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Thurston County Profile

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


Regional context

Thurston County is located on the southern end of Puget Sound in Western Washington, referred to as the South Sound. It is the seventh smallest county in the state, but the sixth most populous with 349.4 persons per square mile.

Twice recent years, Forbes Magazine has ranked Thurston County as one of the top places in the nation to do business. The ranking acknowledges the county’s favorable performance in the areas of cost of living, job growth, recreational and cultural opportunities and educational attainment.

Local economy

Thurston County was carved out of Lewis County in 1852, named after Samuel R. Thurston, the first delegate to Congress from the Oregon Territory, which later became Washington. The county seat is Olympia, the state capital and the largest city in the county. In 1851, Olympia became the port of entry for Puget Sound. A year later, it became the county seat.

Native Americans date back to roughly 3,000 years ago. Nisqually and Squaxon tribes established themselves in this area. In 1833, the first Europeans settled in the area, and in 1845, the first white American settlers arrived.

Lumber and coal and sandstone mining were the dominant sources of industry of 19th century Thurston County, and remained so into the 1920s. In 1896, Leopold Schmidt established a brewery that was a significant industry in Tumwater. It operated until Miller closed it in 2003.

State government began to increase its share when the state capitol was completed in 1927. By the 1950s, state government surpassed lumber. Logging mills closed in the 1960s. Thurston County grew rapidly over the decades, fueled by employment in state government and trade. Tribal casinos also took off during this time.

The local economy continues to be dependent upon government employment as 35 percent of all nonfarm employment can be attributed to federal, state and local government jobs. Looking back to 2010, federal government employment has declined by 11.5 percent, with overall state employment up only 0.1 percent.

Moving forward, many of the government-related budget questions remain unresolved as the state, local municipalities and school districts continue to look for ways to fully fund education while maintaining other government services.


Geographic facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Thurston County Rank in state
Land area, 2010 (square miles) 721.96 32
Persons per square mile, 2010 349.4 6



The year 2016 looks to show continuing promise in Thurston County as unemployment rates continue to fall and payrolls expand. Compared to 2010, overall employment has increased by 1.7 percent and unemployment has declined 34.6 percent. Nonfarm employment has increased by 8.9 percent, including by 13.8 percent in the private sector. Government employment expanded slightly (0.5 percent) since 2010.

Increasing taxable sales, comparing 2010 with 2014, were especially notable in e-commerce (up 106.9 percent), transportation and warehousing (up 93.2 percent), specialty food and beverage stores (up 106.9 percent) and professional, scientific and technical services (up 56.7 percent). Sales for all industries were up 2.1 percent.

The largest dollar increases in taxable sales over this period were noted for motor vehicles/auto dealers (up $204.4 million), accommodation and food services (up $40.9 million), specialty trade contractors (up $37.3 million) and e-commerce (up $34.5 million). The largest decline was in mining, down 84.0 percent or -$4.2 million.

Personal income in Thurston County has increased 14.5 percent comparing 2010 with 2014, while the population has increased 5.1 percent. Per capita income has also increased 9.0 percent.

Labor force and unemployment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

The 2015 average annual unemployment rate in Thurston County declined to 6.0 percent, down from 6.7 percent in 2014. The 2013 unemployment rate was 7.6 percent. The unemployment rate trend in the county is to remain below 7 percent on an annual average basis, which has not occurred since 2008. The 2015 statewide unemployment rate was 5.5 percent.

In 2015 there were, on average, 7,455 county residents unemployed as 117,542 received paychecks. That compares to 8,255 unemployed in 2014 with 114,921 at work. Over the past three years the civilian labor force has been increasing, from 122,518 in 2013 to 124,996 in 2015 (2.0 percent), demonstrating confidence in the local labor market.


Industry employment

(Source: Employment Security Department)

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

Thurston County average annual nonfarm employment totaled above 100,000 jobs from 2007 through 2009 before dropping below that level in 2010 and 2011. It has averaged 104,338 since then, with 2015 at 108,500 jobs.

