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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 article published on that day by the Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle stated that “Governor Jay Inslee joined more than 100 mill workers and area dignitaries 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 explained that “The company expects to employ about 200 workers when production reaches full capacity.” The bottom line is that the reopening of this mill is great news for the 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 hiking, skiing, rock climbing, camping, horseback riding and various lake activities. 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 Okanogan County, which mainly consists 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 1,808 jobs in 2012. Current Employment Statistics (CES) estimates for the first 10 months of 2013 indicate the annual average number of retail jobs across Okanogan County will rise modestly again in 2013. 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.


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



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. Specifically, on an annual average basis, nonfarm employment in Okanogan County:

  • Plummeted from 12,780 in 2008 to 12,200 in 2009, a 580 job and 4.5 percent decline.
  • Decreased from 12,200 in 2009 to 11,830 in 2010, a 370 job and 3.0 percent downturn.
  • Declined from 11,830 in 2010 to 11,750 in 2011, an 80 job and 0.7 percent abatement.
  • Rose from 11,750 in 2011 to 11,760 in 2012, a 10 job and 0.1 percent increase.

The October 2013 nonfarm employment estimates (Current Employment Statistics) from the Employment Security Department’s Labor Market and Program Analysis (LMPA) branch show:

  • Okanogan County's nonfarm labor market posted year-over-year growth in eight the first ten months of 2013 , despite the fact that nonfarm employment dipped 0.2 percent between the Octobers of 2012 and 2013.
  • Washington's labor market has been posting year-over-year growth for 37 months (from October 2010 through October 2013).

Developing an employment outlook for Okanogan County can be much more involved than evaluating recent total covered employment and nonfarm employment trends. Nevertheless, according to LMPA’s nonfarm employment projections, the County is expected to grow at an annual pace of 1.3 percent between 2011 and 2021 versus a statewide growth pace of 1.5 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 unemployment rate (not seasonally adjusted) in Okanogan County in 2010 was 10.7 percent. In 2011 the rate dropped to 10.2 percent and in 2012 it declined one percentage point further - to 9.2 percent. Hence, the rate has been moving in the right direction since 2010. The lowest average unemployment rate in the County in recent years was in 2007 at 6.3 percent and the highest rate was 11.3 in 1993. Statewide, unemployment also decreased since 2010. The annual average unemployment rate in Washington State during 2010 was 9.9 percent. It fell seven-tenths of a percentage point to 9.2 percent in 2011 and dropped one percentage point in 2012, to 8.2 percent.

The October 2013 unemployment rate of 6.4 percent (not seasonally adjusted) in Okanogan County decreased two-tenths of a percentage point from the 6.6 percent reading in October 2012. This October was the 28th consecutive month of year-over-year decreases, or of no change, in the local unemployment rate (from July 2011 through October 2013, inclusive).

On an annual average basis, Okanogan County's Civilian Labor Force (CLF) grew 0.5 percent in 2012, a good economic indicator following a 3.4 percent labor force contraction in 2011. However, during the first ten months of 2013 Okanogan County's CLF decreased year over year in five months and increased in five - a rather lackluster performance. Between the Octobers of 2012 and 2013 the labor force contracted from 23,130 to 22,410 residents, a 720 resident and 3.1 percent decline.

Simultaneously, fewer residents were unemployed in October 2013 versus the same month in 2012 (1,540 residents were unemployed in October 2012 versus 1,440 in October 2013). Thus, although the County’s labor force shrank between the Octobers of 2012 and 2013, the number of unemployed decreased more rapidly and the October 2013 unemployment rate fell to 6.4 percent.


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.

Covered employment and wage trends over the last five years (i.e., from 2007 through 2012) were analyzed using the Employment Security Department’s annual average Quarterly Census of Employment and Wage (QCEW) data for the 22 two-digit NAICS sectors in Okanogan County. Following are some of the findings:

  • In 2012, QCEW data showed that Okanogan County’s labor market provided 17,269 jobs. Almost four-fifths, or 80 percent of all local jobs were in five two-digit NAICS industries or sectors (agriculture, local government, retail trade, health services and accommodation and food services). Hence, the Okanogan County economy is not very diversified. Nearly one third of total covered employment in Okanogan County was in agriculture (5,626 of the County’s 17,269 jobs).
  • In 2012, approximately $466.2 million of wage income was paid countywide. Local government provided 31.2 percent of it, or $145.4 million. Agricultural employers constituted 20.5 percent of total wages, by paying out $95.6 million. Typically, local government (which includes tribal wages) and agriculture combined account for over half of all wage income earned in Okanogan County.
  • Between 2007 and 2012, the industry sector in Okanogan County which added the most jobs was agriculture. In 2007 the local agricultural industry provided 28.7 percent of total covered employment in Okanogan County. By 2012 this industry accounted for 32.6 percent of all covered employment countywide. This uptrend indicates the importance of agriculture to the Okanogan County economy and local labor market over the past five years.
  • Between 2007 and 2012, the sector that lost the most jobs was local government. Local government provided 24.2 percent of total covered employment in Okanogan County in 2007. By 2012, local government (which includes tribal employment) accounted for only 21.9 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 2011 was those age 55 and older with 26.0 percent of the workforce. This group was followed closely by the 45 to 54 age group with 22.7 percent of the workforce.

