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Chelan and Douglas Counties Profile

Overview | Geographic facts | Outlook | Labor force and unemployment |
Industry employment | Wages and Income | Population


Regional context

Chelan and Douglas counties are on the eastern edge of the Cascade Mountains and are separated by the Columbia River. Chelan and Douglas counties have a very diverse geographic area that includes mountains and lakes, and flat areas next to the Columbia River. The varied terrain supports the two major industries in the area, tourism and agriculture.

The legislature created Chelan County in 1899, carving it out of Okanogan and Kittitas counties. Wenatchee is its county seat.

Douglas County is close to the geographic center of the state. Douglas County was created in 1883, named after U.S. Senator Steven Douglas of Illinois who was the chairman of the U.S. Commission on Territories when the Territory of Washington was created. Waterville is the county seat.

Chelan County ranks third in the state in land area while Douglas County ranks 17th. Both counties are sparsely populated as measured by persons per square mile.

Local economy

The first people of the area now known as Chelan and Douglas counties were tribes whose culture and economy centered on fishing and hunting and gathering. The Yakima Treaty of 1855 removed 10.8 million acres from the indigenous people’s title to the land. The result was war throughout the territory, and eventual movement of tribes to the Colville Reservation.

Trappers and Chinese gold prospectors were among the first non-Indians who lived in the area in the early 1800s. White settlers followed, beginning in the 1870s. Irrigation along with railroads spurred agricultural development in Chelan County, particularly fruit orchards. Now grape vines are replacing some fruit orchards, driving development in wineries.

The Wenatchee Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), which includes both Chelan and Douglas counties, depends heavily upon agriculture as well as seasonal employment in retail and leisure and hospitality. Agriculture tends to be the economic force for the area, and it specifically revolves around various tree fruit that includes apples, cherries, pears and peaches. Wineries are playing an increasing role in both agriculture and in tourism. Agricultural employment directly links to nonfarm employment through nondurable goods manufacturing (i.e. food processing), wholesale trade (i.e. fresh fruit packinghouses) and transportation.

Chelan County is on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountain range in central Washington. Lake Chelan is the third deepest lake in the country. With its nearly year-round sunshine, it has developed into an all-season outdoor recreational destination.

In addition to agriculture, tourism plays a large part in the local economy with two very popular areas for the state: Lake Chelan and Leavenworth. Lake Chelan is a great tourist area in the summer. Leavenworth provides year-round tourism with a Bavarian-themed village that hosts an Oktoberfest festival and has multiple ski resorts very close to town.

A visitor research study conducted for the Port of Chelan County by a private research and community planning firm1 showed that Chelan County is a regional draw with 61 percent of its visitors from Seattle and 17 percent from Spokane. According to the study, visitors engage in a variety of outdoor activities, such as sightseeing, visiting historical and cultural sites and wineries, attending festival and family events, as well as shopping. Sixty percent of the visitors stay overnight.

Agriculture is the dominant industry in Douglas County with one-third of its workforce in that industry, followed by retail trade. Similar to Chelan County, food manufacturing, warehousing, shipping and processing that revolve around agriculture also define much of the industry makeup in Douglas County. The regional retail hub is found in East Wenatchee, the largest city in Douglas County, which features North Central Washington’s largest shopping mall.


Geographic facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Chelan County Douglas County Washington state
Land area, 2010 (square miles) 2,920.53 1,819.26 66,455.52
Persons per square mile, 2010 24.8 21.1 101.2



Although 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 Wenatchee MSA labor market primarily in 2009 and 2010. Nonfarm employment in the two-county Wenatchee MSA peaked at an annual average of 40,400 jobs in 2008, then the recession hit. Total nonfarm employment dropped 4.0 percent in 2009, to 38,800. It decreased by 1.5 percent in 2010, to 38,200 jobs.

During 2011 the local labor market rebounded somewhat, rising to 38,800 – a 1.6 percent annual average upturn. This trend continued in 2012 with the number of local nonfarm jobs advancing to 39,000, a 0.5 percent increase. Employment estimates for the first eight months of 2013 indicate more growth for the 2013 calendar year.


