Tri-Cities No. 1 in nation for job growth

If the rush hour traffic from the Hanford nuclear reservation or long waits to get a table at some Tri-City restaurants aren't enough evidence of a relatively healthy economy here, a new study puts some numbers on it.

The Tri-Cities is ranked No. 1 among the nation's 372 metropolitan areas for employment growth in the past five years, according to a study by Garner Economics.

The new study looks at how close metropolitan areas are to their pre-recession employment levels.

The Tri-Cities tops the nation in growth with employment in September that was 5.4 percent over its earlier peak.

It was the only metropolitan area in Washington included in the survey to have employment above its pre-recession peak. Yakima did second best, recording a dip of only 1.8 percent from its peak. Seattle was down 7 percent and Spokane down 7.8 percent.

Nationwide, the area with the second largest employment growth from pre-recession levels was College Station-Bryan, Texas, with 1.9 percent growth. The worst was Elkhart, Ind., which had employment 31.5 percent below the pre-recession peak.

The Tri-Cities also was the only metropolitan area in the state to see jobs increase over the past year from September to September, according to the report. Nationwide, most of the 168 communities that showed an improvement in employment from a year ago were in the eastern half of the nation, according to the Garner Economics November 2010 Progress Report: Job Growth in U.S. Metros.

"Of course, we have to recognize that a portion of the growth we have experienced occurred because of the stimulus funding received by Hanford contractors," Carl Adrian, president of the Tri-City Development Council, said in a statement.

The Hanford nuclear reservation has received $1.96 billion in federal economic recovery money to speed environmental cleanup and create jobs. As of the end of September, the money has created the equivalent of 3,124 full-time jobs for employees of Hanford contractors and subcontractors.

Most of the money should be spent by the end of September 2011, and DOE has said the number of Hanford jobs will decrease by 2012. Workers still are waiting to hear if early retirement programs might allow more new employees to retain their jobs.

However, the Hanford economic stimulus money does not account for all of the Tri-Cities job growth, according to TRIDEC.

The Tri-Cities also has seen strong job growth in health care, the food processing industry and manufacturing, Adrian said.

Tri-City sectors that have increased employment during the past year include professional and business services, retail trade, health services and the trade, transportation, warehousing and utilities sector, according to state information.

Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricity herald.com.