Economy improving ever so slowly

  • JOBS. On Port of Tacoma’s annual boat tours, visitors get a ship-side view of the largest container ship to call in Tacoma. The ZIM Djibouti holds 10,000 containers, and its length stretches nearly twice the height of the Space Needle. (Photo courtesy of Port of Tacoma)

Experts say the economy is doing pretty much what most local folks have been noticing – getting better. More houses are being sold, credit cards are being swiped through cash registers more often and fuller tables can be found at restaurants than there have been in recent years. Local business is about what it was before the Great Recession started in late 2008, but recovery will be slow.

Pacific Lutheran University Economics Professors Martin Wurm and Neal Johnson worked the local numbers into their presentation of the Pierce County Economic Index (PCEI) at the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber’s annual Horizon Forecast event last week. Wurm and Johnson presented their findings for the first time after University of Puget Sound Economics professors Bruce Mann and Doug Goodman retired last year after more than two decades of research.

Continuing Mann’s and Goodman’s work this year with their own twist, Wurm and Johnson predict the PCEI will grow by 1.8 percent in 2014, following growth by about 2.5 percent in recent years. The growth will be fed by an increase of 4,600 jobs. That compares to the addition of 3,900 jobs in 2013. Those jobs will drop the local unemployment rate to 7 percent, down from its high of 11 percent in 2010. The local employment levels at the end of 2014 will be roughly what they were in 2006.

The trickle down effects of those jobs will bring increased retail spending, which is predicted to grow by about 4 percent. That level of spending will total about $5.9 billion in 2009 comparative dollars and be down from the retail high point in 2007, when spending hit $6.4 billion.

More jobs and higher spending don’t directly translate into high paychecks however, since personal income, which grew by 2.2 percent in 2013, will only grow by 1.9 percent in 2014. But the cumulative, slow pay increase will bring per capita income past its pre-recession peak.

A solid indication of the strength of the local economy can be found on the tideflats, since trade activities make up 43,000 family-wage jobs in Pierce County and 113,000 jobs across Washington. Terminal operations in Tacoma provide a gateway to Asia and Alaska for everything from retail items to automobiles.

Total container volume grew by about 8 percent in 2013, but is expected to be flat through 2014, with just 3 percent growth driven largely by automotive imports, according to the Horizon forecast.

Horizon 2014

Pacific Lutheran University Economics Professors Martin Wurm and Neal Johnson will talk about the Pierce County Economic Index for the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber’s annual Horizon Forecast several times on Channel 12 in Tacoma and Channel 21 around Pierce County. The show will air: 2 p.m. and 10 p.m. Jan. 17; 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Jan. 18; 1 a.m., 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Jan. 19; and 4 p.m. Jan. 20. The presentation is also available at


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