Labor force and unemployment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

Unemployment rates in the Wenatchee MSA (Chelan and Douglas counties) were remarkably consistent in the four-year period from 2005 to 2008 (before the recession). Rates ranged from a low of 4.9 percent in 2007 to a high of 5.7 percent in 2005. This was a relatively narrow range. During the recession, unemployment rates in the Wenatchee MSA increased to 8.7 percent in 2010 before decreasing to 7.7 percent in 2012.

Between 2011 and 2012 in the Wenatchee MSA:

  • Not seasonally adjusted unemployment declined from 8.3 to 7.7 percent, a modest six-tenths of a percentage point contraction. In comparison, Washington State’s unemployment rate decreased one full percentage point (from 9.2 percent in 2011 to 8.2 percent in 2012).
  • The average number of unemployed fell from 5,160 to 4,820, equating to 340 fewer residents out of work in this two-county area. The civilian labor force (CLF) grew by 770, from 62,230 to 63,000 residents, or 1.2 percent.
  • The August 2013 unemployment rate in the Wenatchee MSA was 6.2 percent, a seven-tenths percentage point decline from the 6.9 percent reading in August 2012. As of August 2013, the Wenatchee MSA’s unemployment rate has declined for the past 25 consecutive months (from August 2011 through August 2013), an indicator that the local labor market has been steadily improving.

Industry employment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

The Wenatchee MSA (Chelan and Douglas counties) was slow to react to the Great Recession and has been slow to recover. Total nonfarm employment peaked in 2008, dropped in 2009 and 2010 and increased in 2011 and 2012. The Wenatchee MSA averaged 39,000 total nonfarm jobs in 2012.

August 2013 nonfarm employment estimates indicate that employers in the Wenatchee MSA provided 40,700 nonfarm jobs in August 2013, a modest 200 job and 0.5 percent expansion from the 40,500 jobs in August 2012. The Wenatchee MSA’s nonfarm labor market posted year-over-year growth in each of the past 16 months (from May 2012 through August 2013).

Businesses and government organizations across Washington supplied 2,948,600 nonfarm jobs in August 2013 (not seasonally adjusted), compared to 2,881,800 jobs in August 2012. This equated to a 2.3 percent over-the-year statewide employment increase. Washington’s labor market has been growing for 35 months (from October 2010 through August 2013). This comparison indicates the local economy is improving along with the state’s.

Locally, major areas of nonfarm jobs concentration are in retail trade, education and health services, leisure and hospitality and government. In the private education and health services category (where most jobs are in the healthcare field) employment declined by 100 in 2012. Leisure and hospitality averaged 200 more jobs in 2012 than in 2011. The number of jobs in retail trade declined by 100 and government employment was unchanged in 2012.

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:

Chelan County – 2011

  • The county’s largest jobholder age group was the 55+ year-olds, accounting for 23.4 percent of the workforce. This group was closely followed by the 45 to 54 year-olds, accounting for 23.1 percent of the workforce.
  • Men held 49.2 percent and women held 50.8 percent of all jobs in Chelan County.
    • Male-dominated industries included mining (86.5 percent), construction (83.6 percent), utilities (74.8 percent) and manufacturing (73.2 percent).
    • Female-dominated industries included healthcare and social assistance (78.2 percent), finance and insurance (76.2 percent) and educational services (67.9 percent).

Douglas County – 2011

  • The county’s largest jobholder age group was the 55+ year-olds with 23.5 percent of the workforce. This category was closely followed by the 45 to 54 year-olds with 22.2 percent of the workforce.
  • Men held 51.6 percent and women held 48.4 of all jobs in Douglas County.
    • Male-dominated industries included construction (84.5 percent), utilities (76.7 percent) and manufacturing (75.7 percent).
    • Female-dominated industries included health care and social assistance (84.3 percent), finance and insurance (78.4 percent) and educational services (70.0 percent).

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)

Chelan County averaged 39,583 jobs in 2012 covered by unemployment insurance with a total payroll of more than $1.34 billion. Douglas County averaged 10,776 jobs covered by unemployment insurance with a total payroll of more than $327 million.

