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Clark County jobs market hits milestone in June

For first time ever, total non-farm employment topped 150,000

By , Columbian Port & Economy Reporter

It’s no secret that Clark County’s economy has been adding jobs at a nice clip.

In June, however, it showed downright swagger in its step: For the first time ever, total nonfarm employment in the county topped 150,000 jobs, according to a labor market analysis released Tuesday.

To be sure, there’s a caveat (isn’t there always?), as Scott Bailey, regional labor economist for the state Employment Security Department, pointed out in his report.

The latest job figures — including the May-to-June increase of 800 jobs, unadjusted for seasonal factors, which pushed total nonfarm employment to an unprecedented 150,200 jobs — may not hold up under further scrutiny.

Or, as Bailey wrote in his analysis, “we’ll wait for data revisions before popping the cork on the champagne.”

That’s not to say the performance of the county’s labor market isn’t worth a kazoo honk or two.

In the 12 months ending in June, the county added 5,400 jobs and posted an annualized growth rate of 3.7 percent — a rate Bailey described as “very strong.” Indeed, it surpassed the nation’s (2.1 percent), matched Washington’s (3.7 percent), outstripped Oregon’s (3.3 percent) and trumped, albeit barely, the Portland metro area (3.6 percent).

Why is Clark County’s economy hitting high notes like a seasoned crooner?

In a phone interview Tuesday, Bailey said the county remains “in a business cycle expansion” and benefits from its position as a suburban area within a larger metro region whose economy is doing well. The county also is “riding some of the multiplier effects” triggered by “some of the bigger fish that have come in,” Bailey said. Those bigger fish include major corporate employers such as PeaceHealth, Integra and Fisher Investments.

Although it’s not a major generator of jobs, Clark County’s small community of high-tech startups is “starting to get some traction,” Bailey said, which also helps. Then there’s Banfield Pet Hospital, which is in the process of relocating its headquarters from Portland to east Vancouver. That’s a short-term indicator, Bailey said, that the county will continue to add jobs at a healthy pace.

Construction of Banfield’s new corporate campus is underway, and the headquarters is expected to be operational by the second quarter of 2016. The new facility is expected to house at least 600 employees.

As Clark County’s labor market has added jobs, the unemployment rate has gradually come down.

The county’s preliminary jobless rate was 6.5 percent in June. By contrast, unemployment was 7.3 percent in June 2014. Meanwhile, initial claims for unemployment insurance, as well as continued claims, “both remained at very low levels,” according to Bailey’s analysis.

The three leading industries for creating jobs, over the year, were: professional and business services (up 1,000 jobs); trade, transportation and utilities (up 900 jobs); and education and health services (up 900 positions).

Other big drivers of job creation were leisure and hospitality (up 700 jobs), and construction and mining (up 600 jobs). In fact, “every major sector was once again up over the year,” according to Bailey’s analysis, including information services (up 100 jobs), finance (up 400 positions) and government (up 400 jobs).

Clark County’s labor market report for July, including payroll and unemployment figures, is slated for release Aug. 25.

Columbian Port & Economy Reporter