Retail, hospitality see gains in recent local job stats

New hiring by Whatcom County retailers and hotels is mirroring a statewide trend in which retail, hospitality and leisure industries are taking the reins in Washington’s economic recovery.

Whatcom’s retailers added an estimated 500 jobs between May 2013 and May 2012, according to recent data from the state’s Employment Security Department. That’s an increase of 4.8 percent.

Local employers in the leisure and hospitality fields added an estimated 300 jobs between May 2013 and the same month one year ago—an increase of 3.4 percent, according to the data.

The county’s overall unemployment rate from May 2013 was 7.2 percent, according to initial estimates—a drop from 7.7 percent in May 2012.

The jobless rate from May 2013 was up from a revised 6.7 percent rate in April 2013. The late-spring increase follows similar trends from the past several years.

Anneliese Vance-Sherman, a regional labor economist, said Washington’s economic improvement since the end of the Great Recession has been largely led by new jobs in manufacturing, particularly in the aerospace sector at large companies such as Boeing.

But recent statistics show the state’s retail trade, hospitality and leisure sectors have made significant gains in hiring, while new jobs in manufacturing are starting to level off, she said.

“In recent months, that seems to have kind of shifted,” Vance-Sherman said.

With the somewhat sunnier weather in Whatcom County bringing new building projects, hiring numbers in the construction sector showed brisk activity. Year-to-year figures were also strong, with 500 construction jobs added between May 2012 and May 2013, an increase of 8.6 percent.

Vance-Sherman said May’s employment estimates showed a lot of positive signs for Whatcom County.

However, one area of concern, she said, is the county’s shrinking labor force, an estimate of the total number of people either working or out of work yet actively seeking jobs.

In the short term, Whatcom actually added 510 people to its labor force between April and May of 2013. At the same time, an estimated 540 people were added to the total number of local residents out of jobs but looking for work.

But year-to-year estimates show a different picture.

Whatcom County’s labor force decreased by 1,880 between May 2012 and May 2013, according to Employment Security figures. Estimates from May 2013 counted 103,940 people working or looking for work in the county.

“The labor force in Whatcom County just really hasn’t been growing,” Vance-Sherman said.

In the private sector, local employers added 600 jobs from April 2013 and May 2013, and they have brought on 1,800 new hires between May 2012 and May 2013, an increase of 2.8 percent, according to recent estimates.

Several Whatcom County industries recorded job losses from May 2012 to May 2013: trade, transportation and utilities lost 200 jobs (1.3 percent decrease), financial activities dropped 100 (3.1 percent decrease), and professional business services lost 100, as well (1.4 percent decrease).

Overall government employment rose by 1.8 percent between May 2012 and May 2013, according to Employment Security—an increase of 1.8 percent. State government employers in Whatcom County added 300 jobs within the same period of time.

All totaled, state economists estimate 66,800 people are currently employed in the local private sector, while 17,100 work in government.

The lowest jobless estimate in northwest Washington came from San Juan County, at 5.5 percent.

Island County’s jobless rate was estimated at 7.6 percent, and Skagit County’s was at 8.5 percent.

In what has become a common trend in recent months, King County, the state’s population center, had the state’s lowest unemployment estimate at 4.3 percent. Nearby Snohomish County was close behind at 4.7 percent.

Six of Washington’s 39 counties are now under 7 percent unemployment, according to the recent estimates.

The highest jobless estimate in Washington was found in Grays Harbor County, which posted an unemployment rate of 12.2 percent.

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

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