Jobs Report: Whatcom County accelerates private-sector growth

Despite a statewide slowdown in fall hiring, Whatcom County’s private industries continue adding workers, with a growth rate eclipsing those found in other parts of Washington state, even traditional employment power centers such as King County.

“It really seems that we’re on a trend where finally growth in Whatcom County is accelerating, and a lot of that is propelled by the private sector,” said Anneliese Vance-Sherman, a regional labor economist with the Washington State Employment Security Department.

Whatcom County added 3,100 private-sector jobs—3,400 jobs in all—in October 2013, compared to October 2012, according to the latest preliminary figures from the Employment Security Department, which were released Nov. 26.

The county’s initial unemployment rate estimate in October was 6.1 percent, down from 6.5 percent from the previous year, while up slightly from a 6 percent rate in September 2013.

The state’s latest monthly jobs report included data from both September and October. Last month’s report was not released due to state labor economists inability to access relevant statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which was closed during the federal government shutdown in early October, according to Sheryl Hutchison, the Employment Security Department’s communications director.

Nearly all of Washington state’s labor analysts were furloughed during the shutdown due to the halt of federal funding that supports the staffers, Hutchison said.

Whatcom County’s total employment grew steadily through September and October. The Employment Security Department does not include farming or agricultural jobs in its total employment figures.

The county’s overall job count in October was estimated at 85,700, a 4.1 percent increase from the same month in 2012. Private-sector workers totaled 68,900, according to initial estimates, a 4.7 percent jump from the previous year.

Leisure and hospitality employers led the way in new job additions in October, adding 700 jobs, which is a boost of 8 percent from last year. Manufacturers in Whatcom County added 500 jobs, a jump of 5.6 percent.

The local business and professional services industry added 200 jobs in October, an increase of 2.9 percent.

Other gains in the private sector included: financial activities, adding 100 jobs year-over-year for an increase of 3.1 percent, and construction, also adding 100 jobs, which was a rise of 1.7 percent from October 2012.

Whatcom County-based government employers added 300 jobs in October 2013 (a year-over-year increase of 1.8 percent), all of them within local government agencies.

Retailers leveling out on new hires

Retail job growth in Whatcom County in October 2013 slowed, compared to previous months this year. Local retailers added 200 jobs in October, a year-over-year increase of 1.9 percent, as the holiday-hiring season picked up pace.

Holiday hiring in Washington state is expected to be on par with last year, according to projections released by the Employment Security Department in early October. State labor analysts expect Washington’s retailers to add about 13,500 seasonal positions between October and December this year.

The better part of seasonal hiring will be in general merchandise stores, expected to add nearly 7,500 jobs, but down about 1,100 positions from the same period last year. Clothing stores expect to hire about 3,700 holiday workers, slightly up from 2012, according to the Employment Security Department.

In Bellingham, analysts project a decrease in holiday jobs this year. They have forecast 414 holiday hires in 2013, which would be a 1.4 percent drop from the 557 hires last year.

Retailers nationwide are expected to hire less seasonal help this holiday season. Federal labor projections expect about 700,000 temporary hires in the U.S. between October and December, below the 751,800 seasonal jobs filled last year.

Elsewhere in Washington

Whatcom County’s October 2013 jobless estimate was lower than a nonseasonally adjusted statewide estimate, which labor economists put at 6.4 percent.

Statewide unemployment, when seasonal factors are accounted for, stands at 7 percent. County-level rates are not seasonally adjusted due to their smaller sample sizes.

Whitman County, on the eastern border of the state, led Washington in October with the lowest jobless estimate at 5 percent. San Juan County near Whatcom was close behind, with a 5.3 percent initial estimate.

Twenty of 39 counties in Washington are now at or below 7 percent unemployment, according to initial estimates.

The highest unemployment in the state is found in Grays Harbor County, at 10.9 percent.

In areas surrounding Bellingham and Whatcom, Island County posted a 7.3 percent jobless estimate, Snohomish County was at 6 percent and King County was at 5.4 percent.

Skagit County continues to struggle with higher unemployment than its neighboring counties in northwest Washington. Its jobless estimate in October was 7.4 percent.

Vance-Sherman said Skagit has stood out among other counties in Washington as being slower to recover from recession-era job losses.

Evan Marczynski, staff reporter for The Bellingham Business Journal, can be reached at 360-647-8805, Ext. 5052, or

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