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Grant County profile

Washington state map with Grant county highlighted by Don Meseck, regional labor economist - updated December 2020

Overview | Geographic facts | Outlook | Labor force and unemployment | Industry employment | Wages and income | Population | Useful link | PDF Profile copy


Regional context

In 1902, Grant County was carved out of Douglas County as its own county. Grant County is the fourth largest county in the state in terms of land area, but is sparsely populated. It is located toward the central-eastern edge of the state in the Columbia Basin. On the north end of the county is the Grand Coulee Dam, which is the largest electric power-producing facility in the United States and one of the largest concrete structures in the world.

Grant County is relatively flat, making it ideal for raising livestock on its dry grassland, which was the primary draw for white settlers in the mid-1880s. The coming of the railroad helped move more settlers into farming as it provided a means to get products to market. The semi-arid climate created a challenge for farming, with most farmers locating near water sources.

Local economy

In years past, Grant County’s economy was heavily concentrated in ranching and agriculture. Many of the county’s early residents were sheep and cattle ranchers. The transition to fruit and crop farming as the dominant industries resulted from the development of adequate irrigation capacity starting in the 1930s. Today, agriculture still plays a large role in the local economy. Irrigated farming of a variety of crops and the associated food processing industry comprise a large part of the nondurable-goods manufacturing sector. In 2019 for example, food processing (NAICS 311) provided 44.3 percent of the 4,591 manufacturing jobs in Grant County. Employers in this sector manufacture frozen fruits and vegetables, as well as frozen specialty foods and canned fruits.

Grant County food processors know and trust the quality and variety of locally grown crops including potatoes, apples, wheat, barley, carrots, corn, onions, peaches, cherries, mint, beans, etc. According to the Grant County Economic Development Council, the county’s 1,858 farms annually produce crops and livestock valued at $1.19 billion. Crops processed here in Grant County make food processing a $364 million industry, which still has plenty of room to grow. Access to Interstate 90 and the Burlington-Northern Santa Fe Mainline make it easy to transport goods by truck or rail to major metro centers such as Seattle, Portland and Chicago.

Although agriculture and industries dependent on agriculture are still key players in the Grant County economy, there has been considerable diversification into other sectors. The area’s low-cost electricity; availability of air, rail, and highway transportation networks; abundance of reasonably priced land; and a high-speed fiber optic network have made Grant County attractive to software and manufacturing firms. For example, the following is a summary of the air, rail, and highway transportation networks available in Grant County:

  • Grant County International Airport – This airport boasts one of the largest airfields in the United States and can accept the largest aircraft in the world. The airport enjoys 350 days of excellent Visual Flight Rules (VFR) weather and is regularly utilized by military and commercial test flight programs.
  • Rail – Rail needs are served by both The Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) and the Columbia Basin Railroad (CBRR). The mainline of the BNSF has connections to the Chicago area from Quincy in as little as 48 hours. New rail is arriving at the Port of Moses Lake via the CBRR where Foreign Trade Zone #203 supports numerous manufacturers.
  • Highways – Running right through the center of Grant County, Interstate 90 is the longest interstate highway in the United States. It connects Grant County to the deep seaports in Seattle and Tacoma to the west, and to Chicago and Boston to the east. U.S. Highway 2 is the other major east/west transportation route in Grant County. It spans over 2,500 miles and connects Grant County to Everett, WA on the west and to St. Ignace, MI on the east. State Highway 17 is the main north/south transportation route.

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Geographic facts

Grant County Washington  state
 Land area, 2010 (square miles) 2,679.51  66,455.52 
 People per square mile, 2010 33.3  101.2 

Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts


The Grant County nonfarm economy was on a recovery path since the depressed economic years of 2009 and 2010. During the next eight years (from 2011 through 2018, inclusive) average annual nonfarm job growth has ranged from lows of 0.7 percent in 2012 and 2017 to a high of 4.8 percent in 2018. However, total nonfarm employment growth was lethargic in the first half of 2019 and employment generally retrenched, year over year, in the second half of 2019. In fact, preliminary estimates indicate that total nonfarm employment in Grant County slipped from 30,770 jobs in 2018 to 30,610 in 2019, a 160-job and 0.5-percent downturn.  

