Tri-Cities Continues to Remain One of Washington States Shining Stars for Economic Growth

The Tri-City economy ended the year with 3,500 more jobs than 2016 — up a healthy 3.2 percent.

It was a solid showing, but not solid enough to hold onto the title of Washington’s fastest-growing economy.

That honor now belongs to Yakima, which ended with year with 4,400 more nonfarm jobs than the year before. That translates to a state-leading growth rate of 5.3 percent.

The Employment Security Department released December data Tuesday that confirmed the Tri-City economy remains one of Washington’s shining stars, ranking a respectable fourth after Yakima, Longview and Seattle.

While there’s plenty to celebrate in the year-end report, the Mid-Columbia’s top economic development officer conceded that said losing the title stung.

“Darn,” said Carl Adrian, president and CEO of the Tri-City Development Council (TRIDEC).

Ajsa Suljic, regional labor economist, said Yakima’s stellar performance is the result of 2,000 additional jobs in business and professional services, a 52 percent boost in that category for the so-called Palm Springs of Washington.

The news was a pleasant surprise for Jonathan Smith, executive director of the Yakima County Development Association.

He said the jump in “business and professional services” employment probably reflects employers turning to staffing services to help fill jobs in a tight labor market. Job growth and falling unemployment add up to opportunity for Yakima Valley residents.

“Opportunities for jobs are here and people are not having to move out,” he said.

In the Tri-Cities, construction is the chief driver of job growth. The industry was up by 800 jobs at the end of 2017 for an annualized growth rate of more than 10 percent. Trade, transportation and utilities added 700 jobs, retail 500 and leisure and hospitality 400.

Suljic said she’s not concerned about growing overly reliant on construction. It’s bellwether of the area’s overall health of business, and she notes the local economy doesn’t falter when construction season eases.

“We’re not too dependent on construction at all,” she said.

In fact, construction is one area where the Tri-Cities continues to outpace the state. In July, construction employment exceeded pre-recession levels, making the Mid-Columbia one of, if not the first, Washington economy to reach that milestone.

“It’s a reflection of other areas growing,” Suljic said.

Suljic said market confidence remains strong in the Tri-Cities. With 3,500 new jobs and “only” 2,300 new prospective workers, the Tri-City unemployment rate fell to its lowest end-of-year rate in recent memory, 6.7 percent.

Job confidence leads to consumer confidence, which is healthy for the overall economy, she said.

According to employment security, there were 126,580 people working in the Tri-Cities in December. Of those, 9,041 were unemployed.

The 6.7 percent unemployment rate was up from the 5.1 percent rate posted in November, but a full point below the 7.7 percent unemployment rate posted a year earlier.

Elsewhere, Longview ended the year up 1,800 positions over 2016 for a growth rate of 4.7 percent and King County ended 2017 with a gain of 55,500 jobs for a 4 percent growth rate.

Statewide, the year ended with nearly 3.8 million jobs, up 95,500 for the year for a growth rate of 2.9 percent.

Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514, @WendyCulverwell

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