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Tri-Cities is third fastest job growth area in state

Construction workers concentrate their efforts Tuesday on the roof of the new Original Pancake House going up in the Southridge area of Kennewick. The $1.2 million restaurant is set to open in early 2017 and employ about 40 people. The Mid-Columbia unemployment rate inched up in November but the overall picture painted by the state Employment Security Department shows a healthy economy in its fourth year of expansion.
Construction workers concentrate their efforts Tuesday on the roof of the new Original Pancake House going up in the Southridge area of Kennewick. The $1.2 million restaurant is set to open in early 2017 and employ about 40 people. The Mid-Columbia unemployment rate inched up in November but the overall picture painted by the state Employment Security Department shows a healthy economy in its fourth year of expansion. Tri-City Herald

The Mid-Columbia unemployment rate rose half a point in November. But in a sign of continuing economic expansion, the jobless rate was lower than it was in the past two Novembers.

The monthly employment report released Tuesday by the Washington Employment Security Department paints a picture of a healthy economy that shows no sign of slowing as the year comes to an end.

Ajsa Suljic, regional labor economist for the state, said November typically falls into a holding pattern. The construction and food processing industries dial back employment when the building and growing seasons end, while retail and service sectors ramp up for the holidays.

The annual trend was on full display in November: The retail sector added 300 jobs compared to October and 600 over the past 12 months.

Suljic expects the pattern to hold in December, adding up to a healthy end to 2016.

“We are expecting to see the end of the year be very positive,” she said. If the trend continues, the Tri-Cities will mark its fourth year of consecutive monthly job growth in March.

We are expecting to see the end of the year be very positive.

Ajsa Suljic, Washington Employment Security

The Tri-Cities was the third fastest growing metropolitan area in Washington both as a percentage of overall growth and for the absolute number of new jobs. Wenatchee led the state for the percentage growth while Seattle had the most new jobs overall.

In the Tri-Cities, every employment category has grown in 2016. Professional and business services, which shed 100 jobs over the past year, was the lone exception.

Hanford and its contractors continue to drive the economy, with hiring in new areas more than offsetting losses in others. The net difference for the year is 900 positions, for a total of 11,100 or 10 percent of all local employment.

“It’s very significant and important to our area,” Suljic said.

6.2% Wenatchee

4.4%Spokane

3.6%Tri-Cities

3.2% Moses Lake, Port Angeles (tie)

3.1% Seattle-Bellevue-Everett

3% Yakima*Washington Employment Security, nonfarm job growth, 12 months ended November

Manufacturing, which covers food processing, added 800 jobs over the year, leisure and hospitality added 700 and construction added 500. Overall, the economy grew by 3,900 jobs to 111,400 over the past year for an annualized growth rate of 3.6 percent.

Education continues to be a major driver, accounting for 400 new positions for the past year. Suljic said the Pasco School District is leading the charge but its neighbors are hiring, as well.

The Tri-Cities had a civilian labor force of 134,094 in November. Of those, 125,188 were employed and 8,906 were actively seeking employment, for an unemployment rate of 6.6 percent.

That is up from 6.1 percent in October but slightly below the 6.7 percent unemployment rate one year ago. The statewide unemployment rate was 5.2 percent in November, up two-tenths of a percent from October and half a point below one year ago.

Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514, @WendyCulverwell

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