Aerospace boosts hiring in Snohomish County

LYNNWOOD — The economy is a long way from recovery, but Snohomish County is better positioned than most areas of Washington state, members of an economic panel said Wednesday.

Washington still needs to recover 175,000 jobs lost in the recession, said Arun Raha, the state’s chief economist. He added that the state is not expected to return to prerecession employment levels before 2013.

“But Washington state is particularly blessed and particularly Snohomish County because of the presence of aerospace,” Raha said.

He noted that the Boeing Co. has been hiring about 100 people a week for quite some time.

“The tanker program they won is a big plus,” he added, referring to the $30 billion contract to build 179 new refueling tankers for the U.S. Air Force.

Raha noted that Washington has more exports than any other state, mostly because of Boeing, which amounts to about half our exports.

Raha’s comments came in a panel discussion of the region’s economy at the Lynnwood Convention Center, which was sponsored by Economic Alliance Snohomish County.

Another panelist, Michael Parks of Marple’s Letter, an economic newsletter for the Northwest, also talked about the importance of Boeing.

“One thing I have seen in the last year or so is a change in attitude on the part of that major employer,” he said. “It has a much more positive attitude with regard to the Puget Sound workforce.”

He also noted that recent income statistics show that Snohomish County residents are hard workers.

“Everett has always been a blue collar town,” and the statistics support than, Parks said. He noted that 72 percent of the income from Snohomish County residents comes from paychecks, with 14 percent from investments and another 14 percent from transfer payments (government checks such as Social Security).

He said that in neighboring King County, the percentage of income from paychecks is 62 percent.

“A lot of the jingle in their jeans came from work, not transfer payments,” he said of Snohomish County residents.

The final panelist, Cort O’Haver, who’s in charge of commercial banking for Umpqua Bank, said local banks are still reviving, but are in much better shape now.

“I think banks have turned a corner,” he said. “We’re not healed yet, but we’ve turned a corner.”

He said local banks were hammered by the recession and stopped making loans, which hurt local businesses.

“In the last three years they’ve hunkered down, and the best they could do was slow their bleeding,” he said of community banks.

But he said most banks have started to add capital now and make loans, noting that’s how banks make money.

Asked what he was concerned about ahead, O’Haver said new federal banking regulations could be difficult and time consuming for banks to interpret.

Parks said he’s worried about the price of oil, although he noted that it actually could help Boeing directly and Snohomish County indirectly.

“Rising oil prices put more urgency in accelerating replacement aircraft,” he said.

He added that he’s also concerned about the potential of an economic bubble bursting in China.

Raha said he, too, is worried about oil prices because “people have less to spend.”

“The recovery is very fragile,” he said.

On the upside, he said the death of Osama bin Laden boosted our psyches. And he said it’s good news that inflation appears to be contained.

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