Tri-City’s manufacturing sector has a distinct flavor
Manufacturing in both counties has not shone during the pandemic.
According to recent work the Institute has undertaken for the Port of Kennewick, the most positive employment changes during the “closed quarter”, the second quarter of 2020, have been seen in the following sectors: finance and insurance , transport and warehousing, information, wholesale and retail trade. .
Still, the workmanship hasn’t lost too much brilliance. Ranked by job losses during this quarter, the most unfortunate sectors in the major Tri-Cities were: hospitality, arts and entertainment, retail, construction and agriculture.
The fate of manufacturing ranked in the middle, showing only a modest loss of jobs.
That’s not to say manufacturing has recouped its pre-pandemic numbers, at least as of the end of last September.
Total employment in this sector in both counties was still around 500 lower than in the same quarter of 2019. Again, in the third quarter of last year, overall employment was still around 1,500 lower. at its 2019 level.
Fortunately, in the fourth quarter of 2021, total employment in the metro area exceeded its 2019 levels. We won’t know for a few months if manufacturing has made a similar comeback.
According to the most recent full year of detailed data, 2020, manufacturing is the ninth largest industry in both counties, as measured by employment.
Compared to other eastern Washington metropolitan areas, this is a relatively low ranking.
At the top is Walla Walla, with manufacturing claiming one in seven jobs.
At the bottom is the greater Wenatchee area, where manufacturing holds 4.3% of the workforce. What about the labor market share of Benton and Franklin counties? About 6.7%.
Why should we care? Typically, wages in the manufacturing sector are among the highest in any local economy. And manufacturing generally has positive spillover effects on other sectors of the economy.
Unlike other metro areas around Washington, local manufacturing doesn’t offer much of a wage advantage.
In fact, the most recent annual salary in manufacturing was roughly equal to the annual salary of all industries in Benton County and about 4% above the average for all industries in Franklin County.
Compare these 2020 results to Grant County, with a 16% premium, or Yakima County, with its manufacturing workers enjoying a 23% premium over the general workforce.
A major difference, of course, with neighboring counties is the presence of two very well paid sectors that do not feature prominently in Grant and Yakima: waste management and scientific and professional services.
As I’ve written in other columns, local manufacturing is largely a business of agricultural processing. In the third quarter of last year, nearly half (46%) of all manufacturing businesses were in the food and beverage category. Measured by employment, agricultural processing swings even more sharply, accounting for about three-quarters of all manufacturing jobs.
Additionally, manufacturing here relies heavily on Latin American labor.
The most recent census data, from the second quarter of last year, shows that 43% of all manufacturing jobs in the two counties were held by these workers. No other sector, not even agricultural production, shows such a preponderance of Latinos/as. (At the other end of the spectrum, Hispanics make up only 10% of the “white-collar” sector of scientific, technical and professional companies.)
As data from Benton-Franklin Trends reveals, the overall share of the population in both counties who identify as Latino/a is about one-third. This is the dark blue segment of the graph. With much of the Latino/a population not of working age, the role then played by this population in the manufacturing sector is pronounced.
Moreover, despite their outsized presence in the sector, the Latino/a factory worker here earns only 73% of the average factory worker, again according to census data from the second quarter of last year. There are several sectors in the larger Tri-Cities where Hispanic wages are almost on par with the average. These are transportation and warehousing (97%), hotels (94%) and retail (76%). And Hispanic construction salaries represent 82% of overall salaries. The deviation from the average in the manufacturing sector likely reflects the types of jobs held by Latinos/as.
Where could manufacturing in the larger Tri-Cities go from here? By all indicators, in deepening agricultural transformation. Whether the Tri-Cities can diversify their manufacturing base remains a big question. It is arguably easier to capitalize on the strengths of a local economy, a maxim of economic development strategies.
Yet, could more technological manufacturing develop? The intellectual capital is definitely here. And there is already a presence, albeit small, of some companies that fit the description, such as chemical and electronics manufacturing. If these can expand, or if food processing can become even more efficient, allowing higher wages to be paid, then the whole economy will benefit.
Patrick Jones is executive director of the Institute for Public Policy & Economic Analysis at Eastern Washington University. Benton-Franklin Trends, the institute’s project, uses local, state, and federal data to measure local economic, educational, and civic life in Benton and Franklin counties.