Long-term nonfarm employment projections (ten-year data produced by the Employment Security Department) forecast a 1.3 percent average annual growth rate from 2017 to 2027 for the five-county (Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Grant and Okanogan) North Central workforce development area (WDA). Washington state average annual growth rate is projected to be 1.5 percent.

Labor force and unemployment

Current labor force and unemployment statistics are available on the Labor area summaries page.

Following the national recession which occurred from December 2007 through June 2009, the average annual not seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in Grant County rose to an apex of 10.9 percent in 2010. The unemployment rate then fell for seven consecutive years (from 2011 through 2017, inclusive) to 6.3 percent in 2017. This 6.3 percent reading in 2017 was the lowest average annual unemployment rate in Grant County since electronic records were implemented by ESD in 1990 – encouraging news for the local economy. The average annual rate then rose a tick to 6.4 percent in 2018 before escalating to 6.9 percent in 2019.

Grant County’s CLF expanded by 444 residents (a 1.0 percent increase) from 2018 to 2019. Year over year, the County's labor force also increased in September and October 2020, following over-the-year losses from June through August 2020. Preliminary estimates indicate that the number of residents in the labor force advanced from 47,617 in October 2019 to 54,552 in October 2020, equating to 6,935 more Grant County residents in the CLF (up 14.6 percent). However, the number of unemployed residents swelled by 416 (up 17.4 percent) during this timeframe. This labor force expansion (good news) was virtually eclipsed by rising numbers of unemployed (bad news). The result: Grant County’s unemployment rate edged upwards from 5.0 percent in October 2019 to 5.1 percent in October 2020.

Washington's Civilian Labor Force (CLF) grew by 107,141 residents (a 2.8 percent upturn) from 2018 to 2019. Year over year, the CLF subsided 0.3 percent in June 2020, expanded in July and August 2020, contracted in September, and expanded 1.4 percent in October 2020.

Source: Employment Security Department

Industry employment

Current industry employment statistics are available on the Labor area summaries page.

The analysis in the first part of this section is derived primarily from Quarterly Benchmarked (WA-QB) data. One advantage of these data is that the employment information is very current and data are updated monthly using WA-QB employment estimates. However, estimates are nonfarm related (i.e., they do not include agricultural employment figures).

The analysis in the second part of this section is derived from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Quarterly Census of Employment and Wage (QCEW) program, conducted by the Washington State Employment Security Department. Although it takes a little longer to acquire QCEW data (than WA-QB data), the economic information provided is broader and more detailed than that provided by WA-QB.

First, QCEW includes employment, wage and size of firm figures for the agricultural sector, which WA-QB does not include. Second, QCEW data provides employment, wage and size of firm figures for businesses and government organizations in Grant County down to the 3-digit NAICS sub-sector level (i.e., more detail than WA-QB). QCEW data include agricultural and nonagricultural employment and wages for firms, organizations and individuals whose employees are covered by the Washington State Employment Security Act. Also included are data for Federal Government agencies covered by Title 5, U.S.C. 85. Covered employment generally exceeds 85 percent of total employment in the state of Washington.

Types of jobs not covered under the unemployment compensation system, and hence not included in QCEW data, include casual laborers not performing duties in the course of the employer’s trade or business; railroad personnel; newspaper delivery people; insurance or real estate agents paid on a commission basis only; non-covered employees working for parochial schools, religious, or non-profit organizations; employees of sheltered workshops; inmates working in penal institutions; non-covered corporate officers; etc.

Analysis using Quarterly Benchmarked data:

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) announced that the national recession occurred from December 2007 through June 2009. The effects of this recession hit the Grant County economy lightly in 2008 (down 0.2 percent), hard in 2009 (down 3.7 percent) and then lightly in 2010 (down 0.3 percent), in terms of losses in total nonfarm employment. The number of nonfarm jobs across Grant County stood at a pre-recession peak of 27,610 jobs in 2007, and it took seven years (until 2014 when employment averaged 28,650) for the local economy to regain and surpass this figure. The good economic news is that from 2011 through 2019 inclusive, Grant County’s nonfarm market has expanded. The following is a brief synopsis of average annual local nonfarm employment trends for the past three of these years:

