The Tri-City economy continued to chug along in June, posting its lowest unemployment rate since 2008 and largest civilian workforce since 2010.
The number of people with jobs came in at 136,760, an increase of 7,000 positions from May to June, with agriculture, manufacturing, and professional and business services leading the pack.
The total number of jobs in the region is also up year-over-year, with 2,600 more people employed in June 2015 than in June 2014.
The regional unemployment rate sits at 6 percent, down from 6.7 percent in May and from 6.5 percent at this time last year.
A state economist warned such a boom is expected in warmer months thanks to increased seasonal employment and likely can’t be sustained beyond another month or so.
“If next month we see (an additional) 1,000 jobs, it would be awesome,” economist Ajsa Suljic said.
But officials with the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce aren’t concerned. Businesses in the region are well aware of the Mid-Columbia’s seasonal employment fluctuations, and the economy is diversifying regardless, creating more high-tech, skilled and stable jobs.
“I think it just says the growth we’ve experienced has really started to show up in the numbers,” said Austin Neilson, the chamber’s government and economic affairs director. “It’s great to see we are making progress.”
The transition to the summer working economy typically is in full swing by June, Suljic said. Agricultural operations, such as cherry picking, get up to full steam and have their most workers by that time.
Total nonfarm employment in June was at 108,700, an increase of 1,700 jobs from May. Just as with agriculture, seasonal jobs were a big part of that. Construction reaches full strength during the summer. Though it didn’t add jobs from last month, the total construction workforce has 300 more employees than it did at this time last year.
Manufacturing, which added 700 jobs from May and is up by 500 positions since June 2014, also usually builds up during the warmer months.
Professional and business services, which include many jobs on the Hanford site, also added 700 jobs from May to June and 400 compared with this time last year.
The Tri-City unemployment rate of 6 percent remains above the state’s 5.3 percent average. Benton County has 6.0 percent unemployment while Franklin County is at 6.1 percent, Walla Walla County 5.5 percent, Adams County 5.5 percent, Grant County 5.5 percent and Yakima County 6.6 percent.
The discrepancy between the Mid-Columbia’s unemployment rate and that of the Seattle metropolitan area, which comes in at closer to 4 percent, shows more attention is needed for job and labor policy that benefits the entire state, Neilson said.
And yes, agriculture and construction will eventually wind down when cooler temperatures return, bumping up the number looking for work in the winter.
Those matters, however, aren’t worrying the chamber’s member businesses, Neilson said.
“I would say there’s an upbeat optimism for the Tri-Cities,” he said.