Average weekly wages rise in Henrico

The average weekly wage in Henrico County rose 6.3 percent from the first quarter of 2010 to the first quarter of 2011 – the steepest increase among Virginia’s 12 largest counties.

Among Virginia localities with at least 75,000 workers, Virginia Beach City ranked second in the rate of wage growth at 5.8 percent, followed by Richmond City at 4.9 percent.

According to a report issued by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average weekly wage across the nation rose 5.2 percent from early 2010 to the first quarter of 2011. Peoria, Ill., led the nation in average weekly wage growth with an increase of 18.9 percent from the first quarter of 2010. Santa Clara, Calif., was second with a gain of 12.4 percent, followed by the counties of Macomb, Mich. (12.0 percent), Clayton, Ga. (11.9 percent), and Wayne, Mich. (11.3 percent).

Henrico’s rate of wage increase placed it 51st nationwide.

Wages exceed national average
Henrico also was one of six large counties in Virginia with average weekly wages in the top fifth of all large counties nationwide. Arlington, Alexandria City, Fairfax, Loudoun, Richmond City and Henrico were the only large counties in Virginia to record average wages above the national average of $935.

Arlington County had the highest average weekly wage among the 12 largest counties in the Commonwealth at $1,549, followed by Fairfax County ($1,479) and Alexandria City ($1,226).

Henrico’s average weekly wage of $1,027 topped that of neighboring Chesterfield County ($830, with a rate of increase of 4.1 percent) by almost $200.

John Vithoulkas, Henrico’s director of finance, noted that the wage gains were positive in almost all categories, although the finance/insurance and company/enterprise management industries – traditionally higher-paying fields – were among the top performers.

The county also ranked 139 among the nation’s 323 largest counties in employment growth with an increase of 1.2 percent over the same quarter last year – just under the national employment rate gain of 1.3 percent.

Across the nation, the largest percentage gain of the year in employment was recorded in Elkhart County, Ind. at 6.2 percent.

Among the 12 largest counties in Virginia, employment was highest in Fairfax County (572,900), the only county in the Commonwealth with employment above 200,000. Employment growth in Prince William (4.3) and Loudoun (4.2) counties also ranked among the top ten in the nation.

Henrico reported an employment total of 171,500, while Chesterfield reported a workforce of 113,000, a gain of 0.8 percent.

As with the wage gains, Vithoulkas greeted the employment figures with enthusiasm.

“We’re very pleased with these numbers,” said Vithoulkas. “But the important thing to keep in mind is how we’re doing over time. Is there general improvement in the county?”

While county staff are happy to see positives in the quarter-to-quarter numbers, Vithoulkas emphasized, “What we’re really looking for is sustainable job growth . . . That sustainability is really an indication of the overall economy that we’re reliant on.”

The key thing to keep in mind, he added, is that Henrico has consistently enjoyed an above-average economy, whether viewed in the short term or over time.

“One of the themes you will see in any economic crisis we’ve seen,” Vithoulkas pointed out, “is that Henrico County has outperformed the state, and the state has outperformed the nation.”

Historical perspective
An examination of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports from 2007 – what might be considered the last pre-recession or relatively “normal” economic year – confirm Vithoulkas’ statements about the county’s performance over time.

In the 2007 report, wage gains in Henrico County led the list of those in Virginia’s 12 largest localities, in addition to ranking Henrico 16th in the nation.

In the first quarter of that year, the average weekly wage in Henrico increased by 7.7 percent when compared with the same quarter in 2006.

Employees in Henrico earned an average of $1,008 per week during the first three months of 2007; only nine state localities ranked higher, and only one of those (Fairfax County) had a higher employment population than Henrico’s 178,530. The national average weekly wage during the first quarter of 2007 was $885.

Since then, two of the Fortune 1000 companies that were headquartered in Henrico – Circuit City and LandAmerica Financial – have dissolved, and MeadWestvaco has moved to a new permanent location in downtown Richmond. That leaves Brinks Co., Genworth Financial, Altria and Markel Corporation as the remaining Fortune 1000 companies
with Henrico headquarters.
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