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Heading into 2022 how should be feel about the status of our communities, specifically the economic health?

The answer is probably that we should feel good, if not pretty good.

Going by the numbers, the last update for this county’s unemployment numbers were almost identical to the same dates in 2019 — pre-COVID.

That’s significant because this county recovered from the sharp impact of COVID at a slower rate than the overall state.

The other employment numbers, including overall workforce, show some strength as well.

Probably the biggest red flag on the employment front is Central Washington University. CWU is the single largest provider of decent-paying jobs in this county. COVID may have the longest lingering impact on higher ed. University funding is tied to enrollment, which took a hit with COVID.

Schools like CWU, which feature the small-town, on-campus experience as their primary draw, do not fare as well in an environment where more students make choices based on online and remote educational opportunities.

Depending on how the state decides to support higher ed institutions through this period, Central may have a slightly diminished role in the local economy.

While COVID may have taken away on the Central side, it may have added on the remote-worker side. Even before COVID, Kittitas County was one of the leading counties in the state in terms of employees earning income from employers based outside the county — basically workers who either physically commute or telecommute.

That trend has only increased under the COVID workplace restrictions. If there was one county poised to benefit from the transition to off-site workers, it was Kittitas County.

How this plays out — whether remote workers are required to return to workplaces — is still to be determined, but there is no denying that Kittitas County is an attractive destination for workers (and their families) who can earn higher income with West Side-based jobs without the higher cost of living of West Side residences.

On the purely anecdotal side, there is a mix of encouraging and discouraging signs. There are some empty storefronts, particularly on Pine Street, but there was also a spate of openings of some pretty nice restaurants/bars/coffee houses this past year.

Restaurants took a hard hit under COVID so to see not just long-standing, well-loved restaurants/bars remaining open but new ones being added to the mix is a great sign. For those of us who like to eat and drink, there was some cause for cheer in 2021.

For Kittitas County, the return of the Ellensburg Rodeo, Kittitas County Fair, Pioneer Days and other fairs and festival was significant. Hopefully, 2022 will see these events further recover — especially a return of a full-fledged Jazz in the Valley — and the ones that remained on hiatus come back as well.

Each of those event is an economic driver for the communities. While it is not thought of as a tourist attraction, CWU’s graduation ceremony is a large draw and benefits local hotels and eating/drinking establishments. The return of that event would be a big deal for students and the community.

Even in the midst of the latest COVID variant surge, there is reason for optimism that 2022 while continue the recovery seen in 2021.

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