hotels, about $90.7 million at local restaurants, $45.9 million on retail and $45.1 million on recreation region-wide, he said.
It’s possible convention bureaus in large metro areas may take some of the convention business from the Tri-Cities, Woody said. Also, cuts in government spending may affect group travel to the area, he said.
Yet TRAC is projecting a growth in its revenues, Woody said.