In 2011, males held 49.2 percent and women held 50.8 percent of jobs in Okanogan County. There were substantial gender composition differences in the industry groups:

  • Male-dominated industries included mining (86.1 percent), construction (85.6 percent), wholesale trade (72.8 percent), utilities (72.7 percent) and manufacturing (72.4 percent).
  • Female-dominated industries included finance and insurance (82.6 percent), healthcare and social assistance (78.5 percent), educational services (68.7 percent) and other services (68.5 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 2012, there were 17,269 jobs in Okanogan County with a total payroll of nearly $466.2 million covered by unemployment insurance. The county’s average annual covered wage in 2012 was $26,994, approximately 51.9 percent of Washington’s annual average wage of $51,964.

Okanogan County’s median hourly wage was $13.17 in 2011, lower than Washington state’s $21.59 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 was $35,409 in 2011. This figure is considerably below the state’s figure of $43,878 and the nation’s figure of $41,560. A trend in Okanogan County over the last thirty years or so is that a growing percentage of residents’ personal income is coming from transfer payments versus earnings/wages or investments. For example:

  • In 1981, 62 percent of earnings in Okanogan County came from earnings, 21 percent from investments and 17 percent from transfer payments.
  • In 1991, 60 percent of earnings in Okanogan County came from earnings, 19 percent from investments and 21 percent from transfer payments.
  • In 2001, 56 percent of earnings in Okanogan County came from earnings, 19 percent from investments and 25 percent from transfer payments.
  • In 2011, 56 percent of earnings in Okanogan County came from earnings, 17 percent from investments and 27 percent from transfer payments.

According to U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts, the median household income was $40,924, which is significantly below the state’s at $59,374 over the period 2008 to 2012.

In the period 2008 to 2012, 20.6 percent of the county’s population was living below poverty level, which is much higher than 12.9 percent for Washington state and 14.9 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, 2012 was 0.4 percent for Okanogan County, much lower than that of the state at 2.6 percent. The largest city in Okanogan County is Omak with a population of 4,835 in 2012.

Population facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Okanogan County Washington state
Population 2012 41,275 6,897,012
Population 2010 41,120 6,724,543
Percent change, 2010 to 2012 0.4% 2.6%

Age, gender and ethnicity

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Okanogan County’s population distribution in 2012 was higher at the oldest age bracket than the state, but comparable in the younger age categories:

  • Okanogan County’s population of individuals aged 65 and older was 18.5 percent versus Washington’s ratio of 13.2 percent.
  • The proportion of county residents under 18 years old was 23.4 percent, comparable to the state’s 23.0 percent reading. There was also a comparable percent of residents under 5 years old residing in Okanogan County (6.6 percent) versus Washington state (6.4 percent) during 2012.

Females made up 49.6 percent of Okanogan County’s population, slightly less than that of the state (50.1 percent).

Okanogan County distinguishes its demographic makeup with its significantly larger American Indian/Alaskan Native population (12.3 percent) than that of the state (1.8 percent). This is due to the concentration of the Colville Confederated Tribes in this area. Hispanics are also more prevalent in the county (18.2 percent) compared to the state (11.7 percent).


(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Okanogan County Washington state
Population by age, 2012
Under 5 years old 6.6% 6.4%
Under 18 years old 23.4% 23.0%
65 years and older 18.5% 13.2%
Females, 2012 49.6% 50.1%
Race/ethnicity, 2012
White 83.1% 81.6%
Black 0.6% 3.9%
American Indian, Alaskan Native 12.3% 1.8%
Asian, Native Hawaiian, Other Pacific Islander 1.1% 8.4%
Hispanic or Latino, any race 18.2% 11.7%

Educational attainment

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Over the period 2008 to 2012, 82.9 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 (85.7 percent). The percent of residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher was 17.6 percent. This figure does not compare favorably with the state (31.6 percent) or nation (28.5 percent).