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Pandemic hasn’t hit Tri-Cities’ economy as hard as rest of state, study finds

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As regional economies begin to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, Tri-City leaders are trying to chart a roadmap to move the region from recovery to growth.

The Port of Kennewick recently commissioned a study from Eastern Washington University to assess the overall impact of the pandemic on the economy and households of the Tri-Cities.

The big takeaway from the study is that the Tri-Cities economy has been particularly resilient and likely fared better than most of the state.

The study also indicates that quick federal funding has helped businesses stay afloat and residents make ends meet.

“Although economists might have expected businesses, especially small businesses, to be more vulnerable to the economic downturn during the pandemic, surprisingly bankruptcies during the pandemic have actually declined, in part due to the federal aid,” the study said.

“In March 2020, the CARES Act injected money into businesses in the United States, relief checks were sent directly to residents of the country, and extended unemployment benefits were distributed to many people. All of these factors have supported household finances and therefore economic stability.

Port CEO Tim Arntzen hopes that by better understanding what happened, leaders can better plan for the future.

The hardest hit sectors in the Tri-Cities were hospitality, entertainment and recreation, retail, agriculture and construction. Agricultural work and hotel work are expected to face challenges throughout 2022.

“It is clear that the most vulnerable jobs in the short term will be those in customer-facing positions, or more generally service jobs,” the study says.

Latino workers have the worst in the Tri-Cities, seeing higher than average jobless claims and insufficient wage gains to offset job losses.

The study suggests that this is partly because industries with a disproportionate number of Latino workers have taken longer to recover or have yet to fully recover.

The study also highlighted the income disparity between racial groups in the Tri-Cities from 2015 to 2019, calling the range “breathtakingly wide”.

The average household income of white and Asian families is almost double that of Latino households and more than triple that of black households.

Asian households have the highest average annual income at $88,800, white households at $81,800.

Hispanic and Latino households earn an average of $48,110 per year, while Native American/Native and Black households earn an average of less than $25,000 per year.

The author of the study suggested that in order to continue to contribute to the recovery and reduce the wage gap, the Tri-Cities could focus on creating training opportunities for occupations in high demand, such as truck drivers, auxiliary nurses and sales representatives.

Longer term strategies would place more emphasis on nursing and computer science education.

While there were initially sharp declines in economic activity in 2020, the Tri-Cities economy has recovered well, with local government revenues actually increasing in the first two years of the pandemic.

Population growth in the Tri-Cities also remains well ahead of state and national averages.

Benton County’s population is projected to increase by approximately 20,500 people by 2030, with a projected population growth of 1.3% in 2022 and a gradual decline to an estimated 1.1% annual growth by 2030.

Franklin County is expected to grow at a faster rate, but will slow from 2.7% growth this year to an estimated 2.3% growth in 2030.

To put that into perspective, the combined growth of Benton and Franklin counties was 1.4% in 2021, about double the state and national averages.

The study also indicated that housing is becoming less affordable in the Tri-Cities, and if the region expects to continue to excel, this needs to be addressed. Median home resale values ​​have also outpaced increases in household income over the past four years, with home values ​​increasing by 60%.

One of the recommendations of the study’s authors was that one of the most important strategic areas for the greater Tri-Cities community to consider is “housing, particularly low to middle income market housing “. The study indicated that while the area has been able to offer more affordable living than other parts of the state, that advantage is already beginning to erode.