Spokane area continued upward trend in employment in 2019

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — An increasing population and a booming economy have spurred employment growth around Spokane, according to state labor officials.

The region covering Spokane, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties, saw more than 4,600 new jobs in 2019, surpassing that mark for the fifth consecutive year, according to the Washington State Employment Security Department.

Gains in employment, wages, population and housing occurred as the U.S. economy grew for 126 continuous months since June 2009, the longest period of economic growth in history, the Spokane Spokesman-Review reported.

The private services sector has been the main driver for the Spokane region gaining 38,000 jobs since the first half of 2009. Employment activity in the area during the 2002-07 economic expansion was led by construction and manufacturing job gains. During the current expansion, education and health care sectors led job gains, said Grant Forsyth, chief economist for Avista Corp.

The region could see up to a 1.5% increase in employment growth in 2020, depending on consumer consumption, Forsyth said.

Spokane County’s non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 5% in December, a drop from 5.7% in December 2018.

“That’s notable,” said Doug Tweedy, regional economist for the state employment department. “Now that we have December in the books, we can compare it with 2018. When we do that comparison, we find that a number of industries gained jobs in 2019 and we actually beat expectations.”

County job gains were led by the professional, scientific and technical services, health services and education sectors, Tweedy said. Accounting and legal jobs were “big movers," he said.

The health services sector added 1,200 jobs last year. The leisure and hospitality sector gained 800 jobs. Professional, scientific and technical services sector added 500 jobs and the education sector grew by 400 jobs.

Manufacturing grew by 600 jobs last year during a nationwide skilled-labor shortage, Tweedy said.

Tweedy expects an increase in transportation and warehouse jobs in 2020, driven by Amazon’s fulfillment center on the West Plains that is expected to create 1,500 jobs initially with its opening later this year.

“Most of those jobs are higher-paying, so that’s not only increasing opportunities, but also increasing wages,” he said.

Unemployment insurance claims for laid-off workers in the Spokane region again decreased in 2019.

“We keep track of that as a leading indicator and we do have growth in wages,” Tweedy said. “Those two are very important for the next year.”