Business

Number of jobless is up from July '10

The number of jobs in the Tri-Cities appears to be starting to dip even though most Hanford layoffs are a month away.

Job figures released Tuesday by the state showed that employment in the Tri-Cities dropped by 3.4 percent compared with July last year.

"Local private industries are highly seasonal and majority of employment growth usually happens during the spring," regional labor economist Ajsa Suljic said in a news release.

She said even in the best years, Tri-City jobs in July have broken even on net job gains or losses. The last time the Tri-City economy gained jobs in July was in 2002, she said.

For the first half of the year, the Tri-City economy gained 2,600 jobs making this year the weakest in the number of job gains in the past 10 years.

Since 2000, the average growth in the first half of the year has been 4,700 jobs, said Suljic.

A main contributor to the weak growth this year could be the cool weather, along with expected Hanford layoffs in September.

Another likely reason is the trickle down from the stagnant growth of the national and state economies, she said.

Overall, the work force, at 135,680 people, had 4,280 fewer workers than a year ago. A total of 125,950 Tri-Citians were working in July.

So the number of unemployed had increased by 160 people to 9,730 in the last year.

The Tri-Cities' unemployment rates were unchanged from June, at 7.2 percent. The state's unemployment rate of 9.3 percent in July was also the same.

Franklin County's rate stayed at 7.7 percent, while Benton County's dipped from 7 percent to 6.9 percent.

Areas that grew in employment compared to the previous year include 500 jobs added to construction, 400 to professional and business services and 200 to local governments, which include school districts.

Educational and health services also grew by 400 compared with last July.

Kennewick General Hospital is adding positions as it continues to grow, said Liz Syer, KGH director of marketing and business development. Growth has especially been seen with the physician practices and clinical areas.

KGH had 62 job listings through WorkSource Columbia Basin on Tuesday. Demand for health care grows with the community, she said.

WorkSource asked the federal government for more money for its dislocated worker program so that it can provide services for those who lose work at Hanford or related contractors, Bluechel said.

It's the largest layoff that she can recall in her 10 years working at the Kennewick office. Without more resources, she said they just aren't prepared to help a group of that size.

Significant job cuts are anticipated at Hanford, which employed about 12,000 people at the start of the year. Already this year, Mission Support Alliance laid off 125 workers at Hanford.

Up to 1,650 more jobs are expected to be cut at Hanford as federal economic stimulus spending ends with the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

In addition, the Department of Energy has agreed to allow Hanford cleanup contractors to cut up to 1,100 positions in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. The first round of cuts will include up to 475 Washington River Protection Solutions workers who will lose their jobs by Oct. 13.

Washington Closure Hanford plans to lay off about 210 workers in fiscal 2012 as cleanup along the Columbia River is done.

A steady number of people are coming into WorkSource Columbia Basin for help in their job search, said Candice Bluechel, business services manager. The Kennewick office helps an average of 500 people a day.

She said some workers will need to look outside of the Tri-Cities for jobs because there won't be enough locally.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory also is preparing to cut up to 50 jobs by Oct. 1 after completing a major building replacement and improvement program. The DOE national lab employs about 4,470 people in the Tri-Cities.

At the same time, PNNL is advertising 58 openings, mostly for engineers and scientists, said Greg Koller, PNNL spokesman.

The laboratory can't always transfer staff from one project to another when a project ends because of the range of research done at the labs, he said.

-- Herald reporter Annette Cary contributed to this report.

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