May marks fifth month of growth

The Tri-Cities added 1,500 nonfarm jobs in May.

It's the fifth month of employment growth in the area, said regional labor economist Ajsa Suljic. The bulk of the gains were in the private services and goods producing sectors, she said.

Over the year, the area saw the addition of 3,000 nonfarm jobs, mainly in professional and business services, retail trade, government (mainly federal), trade, transportation and warehousing and education and health services. The annual growth of more than 3 percent put the total number of nonfarm jobs to 99,300 last month.

"We remain a slow-growing, stable economy," Suljic said. The Tri-Cities doesn't see great fluctuations compared with the western part of the state, she said.

Also, the unemployment rate in Benton and Franklin counties stayed at 6.9 percent despite a minor increase in the number of workers, a trend sparked by the infusion of federal stimulus money for Hanford projects last year.

Suljic said the onset of spring and summer helped create an increased demand for retail jobs, especially at stores selling clothes and home-remodeling supplies.

At the same time, slow consumer spending negatively affected the local restaurant industry. It lost about 200 jobs since May 2009, she said. The construction industry lost 700 jobs in the same period.

In the Tri-Cities, construction jobs have seen a 15 percent decline since December 2007, or the official beginning of the recession.

She said she hopes the agricultural season helps the growth of wholesale trade and warehousing jobs. This sector employed 16,400 workers in May, about 400 more than it did last year at the same time.

Candice Bluechel, business services outreach manager at WorkSource Columbia Basin in Kennewick, said seasonal employment is expected to grow in the coming months. As of Tuesday, WorkSource had 781 jobs available in Benton and Franklin counties. There were 16,769 job openings statewide.

Employers have been generally conservative in hiring so far, but they still need to fill positions, she said. Locally, they are looking for cooks, hotel staff, customer service representatives, cost estimators and managers, among others, Bluechel said.

Dave Wallace, acting chief economist with the state Employment Security Department, also hoped for an upward trend in nonfarm job growth in the state, which gained 8,600 jobs in May, the bulk of which were federal Census jobs.

With the May job gains, Washington has added jobs in four of the first five months this year for a net gain of 25,800 so far. The state unemployment rate also fell to 9.1 percent last month, from 9.3 percent in April.

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