Port of Columbia Information

Columbia County’s agricultural history has produced a labor force that tends to be less skilled than the state average but more loyal to employers.  The available labor pool declined over the last century as agriculture became more mechanized and the farm population moved to the city for jobs.  Columbia County’s unemployment rate hit an all-time high in the early 1980’s as reductions in the local food processing industry caused massive job cuts.  However, efforts by the community to diversify the economy have worked and our unemployment rate, while still higher than the state average, has declined greatly and is at a reasonable level for rural eastern Washington.

As of April 2024, Columbia County’s rate of unemployment is 4.5%. The Washington State Employment Security Department provides up to date information on Columbia County Labor Statistics. The available workforce includes not only the 99 or so unemployed residents, but a large number of underemployed people choosing to live in Columbia County for reasons other than full employment.  The regional workforce also tends to be very mobile, meaning Walla Walla and the Tri Cities can be considered part of our available labor pool.

Unemployment Rate Civilian Labor Force Employment Unemployment
March 2024 5.5% 1,810 1,711 99
April 2024 4.5% 1,717 1,640 77


Employee Counts in Columbia County

  • The Dayton School District offers K-12 high-quality education in Dayton.  They received a “School of Distinction” award for the progress made by students toward meeting the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) requirements.
  • Starbuck School District offers multi-grade classrooms with a very small student-teacher ratio.

Walla Walla is home to several higher education institutions. 

  • Walla Walla Community College is located 30 miles southwest of Dayton in  Walla Walla and houses a cutting edge enology and viticulture school, nursing school, and many other specific industry trainings and is home to a new water and environmental center.
  • Whitman College and Walla Walla University, both 4-year institutions of higher learning.
  • SEA-TECH provides advanced-level career and technical education programs.

Columbia County is close to other 4-year institutions. 


  • The Washington Workforce Association provides funding for programs in our region that train incumbent workers as well as prepare workers to meet industry skills needs.

Columbia County wages tend to lag behind state averages in many industries.  Visit the State of Washington Workforce Explorer website for more detailed information.

In addition to the vacant land available at the Port of Columbia Industrial Park there are other properties available in the community. What Columbia County has that other areas may lack is open space – and some of the open space is zoned industrial or commercial.  Please contact the Port of Columbia directly for more details on properties that are not listed on the Port website or with local realtors.

Here are links to the local real estate agencies serving Columbia County:

Blue Mountain Realtors
254 E. Main
Dayton, WA  99328

Christy’s Realty
305 E. Main
Dayton, WA  99328

Kelly Right Real Estate

Scott Hudson
103 S. 2nd Ave.
Walla Walla, WA 99362
(509) 489-7000

Williams Team Homes

Chrissy Talbott
126 E. Alder St
Walla Walla, WA 99362
(509) 525-8326


The Walla Walla Regional airport (ALW) is 27.7 miles from Dayton and offers commercial service through Alaska Air and accommodations for corporate jets.  Rental car service is available.

The Tri-Cities Airport (PSC) is 61.3 miles from Dayton and offers commercial service from several larger airlines as well as corporate, business and general aviation services.

Columbia County Public Transportation:

Columbia County Public Transportation (CCPT) is available to all residents of Columbia County as well as residents of Waitsburg and Dixie located in neighboring Walla Walla County.


The Columbia County Grain Growers operates a barge loading facility at its Lyons Ferry facility located in the northern part of the county on the Snake River.  The Port of Columbia owns an adjacent parcel that could be developed into an additional barge loading facility if needed.


Rail service is provided by the Columbia Rail on Port of Columbia owned tracks from Dayton to Wallula.  Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad hump yards are near Wallula for easy access to the main lines.  NW Grain Growers also has a barge loading facility at Wallula serviced by the rail.  The Union Pacific operates a rail line through the Lyons Ferry area in north Columbia County that could be accessed through the construction of a siding.

