Regional Report: The West, for the Most Part, is Growing

Reno is suddenly as hot as a firecracker.


Washington StateWashington is experiencing year-over-year growth in nearly every sector. A construction boom is driving employment gains, including a 4.6 percent rise in King County, which encompasses Seattle. In a tight labor market, many employers struggle to staff up. State employment will rise 1.8 percent this year, down from last year’s 2.8 percent, predicts Steve Lerch, executive director of Washington’s Economic and Revenue Forecast Council. Seattle, the state’s business capital, will grow at a 2.5% rate this year, down from last year’s 3 percent, projects Chris Mefford, CEO of Seattle consultancy Community Attributes. “Companies want to hire more people, but it’s not easy,” he says.

Metro Seattle’s Big 3—Boeing, Microsoft and Amazon—dominate the region, although iconic retailer Starbucks and tech expansionists like Expedia are gaining attention. Expedia recently opened a 40-acre, 4,500 employee site three miles from the central Seattle waterfront. The city’s mojo comes increasingly from fast-growth startups in technology, business and professional services. A fledgling biotech cluster has taken root in the South Lake Union neighborhood, tapping startup money provided by Microsoft’s Paul Allen.

One of America’s fastest growing cities, Seattle is rapidly transforming into a global city even as it guards a unique sense of place that attracts well-educated newcomers. Employers compete with housing developers for prime waterfront space; the economy needs to accommodate both. Housing all the recent newcomers is challenging, but essential; the labor pool must expand for growth to continue.

OregonOregon enjoys full-throttle growth and rising wages in all major industries in the state. The state’s average paycheck, while still lower than the nation’s, has risen to its highest relative point “since the mills closed in the early 1980s,” says Josh Lehner of the State’s Department of Economic Analysis.

Oregon’s surging economy is pulling workers into the labor market, as the participation rate increases from recessionary lows. Lehner attributes Oregon’s strong growth to the state’s industrial structure and net migration flows. Legal sales of recreational marijuana have bolstered sales tax revenues. while exports, traditionally a foundation of the regional economy, are down nearly 20 percent year over year, reflecting the strong dollar and soft markets in China and other trading partners.

Job growth has been concentrated in two suburban counties in greater Portland, Multnomah and Washington Counties. The Oregon part of Portland is the state’s biggest urban center. In Eugene, the Beaver State’s second-largest municipality, more than $300 million in downtown real estate and business projects have transformed downtown.

Developers are busy replacing dilapidated, counterculture-era storefronts with technology complexes and operations for specialized-food producers, craft-beer brewers and more. New corporate arrivals include Avago Technologies, Winnebago Industries and Firstsource.

41-Hawaii-HonoluluHawaii’s economy is expected to show modest growth during the rest of 2016 and into 2017. The Aloha State’s economy is largely dependent on tourism and conditions in Japan, its major trading partner. Tourism is expected to grow 1.9 percent this year; yet with the stronger dollar, tourists will squeeze their dollars tighter than originally projected.

Stagnation in Japan and softening in China constrict tourism and trade revenues. Improving labor and construction markets buoy optimism. Overall, Hawaii’s economy, as measured by real GDP, is projected to grow 2.3% in 2016. State economists predict 2.4% real GDP growth forecast for 2017. Unemployment is projected to be 3.5% this year, sliding to 3.3% next year, say forecasters.


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