News Archive

Washington County Unemployment falls to 2.4% in October

Washington County's unemployment rate fell to 2.4% in October from 2.6% in September. The number of employed persons rebounded to 12,500, and the number of unemployed persons was about 300.

Washington County's laborforce has peaked again at 12,900, equalling the historical high set this summer.

Iowa Workforce Development offers this data in several formats. At IWD's Local Area Unemployment Statistics page, you can select county maps for any month, and for several data types. That is the source for the following maps.

Source IWD Local Area Unemployment Statistics

Source: IWD Local Area Unemployment Statistics

Source: IWD's Local Area Unemployment Statistics

This map shows the percentage of the population between the ages of 20-65 that are employed or unemployed and seeking employment. Washington County has a participation rate of 86.2%, which is the third highest rate in Southeast Iowa. In Iowa, Washington County is in the top 20% of all counties for laborforce participation.

This high level of participation accounts for the large laborforce in Washington County, compared to other counties with a similar population.

The source of this map is the "Map of the Week" service of the Iowa Legislative.

Source: Iowa LSA Map of the Week

I like maps. 


Washington County is top Conservation County

Washington County has the most acres in Iowa enrolled in the USDA Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) with 37,046 acres or 2.6% of the state total.

"The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), established in 1985 by the Reagan administration, is a land conservation program administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA). In exchange for a yearly rental payment, farmers enrolled in the CRP program agree to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and plant species that will improve environmental health and quality. Contracts for land enrolled in CRP are 10-15 years in length. The long-term goal of the program is to re-establish valuable land cover to help improve water quality, prevent soil erosion, and reduce loss of wildlife habitat."

As a result of the last CRP signup in August 2013, Iowa had 1.39 million acres enrolled in CRP on October 1, 2013, down from 1.53 million acres. This decrease is because there were 183,857 acres that expired from the program, and only 47,418 acres that were accepted in to the program. The average number of CRP acres per county is 14,000.

Washington County had 6,779 acres that expired in 2013 and 3,203 acres that entered the CRP program, resulting in a state leading 37,046 acres. The reason that so many acres expired is that 10-15 years ago, even more acres were enrolled in CRP.

Washington County's 3,203 acres entering CRP in 2013 is the most in Iowa, followed by Keokuk County. This is significant to note because 2013 was the highest corn and soybean prices in Iowa history, averaging over $7 per bushel of corn and $15 per bushel of soybeans in the months leading up to the CRP signup.

This means that with sky-rocketing grain prices, Washington County farmers and property owners did not move to plant as many acres as possible. Instead, Washington County led the state for conservation acres enrolled and also for the number of new CRP contracts (110, 2nd to Keokuk County). Washington County farmers and landowners have a long-term view of caring for the land, and is not lured to plow up sensitive land by spiking grain prices.

Among the top 8 CRP enrollment counties, Washington County has the largest population, as well as the most enrolled acres. Five of the top 8 are on the southern Iowa border with Missouri, having populations between about 5,000 and 8,600. 

Source: USDA CRP 45th Signup, August 2013 County by County Summary

Among the top five hog producing Counties, Washington County has 12,000 more acres of CRP than the other four combined. In Washington County, leadership in livestock numbers is matched by leadership in conservation.

In southeast Iowa, a cluster of four counties account for 9% of all the CRP acres in Iowa - Henry, Jefferson, Keokuk, and Washington Counties.

The Des Moines Water Works has sued three Northwest Iowa counties over water quality. Only one of these three counties has more than the average CRP enrollment, and the other two have half the average CRP enrollment. In 2013, these three counties combined had 2,067 acres that expired from CRP, and only 260 acres that were enrolled in CRP.

Washington County is a unique County in Iowa (and the Midwest).

  • #1 in land conservation with 37,046 acres in CRP
  • #1 in solar with over 4.1 MW of user-owned, distributed power
  • #2 in hog production (which is all locally owned)
  • #3 in organic production
  • #3 in goat production
  • #6 in turkey production (with no avian flu cases in 2015)
  • #14 in population growth (behind the core metro counties)
  • Renewable fuels - Iowa Renewable Energy 30mgpy flex-source biodiesel plant

Source: USDA 2012 Ag Census; USDA CRP Enrollment 2013; Alliant Energy & Iowa Dept. of Revenue

The next CRP signup window is December 1, 2015 through February 26, 2016.


