Southwest Washington employers hope to recruit nearly 1,000 new workers by the end of summer in a hiring surge unprecedented in recent memory, according to state officials.
WorkSource, a statewide program that connects job seekers to employers, was working to fill about 400 jobs in Cowlitz and Clark counties — a fairly typical number — until a few weeks ago, said Robert Brown, area director for the state Employment Security Department. Then 21 growing companies with another 545 openings contacted WorkSource in search of workers.
About 300 of those additional job openings are spread across 14 existing Clark County employers, which are hiring in large numbers as they grow, Brown said. The other openings are in Cowlitz County. Brown declined to name the employers because they had not given permission to be identified, but he said that there are openings for engineers, production workers, supervisors, human resource specialists, assembly crews and others. Most pay $15 to $30 an hour, and include benefits.
More than 10,000 Clark County jobs have evaporated since late 2007, and a few hundred summer openings will not be enough to overcome a jobless rate that’s hovered near 13 percent for the past year. For Clark County’s unemployment rate to return to pre-recession levels by February 2013, employers would have to hire 9,600 workers per year — quadruple the rate at which they hired between 1998 and 2008 — according to a recent analysis by regional economist Scott Bailey of the state Employment Security Department.
“We’re not going to see that volume of jobs come back for some period of time,” Brown said. Nonetheless, he said, he’s heartened that at least some sectors of the local economy are clearly growing.
“Many of the companies that are hiring have direct sales to overseas markets, which are recovering faster than the U.S. economy,” Bonnie Moore, business services director for the Columbia River Economic Development Council, said in a written statement. She could not be reached for additional comment on Monday.
Not included in WorkSource’s hiring tally is PeaceHealth, the nonprofit hospital chain that has posted at least 17 Clark County openings as it prepares to move its headquarters from Bellevue to Vancouver. That move could bring 700 jobs to Clark County over the next decade, and is one of a series of announcements that have heartened local leaders about the long-term while leaving more immediate needs unmet.
Variety of workers needed
Beginning in 2012, Farwest Steel plans to relocate 100 jobs to Vancouver and eventually hire another 128 workers. BHP Billiton, one of the world’s largest mining companies, also plans to create jobs here, though that could be years away.
But the openings that WorkSource is handling are at companies already operating in Clark County, and these businesses want to fill them between now and September, Brown said.
WorkSource is working with employers to recruit and screen workers, and is looking for job seekers with a broad range of professional and educational backgrounds. Applicants must be at least 18 years old and must be U.S. citizens.
Brown said that walk-ins are welcome at WorkSource’s Vancouver location, 5411 E. Mill Plain Blvd., No. 15. People can also get more information by calling 360-735-5000 or visiting the agency's website, though many openings are not listed on the WorkSource website.