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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Industries keep eye on the future

Meanwhile, a few sectors will help sustain the region

Go West, young person.

It worked for those who heeded the advice of 19th-century newspaperman Horace Greeley, and it just might work for today’s job seekers, who on the West Plains will find companies hiring workers or likely to do so as the region and nation emerge from recession.

With the notable exceptions of health care and education, the area atop Sunset Hill is home to several of the industries expected to help sustain the Spokane-area economy over the near term and at least as far as 2017, according to a Washington Labor Market and Economic Analysis.

Elsewhere in Spokane, too, businesses are preparing for whatever opportunities they hope a revitalized economy presents in energy, manufacturing, business services – even the downtrodden construction sector. Spokane will need almost 3,000 new carpenters, electricians, painters and other workers with trade skills in the near future.

More immediately, Northern Quest Resort and Casino will continue to be the area’s most dynamic employer. The casino opened in December 2000 with a payroll of 500. When a 250-room hotel is completed at the end of this year – having provided as many as 500 construction jobs – the resort will employ about 1,900, said Kent Caputo, chief financial officer for the Kalispel Tribal Economic Authority. The tribe owns the resort.

Caputo said the resort already is training workers who will fill some of the new jobs. Word of the expansion has attracted résumés from all over the country, but the resort hires locally as much as possible, he said.

In North Idaho, the Coeur d’Alene Casino also plans an expansion of its casino and hotel, with groundbreaking expected this year, spokesman Marc Stewart said. The casino employs 920.

The hospitality industry in Spokane County employs 20,000, a number Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau President Harry Sladich said he expects to hold steady. With the opening of the Northern Quest hotel, and a healthy slate of convention bookings ahead, 2010 will be “rocking,” he said.

Nearby, Spokane International Airport has undertaken a two-year, $40 million construction program. Cascade Aerospace has hired 60 workers, expects to have more than 100 in a refitted hangar by the end of the year and, depending on how a planned expansion can work, could hire at least 100 more in the next year or two. Associated Painters could put another 75 to work painting airplanes.

Triumph Composites, Goodrich and XN Air, all out of the West Plains, are members of a growing aerospace consortium that encompasses about 40 companies in the Inland Northwest. Although there has been some slippage in manufacturing employment, Employment Security Department regional labor economist Doug Tweedy said the industry will need hundreds of replacement workers because of the physical wear many of those jobs entail.

Normal turnover would be 10 percent, Tweedy said. With baby boomers retiring, the pace will increase to 30 percent.

Health care aside, the fastest job growth will be in energy-related fields, he said. That growth is due in part to federal stimulus dollars that will support new “green” jobs in conservation and alternative technology.

There are more than 2,300 green jobs in Spokane County, most in construction that increases energy efficiency or prevents or reduces pollution. Tweedy expects greater job growth, much of it in technical and professional fields, pollution mitigation and renewable energy.

To meet the demand, more workers will need better technical skills, he said, and training will be essential. The education resources available in Spokane are like no other in the region, he said.

Mark Mattke, work force strategy and planning director for the Spokane Area Workforce Development Council, said 87 percent of the anticipated green jobs already exist. But training will upgrade skills as weatherization efforts, boosted by federal funding, go upmarket from a traditional niche serving low-income households, he said.

Mattke said the council tries to focus on jobs in construction, health care and manufacturing – “We make a lot of amazing products” – that are less likely to be exported. Flexibility is critical, he said.

“The recession won’t last forever,” he said. “We’ve got to be ready for whatever the recovery brings.”

Tweedy said economic diversity has stood Spokane well in past downturns, and it will again.

“We’ve got a lot of good cards in our hand,” he said.

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