Ever since warm weather arrived in the Mid-Columbia, business hasn’t let up at My Place Hotel in Pasco.
Located near the softball and soccer fields in west Pasco near Road 68, the 64-room hotel has seen its occupancy rates climb between 10 percent and 15 percent per month since the winter, said general manager Melissa Blasdel. The boom hasn’t led the hotel to add to its 12 employees, she said, but “I’m able to give my staff some decent hours because we’re so busy.”
The hospitality industry has created about 100 jobs in the past year, according to the latest employment figures from the state Employment Security Department. That’s among one of the smaller job increases in the region’s economy, which had about 127,000 people employed in April and an unemployment rate of 6.5 percent, down a percentage point from March and from a year ago.
But with new hotels coming online in the coming weeks and big events scheduled throughout the summer, those catering to the region’s visitors are sure to continue growing in number, business owners and officials said.
Total nonfarm employment was at 106,200 in April, up by 3,400 from a year ago. Manufacturing made the biggest percentage gain in employees, adding 700 jobs for growth of 9.5 percent.
But professional and business services, which account for many workers at the Hanford site, has added 1,300 jobs in the past year with 300 of those positions being created in the past month alone. Education and health services have 500 more jobs than last April, and construction added 300 more positions.
Farmers started harvesting their first cut of alfalfa hay and to pick the first cherries. So farmers have been able to find enough workers, although some would like to see more. In general, most crops are about 10 days early compared to average.
Leisure and hospitality may have been closer to the bottom in terms of growth, said Kris Watkins, president and CEO of Visit Tri-Cities, but the potential is there for its own boom. Along with My Place, the Homewood Suites on George Washington Way in central Richland has seen steady business since opening several months ago. Occupancy rates are at 55 percent on average so far this year, compared with 52.5 percent last year.
And more jobs are to be had: The SpringHill Suites attached to the Three Rivers Convention Center in west Kennewick is scheduled to open any day now, Watkins said. A Hampton Inn under construction near Southridge Trios Hospital is scheduled to welcome its first guests June 23. Another hotel is part of a project in the burgeoning Queensgate shopping district in Richland and is scheduled to open in the summer of 2016.
“Leisure travel continues to grow in our region,” said Watkins.
Wages also have increased. Benton County recorded an average weekly wage of $930 last September, according to figures released Thursday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
That’s up 1.5 percent compared to September 2013. However, that’s still below the national weekly average wage of $949 and the Washington average of $1,087. Franklin County’s average weekly wage last fall was $680 while Yakima County’s was $658 and Walla Walla County’s $736.
Unemployment is still higher in the region than the 5 percent statewide average. Benton County had a 6.3 percent unemployment rate while Franklin County had 7 percent.
Walla Walla County had 5.4 percent unemployment while Yakima County was at 7.7 percent. Grant County recorded 6.6 percent unemployment and Adams County 5.8 percent.
There are still a lot of jobs out there. WorkSource Columbia Basin has 1,550 open job listings for Benton and Franklin counties. Most of those positions are full-time with sales, health care, transportation and material moving and office and administrative support having the most openings. And there’s been a steady stream of people looking for work, employment officials said in a statement.