Spokane Regional Business Barometer – Q3, 2014
“Employment growth for the quarter remained slow, up 0.5% from third quarter 2013, but it was up a bit from the comparable numbers for second quarter this year,” says Shaun O’L. Higgins, Managing Principal of The Oxalis Group LLC.
Spokane County had 215,126 employed, an increase of 1,138 jobs for third quarter over the same period last year. Unemployment in third quarter 2014 was 5.8% compared to 7.2% in 2013, but economists point to a smaller labor force due to retirements and job seekers leaving the area.
“While job-growth is moving in the right direction,” Higgins continues, “we continue to trail job creation in the state, nation and many of our peer markets. Third quarter national job growth was up 1.5% over the previous year, while Washington’s rose 2.4%. As I’ve said throughout the year, even these small gains in employment are good news, but the slow pace of growth here relative to those of the state and nation remains a concern.”
Avista Chief Economist Grant Forsyth notes, “Higher job numbers for the state are driven primarily by the Puget Sound area.”
“If you pull out all the jobs added by Boeing in the Puget Sound area,” says Steve Scranton, Chief Investment Officer for Washington Trust Bank, “the job creation number is much lower.” He notes, “Even though Spokane’s job growth is much slower than on the west side of the state, we are adding local jobs that are at a higher wage rate, and that’s important.”
Doug Tweedy, Regional Economist, Washington State Labor Market & Economic Analysis, says he is “very encouraged, even though the growth rate is not what we want it to be. We have been adding jobs, so we are growing on a bigger base and it’s a broad, diverse foundation. We’ve managed to have job growth despite continued decreases in public-sector jobs. In fact, every sector except government had increases.”
“Spokane’s employment growth so far in 2014 has been a bit weaker than I forecast last year — less than 1%,” says Forsyth. “I’m not sure why. However, I project that our employment growth will be in the 1 to 1.5% range next year.”
Of continued concern to our panelists is lack of growth in wage levels. Forsyth states, “The fairly stagnant wage growth in Spokane and Kootenai counties mirrors the national trend. However, wage growth has been incredibly strong in Seattle, even after adjusting for inflation, because they have the ‘sweet spot’ of industries that have done well in the recovery.”