  • In 2017 – Grant County's economy provided 190 new nonfarm jobs, a modest average annual increase of 0.7 percent, a tad less robust than the local job growth rate in 2016, and considerably less robust that the state’s 2.4 percent job growth rate. Industries that fared well in 2017 were professional and business services (up 170 jobs), state and local government education (up 120 jobs) and construction (up 100 jobs). Conversely, wholesale trade tallied 280 fewer jobs, primarily due to a non-economic event (a NAICS code change).
  • In 2018 – This was an excellent year for the Grant County economy. Nonfarm employment averaged 30,770, a 1,400 job and 4.8 percent upturn above the 29,370 jobs tallied in 2017. Nonfarm growth was particularly strong in professional and business services (up 600 jobs), information and financial activities (up 290 jobs), construction (up 180 jobs), and state and local government education (up 140 jobs). On the downside, durable goods manufacturing lost 150 jobs countywide. Statewide, the nonfarm labor market had a good year with nonfarm employment rising by 2.4 percent, not quite as robust as the 4.8 percent job growth pace in Grant County.
  • In 2019 – Grant County's nonfarm economy netted only 80 new jobs, up a lethargic 0.3 percent, considerably less robust than Washington’s 2.0 percent job growth rate. The local leisure and hospitality sector (primarily hotels, eating and drinking places, and amusement and recreation services) grew by 150 jobs while private education and health services increased by 90. On the downside, manufacturing netted 200 fewer jobs in 2019. 

Referring to the most current monthly WA-QB data (as of October 2020), it is noted that total nonfarm employment has increased countywide from August through October 2020 (also see comments in the “Outlook” section of this report). Between October 2019 and October 2020, employment in Grant County rose 2.8 percent from 31,280 jobs to 32,170 – a gain of 890 jobs. When compared with current economic conditions statewide, Washington’s nonfarm labor market looks a bit weaker than Grant County’s labor market. Specifically, preliminary estimates indicate that, as of October 2020, business and government organizations statewide tallied 3,324,600 jobs (not seasonally adjusted) compared with 3,497,800 in October 2019, a substantial loss of 173,200 jobs and a 5.0 percent downturn. Year-over-year job losses are never encouraging, but if there is a silver lining to this dark economic cloud, it is that Washington’s monthly job-loss rates have consistently decelerated from -10.4 percent in May 2020 to -5.0 percent in October 2020 – small steps in the right direction for the state’s economy.

Analysis using QCEW data:

The North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) is an industry classification system that groups businesses/organizations into categories or sectors based on the activities in which they are primarily engaged. There are 19 private sectors and three government sectors (for a total of 22 sectors) at the 2-digit NAICS code level, within each county-level economy. One can observe much about the structure of a county’s economy by quantifying and comparing the number of jobs and the percentage of jobs in these sectors by using annual average QCEW data. The most current average annual employment data available for Grant County are for 2019, and these data show:

The top five Grant County industry sectors in 2019 in terms of employment were:

 Sector Number of jobs Share of employment
 1. Agriculture, forestry and fishing 9,462  23.7% 
 2. Local government 6,984  17.5% 
 3. Manufacturing 4,591  11.5% 
 4. Retail trade 3,451  8.7% 
 5. Health Services 2,796  7.0% 
 All other industries 12,602  31.6% 
 Total covered payrolls 39,886  100% 

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Over two-thirds (68.4 percent) of all jobs in Grant County were in five, two-digit NAICS industries or sectors (agriculture, local government, manufacturing, retail trade and health services). The following is a comparison of the top five sectors that provided the most jobs in Grant County in 2019 with the sectors that produced the highest payrolls:

