Walla Walla County profile

Washington state map with Walla Walla county highlightedby Ajsa Suljic, regional labor economist - updated November 2018

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

Overview

Regional context

Walla Walla County was formed in 1854 and was named after the Walla Walla tribe of Native Americans. Walla Walla covers 1,271 square miles of land, ranking 26th in size among Washington’s 39 counties. Located in southeastern Washington, it is bordered by Columbia to the east, Franklin to the northwest, Benton on the west and Umatilla County, Oregon on the south. Walla Walla County has a population density of 46.3 persons per square mile and is home to one of the oldest communities in the state.

Walla Walla’s agricultural industry is the backbone of its economic vitality. Wheat, onions, potatoes and wine grapes are some of crops that are grown in Walla Walla County. In past few years Walla Walla has become one of the main attractions for wine and arts tourism as the area gets national and world recognition for its quality wine.

Local economy

The Cayuse, Walla Walla and Umatilla tribes were well established at the eastern end of the Columbia River basin. With abilities to travel the surrounding area for trading, some of the tribes acquire horses, which they later used for breeding or for sale or trade. Later trading became one of the primary economic activities as fur and goods trading companies moved into the area with the pioneers. As pioneers started settling in the area agricultural and ranching activities prospered as demand for produce and meats grew with a new influx of gold rush pioneers.

Walla Walla County went through many changes in late 1800’s, however it has cultivated a flourishing community which is home to first and oldest college, bank and newspaper in the state. Walla Walla County was added to the railroad grid with 30-mile line connection in 1875, as the need for local agricultural products increased with creation of new settlements in the west. Also in 1887, Walla Walla became home to one of the first territorial prisons in the state, where government became a major employing industry in the area.

Considering its size and isolation, the Walla Walla economy has a diverse industrial makeup. The largest sectors are: agriculture, health care, manufacturing, retail trade and government (educational) services. These five largest sectors make up over 72 percent of total employment. Walla Walla County has also become a tourist attraction and destination as people are attracted to the mild climate, low cost of living and high quality of life. This in-migration into the county is reflected in the increased housing starts.

With over 181 wineries located in the valley, Walla Walla County has become a wine destination and important viticulture area. Tourism will continue to drive growth in food, accommodations and wine sales. Local agriculture is fourth largest industry in the area and it is growing about 0.9 percent a year, with very strong tree fruit production.

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Geographic facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Walla Walla County Rank in state
 Land area, 2010 (square miles) 1,270.1  26 
 Persons per square mile, 2010 46.3  17 

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Outlook

Walla Walla County has had stable employment growth for the past three years, which is continuing employment stability which was seen during the most recent recession, with a minimal decrease of 0.5 percent in 2009. However post-recession employment growth is moving along at a slower rate than seen in the state, with expansion in only a few industries and some decreases in other industries.

Industries that have maintained stability in Walla Walla County for the past five years include: construction, manufacturing, transportation and warehousing, private educational services, healthcare and social assistance, arts and entertainment, accommodations and food services and government healthcare and educational services. For the next five years, industries that are expected to drive growth in the county are construction, manufacturing, retail trade, warehousing, healthcare and education. Walla Walla County as part of the Eastern Washington workforce development area is expected to grow 1.3 percent a year through 2021.

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Labor force and unemployment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

The Walla Walla County labor force was estimated at 29,715 in 2017, which is about 2.1 percent more than in 2016. Resident employment increased by 2.5 percent over-the-year. Number of people who are unemployed and looking for work totaled at 1,443 with a decrease over-the-year of about 1.8 percent. The Walla Walla County unemployment rate was 4.9 percent in 2017, which was 0.5 percent less than in 2016.

During the past 10 years, the average annual unemployment rate peaked in 2010 and 2011 at 8.0 percent and hit a low in 2007 of 5.4 percent. In 2017, unemployment reached the new low on the record at 4.9 percent. The unemployment rate fluctuates throughout the year, reflecting the seasonal employment trends.

In October 2018, Walla Walla County reported unemployment rate at 3.9 percent, a 0.3 percent decrease from October 2017. This October unemployment rate marks the lowest unemployment rate in October at least since 1990. The number of people in local labor force was over 31,345 in October 2018, which is 1.5 percent higher than in October 2017. Employment for the resident labor force increased by 0.9 percent over-the-year to 30,123 in October 2018, and number of unemployed decreased over-the-year by 4.9 percent going to 1,222 in October 2018.

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Industry employment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

Total covered employment in Walla Walla County was 27,314 in 2017, with a decrease of 0.1 percent or 14 jobs since 2016. Walla Walla County total covered payrolls totaled at $1.17 billion in 2017, with average annual wages for covered employment were at $42,998 in 2017, an increase of 4.2 percent from 2016, when the average annual wage was $41,255.

According to the BLS’ Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, there were over 2,100 total establishments in Walla Walla County.

Goods-producing industries, which include agriculture and natural resources, mining, construction and manufacturing, decreased in employment from 2016 to 2017 by 0.6 percent, or by 51 jobs. Average employment in 2017 was 8,120 workers and annual payrolls totaled $341.2 million, which translated to a $42,014 average annual wage for goods-producing workers.

  • The manufacturing industry employment increased by 1.0 percent over-the-year. Manufacturing represented 13.7 percent of total covered employment. The average employment was 3,737 jobs in 2017, with total covered payrolls at $195.8 million. Average annual payroll of $52,397.
  • Construction accounted for 3.1 percent of the total average annual employment in the county with 856 jobs. Over-the-year, construction increased by 5.5 percent, putting five year average annual growth rate at 3.6 percent. The average annual wage in construction was $42,653 in 2017.
  • Agriculture is one of the primary industries in the area, representing 12.9 percent of total employment. It is, however, highly seasonal and volatile from year to year.
    • Average annual employment in agriculture in 2017 was 3,527, with noticeable decreases of the past five years at the rate of 1.2 percent.
    • The average annual wage in agriculture was $30,860, mainly due to the seasonality of agricultural activities.

