Thurston County employers say they expect to hire more people in 2010 - welcome news after a year riddled with layoffs, reduced hours, pay cuts and salary freezes.
A record number of Washington residents, 475,000, filed in 2009 to receive unemployment benefits, according to state Employment Security Department data. That was up from 290,000 in 2008, the data show. The state paid out nearly $4 billion in unemployment benefits last year, up from $1.2 billion in 2008 and $725 million in 2007.
To gauge job growth, The Olympian interviewed officials in various industry sectors in Thurston County and asked them about their hiring plans for this year.
Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia, the county’s largest private employer with 2,200 employees, doesn’t expect to hire in significant numbers until the end of the year, said Susan Meenk, vice president of human resources for the nonprofit hospital. However, the hospital typically hires about 400 employees a year because of staff turnover, she said.
“The biggest single area of employment is in nursing,” Meenk said. Hospital officials expect to open a renovated ninth floor for more patient beds toward the end of the year, and they will hire staff members to accommodate patients there, Meenk said. She was unsure how many people will be needed.
The county is home to two tribal casinos, and one, Lucky Eagle Casino in Rochester, plans to increase its staffing by about 3 percent or 15 to 25 customer-service positions this year, casino general manager John Setterstrom said.
“We believe the recovery is going to be slow, but we’re certainly optimistic about our future,” he said. At the end of 2008, the casino expanded by 25,000 square feet and added a three-story administrative building. Although it recently expanded, the casino avoided layoffs during 2009’s slower economy and maintained its staff at 650 employees, Setterstrom said.
The slower economy and housing market hit the banking industry hard last year. However, Heritage Financial Corp., which owns Heritage Bank and Central Valley Bank, avoided layoffs and kept its staffing at about 250 employees, president and chief executive Brian Vance said. He doesn’t expect the economy to improve until the second half of this year, so the company might add a few positions but won’t add many, he said. That could change if the company acquires another bank, Vance said.
Employees received pay raises in 2009, but salaries were frozen for company officers, he said.
“I don’t think we have seen the low yet on residential real estate prices, but the rate of decline has slowed considerably,” Vance said.
Crown Beverage, which makes beer and soft-drink cans at its plant on Fones Road in Olympia, is hiring and expects to replace retiring staff members over the next few years, plant manager Dan Joanis said. The plant employs about 115 people and needs to fill six positions after recently ramping up to a 24-hour-a-day schedule, he said.
Joanis was unsure about the number of employees the plant might need in the coming years, but added that the plant has added a total of 25 to 30 people in the past few years. Joanis said the plant needs general laborers and people with mechanical skills. The 210,000-square-foot plant produces about 4.5 million cans a day.
Ken Anderson, the broker and owner of Coldwell Banker Evergreen Olympic Realty, expects to add four to six real estate agents this year because of a housing market that likely will improve in 2010, he said. Anderson expects home sales to improve this year, in part because of recent extensions to federal tax incentive programs for homebuyers.
Those programs should generate more shoppers, who, once they see the lower selling prices for homes and lower mortgage interest rates, likely will become buyers, Anderson said. Last year, he said, sellers learned to price their houses correctly in a slower housing market. This year is about jobs, Anderson said.
“If you’re stable in your job, you’re going to buy a house,” he said.
Stormans Inc., the company that operates the Ralph’s and Bayview Thriftway stores, could hire as many as 75 people if its proposed new store for Briggs Village gets off the ground. The company could break ground on the project this fall, co-owner Kevin Stormans said. Meanwhile, Stormans Inc. is feeling the effects of the slower economy and is reducing hours for some of its 150 employees, he said.
The year started well for the company, Stormans said, but then the slower economy and competition caught up to it.
“We definitely have had some challenges,” he said.
The outlook in this sector is poor as state agencies continue to shed jobs in response to budget cuts in 2009. Those cuts were expected to lead to the demise of 3,200 jobs in general-government and higher education institutions statewide. And the outlook likely will get worse under Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget proposal, which recommends cuts of about 1,500 more jobs through June 2011, an amount that could be blunted if majority Democrats are able to raise taxes and restore some programs facing cuts.
Between June 2008 and November 2009, the number of general-government workers statewide fell from 66,714 to 63,553, according to data kept by the Department of Personnel. Higher education is not included in those figures.
Even so, some agencies are seeing growth. The Employment Security Department, which handles job-loss claims, has seen its work force grow from 1,937 in June 2008 to 2,477 in November 2009, DOP monthly data showed.
Thurston County has weathered most recessions without a drop in state government employment, but it hasn’t been that fortunate this time around. The county had 21,495 people employed in state government as of June 2009, according to the DOP’s 2009 State Workforce report. About 21,221 people worked in executive agencies as of Nov. 30, according other DOP data. An additional 689 were in legislative positions, and 262 were in judicial system positions.