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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Area employment continues upward march; more growth predicted

The Spokane metropolitan area experienced significant employment growth last year, driven by an increasing population and a booming economy.

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

The region’s gains in employment, wages, population and housing come during a period in which the U.S. economy has grown for 126 continuous months since June 2009, marking the longest expansion – or period of economic growth – in history.

The Spokane region has gained 38,000 jobs since the first half of 2009, primarily driven by the private services sector.

Employment activity in the area during the 2002-07 economic expansion was led by construction and manufacturing job gains. During the current expansion, which became the longest in U.S. history on July 1, education and health care sectors led job gains, said Grant Forsyth, chief economist for Avista Corp.

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

Spokane County’s nonseasonally 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.”

The county’s job gains were led by the professional, scientific and technical services, health services and education sectors, said Tweedy, who added that accounting and legal jobs were “big movers.”

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

The region’s manufacturing sector grew by 600 jobs last year amid a nationwide skilled-labor shortage, Tweedy said.

MultiCare Health System, the region’s fourth-largest employer, has experienced notable employment growth, adding 322 jobs since 2017, said Matt Allore, executive director, human potential for MultiCare Health System.

MultiCare Health System, a Tacoma-based nonprofit health care organization, operates eight hospitals in the state, including MultiCare Deaconess Hospital in Spokane and MultiCare Valley Hospital in Spokane Valley. It employs more than 900 registered nurses between its two local hospitals, Allore said.

“Health care is going to naturally grow with the demographics of any population base,” Allore said. “We see a fair amount of employees migrating into the area from elsewhere, and it’s kind of a common trend throughout the Spokane and Coeur d’ Alene area. We, as an employer, are benefiting from that.”

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.

MultiCare is anticipating a steady need during the next year for registered nurses, physicians, certified medical assistants, and radiology and surgical technicians.

“While the economy remains robust and very bullish, all employers in the area, including MultiCare, will continue to really have to put their best foot forward to recruit the best talent,” Allore said.

Unemployment insurance claims for laid-off workers in the Spokane region continued to decrease in 2019, signaling a promising future for the county job market this year, Tweedy said.

“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.”