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Columbia County Profile

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


Regional context

Columbia County was carved out of Walla Walla County in 1875. County covers only 868.63 square miles of land, ranking 31st in size among Washington’s 39 counties. Columbia County is located in southeastern Washington, borders the Oregon state line to its south, Whitman County and the Snake River to its north, Walla Walla County to its west and Garfield County to its east. Columbia County has the 3rd smallest population in the state with population density of 4.7 people per square mile. The County is mostly agricultural land that’s specialized in farming, especially wheat, asparagus and green peas as well as ranching and logging. Today, agriculture and food processing are still dominant along with food manufacturing and local government.

Local economy

The Columbia County area was home to many tribes including Palouse, Nez Perce, Yakama, Wanapum, Walla Walla, and Umatilla. Breeding, trading and selling horses was a central part of tribal existence. Later trading became one of the primary economic activities as fur and goods trading companies moved into the area with pioneers. As pioneers started settling in the area agricultural and ranching activities prospered as demand for produce and meats grew with new influx of gold rush pioneers.

Due to employment activities primarily centered in agriculture and government, Columbia County has had marginally stable economy. Nevertheless, employment activities have developed a small seasonal pattern for the past five years mainly due to new wind projects, such as Hopkins Ridge, Marengo and the Dayton wind farms. Recent work has been started to reestablish food processing in the county with the new Blue Mountain Station project. This project will serve as a food processing business incubator, blending sustainable, locally grown produce with food and organic food production.

Ski Bluewood, the local ski area’s change in ownership ensured that the local ski area continued to operate. This local skiing facility is an important source of tourism and seasonal employment for residents across the region.


Geographic facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Columbia County Rank in state
Land area, 2010 (square miles) 868.63 31
Persons per square mile, 2010 4.7 36



Over the years commodity base industries have contributed the most to Columbia County growth. The wheat crop is in high demand and has been very profitable in the past couple of years. Commodities across most markets have continued to benefit from changing levels of global trade, demand and monetary valuations. Industries that have been growing for the past three years include: agricultural commodities, wholesale trade of durable goods, transportation and warehousing and small scale manufacturing.

Columbia County is becoming tourist destination for its Historic preservation appeal and in turn is expanding its accommodation and food services industry, with a ten year average annual growth rate of 1.1 percent. This segment is expected to continue growing in upcoming years. In addition to tourist attractions, manufacturing is growing as well, following the Eastern Washington growth trend, but with a smaller, more persistent expansion. Eastern Washington is expected to grow nonfarm employment at a rate of 1.9 percent a year.

Labor force and unemployment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

In 2014, Columbia County’s civilian labor force was at 1,760, which was the same as year before. The number employed was marginally up to 1,627 in 2014 from 1,621 in 2013. Yearly averages in the labor force show some volatility in the local employment market, with two to three year boom and bust cycles, which are associated with the agricultural economic base. There are few industries that are recovering from a down-turn in the economy in 2013, which was due to a loss of construction jobs on wind farm projects.


Industry employment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

Columbia County added some 1,282 jobs to the state’s economy; total employment in 2014 increased by 2.2 percent from the year before.

  • Goods-producing employment averaged 267 in 2014, an increase of 1.9 percent over the year. The goods-producing industry makes up 20.8 percent of total employment. Agriculture represents the majority of the goods-producing industry, 56.6 percent. From its most recent peak in 2009 of 424, goods-producing employment decreased as food manufacturing contracted due to closures of local manufacturing plants and the recession’s effect on construction. However, Columbia County has held steady in recent years mainly due to wind farm construction projects in the area, new small manufacturing initiatives and efforts with Blue Mountain station.
  • Service-providing employment averaged 1,015 in 2014, up by 2.2 percent from the 2013 average. Columbia County service-providing employment is comprised of 8.8 percent retail trade; 8.7 other services, except public administration; 8.5 percent health care and social assistance; 8.0 percent accommodations and food services; and 48.4 percent government employment.
  • Government employment averaged 491 in 2014, which was up from 2013 by 2.7 percent.