In 2012, Chelan County had an average annual wage for total covered employment of $33,735 and Douglas County had an average annual wage of $30,373. Chelan County had a median hourly wage of $14.90 and the Douglas County median hourly wage was $14.33.

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 2011, Chelan County’s per capita personal income was $37,619 and Douglas County’s was $30,500. The nation was $41,560 and Washington State was $43,878.

The U.S. Census QuickFacts reported median household income for the period 2007 to 2011 at $49,509 for Chelan County and at $49,707 for Douglas County compared to the state at $58,890.

Chelan County’s poverty rate was 12.6 percent and Douglas County’s was 16.7 percent over the period 2007 to 2011. In comparison, Washington State’s rate was 12.5 percent and the nation’s rate was 14.3 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts.



(Source: U.S. Census Bureau)

Chelan County’s population in 2012 was 73,687, growing 1.7 percent from April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2012. The pace of growth in the county’s population was less robust than the state’s 2.6-percent growth rate from April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2012. The largest city in Chelan County is Wenatchee. Other notable cities are Cashmere and Chelan.

Douglas County’s population in 2012 was 39,350, growing 2.4 percent from April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2012. The county’s growth rate is only a tad slower than the state’s 2.6-percent growth rate during this timeframe. The largest city in Douglas County is East Wenatchee. Other noteworthy cities in Douglas County are Bridgeport and Waterville.

Population facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Chelan County Douglas County Washington state
Population 2012 73,687 39,350 6,897,012
Population 2010 72,456 38,431 6,724,543
Percent change, 2010 to 2012 1.7% 2.4% 2.6%

Age, gender and ethnicity

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

The percent of the population age 65 and older in Chelan County was 15.4 percent, and in Douglas County was 14.2 percent. Both counties share was higher than the state’s at 13.2 percent in 2012.

Chelan and Douglas counties’ shares of the population under 18 years of age were larger than that of the state at 24.8 percent and 26.5 percent, respectively in 2012. The state’s share of residents under age 18 was 23.0 percent.

The population under the age of 5 years was higher in Chelan County at 7.1 percent and in Douglas County at 7.2 percent that that of the state at 6.4 percent in 2012.

Chelan County was 50.1 percent female and Douglas County was 49.6 percent female in 2012. The state’s share was 50.1 percent.

Chelan and Douglas counties each recorded over one-fourth of their total populations in 2012 as Hispanic or Latino. These two counties each had more than double the population share of Hispanics, at 26.8 percent of the population in Chelan County and 29.5 percent in Douglas County in 2012, than did the state at 11.7 percent.


(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Chelan County Douglas County Washington state
Population by age, 2012
Under 5 years old 7.1% 7.2% 6.4%
Under 18 years old 24.8% 26.5% 23.0%
65 years and older 16.4% 14.9% 13.2%
Females, 2012 50.1% 49.6% 50.1%
Race/ethnicity, 2012
White 94.4% 94.0% 81.6%
Black 0.6% 0.6% 3.9%
American Indian, Alaskan Native 1.7% 1.9% 1.8%
Asian 1.0% 1.1% 7.7%
Native Hawaiian, Other Pacific Islander 0.2% 0.2% 0.7%
Hispanic or Latino, any race 26.8% 29.5% 11.7%

Educational attainment

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

According to the 2007-2011 American Community Survey (ACS) a higher percentage of adults age 25 years and older in Chelan and Douglas counties had less than a 9th Grade education than those in the state (4.1 percent) or in the nation (6.1 percent). Chelan County had 10.4 percent and Douglas County had 10.7 percent of their adults 25 years and older with less than a 9th Grade education.

There were far fewer college graduates in these counties compared to the state and nation. In Chelan County, only 23.0 percent of residents age 25 and older held a bachelor’s degree or higher. In Douglas County, the number was 17.6 percent. These figures compare to 31.4 percent in Washington state and 28.2 percent in the nation.


1 See full report, Chelan County Visitor Research at the Port of Chelan County