“Encouraging signs emerging from Great Recession”

From airplane parts to medical devices, cookware, pharmaceuticals and mining equipment, factories across the region are collecting contracts that square with the national trend of burgeoning productivity.

Even though manufacturers rely more and more upon automation and greater productivity from every worker, hiring is on the rise. In Spokane, for example, there were 15,325 people employed by manufacturing firms in December, the most since late 2009.

via “Encouraging Signs Emerging from Great Recession”, Spokesman-Review.

It’s a rainy morning and unfortunately I have not yet forgotten how to make a chart. So let’s chart some actual data!

Historical Manufacturing Employment in Spokane County

Y-Axis is in 1000s.

Manufacturing employment is up since last year but the 21 year trend remains poor and never was as great as locals like to think they remember it being. If the above cycle continues, manufacturing might add 1,000 jobs since the bottom before peaking and then resuming its downward trend. And keep in mind that our population is increasing too as the manufacturing jobs continue their drop.

Average Manufacturing Wages in Spokane County

Average weekly manufacturing wages for Q2 2011 (most recent data) are $915.00 or $47,800 for an annual wage or about $22-$23/hour which is high by Spokane standards where $755/week (or $19/hour) is average. (Data comes from Washington State Employment Security Department.)

By comparison, the State’s average weekly manufacturing wage is $1,246 or $64,792 or $31.15/hour. Spokane’s average manufacturing wage is 26.6% below the State’s average. Which is typical since Spokane wages, except for government and health care, are substantially below the State averages.

A heartfelt thank you and congratulations to the local manufacturers that have seen opportunities for expansion.

However, the SR’s opinion column masquerading as a news story is spinning so fast you will need a dose of Dramamine and Imodium A-D this morning. You have been warned! This is good news that some employers are hiring locally but the spin is a little over the top when seen in overall context – including that local teen unemployment is horrible, about 40 percent compared to 20 percent nationally.

Total Non Farm Employment in Spokane County

Y-Axis is in 1000s and counts non-farm employed people. Growth remains almost flat while a normal post recession growth curve is V shaped (see 2001).

Source for both: Current Employment Statistics, Washington State Employment Security Department

Reminder: The “experts”  thought we were going to have about 240,00 non-farm jobs today, not the 206,000 we have. Stated another way, to get back on track, we need to add about 35,000 local non-farm jobs.

Something that might help make that happen is Startupweekend Spokane. Check it out.


The current official unemployment for Spokane County is 9.0% (but up to 10.1% in February 2012).

As you can see in the above chart, the Spokane MSA lost about 7 percentage points of employed people. If we were to add the 5% to 6% unemployment rate of the 2007-2008 era, we would today have 11% to 12% unemployment. The estimate comes in at 9.0% and not 12% because we assume a huge number of people have given up trying to be employed.

The government makes available city-level unemployment estimates for cities of 25,000 or larger, but the local media have never published these numbers. Here they are:

  • City of Spokane – 9.3%
  • Post Falls, ID – 10.4%
  • Couer d’Alene – 10.1%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


(December 27, 2011) – Forbes Magazine ranks Spokane, Wa, tied with Fresno, CA and Dayton, Ohio as having the worst outlooks for jobs and hiring in 2012, of cities reviewed nationwide.  Forbes: Where The Jobs Will (And Won’t) Be in 2012. The story is based on a nationwide survey of 18,000 businesses done by the Manpower Group.

Retail and Office Vacancies

  • Downtown Spokane: 16, 17 , 20 or 25 percent. All numbers are given in a recent KXLY news video, which is slightly different than the web report (Caution:  spin motion sickness alert if you watch their embedded video)
  • South Hill: 12 percent
  • North Spokane: 21 percent
  • Spokane Valley: 24 percent

Source: KXLY

To put those numbers in context, the national retail vacancy rate in February 2012 was 6.9%.

One week later, KHQ has a similar story about “South Hill business is booming“. (Not much happens in Spokane so they have to copy each other’s news ideas.)  Check the story – all we need to do to create growth in town is to put Trader Joe’s in every strip mall! Simple!

