County economy adds jobs, continues to strengthen

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

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Clark County's economy expanded by 6,100 jobs in the 12 months ending in July, the region's labor economist reported Tuesday, posting a growth rate of 4.4 percent and plunging its preliminary unemployment rate to 6.3 percent, down from 9.5 percent a year ago.

The county's robust growth stems from a combination of positive payroll revisions and encouraging signs from the nation's economic recovery, Scott Bailey, regional labor economist for the state Employment Security Department, said Tuesday.

"We're just in the right place at the right time," he said. "Economies do come back after downturns. Businesses do start investing again. Consumers start spending more. We are in a recovery."

It also helps that Portland is enjoying a strong growth rate, Bailey said. "That's part of our context," he added.

Clark County's year-over-year addition of 6,100 jobs included an increase of 400 jobs, seasonally adjusted, from June to July. The county's annualized growth rate of 4.4 percent more than doubled that of the nation's (1.9 percent), easily topped those of Washington and Oregon (2.8 percent and 2.4 percent, respectively) and surpassed that of the Portland metro area (3.1 percent).

Gains for all sectors

In Clark County, all employment sectors showed a net gain in jobs over the year, with most of them recording at least a 2 percent annualized growth rate, according to Bailey's analysis. The region's manufacturing sector, thought to be hurting for some months, was revised from being down 100 jobs over the year to being up 500 jobs since July 2013.

Trade, transportation and utilities boomed with 1,500 jobs; professional and business services fattened payrolls by 1,200 jobs; construction grew by 1,100 positions; and education and health services chipped in 500 jobs.

As Clark County's economy has grown, the region's unemployment rate has steadily improved.

The county's preliminary jobless rate in July clocked in at 6.3 percent. That's down from 9.5 percent unemployment in July 2013. However, July's initial jobless rate of 6.3 percent "will likely be revised upward" next month, according to Bailey. The revision would take into account those unemployed county residents who previously worked in Oregon. Clark County's preliminary jobless rate of 6.4 percent in June was revised upward by 0.6 of a percentage point to 7 percent.

Other signs show the county's labor market is strengthening: "Initial unemployment claims and continued unemployment claims continue to be at low levels," according to Bailey.