Harbor economy picks up steam

A hiring surge in the leisure and hospitality sector provided a big boost to the Grays Harbor County labor market, in turn sending the jobless rate tumbling more than 2 percentage points in February.

The unemployment rate in Grays Harbor plunged to 7.7 percent in February from 10.1 percent in February 2021, according to a monthly report released by the Washington State Employment Security Department earlier this week.

At the same time, the total workforce in Grays Harbor climbed to 30,151 from 28,858, as more people entered the workforce ahead of a softening of COVID-19 restrictions in the state.

“We are in a lot better shape economically,” said Jim Vleming, a regional labor economist with the Employment Security Department, on Wednesday, March 30, to The Daily World. “I think it’s looking pretty solid coming off of last year. I think the number rolling into spring looks pretty good.”

Vleming said hiring strength in the leisure and hospitality sector was a good indicator going forward, as businesses continued to load up employment rolls ahead of the spring and summer tourism season. The sector increased its employment total to 3,040 in February from 2,240 in February 2021.

The addition of 800 jobs was easily the most jobs added in any sector during the period. The manufacturing sector gained 370 jobs in the period, followed by the trade, transportation and utility sector, which added 310 jobs. Retail trade also posted a healthy increase of 260 jobs, the monthly report showed.

Leisure and hospitality, a sector of the economy that caters to people who visit Grays Harbor County for business and pleasure, should be the most active sector in the coming months assuming people are willing to take positions.

“I think it’s going to be kind of an issue,” said Vleming on filling jobs in the sector. “As we move into the tourist season with Westport and Ocean Shores, it might be kind of hard to fill those positions.”

The employment picture was even brighter across the state. Nonfarm employment jumped an estimated 31,700 in February with government, education and health services and leisure and hospitality leading the way. The gains helped push the state’s unemployment rate down to 4.3 percent in February from 6.1 percent in February 2021.

“The February increase in state employment was the largest monthly increase since last July,” said Paul Turek, statewide economist for the Employment Security Department, in a statement. “The gains were broad-based with just about every major industrial sector having increased its payrolls over the month.”

Nationwide, the jobless rate sank to 3.8 percent in February from 6.2 percent in February 2021, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.