The Tri-Cities

ducks_tricitiesThe Tri-Cities has been featured on a number of “Best Places” lists in major national magazines and news reports in recent years… For years our people had the most doctoral degrees per capita of anywhere in the country – including university towns. Employment has been well above state and national averages thanks to Hanford and to our position as a regional retail center.

Because the Tri-Cities never had a California or Seattle style real estate bubble, it didn’t have a price or value implosion like they did. Over a number of years, Tri-Cities real estate prices have consistently, reasonably increased. Sometimes by more, sometimes by less, but over the last ten years, home prices in the Tri-Cities have only dropped in one quarter. And that one time, they rebounded the next year.

Agriculture flourishes in this region, with irrigated crops taking up the valleys will up the sides of many hills, and dry-land crops such as wheat covering the plateaus and hills surrounding the Tri-Cities.

A major newly-local industry in recent years is wine grape growing and production. Washington’s wine country is found primarily between Yakima and Walla Walla, centered squarely on the Tri-Cities. In recent years, our wine country has expanded further up the Columbia River into Wenatchee and Chelan, as well.

wineries_tricitiesSome of the best-known new wine appellations in the world are within a few miles of the Tri-Cities. That includes world-renowned vineyards from Red Mountain and the Horse Heaven Hills. Wineries from the world over are coming to Red Mountain to either buy grapes from the vineyards there or to buy land to put in their own vineyards. Additionally, there are over 160 wineries within 90 miles of the Tri-Cities.

As of the 2010 census, the Tri-Cities’ metro population is just under a quarter-million people and the city serves as the retail center for a much larger area – from down through Northeast Oregon up to Yakima in one direction, nearly to Spokane in another and down the Columbia Gorge at least as far as Biggs Junction.

Geographically, the Tri-Cities sits at the confluence of three significant rivers… The Columbia, the Snake and the Yakima. Our weather is semi-arid (literally nearly a desert) but thanks to immense irrigation systems the arable land is green…only the hills are brown.

The Tri-Cities (Kennewick, Pasco, Richland), WA

The first of the four Tri-Cities (more on that in a moment) was Pasco, which began life back in the 1880s as a railroad town called Ainsworth just a few miles up the track from where Pasco now is. For years Pasco was the only community of significant size between Walla Walla (the former Territorial Capital) and Yakima.

field_tricitiesIn the early 1900s, the town of Kennewick grew up – along with nearby Finley and Hover – on the south side of the Columbia River, across from Pasco. First ferries, then bridges connected the two sides. Some of the oldest buildings in downtown Kennewick today date from about 1904 to 1906.

A small farming community upriver on the Benton County side of the Columbia eventually grew up…but not very much. Richland’s population was still measured in the “few hundreds” range when World War II kicked off and the government began to look for a location with very special requirements… a long ways from major population centers, good transportation and lots of water available, among them.

Suddenly dozens of thousands of workers were being shipped into Richland by rail from across the country to create one of the most secret projects the United States has ever undertaken. After two nuclear bombs fell on Japan to end that war, it came out that the radioactive material for one of them had been created/refined at the Hanford government reservation.

The end of the war wasn’t the end of global hostility. Thus, rather than shut down and blow away after it ended, Hanford continued to develop. The nuclear weapons material mission is many years in the past, but the federal government and its contractors remain major employers in the Tri-Cities area as research and work on environmental clean-up technology continue.

Richland was returned to civilian control in the late fifties, whereupon it became an actual city… Pasco and Kennewick had both grown through the war years and beyond, as well. And the sixties and seventies saw the formation and surprising growth of the town (now city) of West Richland.

There are a number of online sources for more information about the Tri-Cities. I suggest the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau, the Tri-Cities Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Tri-Cities’ designated development agency – TRIDEC, and even Wikipedia. Also, I have lived in the Tri-Cities for many years and would love to tell you about this special place we – and hopefully soon you – call home!