Skagit jobless rate dips below 9 percent
County unemployment picture shows slight improvement, beats statewide numbers
By Whitney pipkin, Staff Writer
Skagit County’s unemployment rate dropped to 8.9 percent last month — its lowest level in almost two years — while an economist said other aspects of the employment report released Wednesday show signs of “a firming economy” in the county.
Skagit’s rate, which is not seasonally adjusted, last dipped below 9 percent in December 2008. The local jobless rate peaked at 12.2 percent in February of this year and has slowly improved since then.
Statewide, unemployment remained steady at a seasonally adjusted 9.1 percent in October. Job gains in both the public and private sector last month were slight.
Wednesday’s report from the state Employment Security Department contained some good signs for Skagit County’s employment picture, regional economist Reinhold Groepler said.
October’s rate was slightly better than expected based on seasonal trends. Private sector growth tends to decline in the fall and winter months, but October’s decrease was slight and outpaced by gains in state and local government.
“On average, it’s a strong seasonal trend for employment to decrease from September to October. It has done that every year for the last 10 years,” Groepler said. “But this is a much slower decline, so it’s bucking the seasonal trend a little bit.”
He said that points to growing payrolls in some sectors. Private service providing, which includes Skagit’s trade and warehousing sectors, saw a boost of about 400 jobs last month. While the manufacturing sector stayed steady, at least one of the companies under that category has added jobs in recent months.
Kay Martin , human resources director at Janicki Industries in Sedro-Woolley, said at a job fair last week the company has added about 80 employees to its payroll over the last two to three months.
BJ Ohlweiler, a senior staffing supervisor at Kelly Services, a temp-to-hire staffing agency, said she was encouraged to see manufacturers like Janicki at the job fair and looking to hire.
Ohlweiler said she’s still looking for temporary hiring, which can indicate permanent hiring in the future, to pick up more. While Kelly Services’ business has doubled from last year, Ohlweiler said that’s partly because things were really slow then.
“Usually, all of the sudden we’d get busy. But this (recession) is moving at a glacial pace,” she said at the job fair last week.
Dave Wallace, ESD’s chief economist, said the statewide jobs report last month shows an increase in temporary hiring. He said that can be an “early warning” sign of more permanent hiring, but he can’t be sure it means that this time.
Early this month, Kelly Services put about 40 people to work for a three-day stint setting up the new Nike Factory Outlet store at the Outlet Shoppes at Burlington. Now that it’s open, the new store employs about 40 people.
That number may not have made it into the recent jobs report for Skagit County, which showed no change in retail sector jobs. Holiday hiring typically appears in the October report, but there were no gains in the retail sector last month.
Retail trade in the county lost about 400 jobs, and leisure and hospitality lost another 200 over the last year, despite year-over-year gains in nearly every other sector.
Groepler said Skagit’s retail trend is in stark contrast with neighboring Whatcom County, which saw yearover-year gains or only slight declines in those categories.
“They seem to be like different countries or something,” Groepler said. “The only thing that grew in Whatcom year over year is leisure and manufacturing, and everything else is down.”
Except for an “anomaly” in those sectors, Groepler said Skagit seems to be faring better than the state economy in terms of recovery.
Both the state and county saw job gains in the government sector last month, but those are likely the result of schools hiring later in the year than usual.
Nearly all of the 4,000 positions gained in the public sector at the state level were in higher education and K-12 schools.
-Skagit Valley Herald
Thursday, November 18, 2010