Benton County houses the bulk of the Tri-Cities area as Richland, West Richland and Kennewick are all part of the area. Pasco, the other component of the Tri-Cities area sits in adjacent Franklin County and is the county seat there. Kennewick is the county’s largest city, though Prosser is the county seat. The county was founded in 1905 as an off shoot of Klickitat County in honor of former Missouri Senator Thomas Benton. The county is surrounded on the north, south and east by the Columbia River, which gives the county its borders.
Washington’s Wine Country
Perhaps the most distinct aspect of Benton County is its role as the wine country of Washington, housing a rapidly growing wine industry that rivals all areas of the United States outside of Napa Valley in size. Agriculture has traditionally been the backbone of the area and as time as gone on, that has meant more of a focus on the wine growing in the area. Along with that trait comes the tourism that accompanies the extensive network of wineries in the area. Prominent wineries include Bookwalter Winery, Goose Ricdge Winery, Tagaris Winery and Bernard Griffin Winery in Richland. Kennewick hosts Badger Mountain Vineyard (an all-organic vineyard) and Powers Winery among others.
Additionally, Benton City has a large proportion of the wineries in the county and Prosser rivals it in that regard. As a whole the entire Benton County area is ripe, no pun intended, with wineries that have attracted both locals and tourists to leisurely tasting sessions. With a climate and soil makeup that fits wine-making well, the wine industry in the area has potential to grow bigger than it is now.
The Hub of Southeast Washington
Benton County houses some significant attractions, all accessible by the main highways that run through the county: Interstate 82, US Route 395 and US Route 12. Columbia Center Mall is a large and popular shopping destination for residents throughout the county and is situated in Kennewick, taking its name from the Columbia River. The Toyota Center houses a variety of sporting and entertainment events aimed at the entire area and the Hanford Nuclear Reservation has long been an integral component in the Benton County area.
The people utilizing those attractions are 86 percent white, 12.5 percent Hispanic or Latino, 2.2 percent Asian and less than one percent each African American, Native American and Pacific Islander, according to the 2000 census. At that time, Benton County was home to over 142,000 people and over 52,000 households. Of those over 52,000 households, over 38 percent housed children under 18. The majority of households in the area consist of married couples with 23 percent of households single individuals.
A Growing Area
The population base of the area is spread out amongst the various age brackets in a mostly uniform fashion, but the largest demographic is the under 18 group, which accounts for nearly 30 percent of the residents in the area. Resident aged 25 to 44 make up 28.5 percent of the area, 45 to 64 make up 22.9 percent, 18 to 24 come in at 8.6 percent and those over 65 make up 10.3 percent. There are slightly more females than males in the area, a figure which gets just slightly more predominately female in the 18 and under age bracket.
The income distribution centers on the median family income of $54,146 and the median income for any household stands at $47,044, according to the 2000 census. County wide, the per capita income is $21,301 with 7.8 percent of families and 10.3 percent of residents overall below the poverty line.
Kennewick is the largest of the cities in the Benton County census-defined area, with Richland coming in as the second largest city. From largest to smallest, West Richland, Finley, Prosser, Highland and Benton City are the remaining cities in the county. As a whole, Benton County is a growing area with the rising prominence of the wine industry in the area a strong indication of just that.