  • Agriculture was the top job-providing industry (9,462 jobs) in Grant County in 2019, netting 23.7 percent of all jobs countywide, yet tallying only 17.1 percent ($301.6 million) of total wage income ($1.765 billion). Why? Many agricultural jobs are seasonal.
  • Local government provided 17.5 percent (6,984 jobs) of total covered employment (39,886 jobs) yet accounted for 23.0 percent ($405.8 million) of total wage income – indicating that this is a relatively “good paying” industry in Grant County. Jobs with public school districts (primary and secondary schools), public utility districts, police and fire departments, public hospitals and clinics, ports, etc., are grouped within the local government category.
  • Manufacturing provided 11.5 percent of covered jobs in Grant County in 2019 but accounted for 14.3 percent of covered wages. In 2019, the average annual wage in manufacturing in Grant County was $54,845, which was 123.9 percent of the average covered wage of $44,263. Incidentally, within the local manufacturing sector in 2019, the food manufacturing subsector (NAICS 311) provided 44.3 percent of all manufacturing jobs – emphasizing the importance of agriculture on local manufacturing operations.
  • Retail trade stores provided 3,451 full- and part-time jobs in 2018, accounting for 8.7 percent of total covered employment in Grant County but tallied only 6.1 percent of total covered wages and payroll. In 2019, the average annual wage in retail trade in Grant County was $30,958, approximately 69.9 percent of the average covered wage of $44,263.
  • Private health services tallied 7.0 percent of total covered employment and 6.5 percent of total wage income.

If one were to analyze employment changes in Grant County from the most recent 10-year period, 2009 through 2019 (eleven years inclusive), incorporating Washington State Employment Security Department’s average annual QCEW data for 2019, it is noted that:

  • Total covered employment increased from 34,753 in 2009 to 39,886 in 2019, a 5,133 job and 14.8 percent upturn – an annualized growth rate of 1.4 percent. The number of agricultural jobs (a subset of total covered employment) expanded from 9,071 in 2009 to 9,462 in 2019, a modest 391 job and 4.3 percent upturn, with an annualized growth rate of 0.4 percent. In 2009, Grant County’s agricultural industry accounted for 26.1 percent of total covered employment, while in 2019 this industry accounted for only 23.7 percent of total covered employment. Hence, during this most recent 10-year timeframe (2009 to 2019), the agricultural share of covered employment in Grant County decreased two and four-tenths percentage points (from 26.1 percent in 2009 to 23.7 percent in 2019). One could generalize that agricultural employment (in terms of the agriculture to total covered employment ratio) has become somewhat less important to the Grant County economy in the past ten years.
  • Total covered wages rose from $1.124 billion in 2009 to $1.765 billion in 2019, a $641.7 million and 57.1 percent upturn – an annualized growth rate of 4.6 percent. The agricultural payroll (a subset of total covered wages) advanced from $184.7 million in 2009 to $301.6 million in 2019, a $116.9 million and 63.6 percent upturn – an annualized growth rate of 5.0 percent. In 2009, Grant County’s agricultural industry accounted for 16.4 percent of total covered wages, and by 2019, agricultural wages accounted for 17.1 percent of total covered payroll. Hence, agricultural share of wages rose a modest seven-tenths of a percentage point from 16.4 to 17.1 percent in Grant County during this 10-year period. One could generalize that within this 10-year period, there was little change in the footprint made by agricultural payroll on Grant County’s economy.

For historical industry employment data, contact an economist.

Source: Employment Security Department

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Industry employment by age and gender

The Local Employment Dynamics (LED) database, a joint project of state employment departments and the U.S. Census Bureau, matches state employment data with federal administrative data. Among the products is industry employment by age and gender. All workers covered by state unemployment insurance data are included; federal workers and non-covered workers, such as the self-employed, are not. Data are presented by place of work, not place of residence.

Grant County highlights:

In 2019, the largest job holder age group was the 55+ year-olds who accounted for 25.3 percent of all job holders in Grant County. The group in second place was the 35 to 44-year-olds filling 21.4 percent of all jobs. In third place was the 25 to 34-year-olds with 20.8 percent of all local jobs.

Males held 54.2 percent of all jobs and females held 45.8 percent of all jobs countywide in 2019.

  • Male-dominated industries included mining (93.7 percent), construction (81.7 percent) and transportation and warehousing (76.8 percent).
  • Female-dominated industries included healthcare and social assistance (80.3 percent), educational services (72.1 percent) and finance and insurance (69.7 percent).

Source: The Local Employment Dynamics

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Wages and income

The total covered payroll in 2019 in Grant County was approximately $1.765 billion. The average annual wage was $44,263 or 63.6 percent of the state average of $69,606.

