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Amazon plans to bring 1,500 jobs to Tucson isn't the only good economic news

Wednesday's announcement that Amazon has selected Tucson for a distribution center that will employ at least 1,500 people next year is just the latest sign that Tucson's economy is steadily improving.

The Arizona Office of Economic Opportunity said Thursday that metro Tucson has gained 5,300 jobs (1.4 percent) over the past year. The local unemployment rate fell to 4.1 percent in April, from 4.3 percent in March. That's well below the state rate of 4.9 percent.

More homes are being built, home prices continue to rise and, unfortunately for renters, rents are rising fairly quickly, especially in in areas around the University of Arizona and downtown.

In another indication that jobs are growing, more offices and smaller industrial spaces, particularly those under 5,000 square feet, are being occupied.

"Small industrial businesses between 1,000-5,000 square feet seem to be doing well and expanding faster than we have seen within the last 10 years," said a recent report from Cushman & Wakefield/PICOR.

"Tucson continues to achieve small wins attracting new employers in the market."

But Tucson's latest win was a big one when Amazon confirmed TucsonSentinel.com's March report that it will build a build a distribution warehouse of about 855,000 square feet at the Port of Tucson near Kolb and Valencia Roads on the Southeast Side of Tucson. It could have as many as 1,900 workers during the holiday season.

Jobs and workers keep increasing

Arizona's jobless rate remained unchanged from March to April at 4.9 percent, the Office of Economic Opportunity reported. The latest U.S. rate is 3.9 percent.

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Doug Walls, research administrator, said Arizona's rate is not dropping because the number of people available to work has been growing faster than the number of jobs. The work force grew by 78,300 over the past year and the number of Arizona jobs by 63,100.

Arizona's labor force has risen by almost 348,000 over the past five years.

Walls attributed the growth in labor force mainly to workers who had been discouraged or who had only been able to get part time jobs now getting full-time jobs. Also, more people are moving to Arizona.

"We are seeing labor force growth three times that of the U.S.," he said.

Arizona's growth in construction and manufacturing jobs, continues to outpace the nation's. Construction jobs grew almost 9 percent in Arizona over the year but only 3.8 percent across the country. Manufacturing jobs grew 5.3 percent over the year in Arizona and 2 percent across the U.S.

Tucson added 1,100 jobs over the year in construction and 600 in manufacturing.

But the Associated General Contractors of America, the major trade group for the construction industry, said this month that construction costs surged in April at the fastest year-over-year rate (6.4 percent) since 2011, in part because of new federal tariffs.

The group, based in Arlington, Va., warned that contractors could increase their prices or reduce their projects.

Tucson's job growth of 1.4 percent over the year put it behind Prescott , Lake Havasu-Kingman and Phoenix metro (all 2.8 percent). Metro Phoenix added 56,400 jobs over the year and its unemployment rate fell to 3.8 percent in April from 4.1 percent in March.

These monthly numbers, though, are estimates based on surveys and are subject to revisions every March when they are updated with more reliable federal numbers.

Real estate improving

Metro Tucson's real estate statistics are further confirmation that more people are moving to metro Tucson and getting jobs.

During the first quarter of 2018, there were 831 housing units authorized in the metro area, compared with 667 at the same time last year, the U.S. Census Bureau just announced.

For all of 2017, the region had 4,495 permits issued, and 64 percent of those were for single-family homes.

The median home price in metro Tucson reached $210,000 in March, up 6.6 percent from March 2017, said the Tucson Association of Realtors and Multiple Listing Service of Southern Arizona,

That is the highest median since December 2007, when it was also $210,000. It bottomed out at $117,500 in September 2011.

The most active areas for home sales and listings are the Marana and other northwest metro neighborhoods (3,079 homes sold in 2017), followed by central Tucson (2,360)

Investors continue to snap up apartment complexes, in part because they are "bullish on the steady inflow of new businesses and subsequent positive job growth," says Cushman & Wakefield/PICOR.

But the new owners as well as new complexes are driving up rents. The average metro Tucson rent for an unfurnished apartment (without utilities) rose from $693 in the first quarter of 2017 to $735 in the first quarter of 2018. But that was mainly because of rising rents in the university area, where the average rose $110 in that time.

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