By Mark Mattke
CEO of Spokane Workforce Council
Downtown Spokane is the economic and cultural epicenter of the Inland Northwest. The downtown economy is centered around growing sectors that include Healthcare, Education, Professional and Technical Services, Finance, and Transportation, that each contribute to the vitality of our region by offering good paying jobs and long-term career pathways for our residents. Spokane has been recognized as a great place to live and people are moving here from all over the country, positioning us well to recover faster from the pandemic-caused recession. As we look to the future, building a robust and well-trained workforce is essential to maximizing economic growth, and assuring more people take part in the recovery.
LABOR MARKET INFORMATION
Spokane County is home to over 522,600 people, with 223,600 of those living right in the City of Spokane. Our population has grown by over 50,000 people in the last decade and is expected to grow even faster in the coming years. Approximately 236,299 people are employed in Spokane County, and depending on how quickly the coronavirus pandemic is handled and we achieve a level of herd immunity through vaccinations, we anticipate between 0.7% to 2.8% new job growth rate over the next year.
Healthcare and Social Assistance is by far the largest industry in Spokane County with over 48,000 jobs, employing about one in every five workers locally, and has grown by over 5,000 new jobs in just the last five years. Registered Nurse is the most in-demand occupation in the region by total job postings, and the projected annual new job growth rate for both healthcare practitioner (1.1%) and healthcare support (2.4%) occupations are greater than the projected overall Spokane new job growth rate (0.7%). Downtown Spokane is host to multiple hospitals as well as nursing and medical schools in the University District which help supply new talent to the labor market. The continued expansion of the University District highlights the importance of the wider Educational Services industry, which employs over 19,000 people in Spokane County.
As the largest city between Seattle and Minneapolis-St. Paul, Spokane has traditionally served as a major link for air, rail, and road transport. The Transportation and Warehousing industry is vitally important to the local economy and is expected to grow in total employment significantly in the coming years as new warehousing space is developed. In downtown Spokane, the industry takes on a slightly different meaning with public transit coming to mind. Currently under construction, Spokane Transit Authority’s new bus rapid transit project, the City Line, will maximize transit efficiency in and around downtown and is likely to encourage new transit-oriented development along the six-mile route between Browne’s Addition and Spokane Community College via downtown and the University District, including Gonzaga University.
The Finance and Insurance industry is one of the highest paying in Spokane, with an average annual wage of over $87,000. Many finance companies have downtown offices and are experiencing enormous demand for services, specifically around real estate purchases and refinancing. The wider industry of Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services is fast growing both nationally and locally, adding about 1,500 jobs locally over the past five years. The industry contains many of the Information and Technology related sub-sectors, as well as other sectors like legal services and architectural and engineering services. These STEM related careers typically pay high average annual wages and offer great career opportunities for graduates from our comprehensive local higher education institutions.
With the new Podium multi-sport venue under construction on the north bank of the Spokane River, downtown Spokane is setting itself up to be the host city for even more national and regional events. New downtown developments like this will benefit the sector hardest hit by the pandemic, Accommodation and Food Services, which employs 17,600 people in Spokane County.
THE NEW NORMAL
The pandemic has accelerated many economic trends which were already occurring and has also changed the way many of us work. The shift to online retail sales has accelerated and has significantly increased the demand for Transportation and Warehousing workers in Spokane. For jobs that can work remotely, a more permanent shift away from the typical 9 to 5 office environment may remain in some capacity, including a more hybridized virtual work environment.
Similar to past recessions, this economic disruption has impacted tens of thousands of workers in our area. Many workers remain on the sidelines either receiving unemployment benefits or have exited the labor force during the pandemic to take care of family members or wait until their job returns. At the same time, businesses are ramping up operations and working through pent-up demand as the economy re-opens. March 2021 saw record levels of new online job postings in Spokane County, across nearly every industry.
The Spokane Workforce Council connects the local labor force with education and training opportunities as well as job coaching through WorkSource Spokane and the Next Generation Zone and helps local businesses recruit workers through Talent Solutions by WorkSource. Certified business consultants who make up the Talent Solutions team work directly with businesses to develop a customized approach to meet their hiring needs including helping to craft job postings that better attract candidates, create online and in-person hiring events, and host employer showcases which allow little known companies to gain exposure to area workers. We also provide youth education and job training through the Next Generation Zone to provide access to our diverse population of young adults beginning their career journey and support internship development, on-the-job training, and direct placement into jobs. In addition, we house numerous community partners at the Spokane Resource Center that help our workers connect to the services and resources they need to navigate challenges and advance in their chosen career pathways. Our facilities are located at the east side of downtown at the entrance to the University District.
There are many pathways to prosperity in our economy – whether via a traditional classroom, online program, apprenticeship, degree, certificate, or even digital badges – and our local workforce system is positioned to help young people chart their course and adults to make sound career decisions and obtain the training and credentials they need for career success.
DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION
Our region benefits from in-migration of workers from across the region & state, the nation, and even internationally. As a result, our population is increasingly diverse and the customer base of the WorkSource Spokane system reflects this. Our job seeker customers are significantly more racially diverse than the general population of Spokane, including many for whom English is their second language. The vital importance of focusing on equitable growth is at the forefront of our work, and we provide access to a wide array of workforce training and career opportunities to our customers to help them advance their careers in in-demand employment areas and earn a family-sustaining wage.
Spokane is positioned for an equitable economic recovery and sustained growth as our foundational industries are flourishing and offer myriad opportunities for businesses and workers to succeed. We enjoy strong community partnerships that respond to effectively meet the changing needs of our region. We look forward to continuing to work together to adapt and thrive as we move into the next steps beyond the pandemic!