Walla Walla County profile

Washington state map with Walla Walla county highlightedby Ajsa Suljic, regional labor economist - updated September 2017

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 100 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: agriculture and agriculture support activities, construction, manufacturing, transportation and warehousing, private educational services, healthcare and social assistance, arts and entertainment, and accommodations and food 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 1.5 percent a year through 2020.

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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 28,890 in 2016, which is about 3.0 percent more than in 2015. Resident employment increased by 3.3 percent over the year. Number of people who are unemployed and looking for work totaled at 1,629 with a decrease over the year of about 1.8 percent. The Walla Walla County unemployment rate was 5.6 percent in 2016, which was 0.3 percent less than in 2015.

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. The unemployment rate fluctuates throughout the year, reflecting the seasonal employment trends.

In July 2017, Walla Walla County reported unemployment rate at 4.4 percent with 1.1 percent decrease from July 2016. July unemployment rate marks the lowest unemployment rate in July at least since 1990. The number of people in local labor force was over 30,237 in July 2017, which is 3.7 percent higher than in July 2016. Employment for resident labor force increased by 4.9 percent over the year to 28,908 in July 2017, and number of unemployed decreased over the year by 16.9 percent going to 1,329 in July 2017.

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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 27,328 in 2016, with an increase of 0.9 percent or 538 jobs since 2015. Walla Walla County total covered payrolls totaled at $1.13 billion in 2016, with average annual wages for covered employment were at $41,306 in 2016, an increase of 2.7 percent from 2015 when the average annual wage was $40,225.

According to the BLS’ Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, there were 2,176 total establishments in Walla Walla County.

Goods-producing industries, which include natural resources, mining, construction and manufacturing, decreased in employment from 2015 to 2016 by 2.3 percent, or by 184 jobs. Average employment in 2016 was 7,834 workers and annual payrolls totaled $306.9 million, which translated to a $39,177 average annual wage for goods-producing workers.

  • The manufacturing industry employment increased by 1.7 percent over the year. Manufacturing represented 13.5 percent of total covered employment. The average employment was 3,699 jobs in 2016, with total covered payrolls at $187.1 million. Average annual payroll of $50,575.
  • Construction accounted for 3.0 percent of the total average annual employment in the county with 811 jobs. Over the year, construction decreased by 1.7 percent, marking a fist year decline after four years of executive growth. The average annual wage in construction was $41,969 in 2016.
  • Agriculture is one of the primary industries in the area, representing 13.4 percent of total employment. It is, however, highly seasonal and volatile from year to year.
    • Average annual employment in agriculture in 2016 was 3,661, with an increase of 4.9 percent from 2015.
    • The average annual wage in agriculture was $28,525, mainly due to the seasonality of agricultural activities.

Service-providing industries are the major share (71.9 percent) of the Walla Walla County economy. They had an average of 18,983 jobs, which paid an average annual wage of $41,220 in 2016.

  • Walla Walla County finance and insurance industry provided on average 629 jobs. The average annual wage for this industry was $52,940, which made it one of the top paying industries in the area.
  • Retail trade is the fifth largest industry in Walla Walla County, representing 8.4 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 2016, this industry had an average of 2,303 jobs and paid an average annual wage of $26,506.
  • The administrative and waste services industry totaled 359 jobs in 2016 with 24.9 percent decrease over the year. Total annual payroll for this industry was at $8.9 million which translates into the average annual wage of $24,863 for the workers.
  • Healthcare and social assistance employment in the private sector had 4,410 jobs, which represented about 16.1 percent of total employment in 2016, making it the second largest industry in the area.
    • Over the year this industry increased by 0.7 percent, which contributed to the five year average annual growth of 3.1 percent.
    • Total annual payroll in Walla Walla County was at $205.6 million, translating into the average annual wage of $46,624 for the workers.
  • Government made up 19.9 percent of total employment with 5,437 jobs in 2016. It provides public education, healthcare, social services, safety and many other services in the county. Total annual payroll was at $283.8 million. It provided an average annual wage of $52,198.

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 2016, the largest share of employment in Walla Walla County was held by the age group of 45 to 54 had a 21.0 percent share of employment, followed by those 25 to 34 at 21.0 percent. Those 35 to 44 years of wage made up 20.7 percent of total employment.

Walla Walla County employment in 2015 included 52.7 percent male workers and 47.3 percent females. Industry differences are discussed below:

  • Male-dominated industries included construction (84.1 percent), utilities (83.1 percent), transportation and warehousing (81.6 percent), wholesale trade (72.0 percent) and manufacturing (71.1 percent).
  • Female-dominated industries included healthcare and social assistance (76.2 percent), finance and insurance (70.9 percent), educational services (61.4 percent), and accommodation and food services (55.8 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 2016, there were 27,328 jobs in Walla Walla County covered by unemployment insurance, with a total payroll of over $1.13 billion.

The average annual wage was $41,306, well below the state’s average annual wage of $59,073. The median hourly wage in 2016 was $18.09, below the state’s median hourly wage of $23.91.


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 2015, Walla Walla County’s per capita personal income was $41,912, less than the state ($51,898) and the nation ($48,112).

According to the U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts, the median household income was $47,946 in the period 2011-2015. This was less than the state ($61,062) and the nation ($53,889) during the same period.

Walla Walla County’s poverty rate of 16.5 percent was above Washington state’s rate of 11.3 percent and the nation’s rate of 12.7 percent in 2011-2015, according to U.S Census Bureau QuickFacts.

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Population

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

In 2016, Walla Walla County’s population was 60,340, showing 2.7 percent growth from 2010 to 2016, compared to the state’s growth rate of 8.4 percent.

The largest city in Walla Walla County is city of Walla Walla with a population of 33,340 in 2016.


Population facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Walla Walla County Washington state
 Population 2016 60,340  7,288,000 
 Population 2010 58,781  6,724,540 
 Percent change, 2010 to 2016 2.7%  8.4% 

Age, gender and ethnicity

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Walla Walla County population demographics differed from the state’s in 2016.

  • Walla Walla County’s population under 18 years of age was 21.4 percent of the total compared to 22.4 percent for the state in 2016.
  • Residents under the age of 5 years old made up 5.7 percent of the total population compared to 6.2 percent for the state in 2016.
  • In 2016, Walla Walla County’s population 65 years and older made up 17.3 percent of the total compared to 14.8 percent for the state.

The county was 49.0 percent female compared to 50.0 percent for the state in 2016. In 2016, the median age in the county was 37.5, where females tended to be older at 39.4 years compared to the male population at 35.9 years.  

Walla Walla County differed from the state in racial and ethnic diversity in most categories in 2016. Hispanics and Latinos were 21.2 percent of the population compared with 12.4 percent in the state.


Demographics

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Walla Walla County Washington state
 Population by age, 2016
Under 5 years old 5.7%  6.2% 
Under 18 years old 21.4%  22.4% 
65 years and older 17.3%  14.8% 
 Females, 2016 49.0%  50.0% 
 Race/ethnicity, 2016
White 91.9%  80.0% 
Black 2.2%  4.1% 
American Indian, Alaskan Native 1.3%  1.9% 
Asian, Native Hawaiian, other Pacific Islander 1.9%  9.4% 
Hispanic or Latino, any race 21.2%  12.4% 

Educational attainment

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

About 88.7 percent of Walla Walla County’s population 25 years and older were high school graduates over the period 2011 to 2015. This graduation rate compares to 90.4 percent for the state.

Over the same period, those holding a bachelor’s degree or higher made up 27.2 percent of Walla Walla County residents age 25 and older compared to 32.9 percent of state residents.

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Useful links

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