Unemployment remains at 2.6% in September - Employment up

Washington County's unemployment rate of 2.6% held constant from August into September, 2015. The number of employed persons was 12,300 in September, down from 12,500 in August as some seasonal work ends. This is really remarkable to have 12,300 to 12,500 Washington County residents employed. This means that almost every person who wants a job, has a job.

Compared to neighboring rural Counties, Washington County's 12,300 employed persons is tops. Henry County has 9,170 employed persons, fully 3,130 less people with jobs than Washington County. Jefferson County has 8,840 employed persons, or 3,460 fewer than Washington County (although they also have a smaller total population).

Some might say that people have given up looking for a job and are not in the labor force any more. There are certainly examples of dropping out, but Washington County's labor force continues to grow, reaching a record of 12,800 in August. 

The number of unemployed persons remained steady at 300 in August and September, 2.6% of the labor force. Of the 300 unemployed persons, 78 (26%) are receiving unemployment benefits. 17 of the 300 received their first unemployment payment in September, while 6 received their last payment. 

Statewide, the labor force grew slightly, and so did the number of employed persons, while the number of unemployed persons dropped. Statewide unemployment fell to 3.6% in September from 3.7% in August.

The State and County data in this article is from the Labor Market and Economic Research Bureau of the Iowa Workforce Development.



Employment trending Up

In addition to the growing labor force, the number of jobs in Washington has grown over the last 15 years from about 6,750 in 1999 to about 8,300 in 2014 Q4, an increase of over 1,500 jobs.

  • Source: US Census Bureau, Quarterly Workforce Indicators data

    In the past 15 years, Health Care has grown to be the largest employment sector. The other employment sectors with over 1,000 jobs includes Manufacturing, Hospitality, Retail (not on chart), in addition to Health Care. The Construction sector almost doubled to 842 jobs in 2014. Manufacturing had the greatest volatility, significantly impacted by plant closings (2003), national recessions (2008-10), and expansions and new plants in the last several years.

    Source: US Census Bureau, Quarterly Workforce Indicators data


  • Tuesday

    Energy Efficiency Workshop & Washington County surpasses 4 MW of Solar

    Have you been thinking about improving the energy efficiency of your Commercial building or business with new LED lighting or solar rooftop panels? This program is for you! Don't wait until incentives expire in 2016! Now is the time to educate yourself.

    This FREE event is hosted by Main Street WashingtonWEDG, and sponsored our vendors and speakers.

    SE Iowa Energy Efficiency Workshop
    Monday, October 5th, 5:30-7:30pm
    Washington Free Public Library
    (south side of the Square)
    115 West Washington St.
    Washington, IA 52353

    Learn About:

    Light refreshments will be provided thanks to Alliant Energy.

    There will be time to network and ask 1-on-1 questions at the Library after the 5:30-7:30pm event.

    Mid-American Energy also offers Energy Assessments and programs for Distributed Generation like Solar, and has a helpful FAQ for its customers.

    Washington County surpasses 4 MW of Solar

    In 2015, Washington County achieved 4.1 MegaWatts of installed solar energy in Alliant Energy's territory. Over 2 MegaWatts of that power serves Ag buildings, and another 1 MegaWatt serves residential users, and almost 1 MegaWatt serving business and industry users. There is 1.3 MegaWatts of that solar is in the City of Washington, mostly for business and residential uses.

    It is worthwhile to note that this 4.1 MW of solar energy is owned by local farmers, businesses, and residents rather than by Alliant Energy. That is a fundamental difference between local solar and the large, utility owned wind farms in Central and Western Iowa.

