Our Voice: Economic outlook bright for Tri-City work force

For many reasons, we are lucky to be in the Tri-Cities.

The comparatively robust economy we continue to enjoy would be the envy of many a community across this nation.

And it's expected to get even better.

Business leaders see job growth ahead in the categories of tourism, health care, retail, manufacturing and agriculture.

We've seen lots of new construction, with new medical buildings, restaurants and retail stores rising up around the Tri-Cities. Home construction and car sales are also helping to drive the economic engine.

The number of jobs increased by 1 percent in 2013. While that's not a huge statistical leap, it's growth nonetheless, and we'll take it. A regional labor economist for Benton and Franklin counties says 3,500 new jobs have been added in the past five months alone. That's significant, especially to those 3,500 folks who have new jobs.

Hanford layoffs have subsided for now and economists predict about a 1.7 percent overall job growth in the years ahead.

Tourism officials say visitors accounted for $43 million in spending in the Tri-Cities last year. Tourism is an industry with huge growth potential, especially as more services and attractions come online. We still have needs, like a performing arts center, developed waterfront and a concentration of wineries, but some of those things are already in the works.

Retail sales saw growth last year, but not as high as the statewide increase of 7 percent in sales tax growth. Officials say there is still some hesitation by consumers here driven by uncertainties at Hanford.

But with a newly approved budget for the year, the Department of Energy can begin to make long-term plans, which should steady the situation with cleanup operations.

The impact of agriculture in the region has long been overlooked but now the industry is getting its due, with attention-getting growth in food processing and the wine industry. Jobs make the economy go round and agriculture keeps feeding the machine.

Employment in the ag industry has grown 32 percent in the past 10 years.

Local manufacturing businesses also play a big role in the employment picture, with companies like TiLite, the Bogert Group and Areva providing a large number of well-paying jobs.

And while we often associate aerospace manufacturing in our state with The Boeing Co. and Puget Sound, the Tri-Cities is home to 60 companies that play a part in that industry.

The demand is so great for manufacturing employees that companies are challenged to find skilled entry-level workers. (There's a hint for job-seekers.)

The future, indeed, continues to look bright for the Tri-Cities.