Railex, LLC. located approximately 60 miles away from Dayton in Wallula, WA has been permanently closed.  Union Pacific, who purchased this location in 2017, decided to close the Wallula location due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The location was closed in May 2020.  This location did offer guaranteed 5-day non-stop rail shipping to Albany, NY for growers, shippers, retailers and food service distributors and specialized in transportation of fresh fruits, frozen foods, ingredients, commodities and beverages, offered real time inventory at all warehouse levels and in transit, as well as 24 hour/7days a week technical support.


Highway 12 is a two-lane state highway that runs east-west through the middle of Columbia County.  Highway 12 stretches from the Puget Sound area through Washington, Idaho, Montana, etc., all the way to the east coast.

Interstate 82 (at the Tri-Cities) is about 50 minutes from Dayton via Highway 124.  This interstate goes through Yakima to interstate 90 at Ellensburg linking Dayton with the Seattle area.

Interstate 84 (along the Washington/Oregon border) is another hour past the Tri-Cities and links Dayton to Portland, Oregon to the east or Boise, Idaho to the south.

  • Washington State has no income tax.
  • Washington State does have a B&O tax.
  • Columbia County tax levy rates and exemptions can be viewed at the Columbia County Assessor’s webpage .
  • Dayton School District M&O levy tax rates are among the lowest in the state.
  • The City of Dayton’s Historic Preservation Commission offers a tax credit for restoration of historic properties under certain conditions.

Columbia County is a designated Opportunity Zone.

Columbia County meets the state’s definition of a “Rural” County making the following incentives available to businesses here:

  • Rural County Sales & Use Tax Deferral/Waiver for Manufacturing Facilities
  • B&O Credit for New Employees in Manufacturing and Research & Development in Rural County
  • B&O Credit for New Employees in Software Programming & Manufacturing in Rural Counties
  • B&O Credit for Third Party Help Desk Services in Rural Counties

Visit the Washington State Department of Revenue’s Rural Incentives for detailed information.

You can also visit “ Doing Business in Washington” for licensing and other information.

The cost of utilities in the northwest continues to be lower than other areas nationwide.

Basin Disposal, Inc. serves both city and county residents.

The City of Dayton has 4 deep wells that provide water for Dayton residents.

The City of Dayton operates a wastewater treatment plant that serves city businesses and residents.

The town of Starbuck has a gray water treatment program in tandem with septic usage.

Columbia iConnect – wireless and satellite broadband services

CenturyLink – DSL and phone service

Inland Cellular – internet hot spot and cellular services

Pocket iNet – broadband services

Dayton’s population continues to change with the community.  Changes in agriculture caused the population to shrink for decades, but economic revitalization turned that around in the 1990’s.  Our median income continues to rise, and Dayton received a Great Strides Award from the Northwest Area Foundation in 2006 for our success in reducing poverty.   But while our total population is slowly rising and our economic status is improving, our school-aged children and the younger demographic continues to shrink.  Community leaders are dedicated to providing jobs in the community so that young families can live and work in Columbia County.


 City of   Dayton

 Town of  Starbuck

Columbia County Total

 2020 Estimate (US Census Bureau)



3, 952

 2023 Estimate (Office of Financial Mgmt)




Other demographic data:

US Census Quickfacts for Columbia County

The Largest Employers in Columbia County in 2023 represent the diverse economy the county has worked hard to attain.  We have included the Wind Industry in a stand alone chart. Note that while there appears to be decrease in employees at Vestas there is not as there is a comparison of 3 sites in 2022 with only 2 sites in 2023.

Columbia County has continued to embrace its agricultural heritage while at the same time recognizing that diversification of the economy is essential.  Dayton’s Main Street underwent a major revitalization in the early 1990’s and is now reaping the benefits.  The commercial district is lined with essential service businesses as well as unique shops, Victorian lodging, and some of the best restaurants in the state.  The natural beauty of the surrounding landscape changes with the seasons, and the nearby recreation in the Blue Mountains to the south and at the Snake River to the north make Columbia County a wonderful place to live and work.