“This is a very innovative workforce, and no one wants to miss the party,” says regional labor economist Anneliese Vance-Sherman.

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After another year of employment stability, economists are optimistic about Washington’s job prospects in 2019.

“It is noteworthy that at this point in the recovery, all industries are seeing job growth,” says Anneliese Vance-Sherman, a regional labor economist with the state’s Employment Security Department. “We are at a mature point where the benefit of growth is being felt in all industries.”

Washington’s employment growth was expected to slow in 2018, but the state’s overall growth and competitiveness improved significantly, ranking the fifth-highest in the nation compared to the seventh spot in the previous year, according to Economic and Revenue Forecast Council data. ERFC economists predict the state’s rate of job growth will hold steady at 2.4 percent for 2019.

“The growth rate is extremely consistent,” Vance-Sherman says. “I’m still seeing a lot of strength in sectors that I use in leading indicators, so I expect 2019 to be a year, again, with strong growth.”

According to Megan Slabinski, a district president with staffing firm Robert Half, the growth trends specific to the Seattle metro area have everything to do with the quality of employees.

“The Seattle marketplace is so diverse, and there are so many companies that have moved in to take advantage of the phenomenal talent pool that we have here,” Slabinski says.

ESD data indicate that Washington’s largest increases in jobs this year will be in tech, online retail trade, and professional and business services. Health care and manufacturing will also play important roles in statewide economic stability.

Technology extends its reach

It’s no surprise that technology continued to assert its presence in the region, adding 9,300 jobs in King County between October 2017 and October 2018 — an 8.9 percent increase.

“If you look at the industries that are driving the Seattle economy and Seattle jobs outlook, it’s predominantly in that high-tech space,” Slabinski says.

Seattle’s saturated tech market extends beyond the shadows of industry leaders like Microsoft: Slabinski notes that smaller businesses within other industries — health care, in particular — are taking advantage of the professional landscape in order to improve their workflows.

“The reason we’re seeing business growth in the health care space is largely due to technology,” she says. “They need to modernize a lot of their operations, and technology is a way to improve patient care and address privacy concerns. So the health care spectrum is evolving and changing more dynamically than a lot of other of other industries right now because of the large technology presence.”

In King County alone, the tech industry is expected to grow another 5 percent this year.

Retail drives growth

It’s impossible to overlook retail in the Seattle jobs market. Industry players headquartered in the metro area, including Amazon, Blue Nile and Zulily, are leading growth, with over 5,200 jobs added in 2018. Despite their local physical presence, internet is king: the “other retail trade” category — which includes online merchants — added 3,400 jobs in Washington state between November 2017 and November 2018.

“You can’t really talk about Seattle without talking about [online] retail,” Vance-Sherman says. “If you think about what these companies really do, they’re leveraging technology differently than most brick-and-mortar retailers, which leads to really impressive growth.”

The industry is expected to keep pace in 2019 with a growth rate of 2.11 percent.

Construction remains strong

Data from the ESD show continued employment stability in the construction industry.

“If I were to compare the numbers to last year and the year before, we’re currently at about an 8 percent year-over-year growth — about the same rate we saw last year, and that’s still very strong,” Vance-Sherman says.

Vance-Sherman notes that it’s important to put the numbers into context. “Construction lost so many jobs during the recession,” she says, “and the significant increase afterward was just the rule of numbers.”

Construction employment in King County is expected to grow by 2.5 percent in 2019, with an addition of 3,323 jobs from 2017 into the second quarter of 2019. Gains in Snohomish and Pierce counties will be slightly less at 2.24 percent and 2.48 percent, respectively. 

Snohomish and Pierce county gains will be slightly less at 2.24 percent and 2.48 percent, respectively. While the collective growth isn’t as high as years’ prior, Vance-Sherman says the industry itself isn’t slowing down.

“It’s kind of in a holding pattern where people are coming off of jobs and starting new jobs as well. So it’s slowing down a little bit, but that doesn’t really indicate the slowing of construction jobs in general,” she says.

Manufacturing mixed

Projections for last year expected manufacturing jobs to decline by 1.09 percent, the largest decrease in statewide employment. From October 2017 to October 2018, however, King county seemed to defy expectations with the addition of 4,100 jobs, but a shift between September and October 2018 cost the county 900 positions.

Prospects improved for neighboring Snohomish County within the same time frame with a 4.8 percent increase — or 2,700 manufacturing jobs — between October 2017 and October 2018. “We were seeing some substantial losses in [Snohomish County] manufacturing due largely to the cycle and specifically layoffs happening a couple years ago,” Vance-Sherman says, “But at this point, manufacturing [there] is back on an upswing.”

Despite a few encouraging shifts throughout the year, manufacturing was the least stable statewide industry in 2018, according to Steve Lerch, the executive director and chief economist at the ERFC.

“As far as sectors with job losses in 2018, aerospace manufacturing is expected to have the largest number, with a decline of about 700 jobs,” he says. Lerch notes that the final job numbers for 2018 also predict 400 positions lost in non-aerospace transportation manufacturing and 200 in paper manufacturing.

The 2019 projections are likely to reflect the downward shifts in King County, with a .07 percent decline statewide.

Something for everyone

The professional and business services sector represents a significant portion of statewide economic health, to the tune of 9,200 new jobs in 2018. ESD projections estimate that another 11,253 jobs will be added in 2019.

For Vance-Sherman, growth in this sector is an indication of overall economic health. “What these [businesses] share in common is that their customers are other businesses,” she says. “Growth in this category signals to me that there’s a lot of confidence in the business community at large when they’re able to work with these supportive businesses.”

The vocational variety under this sector’s umbrella is likely to require talent at every professional level, says Slabinski. “More often than not, a bachelor’s degree is an expectation, but there are a lot of companies that offer workplace coaching and boot camps.”

Low unemployment continues

State unemployment remained low in 2018, with 107,200 non-farm jobs added between October 2017 and October 2018, and ESD data forecast that 77,288 jobs will be added in 2019. The statewide unemployment rate in November held steady at 4.3 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

(Seattle Times Explore staff)
(Seattle Times Explore staff)

The ERFC’s November 2018 forecast predicted that the statewide unemployment rate will average 4.27 percent in 2019. “Our forecast is for total nonfarm employment to grow by … a still-strong 2.2 percent in 2019,” says Lerch.

Part of the slowdown in employment growth is related to the low unemployment rate — the fewer unemployed workers looking for jobs, the fewer people available to be hired, Lerch says.

“We also expect the number of people moving to Washington to slow down a little, which also reduces the number of people available to be hired,” Lerch says.

Still, Washington had stronger employment growth (in percentage terms) in 2018 compared to the U.S. economy, and Lerch expects that to be true in 2019 as well.

In the Seattle-Bellevue-Everett metro area, the November 2018 unemployment rate sat at a low 3.6 percent, according to the BLS.

“[Seattle] is an ecosystem of growth,” Vance-Sherman says. “Even with high commercial rent, businesses are going to locate near each other to compete and even exchange ideas. This is a very innovative workforce, and no one wants to miss the party.

Note: This story has been edited to correct data errors in the 2019 technology and manufacturing forecasts.