The Tri-Cities reached a new job high last year, with growth in a number of industries including health care, education and manufacturing.
The Tri-Cities averaged 105,200 nonfarm jobs last year, even more than the previous high reached when stimulus dollars catapulted Hanford jobs, said Ajsa Suljic, regional labor economist for Benton and Franklin counties.
December marked the 21st month of year-over-year job growth for the Tri-Cities, according to Employment Security Department data released Tuesday.
Tri-City nonfarm jobs peaked at 103,900 in 2011, after Hanford contractors and subcontractors had staffed up. Then layoffs hit, causing employment to drop in 2012.
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While some job growth was seen in 2013, last year was really when the Tri-Cities recovered from the employment decline caused by Hanford layoffs, Suljic said.
Nonfarm jobs grew by about 3.5 percent last year.
“It’s across the board, widespread growth in many industries,” Suljic said. And that’s good news because it makes the gains more stable and sustainable, she said.
Total employment grew by more than 3 percent to about 118,600 jobs in December compared to the same month the previous year.
The Tri-City’s 8.8 percent December unemployment rate is higher than recent months but relatively unchanged from December 2013.
The Tri-Cities saw some seasonal slowdowns in agriculture, construction, manufacturing and hospitality and leisure. But overall, those same industries saw year-over-year job gains.
Job growth also was seen in health care, education and professional and business services, which includes Hanford jobs.
Manufacturers have been expanding, especially with an increased demand for specialty food products made by area food processors, Suljic said. Manufacturing was up by 1,000 jobs in December compared to the same time in 2013.
And the health care industry has been growing to keep up with the needs of the growing Tri-City population. The Tri-Cities also has become a regional health care hub. Education and health services added 600 jobs over the year.
Kadlec Regional Medical Center added more than 400 jobs last year, reaching nearly 2,900 employees at the end of the year, said Jim Hall, Kadlec spokesman.
Kadlec has continued to grow, adding about 50 new employees just this month. They also are hiring for about 180 open positions, he said.
Hanford jobs have been relatively stable, with significant gains seen in the last year, Suljic said. Professional and business services was up by 1,200 jobs compared to December 2013. New projects and a stable budget have allowed contractors and subcontractors to hire more workers.
Benton County’s unemployment rate was 7.7 percent, which was higher than the state average of 6.2 percent. Franklin County’s hit double digits at 11.3 percent, bringing up the Tri-City average.
That meant that about 11,400 Tri-Citians were out of work and actively job hunting. Still, that was 200 fewer people looking for work than at the same point last year.
More job seekers have been using the resources offered by Kennewick’s WorkSource Columbia Basin this month.
WorkSource Columbia Basin has about 1,300 jobs listed for Benton and Franklin counties through its website, www.go2worksousrce.com website. Most are full-time jobs, although some part-time work is available.
Fields with the most openings include architecture and engineering, community and social services, healthcare practitioners and technical positions, office and administrative support, sales occupations, and transportation and material moving.
December unemployment rates for area counties were: Adams County, 10.5 percent, Columbia County, 11.1 percent, Grant County, 10.6 percent, Walla Walla County, 6.7 percent and Yakima County, 10.8 percent.