Washington Economic Overview
Washington State, full of lush forests that supply the state’s lumber industry, is also known for its trout and salmon fishing and world famous apples. The water of the Columbia River provides hydroelectric power to the state via the Grand Coulee Dam, the third largest producer of hydroelectricity in the world and the reason for Washington’s being a top producer of refined aluminum. Other leading industries and companies that contribute to the gross state product of $311.5 billion are aerospace (Boeing), computer enterprises (Microsoft, Nintendo, and Amazon), biotechnology, and tourism. Some 6.7 million people call Washington State home; the average per capita income is $41,000 annually.
English fur traders conducted a brisk trade with China via sea routes from Washington in the mid-to-late 1700s, but American missionaries were the first real settlers in the area. They were followed by Oregon Trail pioneers who traveled northward and settled in what would later become the state of Washington, establishing timber and agricultural industries.
With the advent of the California Gold Rush (1848–1855) these industries grew, along with fishing, in order to meet the demands of California’s growing population. Although gold was also discovered in Washington in 1852, a war with the Native American population at the time prevented extensive mining. When more gold deposits were discovered in 1860, prospectors flocked to the sites. It was not until the 1880s, however, when the railroad reached the state that a major wave of new settlers arrived.
By the time Washington was admitted to the Union in 1889, the lumber and livestock industries were firmly established. The Industrial Workers of the World labor organization had a strong following among the loggers, shipyard workers, and dockworkers in Washington, and after World War I, they went on a general strike, which crippled the state’s economy.
A backlash of anti-labor sentiment lasted until the 1930s, when the Great Depression at first devastated then transformed Washington’s economy. The federal construction programs of the New Deal provided jobs that built new highways, bridges, and hydroelectric dams, supplying a new statewide electricity grid that primed the pump for industrial growth. This came during World War II, when the defense industry produced aircraft made Washington the aerospace giant it is today.
After the war, military installations such as the Bremerton naval shipyard were further expanded, as was the production of Boeing aircraft. Trade with Asia increased, and starting in the late 1980s, computer software companies such as Microsoft and other high-tech firms moved to the state. This diversification mitigated the job losses from the defense industry in the 1990s, with the end of the Cold War.
Washington State ranks first in the U.S. in production of apples, sweet cherries, raspberries, and spearmint. More than half of all the apples eaten in the country come from Washington, which also exports the fruit to some 50 countries worldwide. Up to 12 billion apples weighing some four trillion pounds are picked by hand annually in Washington, worth some $1.8 billion. The state also produces about $1 billion worth of dairy products, as well as $915 million worth of wheat and $705 million worth of potatoes. Crops grown in Washington account for $6.4 billion of the state’s $9.1 billion agricultural industry.
BANKING AND FINANCE
Around 8,000 community banks do business in Washington, and there are more than 90 state-charted savings banks, commercial banks, and independent trust companies in the state, with total assets of $77 billion. Some 81,500 people are employed in Washington’s financial services sector.
Eighty-six newspapers are published in Washington, which has 18 television stations and 285 radio stations. The state’s broadcasting industry employs 510 announcers at an annual average salary of $55,000, as well as 580 broadcast technicians with an average annual salary of $38,000, and 1,370 other media and communication workers with an average annual salary of $56,000. There are around 240 telephone companies regulated by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, which provide local service in Washington, but less than a quarter of them are based in the state.
The Washington construction industry employs roughly 177,000 workers, a drop of 34,000 since its peak in June 2007. Nonresidential construction spending was $16 billion in 2007 and contributed a total of $37 billion to the gross state product. The average annual wage for construction workers in the state is $46,800, and most (93 percent) of Washington’s 25,000 construction companies employ fewer than 20 workers.
More than one million students are enrolled in Washington’s nearly 2,300 primary and secondary schools. They are taught by some 59,500 teachers at a total cost of $7.3 billion. Since 1990, high school juniors and seniors can avail themselves of the Running Start program by attending college classes while still in high school, getting both high school and college credits.
There are 76 institutions of higher education in the state, which have a total of more than 352,000 students enrolled. The University of Washington, the largest university in the northwestern region of the country, has roughly 43,000 students, 21,900 staff and faculty members, and an annual budget of more than $3.1 billion. Washington State University has around 25,000 students, 1,200 faculty members, and a $683.6 million endowment.
The Columbia River drives the Grand Coulee hydroelectric power plant, one of the largest sources of hydroelectric power in the world. It supplies Washington with 72 percent of its electricity. The state is the top hydroelectric producer in the country, generating about twice as much power as the next leading state. Other sources of electric power are coal at 11 percent, nuclear power from the Columbia Generating Station at nine percent, natural gas at seven percent, and renewable energy at two percent. Transportation uses the most energy in the state, followed by industry and homes.
The Washington State Film Office has been attracting movie production companies to film in the state for nearly 40 years. Movies have been filmed in Washington since the 1930s, but it was not until the 1970s and 1980s that the pace really picked up. More than 10 features were filmed in the state from 2008 to 2009, not including commercials, in response to cash incentives. A number of film festivals are also held every year in Washington, including the major Seattle Film Festival, which attracts more than 150,000 viewers.
