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Okanogan County Profile

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


Regional context

Okanogan County borders Canada on the north. The Columbia River Basin and Lake Roosevelt form its southern and eastern borders, and the North Cascade Mountains form its western border. It is one of the largest counties in the state at 5,268 square miles, but has the fifth fewest residents per square mile. It is an agricultural county with many outdoor recreation activities that draw tourists.

The Colville Confederated Tribes occupy much of Okanogan County and part of Ferry County as well. As of January 2012, the Colville Confederated Tribes consists of 9,365 descendants of 12 aboriginal tribes.

Local economy

Okanogan County was established in 1888, partitioned from Stevens County. Originally, the area was a trading center for furs and pelts, but eventually became part of the gold rush. Gold and silver were discovered in 1858, but gold production never reached higher than fourth in the state.

Timber and logging were also important industries. The original sawmill was built in 1920 and thrived into the mid-2000’s. One of the largest mills in Okanogan County was eventually named Quality Veneer and Lumber. A March 25th 2013 PR Newswire article announced: “The Colville tribes, the second-largest tribal organization in the state and the largest employer in Okanogan County, bought the mill in 2001 out of receivership of the prior owner, Quality Veneer & Lumber. The harshest decline in the construction industry in 50 years forced the difficult decision to close its operations in 2009.” But this mill officially reopened on October 7th 2013.

An Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle article published October 8, 2013 stated that that “Governor Jay Inslee joined more than 100 mill workers and area dignitaries (on October 7th) for the grand reopening of the Colville tribe’s plywood and veneer mill. The Omak Wood Products mill is operational with 87 employees already on the job, Wood Resources Chairman Richard Yarbrough said. Wood Resources is the parent corporation for the mill.” A March 30th 2013 article from the Wenatchee World said: “The restart comes with a 25-year lease between the Colville Tribal Federal Corporation – the Colville Tribe’s business arm – and Wood Resources.”

An October 8th 2013 article in the Wenatchee World newspaper announced that “The Company expects to employ about 200 workers when production reaches full capacity.” A company presentation entitled “Omak Wood Products Status as of August 7th, 2014” stated: in January 2014 – monthly log production hit 5 million board feet; on February 17, 2014 – second shift on green end was added; and on June 29, 2014 weekly production peaked at 2.9 million square-feet. The bottom line: mill operations have been faring well and its reopening has increased the number of workers in Okanogan County’s struggling manufacturing sector.

With more than 300 days of sunshine a year and 3 million acres of public land, outdoor activities are plentiful and attract various outdoor enthusiasts. Recreation activities include camping, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, rock climbing, skiing and various lake activities. In winter, the largest ski-trail system in North America offers over 120 miles of groomed, interconnected trails, with additional opportunities for fat-tire bikes, snowshoes and backcountry skiers. Access to the Cascade Mountains and North Cascades National Park also contributes to tourism in the area. The area is popular with birdwatchers as well as individuals interested in wildlife, from moose to deer to black bears.

Tourism in the area is very diverse. Okanogan is home to various rodeos during the spring and summer, along with a wine festival in the summer and a salmon festival in the fall. Another major tourist attraction is the Grand Coulee Dam, one of the largest concrete structures in the world and the largest electric power-producing facility in the United States.

Agriculture is a very important sector for the Okanogan County economy. In fact, in 2013 it provided more jobs than any other sector/industry countywide. Agriculture consists primarily of various tree fruits and wheat. The first orchard was planted in 1858 and the area continued to develop tree fruits into the dominant industry it is today. In addition to the sales of agricultural products, tourists flock to breweries, wineries and the local fruit stands throughout the area.

According to Quarterly Census Employment and Wage (QCEW) data, retail trade sector employment peaked in 2008 at 1,886 jobs. It then decreased in 2009 to 1,822 jobs, in 2010 to 1,795 jobs and again in 2011 to 1,738, before rebounding to 1,819 jobs in 2012 and then tapering off to 1,809 jobs in 2013. Current Employment Statistics (CES) estimates for 2014 indicate that the annual average number of retail jobs across Okanogan County rose by 40 jobs (up 2.2 percent) in 2014, but that was still not strong enough to pull retail employment back up to the 2008 peak of 1,886. Nevertheless, the county is still doing well as a tourist destination. Visiting Canadian shoppers have boosted retail trade sales employment as they travel south to buy goods, enticed by the fact that the relative value of the U.S. dollar has dropped over the past several years. However, a stronger U.S. dollar reduces the buying power of other currencies. As of report preparation time (in April 2015) this has become the case. Hence, the possibility exists that this recent development may reduce the numbers of Canadian shoppers in Okanogan County.


Geographic facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Okanogan County Washington state
Land area, 2010 (square miles) 5,267.9 66,455.5
Persons per square mile, 2010 7.8 101.2



Before attempting to project the direction of the Okanogan economy over the next decade it helps to quantify how the labor market has fared over the last decade or so. Between 2000 and 2013 the average annual nonfarm employment growth rate was 0.2 percent in the U.S., 0.7 percent in Washington state and minus-0.2 percent in Okanogan County. The number of nonfarm jobs fell during the first two years of the last decade (5.7 percent in 2000 and 1.5 percent in 2001), rose for the next six years (from 2003-2008 inclusive). Then the recent recession hit.

