Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter (left) walks past a C-17 Globemaster transport plane during a visit to Joint Base Lewis-McChord in March. JBLM topped the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County’s 2016 major employers list. Peter Haley phaley@thenewstribune.com
Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter (left) walks past a C-17 Globemaster transport plane during a visit to Joint Base Lewis-McChord in March. JBLM topped the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County’s 2016 major employers list. Peter Haley phaley@thenewstribune.com

Business

List of top Pierce County employers buoyed by stronger economy

October 29, 2016 01:54 PM

UPDATED November 01, 2016 01:33 PM

Job by job, Pierce County is growing.

The Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County has released its 2016 major employers list. This year, 215 companies made the cut of those that hire 100 or more full-time-equivalent workers. In 2014, the last time the EDB compiled the information, 203 companies made the list.

With more warehouses under construction along the Interstate 5 corridor and on the Tacoma Tideflats, the number of jobs likely will keep rising.

ECONOMY FUELS JOBS IN SEVERAL SECTORS

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As cranes fill the skies of Seattle and regional public works projects get off the ground, the number of people hired by major construction firms in Pierce County has increased.

The EDB’s survey shows the number of construction jobs at major employers has increased nearly 50 percent since 2012, and almost 30 percent in the past two years alone.

“Construction is booming right now,” said Maddie Merton, the EDB’s vice president for business retention and expansion.

Among growing construction firms is Puyallup-based Absher Construction, Merton said, which recently nabbed a $174 million contract to build Sound Transit’s elevated Northgate Station and parking garage. The company is 85th on the EDB’s list overall and second for construction companies, with 230 full-time workers. That’s a hefty increase since 2013, the last year the company was on the list with 170 employees.

Part of the construction industry’s growth includes more warehouses — propelled by consumer desire for on-demand or rapid deliveries of online purchases.

Shippers such as UPS and FedEx also are delivering much of online shoppers’ wares. FedEx opened a Fife warehouse earlier this year.

The number of workers for the largest firms that often rely on warehouses, such as distribution centers and manufacturing, more than doubled from 2012 to 2016, to 11,667 workers.

Amazon started appearing on the major employers list in 2014 and remains there today with 700 workers. It is the county’s 26th largest employer.

Nationwide, from 2011 through 2014, warehouse construction starts increased by 258 percent nationwide, according to Electrical Contractor magazine earlier this year.

Locally, new warehouses continue to sprout from the Kent Valley, on the Tacoma Tideflats and into Lakewood.

Port of Tacoma spokeswoman Tara Mattina said developments on the Tideflats, including those on Port of Tacoma land, could encompass between 4 million and 5 million square feet of warehouse space within the next few years.

Among those is a warehouse and distribution center planned by San Francisco-based real estate developer Prologis. An early conceptual design provided to the Port of Tacoma last year includes up to 1.7 million square feet of warehouse space among three buildings.

Last year, Prologis secured a long-term lease on an 80-acre parcel owned by the Port of Tacoma.

“A lot of companies are looking at Pierce County and making an investment here because it’s a lot less expensive to do business here,” Merton said.

The aerospace sector also saw modest growth since 2012, adding 20 percent more employees by 2016 than in 2012. The survey counts nearly 3,000 people employed by major aerospace firms in Pierce County.

The Boeing Co. remains the largest among the area’s aerospace employers and is 11th overall on the list of top county employers with 1,750 workers.

The Washington Aerospace Partnership released its report on the aerospace industry earlier this month. Though the major employers list counts five firms as “aerospace manufacturers,” that earlier aerospace report includes 136 production suppliers and other vendors for Boeing within Pierce County alone.

The sector is poised for growth, as Japan-headquartered Mitsui-Soko (U.S.A.) recently broke ground on a 200,000-square-foot warehouse in Frederickson, specifically for the aerospace industry.

TOP 5 EMPLOYERS UNCHANGED SINCE 2012

In the past four EDB surveys, the top five employers in Pierce County have included Joint Base Lewis-McChord, local public school districts, MultiCare Health System, the state of Washington and CHI Franciscan Health.

This year, JBLM, at the top of the EDB list, employed 57,120 people.

“It’s the largest employer by far in the South Sound,” said U.S. Rep. Denny Heck at the annual Tacoma Pierce County Chamber of Commerce luncheon Tuesday. “It’s the engine that drives our economy. If we ever lose sight of that, we are asking for an incredible, incredible risk.”

The base employs nearly 14 percent fewer people than it did two years ago. Still, the military employed more people in Pierce County than the next top 17 companies on the major employer’s list combined.

NEWCOMERS TO THE LIST

One newcomer to the list is SAFE Boats International, which boasts 137 employees on the 2016 list. The firm, on the Tacoma Tideflats, builds aluminum vessels for the military, law enforcement and fire and rescue agencies worldwide.

Tacoma’s Bass Pro Shops, with its 16-lane bowling alley and a herd of stuffed predators, opened two years ago. It’s on the EDB’s list this year with 130 retail employees.

One industry that’s not made the cut so far is the marijuana industry. Several producers and processors are tucked into Tacoma’s industrial areas. However, none have broken the 100-employee mark, Merton said.

“Maybe next year,” Merton said.

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542, @KateReports