For historical industry employment data, contact an economist.

Industry employment by age and gender

(Source: The Local Employment Dynamics)

The largest jobholder group in Columbia County in 2014 was the 55 and over age group with 28.9 percent of the workforce, an increase over the year of 2.2 percent. They were followed by 45 to 54 year-olds with 22.9 percent of the workforce, a decrease of 1.4 percent over the year, which shows that the county workforce is aging.

In 2014, 52.5 percent of all industry jobs were held by men and 47.5 percent were held by women. Industry differences are discussed below:

  • Male-dominated industries included construction (85.2 percent), wholesale trade (80.9 percent), agriculture (80.8 percent) and manufacturing (71.1 percent).
  • Female-dominated industries included information (89.2 percent), professional, scientific and technical services (85.3 percent), health care (78.2 percent), finance and insurance (82.0 percent) and accommodations and food services (75.8 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)

In 2014, Columbia County had 1,282 jobs covered by unemployment insurance, with a total payroll of over $46.1 million.

The county annual average wage was $36,020 in 2014, which was below the state’s average annual wage of $54,829. In 2014, Columbia County was ranked 17th in the state for average annual wages among the 39 counties.

The Columbia County median hourly wage was $17.68 in 2013, a decrease of $0.06 over the year. Median wage in Columbia County was well below the state’s median hourly wage of $22.09, which increased by $0.19 over the year.

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 2013, the per capita income in Columbia County was $43,818, which was well below the state’s per capita income of $47,717 according to Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Median household income over the period 2009 to 2013 was $42,519, well below the state’s $59,478, according to the U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts.

During the same time period, 17.1 percent of the population was living below the poverty level in Columbia County, compared to 13.4 percent for the state.



(Source: U.S. Census Bureau)

According to the Census estimate for 2014, the Columbia County population was 3,985. Population growth in Columbia County for the past twenty years has been under 0.1 percent and during the last four years there was a decline in population. The population of the county is expected to remain somewhat stable.

The Columbia County seat and largest city is Dayton, with population of 2,545 in 2014. The second notable city is Starbuck, with population of 130.

Population facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Columbia County Washington state
Population 2014 3.985 7,061,530
Population 2010 4,078 6,724,540
Percent change, 2010 to 2014 -2.3% 5.0%

Age, gender and ethnicity

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Columbia County has a large retirement community with 25.5 percent of the population being 65 years and older in 2013.

  • Columbia County’s population 65 and older was 25.4 percent in 2013 compared to the state’s 13.6 percent.
  • Those under 18 years of age made up 19.1 percent in 2013 compared to the state’s 22.9 percent.
  • The youngest age group, those under 5 years of age, was 3.8 percent in 2013, much smaller when compared to the state’s 6.4 percent.

The median age for Columbia County residents is 50.6 years, with females being older at 50.8 years and male residents at 49.7 years.

Female persons made up 50.5 percent of the county’s population, which is slightly above the state’s 50.0 percent.

Diversity in the county shows 95.3 percent of residents are white, with 6.3 percent persons of Hispanic or Latino origin, compared to the state’s 80.1 percent and 12.1 percent, respectively.


(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Columbia County Washington state
Population by age, 2014    
Under 5 years old 3.8% 6.3%
Under 18 years old 19.1% 22.7%
65 years and older 25.5% 14.1%
Females, 2014 50.5% 50.0%
Race/ethnicity, 2014
White 95.3% 80.1%
Black 0.3% 4.2%
American Indian, Alaskan Native 1.5% 1.5%
Asian, Native Hawaiian, Other Pacific Islander 0.9% 9.8%
Hispanic or Latino, any race 6.3% 12.1%

Educational attainment

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Over the period 2009 to 2013, 86.1 percent of individuals age 25 and older were high school graduates, which is lower than that of Washington state (90.0 percent).

Over the same period, it’s estimated that 17.2 percent of people in Columbia County 25 and older had attained a bachelor’s degree or higher. This does not compare favorably with the state (31.9 percent).