Tri-Cities keeps producing jobs

The Tri-Cities continued to show job growth last month, with a total of 96,800 nonfarm jobs -- an increase of 3.9 percent over the same month a year ago.

State employment statistics released Tuesday indicated a one-month gain of 1,400 nonfarm jobs in March over the month before.

Most of the annual job growth occurred in manufacturing, professional and business services, retail trade and the government sector, which included positions at local schools and with the U.S. Census Bureau.

The one-month gain came from the trade, transportation, warehousing and utilities sector, retail trade industry, administrative and support services, and the leisure and hospitality industry. The financial sector saw no change, with 3,200 jobs. The number of workers in construction also stayed even, at 6,100.

"It's nice, but there are no guarantees," said Dean Schau, regional labor economist. Federal stimulus money has helped cushion negative effects of the recession, but the community eventually will need to diversify the economy and create other good-paying jobs, he said.

The number of workers in Benton and Franklin counties grew from 129,150 in February to 130,750 in March. Of those, 10,680 were unemployed.

The area's unemployment rate dropped marginally from 9.0 percent in February to 8.2 last month. People who are unemployed but not actively seeking work are not counted in the unemployment rate.

WorkSource Columbia Basin had about 900 jobs available on Tuesday, said Candice Bluechel, business services outreach manager at WorkSource. Employers are looking for a variety of workers including plumbers, pipe fitters and steamfitters, medical aides, network technicians, bookkeepers, diesel mechanics, office staff, customer service representatives, merchandisers, managers and landscape workers, she said.

Mike Manning, manager at the Ranch & Home store in Kennewick, said he recently hired four workers and may hire more as needed for spring and summer.

"Business has been good," he said, adding that customers also are buying big-ticket items.

Bluechel said she hopes more jobs, especially seasonal positions, will become available in the months ahead. But she said unemployed workers will continue to find that looking for a job remains very competitive.

Word about the Tri-Cities' relative resistance to the recession has drawn a lot of new workers to the area, Schau said, adding, "I'd hate to be unemployed."

Statewide, an estimated 1,600 nonfarm jobs were added in March. That marked the state's second increase in job numbers in three months following 13 consecutive months of job losses from the end of 2008 through 2009.

"This recovery is going to take time but the latest job gains are another positive indicator that we're on the right track," said Employment Security Commissioner Karen Lee.

Over the year, the state continued to show a loss in jobs, with 67,800 fewer nonfarm jobs last month than in March 2009 -- a 2.4 percent decrease. Nationally, employment was down 1.8 percent for the same period. The state's unemployment rate for March inched up by one-tenth of a percent to 9.5 percent.

Unemployment rates, not seasonally adjusted, as reported in other metropolitan areas around the state were: Bellingham, 9.5 percent; Bremerton, 8.5; Longview, 13.5; Mount Vernon-Anacortes, 11.5; Olympia, 8.6; Spokane, 10.5; Tacoma, 10.8; Wenatchee, 9.9; and Yakima, 10.6.

These labor market areas also were reported: Aberdeen, 14.5 percent; Centralia, 14.2; Ellensburg, 10.1; Moses Lake, 12.0; Oak Harbor, 10.0; Port Angeles, 11.0; Pullman, 6.5; Shelton, 12.3; and Walla Walla, 8.0.

Unemployment rates in other counties were: Adams, 11.8 percent; Asotin, 9.0; Chelan, 10.1; Clark, 14.8; Columbia, 11.9; Douglas, 9.4; Ferry, 16.5; Garfield, 8.9; Jefferson, 10.5; King, 8.1; Klickitat, 11.2; Lincoln, 9.9; Okanogan, 12.5; Pacific, 14.3; Pend Oreille, 15.7; San Juan, 8.3; Skamania, 14.7; Snohomish, 9.7; Stevens, 14.4; and Wahkiakum, 14.4.

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