Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Washington County Economic Update

According to just released jobs figures, Washington County ended 2012 with a full year of 5-6 percent job growth under its belt. This level of employment expansion falls within what I call the “Goldilocks” range—near the county’s long-term average and not too fast, not too slow, but “just right.” Keep in mind that in other areas this rate of nonfarm expansion would appear excessive.

All indicators point to an economy well into its expansionary phase. Here are some details:

  • In December 2012, year-over nonagricultural jobs grew by 5.6 percent compared to December 2011—a net gain of almost 2,700 positions. Most industries shared in the current growth making this a broad-based, a therefore sustainable expansion. Only transportation experienced a notable decline. 
  • Industries showing employment gains of at least 300 jobs included professional/business services, leisure/hospitality services, construction (yes, construction), and private education/health/social services. 
  • Professional/business services showed a particularly rapid expansion (a whopping 28 percent). In addition, construction sector employment is up by 12 percent. 
  • With such strong job growth, the continued decline in the unemployment rate should come as no surprise. As of February 2012, Washington County’s jobless rate stood at 6.2 percent—down 1.5 percentage points from February 2011. Although joblessness still remains higher than the state average (5.2 percent), it falls far below the national average of 7.7 percent. 
  • First-time claims for unemployment insurance have settled into a normal seasonal pattern with the highest level of claims coming from professional/business services (which includes temp agencies). 
  • In 2012, total construction values increased 1.5 percent—decimal dust in the capricious world of construction permitting. However, the true story lies in the 26-percent increase in new home permits. At 1,065, the number of new dwelling unit permits marks the highest figure since the boom year of 2007. 
  • Home prices also reflect the improving market. The Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight’s Housing Price Index shows a full year of improving home values in Washington County. 
  • Nonresidential permit values dropped by 52 percent. Nonresidential permitting typically lags residential building, so expect those numbers to perk up in upcoming months. 
  • In the fourth quarter of 2012, gross taxable sales rose by a moderate 4.5 percent year-to-year basis. This gain marks the second straight year of quarterly sales gains. 
  • An improving economy and pent-up demand have also spurred an increase in new car sales. Washington County’s new car and truck sales increased by 24 percent in 2012.