The top five Grant County industries in 2019 in terms of payrolls were:

 Sector Payroll Share of payrolls
 1. Local government $405,777,294  23.0% 
 2. Agriculture, forestry and fishing $301,616,132  17.1% 
 3. Manufacturing $251,792,534  14.3% 
 4. Health services $116,478,212  6.5% 
 5. Retail trade $106,836,130  6.1% 
 All other industries $582,969,371  33.0% 
 Total covered payrolls $1,765,469,673  100% 

As shown in the table above, QCEW data showed that Grant County’s workers received a little over $1.765 billion in wages in 2019. Over two-thirds of this wage income (specifically, 67.0 percent) was earned in five, two-digit NAICS industries or sectors (local government, agriculture, manufacturing, private health services, and retail trade). Local government was the largest provider of wage income and payroll in the county in 2019, supplying 23.0 percent of total earned wage income and accounting for 17.5 percent total covered employment (see “Industry employment” section). Agriculture, forestry and fishing ranked second in 2019 in terms of share of total covered payroll, providing 17.1 percent of all wages earned in Grant County – with the lion’s share of these wages being earned in the agricultural industry (versus forestry and fishing).

Average annual covered wages in Grant County during 2019 were highest in management of companies and enterprises ($129,079), information ($101,514) and government ($60,002). Conversely, average annual wages were lowest in accommodation and food services ($19,423), private educational services ($19,978) and arts, entertainment, and recreation ($24,082).

Source: Employment Security Department; Bureau of Labor Statistics; Bureau of Economic Analysis; U.S. Census Bureau;
U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey

Personal income

Personal income includes earned income, investment income, and government payments such as Social Security and Veterans Benefits. Investment income includes income imputed from pension funds and from owning a home. Per capita personal income equals total personal income divided by the resident population.

In 2019, Grant County inflation-adjusted per capita personal income was $41,141, less than the state ($64,758) and the nation ($56,490).

According to the U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts, the median household income in Grant County was $55,556 in the period 2015 through 2019. The county’s median was less than the state ($73,775) and the nation ($62,843).

In the period 2015 through 2019, 13.9 percent of the county’s population was living below the poverty level, higher than the state at 9.8 percent and the nation at 10.5 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts. The state and national rates are not directly comparable to the county rate because they each use different data sources.

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Grant County’s population in 2019 was 97,733. The population grew 9.7 percent from April 1, 2010 through July 1, 2019, slower than the state’s 13.2 percent growth rate during this timeframe.

Moses Lake is the largest city in the county with an estimated population in 2019 of 24,220 residents. Ephrata is the next largest city with 8,180 residents.

Population facts

Grant County Washington state
 Population 2019 97,733   7,614,893 
 Population 2010 89,124   6,724,540 
 Percent change, 2010 to 2019 9.7%  13.2% 

Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts

Age, gender and ethnicity

Individuals under 18 years of age comprise 29.3 percent of Grant County’s population, which is greater than the 21.8 percent proportion across Washington state as of July 2019. People under 5 years of age comprised 7.7 percent of the county population compared to 6.0 percent for the state.

Females made up 49.2 percent of the population compared to 49.9 percent in the state.

Hispanics or Latinos made up 42.2 percent of the local population, considerably higher than the 13.0 percent figure statewide.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts


Grant County Washington state
 Population by age, 2019
Under 5 years old 7.7%  6.0% 
Under 18 years old 29.3%  21.8% 
65 years and older 14.0%  15.9% 
 Females, 2019 49.2%  49.9% 
 Race/ethnicity, 2019
White alone 92.1%  78.5% 
Black alone 1.8%  4.4% 
American Indian, Alaskan Native 2.3%  1.9% 
Asian 1.2%  9.6% 
Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander 0.2%  0.8% 
Two or more races 2.4%  4.9% 
Hispanic or Latino, any race 42.2%  13.0% 
White alone, not Hispanic or Latino 53.3%  67.5% 

Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts

Educational attainment

According to the American Community Survey (ACS), during the period 2015 through 2019, 76.7 percent of Grant County’s adults age 25 and older graduated from high school versus Washington’s 91.3 percent and 88.0 percent across the nation.

Only 17.7 percent of county residents age 25 and older hold a bachelor’s degree or higher compared with 36.0 percent in Washington state and 32.1 percent nationwide.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts

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Useful links

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