Estimates of “vacancy” depend on how you define “vacancy”. Is a condemned building “vacant” or “uninhabitable” and hence, not available for lease?  The Ridpath has been declared uninhabitable by the city – vacant or simply does not exist in the data?

The “down town” vacancy rate also depends on how you define “downtown”. Do they include  the vacant block of buildings near Riverside and Bernardo, the Ridpath blocks or 2 or 3 blocks of empty or mostly empty buildings a bit west of the Davenport (call this the Hotel Otis blocks)? Including the entire area, 25% vacant is a decent guess. At least six to eight blocks are vacant or mostly vacant.

As of March, there are 18 empty stores in the Spokane Valley Mall, and 22 in the Northtown Mall. The Spokesman Review reports that Spokane has a “bubbling retail sector” and pitches that things are going great in Spokane retail. On what planet do these people live?


Federal government calls Spokane Regional Transportation Council incompetent. The Council includes elected politicians and their appointees. Corollary: The Federal government says our elected officials are incompetent.

Educational Attainment

For Washington State as a whole, Washington Post claims that 28% of all adults 25 years and older have a Masters degree or a PhD or about three times greater than the percentage in Spokane County. This disagrees with the data provided by the Community Indicators of Spokane web site – so consider both “suspect” until or if we can sort that out (there will be a future update on this). We know that educational attainment in the Tri-cities, due to PNNL, and the entire Seattle area, are both much higher than the state average.

Incredibly, the educational attainment of Spokane residents has gone down slightly probably because high skilled jobs have left Spokane. See what education is required by jobs in Spokane.

If the WaPo story is correct (I  have doubts), Spokane residents are falling behind the rest of the state. This is not good.

Updates to this web site are made on an extremely infrequent basis. May be there will be more, may be there will not. 

Spokane Business Closings

This is a partial list from what people send me or what I have seen myself or what has been mentioned in news reports. It is possible there are inaccuracies but some, like the USDA closing, appeared in CapitalPress.com. Most of these closed or announced they will be closing, within the past 6 to 7 weeks.

  • USDA Risk Management Agency/NRCS Soil Survey office in Spokane Valley, will be closing by spring.
  • Large Department of Social and Health Services office at Francis and Crestline was closed as the agency consolidated into two existing offices, downsizing from 3.
  • Globe Bar and Grille, downtown on Division
  • The building a hundred yards to the north out of business
  • Post Falls Theaters, closed, January 23d.
  • Old Country Buffet, closed two restaurants in January
  • Nott-Atwater Co./LTI Boyd Co. 106 year old Spokane manufacturer closed in December.
  • All Perkins and Marie Callender’s restaurants closed by the end of the year, after some closed in the summer.
  • Blockbuster Video at Market and Garland, closing March 1st
  • Blockbuster Video at Bowdish and Sprague is closing
  • An adult novelty store near there has a for sale sign in front
  • A tuxedo retailer closed or moved
  • La Pinada Mexican food store, closed
  • 18 empty store fronts in the Spokane Valley Mall
  • 22 empty store fronts in the Northtown Mall
  • So many more it is not worth trying to track them all at this point
  • Spokane-based Sterling Financial (Savings) laying off 6% of system wide workers; about 25% of their workforce is in Spokane.
  • Bank of America closing branch on Monroe near the Spokane County Court house but expects to move workers to other branches.
  • Sunrise Mattress (manufacturer and retail outlet on Fancher Rd, out of business)
  • Well known and long time downtown restaurant Cyrus O’Leary’s closed in September.
  • Victoria’s Espresso Cafe (Pines Rd) Closed
  • T Prano’s Italian restaurant closed.
  • Possibly last fall: The AmericanWest Bank branch at Dishman-Mica and Appleway closed
  • Numerous businesses along Francis, east of Division either closed or moved, such as Spokane Auto Care.
  • Numerous businesses along N. Monroe
  • Several day care operations – including some very large ones – were shut down by the state at end of December or early January.


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