Working on Clallam’s unemployment problem

Hundreds of jobs are available, yet the unemployment rate of Clallam County hovers among the top in the state at 8 percent.

Hundreds of jobs are available, yet the unemployment rate of Clallam County hovers among the top in the state at 8 percent.

Since the first of the year officials with the Economic Development Corporation (formerly Council) have met with 22 local companies and found half were in the process of expansion.

The 249 new jobs being created in 2015 by 11 county companies is an “indicator that our own economy measured against booming King County is finally on the rebound,” according to the EDC’s quarterly report released April 30.

The EDC is a private nonprofit aimed at spurring local economic growth. The Clallam County EDC is one of about 35 similar organizations within the state, Bill Greenwood, Clallam County EDC executive director, said.

“Unemployment is one of the key challenges,” Greenwood said, reflecting on the various hurdles when growing the economy. “Clallam County is a huge area and that’s another challenge.”



Given the sheer size of Clallam County and regional differences, its cities provide different economic potential, Greenwood explained. Sequim has a number of “enlightened” companies, such as Batson Enterprises, Inc., one of the country’s largest wholesale (fishing) rod blank and component suppliers, and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, he said. But, to Greenwood, Port Angeles is still the economic “hub” of the county because of the thriving marine industries, the Port of Port Angeles and William R. Fairchild International Airport.

However, to foster the economic potential requires access to living wage jobs, which requires a “slam-dunk,” of infrastructure, Greenwood said. Having the infrastructure to attract businesses includes ease of transportation and direct service to Sea-Tac International Airport, first-class accommodations and maintained schools.

Greenwood finds frustration among those, specifically retirees, that didn’t support the school levy.

“Not supporting the schools is the same as voting against your future health care,” Greenwood said. “In the history of the U.S., the older generation always took care of the younger.”

Greenwood explained more health care specialists are sought at Olympic Medical Center, for example, but after candidates visit the hospital, their next step is often to visit the school, assuming they have a family. If the school isn’t maintained, “it’s a show stopper,” he said.

Shifting from the emphasis on manufacturing and marine-related industries in Port Angeles, Greenwood foresees any economic development for Sequim coming from potential “light manufacturing,” such as software, medical or biotechnological development.

“I think a lot can happen here (in Sequim) if the city embraces it,” he said. “There’s a shortage of industrial land and it needs a better nightlife.”

County Commissioner Jim McEntire, representing eastern Clallam County, looks to Carlsborg as having a lot of potential for businesses, industrial growth and therefore employment opportunities. “That (Carlsborg) is the missing piece of the puzzle as far as Sequim goes,” McEntire said.

Beyond infrastructure needed to attract both employees and employers, officials with the EDC have identified the cost of daycare to be problematic.

“Daycare is a problem that I haven’t tackled yet, but it’s something we’re thinking about,” Greenwood said.

Moving forward

To continue to move toward economic growth, a diversity of careers and to compete with equivalent economic development organizations like Yakima’s with an annual budget of $800,000, Greenwood plans to increase the EDC’s annual budget from last year’s, which was about $160,000, he said.

“We try to be very conservative, but we’re competing with places that are investing a lot into their economic development,” he said.

Greenwood and his staff are targeting Seattle companies to recruit to Clallam County.

“In my mind, they’re easy pickings because of the problems with Seattle,” Greenwood said.

Given the high expense and stress associated with living in Seattle, Greenwood often is meeting with heads of Seattle-based companies to provide insight into Clallam County’s vast outdoor recreational opportunities, landscape, pace and cost of living.

“We’re selling that story everyday,” he said.

Accompanying the lifestyle incentive, Clallam County, like other rural communities with high unemployment, qualifies for a state program intended to help stimulate local economies. The program provides tax incentives, such as an eight-year automatic tax abatement if a manufacturer seeks to erect a building within the county or an annual employer tax credit for every employee hired.

Although the program expires July 1, 2016, Greenwood “hopes” it will be reinstated.

“We don’t have varied industry and we need them,” Greenwood said. “We’ve been dominated by forestry for 150 years, but that’s been on a decline.”

“What really hasn’t happened is new industries haven’t moved in to pick up the slack,” he said.

Clallam County’s main areas of employment being health care, manufacturing and hospitality is a shift from the county’s long history in forestry and logging.

Although marine trades continue to prosper, companies are struggling to fill positions and “appearance appears to be the most pressing problem,” according to the EDC quarterly report.

The change in the area’s economic identity may have societal impacts.

The trouble with finding dependable employees is a “good question,” McEntire said, but admits there isn’t one straightforward answer.

“It may be a reflection of the psychological aftermath of agriculture and forestry phasing out,” he said.

Connecting the dots

While organizations like the EDC seek to attract employers to create a diverse and dynamic economy, Brandino Gibson, career navigator for WorkSource, and his colleagues devote their attention toward connecting people with employers. The state agency conducts a variety of services from assisting longterm unemployed, youth (ages 16-21), veterans and displaced workers, to broad services, like interview prep and resume building.

“Everybody thinks we’re the unemployment office, but we’re not,” Gibson said. “I have employers calling me daily right now trying to find people.”

Compared to last year’s first quarter, WorkSource has assisted in the acquisition of 68 percent more jobs.

“There are more people hiring,” he said. “There’s a 30-percent increase in job openings since last year.”

More jobs may be available, but not all are living wage jobs, Gibson said.

The ongoing need for caregivers, especially in a community like Sequim with an older demographic, is an example of a market always seeking employees, but it can’t fill the positions because of low compensation, Gibson said.

“You have to attract people somehow,” he said.

To help address this, Gibson is working with employers to assemble an advisory council to identify ways to both fill the void of caregivers and create living wage positions.

More recently, Gibson is spearheading industry-specific hiring events to ensure job seekers get face-to-face time with potential employers.

“We’re working toward creating direct connections,” he said.

WorkSource serves a broad demographic from highly and/or over-qualified to those lacking skills for employment, but few in between.

“The middle tier are working,” Gibson said.

Thus, positions for highly qualified job seekers and the educational opportunities to provide those in need of more job training need to be available. WorkSource officials are collaborating with Peninsula College to identify ways the college may be able to help in providing educational opportunities.

“We look for what jobs are in demand,” Mia Boster, Peninsula College dean for professional technical and e-learning, said.

The degrees and certification and worker retraining program the college offers reflects not only what careers are in high demand across the state, but locally, including health care, manufacturing and hospitality/tourism.

According to the Washington State Employment Security Department’s April report, the top five occupations of the top 25 in Clallam County are: registered nurses, physical therapists, speech-language pathologists, maids and housekeeping cleaners and retail salespersons.

In reaction to the area’s job opportunities, one of the main focuses of Peninsula College is on a wide array of health care professions. Additionally, beginning in the fall the college will offer a new program centered on hospitality and eco-tourism. It’s also in the midst of partnering with the Port of Port Angeles in preparation for the port’s proposed Composite Recycling Technology Center.

To identify where the gaps are between employers and job seekers is a collaborative effort. The Olympic WorkForce Development Council composed of 30 members appointed by the Olympic Consortium Board from Clallam, Jefferson and Kitsap counties, continually is studying the various areas’ workforce needs.

Ensuring living wage jobs and a prospering economy all “comes back to the community trying to come together,” McEntire said.