Clark County’s economy experienced “continuing improvement” in March, the region’s labor economist reported Tuesday, expanding by 4,800 jobs year-over-year and posting an annualized growth rate of 3.5 percent.
The county’s growth rate more than doubled that of the nation’s and easily surpassed the state’s. By contrast, the U.S. and Washington yielded annualized growth rates of 1.7 percent and 2 percent, respectively.
And the county is poised to see more bounces in its step: In the months ahead and well into 2015, the region stands to gain more than 1,600 high-wage jobs, along with positive ripple effects on the broader economy, as certain corporate employers expand or relocate from Portland.
For now, all but one employment sector showed a net gain in jobs in the 12 months ending in March, according to Scott Bailey, regional labor economist for the state Employment Security Department. Trade, transportation and utilities fattened payrolls by 1,000 jobs, education and health services boomed with 1,000 jobs, professional and business services grew by 800 positions, construction chipped in 600 jobs and government added 300 jobs.
Only manufacturing experienced a net loss of employment, shedding 300 jobs over the year.
Clark County’s net gain of 4,800 jobs since March 2013 included a bump up 700 jobs from February to March.
Meanwhile, the county’s preliminary unemployment rate in March clocked in at 7.5 percent, according to Bailey. That’s down from 10.1 percent unemployment in March 2013.
However, March’s initial jobless rate of 7.5 percent may be revised upward next month by 0.8 percent to 8.3 percent. The revision would take into account those unemployed county residents who previously worked in Oregon.
Clark County’s preliminary jobless rate of 7.6 percent in February was similarly revised upward to 8.4 percent.
Total job count up
Still, the county’s job-growth potential looks bright.
In his report released Tuesday, Bailey noted that high-wage jobs are headed to Clark County, with Integra shifting 700 telecom jobs from Portland sometime this summer, Fisher Investments finishing work on its second office building in Camas — “which could house another 400 workers” — and Banfield Pet Hospital announcing it will move its headquarters, and 560 employees, from Portland to Vancouver in late 2015.
In an email to The Columbian, Bailey said the influx of jobs from those companies will have positive ripple effects on the economy, with Fisher producing “a definite multiplier effect since presumably many of the additional jobs will be new to the metro area” and with Integra and Banfield having a “weaker effect that is more of a shift within the metro area.”
Overall, Bailey said, the addition or expansion of those companies “will be a positive for Clark County in that retail spending will likely shift north, housing demand will increase, and the tax base will grow.”
He added: “They will also add skilled workers in areas that historically we have been short in and could serve as a magnet for more of this kind of development down the line.”
In the meantime, the payroll and unemployment numbers put up by Clark County in March underscore a labor market steadily on the mend after collapsing more than six years ago under the weight of the global financial crash.
Since nonfarm employment peaked in November 2007, according to Bailey, the county has lost 9,100 jobs — 1,000 fewer than previously estimated because of a change in how home health care workers are categorized — and has gained back 11,700 jobs, for a net gain of 2,600 jobs.
Although the county’s total job count has increased, its labor market has experienced “substantial changes at the industry level,” Bailey noted. “The county has 3,400 fewer construction jobs, 1,100 fewer manufacturing jobs and 3,400 more health care jobs.”