Employment in Spokane Countywhich so far this year has shot up by more than 10,000 jobsis expected to grow at a slower clip in 2007, though its still projected to outpace the national average, experts here say.
Were not expecting the type of growth in jobs or the type of unemployment rate weve seen lately, and thats not bad, its just not as good, says Jeff Zahir, the Washington state Employment Security Departments Spokane-based regional labor economist. I think the overall prognosis is very healthy.
According to preliminary state figures, roughly 220,200 people were employed in Spokane County in October, up about 5 percent from the 209,800 employed in the year-earlier month. The number of people with Spokane-area jobs in 2006 has been running at close to 3.5 percent higher each month, which is well above the recent average of 2 percent higher, but Zahir says he expects that pace will slow to roughly 2.5 percent next year. He predicts the unemployment rate in Spokane County will edge up to 5.3 percent in 2007 from the 5.1 percent average this year.
Last year, Zahir and others predicted job growth would slow in 2006 from what was expected at the time as a 5,000-job jump in 2005. Zahir says he thought the Federal Reserves tightening policies would push up interest rates and cool construction activity here sooner.
I dont see how anybody could have predicted how strong the construction boom would be and how long it would last here, he says. I have to believe that now, with the labor market as tight as it is, were kind of hitting the wall.
To put Spokanes healthy employment picture in perspective, Phil Kuharski, a retired securities executive who has monitored Spokanes economy for years, points out that jobs nationwide are expected to grow at a modest 1.3 percent next year.
The cumulative effect of interest rate increases is taking a small toll, but the good news is that were somewhat insulated from whats happening in other areas of the nation, and were still growing, Kuharski says.
Construction has been one of the major industries driving employment growth nationally the last few years, and U.S. building activity is showing signs of slowing, he says. In the Spokane area, however, several big transportation and housing projects either planned or already under way should provide enough momentum to sustain job growth in that sector at least through the first part of 2007, he says.
Zahir expects that job growth will occur mostly in health sciences, particularly outside of hospitals. The manufacturing sector, which made steady gains in 2006, also is projected to grow strongly next year, he says.
Supporting the predictions that job growth will slow somewhat next year, a recent survey by the local office of Manpower Inc. found that 23 percent of the Spokane-area employers interviewed recently planned to hire more employees in the first quarter of next year, down from 27 percent last year.
Another 61 percent plan to maintain their current staffing levels, and 13 percent said they were unsure about their hiring plans. Three percent expect to reduce their staffing levels.
If you look at strict numbers, that doesnt bode well, says Tom Droz, manager of the local Manpower office. Employers are less optimistic and more uncertain, and it looks like a slowdown.
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