    Washington County Solar - Alliant Energy territory

      # of Customers # of Systems Capacity (KW)
    Agriculture 53 96 2133
    Business 14 21 690
    Residential 71 81 1042
    Small Business 8 11 207
    Total: 146 209 4072


    Back in May, 2015, I wrote about Washington County's #1 in Iowa status for solar with 22% of Iowa's solar tax credits. It also appears that Washington and Washington County are #2 Nationally (behind Honolulu, Hawaii) for watts of solar per capita.

    According to an Environmental America report from May 2015 on the top large-cities in America for solar, Honolulu was #1 with 276 per capital PV solar installed (Watts-DC/person). In the report, Indianapolis is #2 with 127 per capita PV solar installed.

    Forbes Magazine reported on Environmental America's findings in May 2015.

    Alliant Energy has calculated that based on the 4.1 MW of solar installed in Washington County with about 22,015 population, there is about 185 watts of PV solar per capita. That makes Washington County #2, way in front of Indianapolis!

    Even considering just the City of Washington with 7370 estimated 2015 population and 1,263Kw of installed solar, that is 171 watts of PV solar per capita. That would still easily be the #2 solar city in America (behind Honolulu).

    That is a lot of solar. And there is going to be more installed in the coming years.


    IDOT 2014 traffic counts released

    The Iowa DOT recently released the 2014 quadrennial Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT) for cities and counties in Southeast Iowa.

    Click here for current and historical traffic counts for all Iowa CITIES.

    Click here for current and historical traffic counts for all Iowa COUNTIES.

    The DOT also has a variety of interesting Statewide maps of traffic counts, networks, and more.

    These AADT maps are available for download (as PDFs) for Southeast Iowa for the years 2014, 2010, 2006, 2002 and 1998. Older paper maps are available for order from the Iowa DOT offices in Ames.

    Traffic count data is valuable for business planning, and for helping local and state government to make programming decisions for maintenance, construction, speed limits, and other policy considerations.

    Comparing current traffic counts and traffic patterns can be interesting. For example, there have been some significant shifts in traffic patterns in Washington between 2006 to 2014.

    A number of significant factors contribute to these shifts.

    • A primary factor for this shift was the relocation and expansion of Walmart from the west side of Washington on Hwy 1 South to the east side of Washington on Hwy 92, as well as the new Ace N' More hardware store and relocated Pizza Ranch nearby. 
    • Another factor is the 2012 relocation of the Washington High School from the historic near-downtown location to the south end. 
    • A third factor is the new Fillmore St. that connects the south side to Airport Road, and the rebuilding of S. 9th Ave that makes it a more desirable route for travelers that may have previously chosen using Iowa Ave. 
    • A fourth factor is that in 2014, the IDOT was repaving Hwy 1 from G-36 north of Washington, all the way to Iowa City. When the traffic counts of 2014 were being made, a lot of vehicles chose other routes rather than using Hwy 1 on Washington's west side, and tended to use US 218 on the east side for regional travel.
    • A fifth factor is that 2006 was before the Great Recession of 2008+ and that driving habits are just not the same now in 2014.

    These factors resulted in several thousand vehicles per day that historically crossed Washington to and from the west side, instead heading to the east edge of Washington, or the south side.  Less traffic traverses Hwy 92 across the middle of Washington in 2014 than in 2006.

    Check out the traffic map for the entire City of Washington from 2014, 2010, 2006, 2002, and 1998 for the whole picture.

    The shift is evident when comparing the jump in Average Annual Daily Traffic (AADT) on Hwy 92 between Airport Road and the relocated Walmart further east, between 2006 and 2014. In 2006, this stretch of Hwy 92 had about 4,300 AADT. In 2014, this same area experienced 7,500 AADT.

    It is worth noting that the new Kirkwood Regional Education Center off Hwy 1 on Washington's Northwest side was not yet open when the 2014 traffic counts were made. This facility is also reshaping traffic patterns in Washington and Washington County.


    For the last few years, the Iowa DOT has provided on-line access to selected intersections' turning movement data and maps. Click here to access the IDOT online GIS turning movement app.

    Some of the interesting intersections around Washington County are:

    For additional traffic information and insights, contact IDOT's Ron Bunting, 515-239-1323 or Also, feel free to contact Ed Raber at WEDG, 319-653-3942 or