The local economy showed improvement in nearly every category over the past year, according to figures compiled by Greater Grays Harbor Inc. and presented by CEO Dru Garson at the organization’s annual State of Grays Harbor breakfast in Aberdeen on Friday.
Garson said in an email there has been an uptick in the number of new retail businesses this year, and that many of them are expanding operations and workforce.
“For many of these entrepreneurs, they feel that the timing (this year) feels right to start a business and many feel the economic climate has improved to the point they are willing to follow their passion and create new businesses,” wrote Garson. The Greater Grays Harbor’s 2019 Economic Vitality Index and Year In Review report is available at graysharbor.org.
Garson also acknowledged there are ongoing challenges as well. Per capita income lags far behind the state average and affordable housing is still in short supply, particularly in beach tourism communities where service workers are having trouble finding housing.
Garson said the housing challenges can be viewed as both a challenge and as an opportunity for developers.
Still, the State of Grays Harbor was almost entirely positive.
Between 2016 and 2017, the per capita income rose from $36,987 to $38,406, which is still below the Washington State average of $57,896. Grays Harbor County’s median household income, however, dropped slightly from $48,210 in 2016 to $47,619 in 2017.
Jobs also saw an increase, with a 1,627 increase in jobs from 2014 to 2018. There was also a tiny decrease in unemployment rate, going down 0.4% from 7.1% in 2017 to 6.7% in 2018. The biggest job sector, health care and social assistance, saw a small decrease in 2018 compared to 2017, while other sectors like accommodations and food services, and retail trade, saw an increase in jobs. Although it’s one of the smallest job sectors, agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting saw a small increase in employment as well. Garson said cannabis growing operations, which fit in the agricultural category, might be the reason.
Garson was also proud of the fact that Grays Harbor County was ranked number one in Washington State in terms of having the smallest decrease in home sales. The county had just a 2.6% decrease in annual home sales between the first quarter of 2018 and 2019, with the next smallest being Snohomish county with a 7.7% decrease. As well, Grays Harbor County had the sixth-highest change in home sale prices, going up 8.7% over the past year.
The State of Grays Harbor event attracted a full house at the Rotary Log Pavilion in Aberdeen, including various local officials such as Congressman Derek Kilmer, who spoke positively about the county’s economic developments.
“I started my remarks just saying thanks for the good stuff going on here,” said Kilmer. “The Port of Grays Harbor is a juggernaut, the community college is doing amazing work preparing workers, the local financial institutions are supporting small businesses, so there’s a lot of positive stuff happening.”