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Whatcom is experiencing job growth in industries that tend to pay higher wage

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen tours Itek Energy's new solar panel manufacturing facility on Cornwall Avenue with Chief Operating Officer Dave McCarty in Bellingham Friday, Oct. 6, 2017. The manufacturing industry in Whatcom County has added 800 people in the past year, while construction added 400, according to recent data from Washington State Employment Security Department.
U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen tours Itek Energy's new solar panel manufacturing facility on Cornwall Avenue with Chief Operating Officer Dave McCarty in Bellingham Friday, Oct. 6, 2017. The manufacturing industry in Whatcom County has added 800 people in the past year, while construction added 400, according to recent data from Washington State Employment Security Department. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

Whatcom County’s unemployment rate has drifted downward to a level not seen in a decade.

The rate was estimated to be at 4.5 percent in September, according to data from the Washington State Employment Security Department.

The last time Whatcom County touched 4.5 percent was in November 2007, according to the department. The number of people that have nonfarm jobs in the county totaled 93,300 last month, which is the highest ever recorded in Whatcom County, said Anneliese Vance-Sherman, a regional labor economist for the state.

Job growth is happening in several industries that generally pay higher than the county’s median wage, according to the data. The manufacturing industry has added 800 people in the past year, while construction added 400. Professional services, which includes jobs like accounting, architecture and engineering, added 300 people in the past year.

Retail trade was one of the few industries locally that shrunk in the past year, by 300 people.

Vance-Sherman noted that the average annual wage in Whatcom County for all industries last year was $43,233. The average wages in construction and manufacturing were $59,982 and $60,084 respectively. The growth in those two industries bodes well for the average wage in the area, she added.

The professional services sector is one Vance-Sherman looks at as a bellwether for the health of an economy in general – many of the companies that fall into this category have other businesses as customers, so job growth is an indication that companies are busy.

“Growth in Whatcom County has been strong lately, so it doesn’t surprise me that growth is strong in this sector as well,” Vance-Sherman said.

While the numbers look very good for the local labor market, Vance-Sherman said the impact of the Great Recession still hangs like a dark cloud for some. Some jobs have disappeared or the nature of the jobs have changed, making it tougher for some to get back in the workforce.

“Many people are struggling despite an unemployment rate that looks positive,” Vance-Sherman said.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz

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