2013: Business Recruitment Up, Unemployment Down

By Courtney Sherwood, December 20, 2013, Vancouver Business Journal

It’s been a big year for business growth in Clark County.

Existing companies like Kyocera announced plans to grow here. Integra Telecom, which once moved hundreds of jobs away from Vancouver, is now bringing workers back. Even controversial headlines surrounding the Port of Vancouver’s decision to lease to a crude oil company – unpopular among many activists – promise to create local jobs.

“The employment picture in early 2013 was the strongest and most optimistic we’ve seen in several years,” said Cynthia Forland, who heads the labor-market research office at the state office of Employment Security.

In October, Clark County’s unemployment dropped to 7.1 percent – a five-year low.

Kimberly Blake Pincheira, manager of investor relations for the Columbia River Economic Development Council, said that 2013 has exceeded expectations.

“We certainly saw positive signs of economic recovery in 2013, with a healthy stream of projects in both business recruitment and business expansions,” she said. “To date, we have had eight successful recruitments, which will bring an estimated 650 jobs, as well as five successful expansion projects by existing companies.”

That’s considerably more than CREDC’s goal of successfully recruiting two companies for the year.

The biggest win, in terms of job creation, is Integra, Blake Pincheira said. That company announced in April that it would move its corporate headquarters from Northeast Portland to the former Hewlett-Packard Vancouver campus. That move, scheduled to take place in 2014, should bring at least 500 jobs to Clark County.

“The increased activity on the business recruitment side that we’ve seen in 2013 is certainly a positive trend that we hope will continue in 2014,” she said.

And while Tesoro Savage Petroleum Terminal’s lease of a crude oil handling facility at the Port of Vancouver generated some of the biggest headlines of the year, other efforts at the port could be far more significant employment engines down the road. Since 2005, the port has been engaged in a $275 million freight project that aims to make rail more efficient and bolster Vancouver’s spot as a significant West Coast cargo hub.

This summer, the port began work on what it calls the “crown jewel” of the freight project, a new rail entry to the port that should reduce congestion by 40 percent.

“The new entrance is a game changer,” said port CEO Todd Coleman. “Cargoes such as wheat, steel pipe, wood pulp and automobiles will move into and out of the port more efficiently, and that’s good for our region.”

If a recent survey is accurate, the region can expect more upbeat headlines in the months ahead. The state Employment Security Department reported that job vacancies in Washington increased by 63 percent from spring 2012 to spring 2013. Additionally, employers surveyed by the state forecast said that they’ll have twice as many openings this coming spring.

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