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 Okanogan County’s labor market heavily in 2009 and 2010 and less severely in 2011 and 2012. Local nonfarm employment stabilized in 2013 before posting an average annual increase of 2.4 percent in 2014. On an annual average basis, nonfarm employment in Okanogan County:

  • Plummeted from 13,040 in 2008 to 12,530 in 2009, a 510 job and 3.9 percent decline.
  • Decreased from 12,530 in 2009 to 12,260 in 2010, a 270 job and 2.2 percent downturn.
  • Declined from 12,260 in 2010 to 12,180 in 2011, an 80 job and 0.7 percent abatement.
  • Slipped from 12,180 in 2011 to 12,170 in 2012, a 10 job and 0.1 percent decrease.
  • Stabilized at 12,170 jobs in both 2012 and 2013.
  • Increased from 12,170 in 2013 to 12,460 in 2014, a 290 job and 2.4 percent upturn.

After four consecutive years of nonfarm jobs losses (2009 through 2012) and one less-than-stellar year (2013) in which nonfarm employment stagnated, the 2.4 percent and 290 job increase (from 12,170 to 12,460 jobs) was very good news for the local economy. In fact, on a percentage basis, the 2.4 percent nonfarm job growth rate in Okanogan County during 2014 was the highest job growth rate in the past ten years. The next fastest growth rate occurred in calendar year 2007 when Okanogan County nonfarm employment grew 1.5 percent (from 12,780 jobs in 2006 to 12,970 in 2007), a 190 job upturn.

Labor Market and Performance Analysis (LMPA) ten-year industry employment projections for the North Central Workforce Development Area (Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Grant and Okanogan counties) are for an average annual nonfarm job growth rate of 1.5 percent in the ten-year period from 2012 through 2022, a little less robust that the projected growth rate for Washington state of 1.6 percent.


Labor force and unemployment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

The average not seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in Okanogan County in 2014 was 7.4 percent. This was a one and three-tenths percentage point drop from the 8.7 percent reading in 2013. The rate has been dropping for the last four consecutive years. The lowest average unemployment reading in the county in recent years was in 2007 at 6.3 percent and the highest rate was 11.3 in 1993. Statewide, the not seasonally adjusted unemployment rate also decreased in each of the last four calendar years since its peak of 9.9 percent in 2010. Washington’s unemployment rate in 2014 was 6.2 percent, an eight-tenths percentage point drop from the 7.0 percent figure in 2013.

The February 2015 unemployment rate of 10.6 percent (not seasonally adjusted) in Okanogan County increased two-tenths of a percentage point from the 10.4 percent reading in February 2014. Although the Civilian Labor Force (CLF) grew by 420 residents (from 19,150 to 19,570 between the Februarys of 2014 and 2015), the number of unemployed grew at a faster clip (from 1,990 to 2,070); hence, this two-tenths point, over-the-year increase. The encouraging news is that on an annual average basis, Okanogan County's civilian labor force (CLF) grew 5.7 percent in 2014, a good economic indicator following a 2.8 percent labor force contraction in 2013. Okanogan County's CLF has grown for the last 16 consecutive months, rising 2.3 percent between the Februarys of 2014 and 2015. Washington's CLF has increased for the past ten months (from May 2014 through February 2015).


Industry employment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

The North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) is an industry classification system that assigns every businesses and government organization in America a six-digit NAICS code based primarily on the activities in which that business or government organization is engaged. All business and government organizations are also more broadly categorized into one of 22 two-digit NAICS sectors. Nineteen sectors are in private enterprise and three sectors are in government service – either at the federal, the state, or the local level.

The top five Okanogan County sectors in 2013 in terms of employment

(Source: Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW))

Number of jobs Share of employment
1. Agriculture, forestry and fishing 5,694 32.5%
2. Local government 3,777 21.6%
3. Retail trade 1,809 10.3%
4. Accommodation and food services 1,162 6.6%
5. Health Services 1,086 6.2%
All other industries 3,984 22.8%
Total covered employment 17,512 100%

Covered employment and wage trends over the last nine years (i.e., from 2004 through 2013) were analyzed using the Employment Security Department’s annual average Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) data for the 22 two-digit NAICS sectors in Okanogan County. Following are some of the findings:

  • In 2013, QCEW data showed that Okanogan County’s labor market provided 17,512 jobs. Over three quarters, or 77.2 percent of all local jobs were in five two-digit NAICS industries or sectors (agriculture, local government, retail trade, accommodation and food services and health services). Hence, the Okanogan County economy is not very diversified. Nearly one third of total covered employment in Okanogan County was in agriculture (5,694 of the county’s 17,512 jobs).
  • In 2013, approximately $490.2 million of wage income was paid countywide. Local government provided 30.4 percent of it, or $148.8 million. Agricultural employers constituted 21.6 percent of total wages, by paying out $105.6 million. Typically, local government (which includes tribal wages) and agriculture combined account for over half of all wage income earned in Okanogan County.
  • Between 2004 and 2013, the industry sector in Okanogan County which added the most jobs was agriculture. In 2004 the local agricultural industry provided 4,684 (28.0 percent) of total covered employment in Okanogan County. By 2013 this industry tallied 5,694 jobs (32.5) percent of all covered employment countywide. This 1,010 job uptrend indicates the importance of agriculture to the Okanogan County economy and local labor market over the past nine years.
  • Between 2004 and 2013, the sector that lost the most jobs was local government. Local government provided 4,571 jobs (27.3 percent) of total covered employment in Okanogan County in 2004. By 2013, local government (which includes tribal employment) tallied 3,777 jobs (21.6 percent) of all covered employment countywide.