Service-providing industries are the major share (70.3 percent) of the Walla Walla County economy. They had an average of 19,194 jobs, which paid an average annual wage of $43,413 in 2017.

  • Walla Walla County finance and insurance industry provided on average 613 jobs. The average annual wage for this industry was $53,979, which is the second highest paying industries in the area.
  • Retail trade is the fifth largest industry in Walla Walla County, representing 8.1 percent of total employment. Employment growth was recorded in food and beverage stores as well as general merchandise stores, which dominate the retail trade industry. In 2017, this industry had an average of 2,226 jobs and paid an average annual wage of $27,338.
  • The administrative and waste services industry totaled 454 jobs in 2017 with 26.5 percent increase over-the-year. Total annual payroll for this industry was at $12.6 million which translates into the average annual wage of $27.716 for the workers.
  • Healthcare and social assistance employment in the private sector had 4,368 jobs, which represented about 16.0 percent of total employment in 2017, making it the second largest industry in the area.
    • Over the year this industry decreased by 1.0 percent, which contributed to the five year average annual growth of 3.0 percent.
    • Total annual payroll in Walla Walla County was at $211.3 million, translating into the average annual wage of $48,366 for the workers.
  • Government made up 20.4 percent of total employment with 5,585 jobs in 2017. It provides public education, healthcare, social services, safety and many other services in the county. Total annual payroll was at $299.9 million. It provided an average annual wage of $53,707.

For historical industry employment data, contact an economist.


Industry employment by age and gender

(Source: The Local Employment Dynamics)

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 is presented by place of work, not place of residence. Some highlights:

In 2017, the largest share of employment in Walla Walla County was held by the two age groups equally. The 25 to 34 and 34 to 44 years of age had a 20.9 percent share of employment, respectively. Those 45 to 54 years of wage made up 20.5 percent of total employment.

Walla Walla County employment in 2017 included 52.7 percent male workers and 47.3 percent females. Industry differences are discussed below:

  • Male-dominated industries included construction (84.3 percent), utilities (81.8 percent), transportation and warehousing (81.2 percent), wholesale trade (72.1 percent) and manufacturing (70.9 percent).
  • Female-dominated industries included healthcare and social assistance (76.0 percent), finance and insurance (70.7 percent), educational services (61.3 percent), and accommodation and food services (56.5 percent).

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Wages and income

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

In 2017, there were 27,314 jobs in Walla Walla County covered by unemployment insurance, with a total payroll of over $1.2 billion.

The average annual wage was $42,998, well below the state’s average annual wage of $62,077. The median hourly wage in 2017 was $18.99, below the state’s median hourly wage of $24.89.


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 2016, Walla Walla County’s per capita personal income was $43,459, less than the state ($54,579) and the nation ($49,246).

According to the U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts, the median household income was $48,705 in the period 2012-2016. This was less than the state ($62,848) and the nation ($55,322) during the same period.

Walla Walla County’s poverty rate of 13.6 percent was above Washington state’s rate of 11.0 percent and the nation’s rate of 12.3 percent in 2012-2016 according to U.S Census Bureau QuickFacts.

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Population

(Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis; Washington of Financial Management)

In 2017, Walla Walla County’s population was 60,567, showing 3.0 percent growth from 2010 to 2017, compared to the state’s growth rate of 10.1 percent.

The largest city in Walla Walla County is city of Walla Walla with a population of 33,840 in 2017.


Population facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Walla Walla County Washington state
 Population 2016 60,567  7,405,743 
 Population 2010 58,781  6,724,540 
 Percent change, 2010 to 2016 3.0%  10.1% 

Age, gender and ethnicity

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Walla Walla County population demographics differed from the state’s in 2017.

  • Walla Walla County’s population under 18 years of age was 21.1 percent of the total compared to 22.2 percent for the state in 2017.
  • Residents under the age of 5 years old made up 5.6 percent of the total population compared to 6.2 percent for the state in 2017.
  • In 2017, Walla Walla County’s population 65 years and older made up 17.5 percent of the total compared to 15.1 percent for the state.

The county was 48.8 percent female compared to 50.0 percent for the state in 2017. In 2017, the median age in the county was 37.2, where females tended to be older at 39.2 years compared to the male population at 35.7 years.  

Walla Walla County differed from the state in racial and ethnic diversity in most categories in 2017. Hispanics and Latinos were 21.3 percent of the population compared with 12.7 percent in the state.


Demographics

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Walla Walla County Washington state
 Population by age, 2017
Under 5 years old 5.6%  6.2% 
Under 18 years old 21.1%  22.2% 
65 years and older 17.5%  15.1% 
 Females, 2017 48.8%  50.0% 
 Race/ethnicity, 2017
White 91.7%  89.5% 
Black 2.3%  4.2% 
American Indian, Alaskan Native 1.4%  1.9% 
Asian, Native Hawaiian, other Pacific Islander 1.9%  9.7% 
Hispanic or Latino, any race 21.3%  12.7% 

Educational attainment

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

About 88.6 percent of Walla Walla County’s population 25 years and older were high school graduates over the period 2012 to 2016. This graduation rate compares to 90.6 percent for the state.

Over the same period, those holding a bachelor’s degree or higher made up 28.6 percent of Walla Walla County residents age 25 and older compared to 33.6 percent of state residents.

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Useful links

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