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Most affordable place to live in Washington?

May. 14, 2009

Tri-Cities touted for low cost of living

By Pratik Joshi, Herald staff writer

Steve Hall found the Tri-Cities by chance more than two years ago while looking for a place to relocate his Seattle manufacturing business.

Cheap land, the low cost of construction and affordable housing and a UPS freight schedule that fits his needs prompted Hall to move his business to the Port of Benton's Industrial Park in Benton City.

It's not surprising if you looked at the latest ACCRA Cost of Living Index, which tracks cost of living trends nationwide. The Tri-Cities continues to be the least expensive place to live compared with other metropolitan areas in the Northwest.

Hall soon expects to start making about 400 different kinds of printable materials for labels at his new building that'll be dedicated June 11, said Hall, who owns Rippedsheets.com and Wristbandfactory.com.

Two of his 12 former employees, who came from the west side to continue working for him in Benton City, were bowled over by the low cost of living, Hall said. "It's like getting a raise, they said," recalled Hall, who pays above-average wages to his workers.

In the first quarter of 2009, the Tri-Cities had a ACCRA index composite rating of 88.6, compared with Spokane's 91.2, Yakima's 99.4 and Seattle's 125.7.

The index, compiled by Arlington, Va.-based C2ER, the Council for Community and Economic Research, measures relative price levels of groceries, housing, health care, utilities and transportation in more than 300 metro areas across the nation.

Volunteers in different metro areas supply the price data quarterly to the organization, which has experts analyze various price samples and population samples to determine average costs, said Erol Yildirim, director of data products at C2ER.

The cost of living index often is used by businesses to relocate to new areas or to recruit employees, Yildirim said. There are a more than 1,000 subscribers to the index, which has been published since 1968, he said.

The Tri-Cities' low cost of living and high quality of life are often touted by recruiters at Kadlec Health Systems to attract quality talent, said Kadlec spokesman Jim Hall.

Since the beginning of the year, Kadlec has hired 156 employees, including nurses, therapists, lab workers and other support staff, and six physicians and signed up 12 more doctors who are expected to join Kadlec soon.

They've come from all over the country including the Northwest, the East Coast and Hawaii, Hall said. Stability and the growth of the local economy plus career opportunities at Kadlec definitely play a role in their decision to make the Tri-Cities home, he said.

Cost of living is an important consideration for potential employees coming to work at Hanford, said Becky Smith, a human resource specialist at CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co.

The company looks nationwide to hire professionals that include, among others, scientists, engineers and project managers for jobs with annual salaries ranging from $45,000 to $120,000.

People moving from Seattle, Portland, Chicago, New York or any big metropolitan area may immediately notice the benefits of the lower cost of living in the Tri-Cities, said Harry Lacher, human resources director for CH2M Hill. But potential new employees also are told about the recreational opportunities in the area, the wine industry and a relative absence of traffic congestion, he said.

Many CH2M Hill workers come to the Tri-Cities because they are excited about the Hanford project, said company spokeswoman Dee Millikin. CH2M Hill, a global full-service engineering, procurement, construction and operations firm, also is listed in Fortune's 12th annual "100 Best Companies to Work For" list, she said.

Greg Vierra, one of six co-owners of NAI Tri-Cities Commercial Real Estate, said he and his wife moved to the Tri-Cities from Salinas, Calif., last year "because of affordability."

When someone offered Vierra's wife, who's a doctor, a job at Kennewick General Hospital, Vierra said they decided to check it out and promptly fell in love with the area.

Quality of life was a big factor in their decision to relocate, he said. "Houses in the Tri-Cities are not built on top of each other like in California," Vierra said.

The Columbia River, easy access to Seattle, Portland and Spokane, and an airport with many direct flight to several major markets helps to make the Tri-Cities an enviable place to live, he said. And the stability of the economy and housing market make it an especially attractive location for manufacturers, Vierra said, adding the presence of a skilled work force is a bonus.

People come to the Tri-Cities to shop from a 100-mile radius, he said.

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