Goods-producing employment totaled 8,300 jobs in 2015, up 500 from 2014 (6.8 percent). The construction sector has expanded during this recovery as employment numbers show an 8.6 percent increase in 2015, to 4,900 jobs. Manufacturing was also up by 100 jobs.

Service-providing employment totaled 100,300 jobs in 2015, up 2,800 from the 2014 total (2.9 percent). The service sector has been buoyed by strong growth in professional and business services (up 5.1 percent) and retail trade (up 3.1 percent).

Government jobs were up by 1.7 percent in 2015, and accounted for more than a third of all nonfarm employment (36,900). This sector has grown for the past three years after a slight decline in 2012. Education services typically show the strongest growth.

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:

In 2014, the two largest employed age categories were those 45 to 54 years old, with 22.9 percent of the jobs and those 55 and older with 24.8 percent of the jobs.

Men held 46.1 percent of the jobs in the county and women held 53.9 percent of jobs in 2014.

  • Male-dominated industries included mining (81.0 percent), construction (84.0 percent) and manufacturing (75.4 percent).
  • Female-dominated industries included healthcare and social assistance (78.3 percent), education (68.2 percent) and finance and insurance (68.8 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, there were 103,089 covered employment jobs in Thurston County. The total payroll for 2014 was over $4.6 billion dollars.

In 2014, the average annual wage was $45,026, compared to the state average of $55,003.

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 income in Thurston County in 2014 was $42,994 compared to the state at $49,610 and the nation at $46,049. It ranks 10th for per capita income in Washington state.

Median household income over the period 2010 to 2014 was $62,286, higher than that of the state ($60,294) and the nation ($53,482), according to the U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts.

The percent of the county’s population below the official poverty rate in 2014 was 11.9 percent compared to the state’s rate of 13.2 percent and the nation’s at 14.8 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts. The state and national rates are not directly comparable to the county rate because they each use different data sources.



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

Thurston County’s population in 2014 was 265,851. The growth rate from 2010 to 2014 in Thurston County was faster at 5.4 percent than that of the state at 5.0 percent.

The largest city in the county is Olympia with 49,218 inhabitants, followed by Lacey (45,446) and Tumwater (18,820).

Population facts

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Thurston County Washington state
Population 2014 265,851 7,061,530
Population 2010 252,264 6,724,543
Percent change, 2010 to 2014 5.4% 5.0%

Age, gender and ethnicity

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Thurston County had an older population than the state in 2014. Thurston County’s population of those aged 65 and older was 15.2 percent compared to the state’s 14.1 percent.

Those under 18 years old were 22.1 percent of the county population, slightly less than that of the state’s 22.7 percent. Those under five years old made up 6.1 percent of Thurston County’s population compared to the state’s 6.3 percent.

Females made up 50.9 percent of Thurston County’s population, slightly more than that of the state (50.0 percent).

Thurston County showed somewhat less diversity in 2014 than the state in racial/ethnic categories, with whites making up 82.9 percent of its population compared to 80.7 percent of the state’s population. There was 5.2 percent of the county’s population reporting two or more races in 2014 compared to 4.5 percent at the state level. The county’s population had slightly more native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders (1.0 percent) than the state (0.7 percent).


(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Thurston County Washington state
Population by age, 2014
Under 5 years old 6.1% 6.3%
Under 18 years old 22.1% 22.7%
65 years and older 15.2% 14.1%
Females, 2014 50.9% 50.0%
Race/ethnicity, 2014
White 82.9% 80.7%
Black 3.4% 4.1%
American Indian, Alaskan Native 1.7% 1.9%
Asian, Native Hawaiian, Other Pacific Islander 6.7% 8.9%
Hispanic or Latino, any race 8.4% 12.2%

Educational attainment

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts)

Most Thurston County residents age 25 and older (93.6 percent) were high school graduates, which compares very favorably with 90.2 percent of Washington state’s residents and 86.3 percent of U.S. residents over the period 2010-2014.

Those with a bachelor’s degree or higher made up 32.9 percent of Thurston County residents age 25 and older compared to 32.3 percent of state residents and 29.3 percent of U.S. residents.