An important way an individual can change their future is by getting a good education. When you compare Cowlitz County to the rest of the state
has we have a very low percentage of adults with a four-year college degree. Across the state there are 32.9% of the adults that have a four-year Bachelors of Arts degree but in Cowlitz County it’s 15.9%. But what does this really mean? The backbone of the economy for many years has been manufacturing, timber, and construction. With the last recession manufacturing took a hit and has slowly rebounded but there still 1100 jobs that have disappeared either through automation, increased production or other economic factors. The County does have a higher number of workers with Associate of Arts degrees and many that are trained in the pulp and paper industry and will find comparable jobs with the proposed methanol plant at the Port of Kalama. Lower Columbia College and local high schools continue collaboration to provide career training outside of a college degree track. Workers are beginning to realize that they can have a good job without having a college degree. Apprenticeships and other job training programs are vital to the today’s workers.
The average hourly wage in Cowlitz County of $20.85 compares well against the non-metropolitan balance of state at $20.15. The median income continues to follow fall short from the state median income and the years 2013-2015 saw little change in local median income. The 2015 Cowlitz County median income was $47,452 compared to the Washington State’s $61,062.
For many years the unemployment rate has been steadily 2% higher than the Washington State rate. In 2016 we were at 7.2% unemployment compared to Washington’s rate of 5.2%. As many in the community know the unemployment rate does not take into account those who have given up looking for work or had to settle for part-time employment
. The under employed and employment rate (U-6) of Cowlitz County as set by the Bureau of Labor Statistics is 10.4% which is a truer picture for the economy and family’s employment situations. It should be noted that in 2010 the U-6 rate for Cowlitz County was 19.5%. Economic recovery is now beginning to give way to economic vitality.
Projects proposed for the ports of Longview, Kalama and Woodland can bring more than $4 billion in new construction, 3000 jobs during the construction and over 400 jobs when the plants are operational. The permitting process has been arduous and long especially for the proposed Millennium Bulk Terminal project. Our environmental and regulatory standards are so rigorous that it is unlikely that KapStone or Nippon would even be able to build similar facilities in Washington State today. Local government, economic development advocates, and the public need to work together for balancing jobs and protecting the environment.
Unfortunately, poverty by individuals and families continues to haunt Cowlitz County. More than one out of every six residents lives in poverty, 17.5% for adults and 24.2% children and adolescents under 18. Poverty is easily one of the adverse childhood experiences that can create trauma in one’s life. Housing, food, healthcare, and transportation all require money. If you are poor you are likely faced with difficult decisions about priorities in spending on what you can and cannot afford. Education becomes key not only for learning but for getting a better job and making a better income.
A concern by local business has been the drop in the number of young adults between 18 and 34 who live in the county. Speculation is they leave for college and never come back. Another way to look at it is they don't see the opportunity in Cowlitz County and they leave to find it elsewhere. Economic vitality can help keep young adults in the county. The youthfulness of these workers is important with so many other jobs being dominated by older workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 33.2% of educators are over 55 years of age, as are 28.6% of those working in manufacturing and 32.5% in transportation and warehouse services. These figures are higher than the state average. When these workers retire will there be younger workers to take their place is a question that needs to be addressed.
- Support local businesses by shopping at local businesses
- Practice debt management and asset building
- Support volunteer efforts for job training and basic skills
- Continue efforts of Cowlitz EDC to implement quality of place
- Encourage businesses to hire local workers
- Provide internships and training positions in local businesses for students
- Include basic employment skills training in career development training programs
- Work with employers to allow employees to attend college classes during work hours
- Encourage public/private investments in community development projects
- Encourage expansion of business and recreation opportunities with Mt. St. Helens
- Create more living wage jobs
- Promote state business incentives and tax exemption
- Fund STEM (Scientific, Technical, Engineering, and Mathematics) skills training in local schools
- Support efforts to build and maintain affordable housing
- Ensure collaboration between colleges and schools to offer vocational training programs
- Limit expansion of check cashing/quick loan businesses