Spokane Journal of Business

INW job growth expected to build upon 2021’s gains

National, international factors threaten to slow employment demand, though, some here say

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Inland Northwest employers regained the jobs they shed during the pandemic-induced recession and are likely to build upon those gains in 2022, Spokane economists say.

The Spokane-Spokane Valley metropolitan area had 260,000 jobs in October, the most recent month for which Washington state Employment Security Department data is available. That’s a gain of about 1,400 jobs from the previous month. To put that in perspective, average annual total employment during 2019 was 255,600 jobs. 

“The majority of our jobs are in essential business,” says Doug Tweedy, the Spokane-based regional labor economist for the Employment Security Department. “I think we’re positioned well for job growth.”

How much jobs will grow depends on several factors, many of which Inland Northwest businesses don’t control.

Grant Forsyth, chief economist at Avista Corp., is projecting a 1% to 3% increase in total employment next year in the Spokane-Coeur d’Alene area. He’s concerned, however, that inflation, potential interest-rate hikes, supply-chain issues, and the lingering pandemic could impede job creation.

“Given the uncertainty, I’m putting a pretty big range on employment growth,” he says.

Both Forsyth and Tweedy point out that while total jobs rebounded quickly, employment in some industries lags pre-pandemic levels.

Hospitality employment has been the slowest to come back, they say.

“Restaurants and bars are below where they were, but are back up significantly,” Tweedy says. “Accommodations are still down. Travelers haven’t come back to where they were.”

Also, some segments of government haven’t recovered fully, and manufacturing hasn’t brought as many jobs as it had prior to the pandemic.

Sectors in which jobs are being added most aggressively are warehousing and distribution, health care, and construction. Demand for employees in those sectors is expected to continue into the new year.

A well-documented labor shortage will make finding employees challenging for some employers in 2022. While there are a few reasons for that shortage, Tweedy says the threat of the spread of COVID-19 still is making some people, especially older workers, reticent to reenter the workforce.

“The workers are still there, but I think that transition period will be longer than we thought,” Tweedy says. 

He adds, “The labor will come from the region, if the older workers don’t reenter.”

—Linn Parish

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Editor Linn Parish has worked for newspapers and magazines since 1996, with the bulk of that time being at the Journal. A Montana boy who has called Spokane home for some time now, Linn likes Northwest trails, Deep South foods, and lead changes in the ninth inning.

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