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Whatcom wages rose 5 percent last year. These workers saw the most pay growth.

What will it take to start a career in construction?

A growing demand for construction workers has led Bellingham Technical College to offer a new program in carpentry. Build Your Future, a national nonprofit, says more than 1.5 million skilled craft professionals will be needed in the next four years.
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A growing demand for construction workers has led Bellingham Technical College to offer a new program in carpentry. Build Your Future, a national nonprofit, says more than 1.5 million skilled craft professionals will be needed in the next four years.

With strong growth in higher-paying jobs, Whatcom County wages jumped significantly in 2017.

The average annual wage in Whatcom County was $45,498 in 2017, a 5.2 percent increase compared to the previous year. That's according to data from the Washington State Employment Security Department.

Across the state, Washington's average wage rose 5 percent to $61,900, driven by the retail industry as people spent more money on products. That was the largest one-year increase for the state since 2007.

Changes in the types of jobs in Whatcom County impacted the increase in the average wage. Whatcom County added almost 1,000 construction jobs in 2017, paying an average annual wage of $63,185. The local retail industry, which paid an average annual wage of $30,323, added just 35 more jobs in the same period.

Adding that many higher-paying construction jobs has an impact on the overall wage average, said Hart Hodges, director at Western Washington University's Center for Economic and Business Research. He also noted that the wage increase in notable as it was higher than last year's inflation rate of under 3 percent.

It's also worth noting that wages in the construction industry itself rose 5.3 percent, an indication the demand for qualified construction workers was strong last year.

Hodges expects to see another jump in wages in the local construction industry this year because companies are continuing to compete for workers. He doesn't expect to see a big increase in construction jobs, simply because there aren't enough qualified people to hire.

On average the number of Whatcom County jobs last year totaled 89,602, a 1.7 percent increase compared to 2016. Last year Whatcom County's population increased by 2.4 percent. While more research would need to be done, the relatively similar job and population increases suggest that significantly more workers than retirees were moving into the area during that period, according to Hodges.

One other significant Whatcom industry, manufacturing, showed steady growth in jobs and wages. Last year manufacturing employed 10,005 people, an increase of 231 compared to 2016. Average wages in that industry rose 3.1 percent to $61,984.

Wages related to real estate also grew. The average Whatcom County real estate job paid $32,052 in 2017, a 9 percent increase compared to 2016.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz
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