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Washington County's Employment Trajectory

2016 ended on a sad note in Washington County with the final closure of the Washington plant of Modine Manufacturing, a publically traded, international corporation. Originally a local start-up that was eventually purchased by Wisconsin-based Modine, the plant was a preferred employer and workforce leader for many decades.

The Modine plant in Washington generally employed between 150 and 180. That swelled to 240 in the past few years after Modine brought new work lines to Washington after closing other Midwestern plants. Modine Manufacturing has actually off-shoared work from many of their American manufacturing plants. Most of the work from Modine's Washington plant is being off-shored to Mexico, with some of it going to plants in Missouri.

Modine closed the Washington plant over the past 18 months. Employees left for other opportunities or were laid off gradually, with the last 70 employees staying through the closure in December. 

Unemployment Remains Low

Even with the slow leak of employees from Modine over the past 18 months, Washington County's unemployment rate, and the number of unemployed people has remained very low. In November, it was 2.5% with 300 unemployed persons, which is almost an all-time low.

Washington County's laborforce has hit all-time record highs this fall. This Summer and Fall, the laborforce hit 12,900 which is a demonstration that Washington County's population is growing. In November, the laborforce contracted slightly to 12,700, which is a typical trend over the winter.

Jobs at an All-Time High

The past 3-4 years have seen Washington County reach its historical peak for non-farm jobs. In fact, compared to the beginning of this century, there are 1,500 more jobs in Washington County in 2016, or about a 20% increase from 2001. In 2001, Washington County had about 7,100 total jobs. In 2016, the jobs total had reached 8,500. Because of our unique livestock farming sector which employs many hundreds, the all inclusive job total is much higher.

Not every Southeast Iowa County has enjoyed the same job growth. Henry County started 2001 with 10,600 jobs. By 2016, that number had dropped to 9,300, or a decrease of 12%. Jefferson County started 2001 with 8,000 jobs (down from 9,000 in 1998). In 2016, Jefferson County's job total was 7,500, or a 6% decrease. Similarly, Louisa County had a decrease from 3,500 jobs in 2001 down to 2,300 in 2016, a 34% drop. Keokuk County has been relatively stable with a decrease from 2,500 jobs in 2001 down to 2,300 jobs in 2016, still an 8% decrease.

Employment by Sector

A lot of Washington County's job growth has come from other sectors besides Manufacturing. The Construction sector has more than doubled from 440 in 2001 to 900 in 2016. These additional 400+ jobs pay at the top of the wage scale, about $100 per week more than the average Manufacturing job in Washington County. 

Source: Iowa Workforce Development, Labor Market Information bureau

The Healthcare and Local Government (mostly schools) sectors have also grown slowly over the past 15 years in tandem with our population, becoming extremely stable and good paying foundations of our economy.

There has also been small increases in service sector employment, like Retail which employs over 1,000. The Leisure and Hospitality sector has grown dramatically to over 1,200 with the addition of the Riverside Casino in 2006.

Manufacturing has been the most volatile employment sector. Forces outside the local economy have both brought new jobs and taken them away, temporarily and sometimes permanently. That up and down trend is likely to continue into the future.

State and federal statistics do not track Farm jobs, but Washington County has one of the most unique Ag sectors in Iowa and the Midwest. There a hundreds of livestock based farm jobs in Washington County that don't appear in the data.

Who is Growing?

Fortunately, Washington County is an interesting place for entrepreneurs with numerous niches to fill locally, as well as companies that have grown to fill regional, national, and even international markets.

While many larger companies in Washington County have maintained their employment level since the 2008 recession, a number of employers have achieved significant employment growth. This is not a complete list, but just a selection of companies with recent growth. I hope this makes you think of other businesses that are growing. With a little thought, you'll have an even longer list of businesses that make Washington County a thriving place to live and work.

We are looking forward to helping these and other aggressive businesses and entrepreneurs as they work to grow and innovate. It is what makes Washington County such an interesting place, full of opportunity.