Throughout Inland Northwest history, big employers like Kaiser Aluminum and Fairchild Air Force Base have gotten a lot of the credit for the region's growth, but they're not the only ones driving growth. Nationwide, an overwhelming percentage of all businesses — more than 95 percent — are small businesses with fewer than 50 employees. The picture is similar in Spokane, where businesses with fewer than 50 employees account for about 95 percent of all businesses and 45 percent of the jobs. Many of these small businesses are just one or two people doing freelance or specialized work, and only 1 in 5 is still around after five years.
But Spokane is a good place for defying the odds, says Chris Reilly, chair of the Greater Spokane Incorporated Small Business Council, which works with policy makers on behalf of small businesses. Reilly's online advertising and marketing company, Aezy — previously Unleashed Online — got off the ground in 2009 and has since grown to nearly a dozen employees. Spokane may not have the investment capital of San Francisco or Seattle, he says, but it has the essentials: a vibrant community of entrepreneurial-minded people, support resources for new business owners and people who want to patronize local businesses.
"I think in our region we have all these components plus a low cost of living, which makes it easier to take risks," Reilly says.
For every anesthesiologist in the Spokane area (average salary: $228,500), there are 98 registered nurses, 56 personal care aides and dozens of other support workers in the local health care industry. And that's how it is in all industries — the most common jobs are mostly unacknowledged, behind-the-scenes roles that keep our community running smoothly.
Here are the 12 most common occupations in the Spokane metropolitan area with average hourly wages as of 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:1. Retail salespersons, $13.16
2. Fast food workers, $10.13
3. Registered nurses, $34.37
4. Cashiers, $11.96
5. Janitors and cleaners, $13.46
6. Customer service reps, $16.50
7. administrative assistants, $16.12
8. Bookkeeping, $17.42
9. Office clerks, $14.21
10. Personal care aides, $10.89
11. Truck drivers, $19.70
12. Stockers, $14.26
Slowly Bouncing Back
In May, the U.S. jobs report showed a milestone: The nation's total number of jobs had finally returned to the number we last saw at the end of 2007. But since the labor force has also grown, the slowly dipping unemployment rate hasn't reached pre-recession levels. The story of slow recovery is similar in Spokane County, where the unemployment rate fell below 7 percent this year for the first time since it shot up at the end of 2008. In Kootenai County, the unemployment rate dropped below 6 percent — but it's still a long way to the 3.9 percent of 2007. ♦