Benton and Franklin Counties: 2014 in review & 2015 outlook

Ajsa Suljic is Employment Security’s regional labor economist for Asotin, Benton, Columbia, Garfield, Franklin and Walla Walla counties.

Economic conditions for Benton and Franklin Counties in 2014 showed significant growth in nonfarm employment and improvement in the labor market.

Economic conditions are showing movement in business confidence for hiring, as well as, more workforce confidence to get hired.

The two county area total nonfarm payroll employment increased for 21 consecutive months, reaching a 5.1 percent growth in December, with unemployment rate at 8.8 percent, according to preliminary not seasonally adjusted estimates by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

graph of nonfarm employment for Benton County

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Local employers have added on average 440 jobs per month in 2014, which is second best to 2010, for the past 14 years. Knowing that the majority of the growth in 2010 was driven by Hanford’s 1.9 billion ARRA funding; we certainly can call 2014 job growth very successful. Not only because of firmer and constant job growth, it has also been widespread, led by increase in manufacturing, construction, education, health care, and leisure and hospitality.

Average nonfarm employment for in the area increased 1.6 percent a year since 2009, which is above the states increase of 1.4 percent a year.

From 2013 to 2014 employment in both goods producing industries (7.5 percent growth) and service providing industries (2.8 percent growth), has been reflective not only of local population demand and economic stability, but national and the state stability as well.

Construction employment is highly seasonal. However, it has stabilized in the past year as investors and home-buyers confidence improved. Construction employment is still below 2007 levels, but it has increased by 3.1 percent over the year, which brings its five year average annual growth to 0.1 percent and positive.

Residential and commercial building permits are down in 2014 however, the value of permits is up. In return, local median home prices have continued to appreciate at 2.5 percent a year for the past 10 years.

Manufacturing has grown the fastest in 2014 at the rate of 11.0 percent, which brings in the five year average annual growth to 3.7 percent. Manufacturing jobs are becoming more diverse, however the base is still in food processing as we see increased demand for specialty food products on the retail market.

graph of manufacturing employment for Benton county.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Trade, transportation and utilities have seen steady growth in jobs over the past five years with 2.3 percent growth a year. This specific industry cluster continues to expend in response to the population growth and growth in the agricultural and manufacturing industry growth.

Retail trade makes up 67 percent of the employment in this industry cluster and it has 1.4 percent growth a year since 2009. Retail activates are continuing to increase in response to the areas rapid population growth and much better economic stability.

Total private and public healthcare makes up 14.8 percent of total nonfarm employment in the area, with five year average annual growth rate at 3.1 percent. Local healthcare services are becoming a regional hub by bringing in more specialized services that were not accessible before.

Educational services, both private and public, have been expending at the rate of 2.1 percent a year since 2009. Total educational services make up 8.7 percent of the areas nonfarm employment. Many school districts are working on facility expansions, renovations as well as building new facilities to accommodate growing demand.

In response to growing wine and agricultural industry in the area, as well as area being one of the fastest growing communities, leisure and hospitality industry has grown by 5.6 percent over the year, with five year average annual growth to 2.5 percent. Local food services and hospitality has expanded in Benton and Franklin area and offers more choices to the visitors for their leisurely and dining experiences.

Improved business confidence brings in more employment opportunities to the local workforce. Over the year, civilian labor force increased by 740, where the number of unemployed decreased by 15.7 percent and number of employed increased by 2.1 percent. This has driven unemployment rate down by 1.4 percent in 2014.  Labor force come back is expected to continue into 2015.

Most of all industry growth will depend on population demand, and in recent years that has been major driver for the local growth. Two county area population has grown on average 2.7 percent in past 10 years which is almost double that of state growth of 1.3 percent.

Washington county population compared to statewide and US totals.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

Increasing business confidence and improving market profits, along with increasing workforce and consumer confidence who have a better income stability and saving on gasoline prices, should energize greater consumer spending and a much diverse job growth in 2015. Industries to look for are manufacturing, healthcare, education, professional and business services, and transportation and warehousing.

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