There are 1,500 authorized insurers in Washington State. In addition, more than 9,000 people are employed by property-casualty insurers in Washington, at a total annual payroll of $809 million. State premium taxes bring more than $415 million to the state, and property-casualty insurers each year pay out some $2.2 billion in compensation to car owners, $641.6 million to homeowners, and $1.8 billion to businesses. According to a report issued by the insurance commissioner of Washington State, the number of Washington residents without health insurance will soon reach one million, and of the people who do have insurance, some 25 percent don’t have enough.
More than 5,500 Washington manufacturers employ a workforce of more than 287,000 employees and generate revenues of some $132 billion. The largest employer is Boeing, with more than 72,000 employees. The world’s largest building is Boeing’s assembly plant (located in Everett), and Boeing is the world’s largest manufacturer of jetliners and military aircraft. Aircraft and related parts account for the largest manufacturing sector in the state. Prepackaged software accounts for about 29,500 jobs, and various sawmills and lumber mills employ 7,500 workers.
MINING AND EXTRACTION
There are 350 mining companies in Washington, which employ around 3,900 miners at an annual average salary of $53,000, for a total payroll of $210 million. Some $690 million worth of minerals, metals, and fuel products are extracted by the mining industry. Washington’s Alcoa Wenatchee Company is the world’s third largest aluminum maker. It has some 350 employees and has an annual economic impact on the state of more than $210 million.
More than 40,500 nonprofit/tax exempt organizations operate in Washington, of which around 19,000 are charitable organizations, 4,900 are educational organizations, and 4,700 are religious organizations. The rest include everything from social welfare organizations and social clubs to burial associations and societies for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals. The total assets reported by these organizations are $143.5 billion, and the total income reported is $119 billion. The highest amount of assets reported by one organization was $29.8 billion, and the highest income reported by one organization was $59 billion, but the average income was $7.7 million.
Washington’s retail market, consisting of more than 65,000 stores, is worth some $63 billion. Automobile sales account for $10 billion, followed by general merchandise stores, at $9.9 billion, and building and materials stores, at $4.9 billion.
According to the Milken Institute, the Seattle area is the second-most influential high-tech sector in the nation. Microsoft, the world’s largest publisher of computer software, is based in the state, and software publishing is the largest sector of the state’s information economy of $26.1 billion, providing a little more than 40 percent of wages. Microsoft employs 93,000 workers in Redmond, its corporate headquarters, and about 40,000 workers in Puget Sound. As of 2009, total Microsoft revenues were $58.44 billion.
Some 125,000 people work in IT companies in Washington, with 51,000 people employed in software companies alone. More than a third of national video game revenues of almost $10 billion are due to companies in Washington State. Some 950 biotechnology companies operate in the state, employing some 28,000 workers. Around $6.4 million in revenues is generated by the life sciences industry.
Washington has the largest ferry system in the country and the third largest in the world, carrying more than 13 million pedestrians and 10.8 million cars annually. There are more than 83,250 miles of roads in the state. The Washington State Department of Transportation is responsible for state-owned facilities, such as state-owned airports, the Washington State ferries, and the state highways and bridges, including four of the world’s five longest floating bridges.
The Seattle-Tacoma International Airport handles more than 31 million passengers and more than 270,000 metric tons of cargo annually. Aside from Amtrak’s long-distance passenger trains and other companies’ long distance freight trains, Washington runs a financially self-sustaining grain train, a short-line system for bringing locally grown grain to deepwater ports. Funding for the state’s transportation budget of $7.9 billion comes from fees, permits, bonds, and taxes, including a gas tax.
TRAVEL AND TOURISM
Tourism is the third most important industry in the state, after aerospace and software publishing. Almost 150,000 jobs are supported by tourism, at an annual payroll of almost $3 billion. Travel spending amounts to nearly $15 billion, of which almost $975 million goes to Washington in the form of state and local taxes. Some of Washington’s main tourist attractions are the Space Needle tower, Mount St. Helen’s National Volcanic Monument, skiing, and historic sites.
Washington’s timber industry is the third largest in the country, after Oregon and North Carolina. There are 23 million acres of forests in the Evergreen State. However, only 16.2 million acres are commercial forests; the rest are preserved as national parks or for other uses. All timber sold in the state is subject to a five percent tax, which goes to be used by local, country, and state government, with $143.8 million of it going to fund school construction. The forestry industry has an average of five workers per company, with no company employing more than 100 workers. There are roughly 3,500 workers in the forestry industry, including loggers, logging equipment operators, and log graders, at an average annual salary of $40,000. An additional 300 foresters work in Washington, at an average annual salary of $62,000. Washington's Weyerhaeuser, one of the largest paper and pulp companies in the world, also deals in timberland and wood products. Its annual revenues from forest products are $1.1 billion.
-World Trade Press