Grays Harbor jobless picture brightens


Grays Harbor County no longer has the state’s highest unemployment rate, dropping from 13 percent to 12.4 percent in July.

County-by-county statistics for the month of July released Tuesday by the state Department of Employment Security show that Ferry County in Eastern Washington now has the highest jobless rate at 12.7 percent.

Lewis County (12.3 percent unemployment for July) was just below Grays Harbor, and Pacific County’s unemployment rate dropped to 10.2 percent from 11 percent in June.

San Juan County at 4.7 percent had the state’s lowest unemployment for July, followed by Douglas County (5.9 percent) and neighboring Chelan County (6 percent) in Central Washington. King County’s unemployment actually increased from 7.2 percent in June to 7.8 percent in July, and Thurston County saw just a slight increase from 7.7 percent in June to 7.8 percent in July.

Until the latest figures were released, Grays Harbor County had led the state with the highest unemployment rate since May, with a 13.7 percent rate then. Local officials said the numbers are expected to improve even more dramatically in coming months with several major labor developments on the Harbor.

Mikel Michener, administrator at WorkSource Grays Harbor/Pacific County, noted the latest report doesn’t take into account the reopening of Hoquiam Plywood and the pending start-up of Harbor Paper.

“Those numbers don’t mature for 60 to 90 days,” Michener said of how long it takes new employment to show up in labor statistics. “It’s not until these people go to work and they show up on the tax roles that we consider them employed.”

Michener said the local WorkSource office is seeing a “burst of job openings” with the two companies re-starting.

“But we still don’t know what is going on out in the periphery. There may still be a couple of layoffs here or there with smaller things going on to counter that,” Michener said.

Tim Gibbs, executive director of Greater Grays Harbor Inc., expressed some optimism before the new numbers came out, noting that Worksource Grays Harbor recently has been conducting testing for workers who hope to be hired when Harbor Paper starts up next month.

“Is that cool or what?” Gibbs said. “To me, that’s the coolest thing to experience. This is how it’s supposed to work.”

Gibbs said the company plans to be operating in 45 days.

“I know we need much, much more than 150 or 175 jobs, but they are going to have to collect the biomass, they’re also going to have to haul it in trucks, they’re also going to have to have trucks deliver the paper,” Gibbs said of jobs that likely will be added to the workforce as a result of the reopening of the former Grays Harbor Paper facility in Hoquiam. “The multiplier is real, it really is.”

Gibbs said he “keeps plugging along hoping we will see the numbers start trailing in the right direction.”

Hoquiam Plywood, Gibbs added, is nearing full employment with between 50 and 60 people now working at the mill that recently was sold to Pacific States Industries in May.

At WorkSource, the agency set up to assist those on unemployment in finding new work, Michener said his office has been busy helping with the Harbor Paper hiring process, which is ongoing.

“They are going to set the hiring criteria and they’re going to develop an application process,” he said. “Our role is to allow people access to the applications through our system and our computer network.”

Other than offering technical assistance, Michener said, the WorkSource role in Harbor Paper’s hiring is fairly limited. While he did not know the exact number of applications thus far, he estimated them to be “in the hundreds.”

“Once Harbor Paper receives the applications, their personnel people screen them, and then they send us back a series of lists of applicants that they want us to do skill-assessment testing on,” he said.

Those tests are now under way in groups of 10 to 15 at a time. By the end of the day Wednesday, Michener said the local office expects to have tested 260 prospective workers. “We don’t think we’re through, but it has slowed down a bit as they find the folks they need to get production set up and started,” he said.

The same set of skills assessment tests were used when Cosmo Speciality Fibers reopened last year, Michener noted. The skills include industrial math, plant safety, English comprehension and basic reading skills, and spatial orientation.

“It’s the kind of stuff you need to know to work in that environment today,” Michener said. “You have to be able to read instructions, you have to be able to do basic math, you have to be able to understand how things go together, and you have to understand safety.”

Harbor Paper then gets the raw results back from the testing before a hiring decision is made.

Michener said many of the applicants are previous Grays Harbor Paper workers, — 240 people lost their jobs when the plant closed in May 2011 — and that current projections are for 175 people to be added to the staff under the new owners. But WorkSource has long-range plans to be part of the process well into the future.

“I don’t see this as ever ending,” Michener said. “This is an open-ended process and we have kind of an open agreement with them. As they hire, they are going to use us continuously.”

The new county numbers are not seasonally adjusted. Earlier last week, the Employment Security Department issued a revised seasonally adjusted statewide unemployment rate of 8.5 percent, which is up from the 8.3 percent statewide rate in June.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, preliminary estimates from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate the state added 5,000 jobs from June to July 2012. The bureau estimates the private sector added 6,300 jobs over the month and the public sector lost 1,300 jobs. Estimates from July 2011 to July 2012 show a total job gain of 57,000 for the state. Over the year, the private sector added an estimated 62,500 jobs, while the public sector lost an estimated 5,500 jobs.

As jobs are added on the Harbor, Michener said, they create a cycle that keeps generating jobs. The ratio is about three jobs created for every person employed in a factory job.

“As those people get established and start to earn an income again, they start shopping and eating out and seeing movies again, you start to add those secondary and tertiary jobs, and that becomes significant,” he said. “It has some pretty long-lasting effects downstream.”

Employment information:

•An online application is available to apply for positions at Harbor Paper at http://www.harborpaper.com/Application.html

•To view a full map of the July 2012 county-by-county unmployment numbers visit https://fortress.wa.gov/esd/employmentdata/report-content-pages/map-of-c...

•WorkSource Grays Harbor is online at http://www.wa.gov/esd/ws/GraysHarbor/default.htm