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 are presented by place of work, not place of residence. Some highlights:

The largest job holder group in 2012 was those age 55 and older comprising 26.1 percent of the workforce. This group was followed closely by the 45 to 54 age group with 21.6 percent of the workforce. In 2012, males held 49.5 percent and women held 50.5 percent of jobs in Okanogan County. There were substantial gender composition differences in the industry groups:

  • Male-dominated industries included mining (85.2 percent), construction (84.7 percent), manufacturing (73.2 percent), utilities (72.4 percent) and wholesale trade (71.2 percent).
  • Female-dominated industries included finance and insurance (81.1 percent), healthcare and social assistance (78.7 percent), other services (68.8 percent) and educational services (68.2 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 2013, there were 17,512 jobs in Okanogan County with a total payroll of approximately $490.2 million covered by unemployment insurance. The county’s average annual covered wage in 2013 was $27,995, approximately 52.8 percent of Washington’s annual average wage of $53,030.

The top five Okanogan County sectors in 2013 in terms of payrolls

(Source: Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW))

Payroll Share of payrolls
1. Local government $148,825,737 30.4%
2. Agriculture, forestry and fishing $105,648,175 21.6%
3. Retail trade $43,564,984 8.9%
4. Health Services $36,342,907 7.4%
5. Federal government $27,967,234 5.7%
All other industries $127,893,360 26.1%
Total covered payrolls $490,242,397 100%

Okanogan County’s median hourly wage was $13.40 in 2012, lower than Washington state’s $21.64 median hourly wage

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.

Per capita personal income in Okanogan County was $37,674 in 2012. This figure is considerably below the state figure of $46,045 and the nation’s per capita income of $43,735. A slow, steady trend in Okanogan County over the last thirty years is that a growing percentage of residents’ personal income is coming from transfer payments versus earnings/wages or investments. For example:

  • In 1982, 59 percent of earnings in Okanogan County came from earnings, 23 percent from investments and 19 percent from transfer payments.
  • In 1992, 61 percent of earnings in Okanogan County came from earnings, 18 percent from investments and 21 percent from transfer payments.
  • In 2002, 58 percent of earnings in Okanogan County came from earnings, 19 percent from investments and 24 percent from transfer payments.
  • In 2012, 54 percent of earnings in Okanogan County came from earnings, 20 percent from investments and 26 percent from transfer payments.

According to U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts, the median household income from 2009-2013 was $40,368, significantly below the state’s at $59,478.

In the period 2009 to 2013, 20.7 percent of the county’s population was living below poverty level, which is much higher than 13.4 percent for Washington state and 15.4 percent for the nation, according to U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts.



(Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Office of Financial Management )

Okanogan County’s population in 2010 was 41,120. The growth rate from April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2014 was 0.4 percent for Okanogan County, much lower than that of the state at 5.0 percent. The largest city in Okanogan County is Omak with a population of 4,840 in 2014.

Population facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Okanogan County Washington state
Population 2014 41,290 7,061,530
Population 2010 41,120 6,724,543
Percent change, 2010 to 2014 0.4% 5.0%

Age, gender and ethnicity

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

In 2013, Okanogan County’s population of those 65 years and older (19.4 percent) was higher than the Washington state’s 13.6 percent.

In 2013, females made up 49.5 percent of Okanogan County’s population, slightly less than that of the state (50.0 percent).

Okanogan County has a much larger American Indian/Alaskan Native population (12.2 percent) than that of the state (1.9 percent). This is due to the concentration of the Colville Confederated Tribes in this area. Hispanics are also more prevalent in the county (18.8 percent) compared to the state (11.9 percent).


(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Okanogan County Washington state
Population by age, 2013
Under 5 years old 6.5% 6.4%
Under 18 years old 23.4% 22.9%
65 years and older 19.4% 13.6%
Females, 2013 49.5% 50.0%
Race/ethnicity, 2013
White 82.8% 81.2%
Black 0.8% 4.0%
American Indian, Alaskan Native 12.2% 1.9%
Asian, Native Hawaiian, Other Pacific Islander 1.2% 8.6%
Hispanic or Latino, any race 18.8% 11.9%

Educational attainment

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Over the period 2009 to 2013, 81.7 percent of individuals age 25 and older were high school graduates. This figure is lower than that of Washington state (90.0 percent) and the nation (86.0 percent). The percent of residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher was 16.5 percent. This figure does not compare favorably with the state (31.9 percent) or nation (28.8 percent).