New list reveals biggest employers in Whatcom County

By Emily Hamann

Once again, the hospital came in first. Western Washington University’s Center for Economic and Business Research has released its list of the top employers in Whatcom County for 2017.

At the top of the list, not much has changed since last year. St. Joseph Hospital tops the list at 3028 total employees, followed by the Lummi Nation, Western Washington University, Bellingham Public Schools and the Whatcom County government.

Except for a few changes, the top 10 biggest employers on the list are the same as they were in 2016.

“It shows an economy that is somewhat stable,” James McCafferty, assistant director of the center, said, “because we don’t see big shifts.”

In a community the size of Whatcom County, McCafferty said, it’s expected that hospitals, public schools, and local government would top the lists, along with some private companies.

Producing the list every year is a major task for the center.

“It’s a labor of love,” McCafferty said, “because it’s not funded research.”

And not all companies are willing to disclose the information — and of the ones that are willing to participate, researchers just have to trust that the information provided is correct.

This year the list is ranked by total headcount — a departure from recent years, which was ranked by the number of full-time or full-time equivalent employees.

They chose to rank it by headcount, as more companies are reporting that figure to the center.

Also this year, employers with seasonal labor are more represented on the list — Maberry Packing, a berry grower in Lynden, shot from 51st in 2016 to No. 8 in 2017.

But the fact that more companies are reporting headcount can reveal some insights into the company’s labor force, McCafferty said.

“The difference between FTE and headcount will show you how a company will use labor,” he said.

Industries like food service, retail and grocery are more likely to have more employees, but working fewer hours, since their labor needs change daily and even hourly.

Those types of jobs took a big hit during the recession, but now during this period of growth, are being added faster.

“Different industries have come out the recession with different employee frameworks,” McCafferty said. Some keep adding more part-time jobs, while others — industries that tend to have more full-time, salaried positions, are slower to add back any jobs cut during the downturn.

“Companies are being a little more strategic, perhaps, in their hiring,” McCafferty said.

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