Monday, November 22, 2010

Tri Cities, Economic Recovery and a Little Politics

Politics does influence and shape Washington's landscape. Much of eastern Washington's present landscape was shaped by the New Deal politics of the 1930s and those political decisions made years ago and far from Washington State continue to influence and shape what Washington State looks like.

An employment study by Garner Economics on employment growth over the past five years in metropolitan areas around the United Sates provides a rather grim picture. The employment growth in most places has been negative.  A very rare exception has been the Tri-Cities of Kennewick, Pasco and Richland, Washington. The Tri-Cities has seen the number of jobs grow over the past 5 years by 5.4%. It is the only metro area in Washington State with positive job growth for the period. All the others are in the negative, that is they lost jobs.

The economic situation many communities find themselves in often has little to do with local decisions. Policies and economic circumstances miles away have great influence. The fate of towns and cities in Washington State have been profoundly determined by decisions made miles away. Perhaps the easiest to see are the small towns that were by-passed by railroads in the late 1800s. Or in more recent years the slow depopulation of areas as timber harvests have declined from previous boom years and the industry modernized reducing the number of workers. Or the coastal fishing communities that have collapsed as fish stocks have plummeted due to decisions made miles away that impacted salmon habitat on rivers throughout the northwest.
The Tri-Cities of Richland, Kennewick and Pasco have been shaped greatly by decisions made in Washington D.C.  All three were very small out of the way places until the combination of excess hydro electric power (New Deal politics), a big river (the Columbia),  remoteness and a World War (politics again)brought about the decision to select the area just to the north as the site for manufacturing fuel for atomic weapons. Less than 2,000 people lived in Kennewick in 1940. Today the population is estimated to be 67,000.

The most recent anomalous job situation in the Tri-Cities has a great deal to do with federal economic policy. The Hanford Nuclear Reservation has received $1.96 billion in federal economic recovery money primarily for speeding the on going and very complex and in some cases dangerous cleanup work on wastes associated with the production of weapons grade nuclear fuel at the site. The federal recovery funding that was part of the economic stimulus package funded 3,124 full time Hanford jobs. Not a bad deal for an area that votes strongly Republican with a congressman that opposed to the federal economic recovery stimulus funding. Doc Hasting (R) the local U.S. Congressman stated, "I fully support Congress acting now in the stimulus bill, the Fiscal Year 2009 appropriations bill and the Fiscal Year 2010 budget to enact more funding for these efforts (cleanup)." before he voted against the federal economic recovery funding that funded the 3,124 new jobs in the Tri-Cities.

At present it appears that as federal funding drops off next year, the recently created jobs will no longer be funded and the economic condition of the Tri-Cities will be greatly altered.

1 comment:

Frank Lockwood said...

I found the article interesting, though I am still not sure what point the author was trying to make.

If the point is that government contracts affect the economy at large and the economy of Tri Cities, Washington as well -- of course that's true.

I guess I can't imagine anyone thinking otherwise.