Thurston County’s private sector is helping lead the county out of the recession.

With 98.1 percent of all jobs recouped, the county is outpacing Pierce, Lewis and Mason counties, which have regained between 91.9 percent and 97.7 percent of their pre-recession employment levels, according to the Washington State Employment Security Department.

Thurston County’s gains are in large part due to transfers from the public to private sector.

“The state government retrenched at that time, in response to the budget crunch the state had,” explained Michael Cade, executive director of the Thurston County Economic Development Council, looking back to the start of the recession.

Like other South Sound counties, Thurston is still down a significant number of government jobs from 2008. But, it’s the only county to have recouped and surpassed pre-recession employment levels in the private sector.

Government employment has continued to drop each year from 2008 to 2012 and remains 1,900 jobs short of 2008 employment levels. The private sector, though, has made gains since bottoming out at 62,600 jobs in 2010. It ended 2013 with 200 more jobs than it had in 2008.

“The state transfers over a lot of those duties to private sector contractors or private sector employers to fill their need,” Cade said. “They still need to do a variety of things and we’ve certainly found that it’s opened up a little bit of private sector market. They won’t employ as many people, job-to-job or person-to-person, but it will certainly be from topic-to-topic.”

Such relocations were made in fields ranging from printing, to engineering and consulting, said Cade.

“I think about all the things the state does as an employer and an industry, those jobs will transfer over to the private sector,” he said.

Service providing, trade, professional and biz services up

Thurston County’s largest private subsector, the private services providing sector, which encompasses professional and business services, along with trade, transportation, warehousing and utilities, comprised 55.2 percent of jobs in 2008. Now, it’s up nearly 3.5 percent, representing 58.2 of jobs in 2013.

The trade, transportation, warehousing and utilities subsector is up 400 jobs, nearly 2.4 percent from 2008.

Information technology, part of this field, is one area regional labor economist Jim Vleming of the Washington State Employment Security Department said he’s seen some crossover from public to private employment.

“I think it’s pretty much expected, that people start cutting their IT down and farming it out and consolidating,” Vleming said. “So I think we saw a lot of those jobs kind of go away. I think we’re moving in the right direction, but it’s going to take a lot longer than expected.

“My guess is that once the economy sort of stabilizes in all areas of the economy, we’ll see more in house stuff return. It just seems to work a little bit better to have in house, and I think that that’s what we’ll be returning to once all the areas start heading in the right direction. We are headed in the right direction, but I just don’t think that people are wanting to open up their wallets. I think there’s still kind of a fear factor involved.”

Valley Freightliner, which opened its 26,000-square-foot facility in Maytown on 20-plus acres on April 15 last year, is included in these trade, transportation, warehousing and utilities subsector gains as well.

“We’re an excellent location for distribution companies, and I’m not talking about just those folks that fill pallets and load them on the trucks. Think about all that comes along with logistics. It’s finance, international business. So, we’re starting to see stuff like that,” said Cade. “Pace setters on that would be I.P. Callison. A pace setter might even be like Valley Freightliner, who opened up a major facility in Thurston County a year and a half ago to take advantage of that geography between Portland and Seattle.”

Jerrad Avery, branch manager at Valley Freightliner’s newest location agrees.

“It’s great for a dealership, because of the Interstate 5 frontage,” Avery said. “We’ve got a five-year plan, if all goes well and the economy thrives and freight continues to need to be moved, we’ve got a plan to expand our building to be even larger and offer more rapid repair and better serve our customer’s needs.”

The Portland-based company, the largest manufacturer of medium- and heavy-duty trucks in North America, has 34 employees at its new location and could hire up to 75 within the coming years.

“That’s a pretty significant employer and they generate a lot of revenue through taxes,” Cade said. “We still reap the benefits of I-5 as being a distribution point. It’s not very far to the Port of Tacoma and it’s not very far to the Port of Olympia. So, folks that do break bulk shipping can go through the Port of Olympia and folks that do containerized shipping can certainly receive an incentive through the Port of Tacoma fairly easily.”

Thurston County’s professional and business services sector is also up, 13.4 percent.

“We’ve seen a huge gain in administrative and support services. Again, those are those management jobs and those consulting jobs and those engineering jobs,” Cade said.

The county’s most significant employment change in recent years, between 2010 and 2013, though, has been in administrative and support services, up 1,289 jobs. Meanwhile, state and federal government is down 905 jobs over the same three-year span, according to the 2013 Thurston County Economic Vitality Index.

General merchandise stores also made notable gains during this time, adding 450 jobs.

“Then, health care continues to expand as well. It’s all part of that sector you just mentioned,” Cade said, referring to the private service providing sector. “Health care is one of our larger sectors by cluster or by employer. It’s the largest employment sector in Thurston County. We continue to see job gains in that sector, and certainly those are some of the more high valued employment wage earners as well.”

From 2010 to 2013, employment increased by 314 in ambulatory health care services, but it decreased by 146 in hospitals.

Information technology and telecommunications as well as manufacturing are other areas Cade said he’s seen an increase in jobs.

“We have a pretty significant food complex in Thurston County, with things like I.P. Callison and Pepsi. Those are production jobs and those are research jobs. So there’s transfer to there as well,” he said.