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Flat job rate persists, but some see way out

Thu., Aug. 18, 2011

Matt Utesch, left, and Nezar Hussain, right, introduce themselves to prospective employers Wednesday at the Spokane office of WorkSource, 130 S. Arthur St. WorkSource is Washington state’s program for job seekers. Utesch recently graduated from college with a business degree and Hussain, a native of Egypt, is a graduate student in business administration. (Jesse Tinsley)
Matt Utesch, left, and Nezar Hussain, right, introduce themselves to prospective employers Wednesday at the Spokane office of WorkSource, 130 S. Arthur St. WorkSource is Washington state’s program for job seekers. Utesch recently graduated from college with a business degree and Hussain, a native of Egypt, is a graduate student in business administration. (Jesse Tinsley)

Advanced manufacturing, labs and clinics among the bright spots

Spokane’s 2011 job picture is nearly identical to Washington’s: It’s been a year of stagnant growth and only slight signs of employment optimism.

Spokane County’s latest jobless numbers won’t be released until next week, but on Wednesday the state reported July’s unemployment rate remained at 9.3 percent, the same as in June.

Doug Tweedy, the regional state labor economist, knows that story well. For the first six months of 2011, there were 203,600 people employed in Spokane County. That’s almost identical to the number employed in the first half of 2010, Tweedy said.

He and other job watchers are hoping Spokane’s economy can grow by about 1 percent over the next several months, in part from seasonal hires tied to the holiday season.

Tweedy said surveys of area employers predict some job gains in three sectors: health care, professional-technical services, and advanced manufacturing. That prediction, Tweedy noted, spans not just 2011 but all of the next year as well.

Health care has been a steady job source in the area. Tweedy said the survey finds more job growth among clinics and labs than in hospitals.

One example is Rockwood Clinic; it’s hiring an average of 20 workers per month, said Karen Caton, the group’s training manager. The jobs being filled range from clinical providers and physicians to receptionists and support workers.

Rockwood has roughly 1,200 employees across the region.  

“We are growing, as Rockwood continues meeting the needs of the community” for medical care, Caton said.

  In professional-technical services, one of the other sectors Tweedy predicts will do well, occupations likely to be in demand are computer engineer, chemical technician, office support worker, assembler and engineer.

In advanced manufacturing, workers in demand include assemblers, composite material workers, electronic technicians and office support workers.

Tweedy noted Spokane County has 540 manufacturing firms, but only 190 or so fall into the “advanced” category.

Grant Forsyth, an Eastern Washington University economics professor, said he hopes Spokane sees a 1 percent job gain by the end of the year, or roughly 2,000 positions. “But I’m not sure I see it happening,” he added.

Government jobs account for roughly 20 percent of area employment, and that sector is losing workers. Construction and mining, while showing some growth in jobs, only account for 10 percent of Spokane’s jobs.

That leaves the service sector accounting for 70 percent of all jobs in this market. What’s happening in Spokane and in North Idaho parallels the rest of the country, Forsyth added.

Employers are cautious in the face of government fiscal policies, and consumers are holding onto their money, out of fear, he said.

The result is a very slow pattern of recovery.

“We’ve only come down in our (county) jobless rate about 1 percent in the last 21 months,” Forsyth said. “That’s virtually no growth at all.”



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