Market Report: 2012 Q1 economic data points toward some recovery in Whatcom County


The latest economic data indicates the Whatcom County construction industry may be starting to bounce back.

Construction hiring jumped by 800 between February and March, while permits were issued for several projects across the county in recent months. It's particularly busy construction-wise at Cherry Point, Barkley Village and the Bellingham International Airport.

The labor data shows 6,200 people were employed in construction locally, the highest level since May, 2011. Typically, construction employment increases as the weather improves, peaking in August. With this many people employed in construction this early in the season, it'll be interesting to see if that trend holds this year.

Retail growth: It was a busy first quarter when it came to starting a business in Whatcom County. Through the first three months of 2012, a visual count showed 47 Whatcom County storefront businesses that have either opened or plan on being open in the next couple of months. That's well ahead of the pace of previous first quarters in recent years and is also well ahead of storefront business closures (17) in the first three months of 2012. In the first couple years of the Great Recession, storefront openings and closings were about even locally; in 2011 a shift took place toward more openings - for the entire year Whatcom County had 114 storefront openings, versus 67 closures.

Other significant events that took place in April:

• Aluminum Boats Australia has decided against opening a facility in Bellingham, choosing instead to go to Anacortes. According to a press release from the port, ABA officials said Bellingham was its first choice, but that the inability to directly launch vessels the size the company builds from that site added "insurmountable costs" to the business.

• Meridian Village, which has a variety of retail tenants including Marshalls and DeWaard & Bode, was sold U.S. Bank National Association to Meridian Village WA LLC for $13.6 million. The buyer is a Delaware limited liability company.

• Allegiant Air, which made Bellingham one of its operation bases four years ago, is planning to build its own 9,000-square-foot building at the Bellingham International Airport.

• Jerry Chambers Chevrolet Cadillac was sold to Lithia Motors Inc. of Medford, Ore.

• Bidding closed April 20 on 167 liquor stores across the state, including four in Bellingham and one in Ferndale. The sum of the bids totaled $30.75 million, with rights awarded to 121 successful bidders, according to the Washington State Liquor Control Board in an April 23 announcement. Rights to the five Whatcom County stores sold for about $1.4 million.

• Tourists spent a record amount of money in Whatcom County last year, according to a new report released last month. Spending by tourists hit $555.4 million in 2011, a 16.9 percent increase from 2010.

• Port of Bellingham's Executive Director Charlie Sheldon resigned and the commission agreed to what amounts to a severance package last month.

• After resigning from Western Washington University's Center of Economic Vitality last month, Tom Dorr became the subject of an internal audit that concluded he violated several ethical policies.


Whatcom County quarterly retail sales

Q4 2011: $828.1 million

Q3 2011: $797.7 million

Q4 2010: $789.1 million

Quarterly change: up 3.8 percent

Year-over-year change: up 4.1 percent

Six-year quarterly high: $873.4 million, fourth quarter, 2007

Six-year quarterly low: $624.4 million, first quarter 2009

Whatcom County bankruptcies

April 2012: 50

March 2012: 72

February 2012: 65

April 2011: 82

Monthly change: down 30.6 percent

Year-over-year change: down 23.1 percent

Six-year monthly high: 83, February 2010

Six-year monthly low: 11, February 2006

Whatcom County auto sales

March 2012: 289

February 2012: 290

March 2011: 268

Monthly change: down less than 1 percent

Year-over-year change: up 7.8 percent

Six-year monthly high: 553, May 2006

Six-year monthly low: 140, December 2008

Whatcom County residential sales

April 2012: 163

March 2012: 186

April 2011: 166

Monthly change: down 12.4 percent

Year-over-year change: down 1.8 percent

Six-year monthly high: 398, August 2007

Six-year monthly low: 104, February 2009

Unincorporated Whatcom County building permit values

April 2012: $20.2 million

March 2012: $9.3 million

April 2011: $5.2 million

Monthly change: up 117 percent

Year-over-year change: 288 percent

Five-year monthly high: $65.3 million, July 2011

Five-year monthly low: $2.6 million, January 2012

Whatcom County foreclosures

March 2012: 52

February 2012: 47

March 2011: 36

Monthly change: up 10.6 percent

Year-over-year change: up 44.4 percent

Six-year monthly high: 153, April 2009

Six-year monthly low: 17, September 2007

Median price of homes sold in Whatcom County

April 2012: $245,000

March 2012: $235,000

April 2011: $241,750

Monthly change: up 4.3 percent

Year-over-year change: up 1.3 percent

Six-year monthly high: $280,450, May 2007

Six-year monthly low: $208,000, November 2011

Whatcom homes newly listed for sale

April 2012: 376

March 2012: 364

April 2011: 409

Monthly change: up 3.3 percent

Year-over-year change: down 8.1 percent

Six-year monthly high: 707, May 2007

Six-year monthly low: 131, December 2011

Bellingham airport traffic

March 2012: 52,872

February 2012: 41,218

March 2011: 45,640

Monthly change: up 28.3 percent

Year-over-year change: up 15.8 percent.

Six-year monthly high: 52,872, March 2012

Six-year monthly low: 12,597, September 2010

Canadian dollar

End of April 2012: $1.01

End of March 2012: $1.00

End of April 2011: 99 cents

Six-year high: $1.07, November 2007

Six-year low: 77 cents, March 2009

Southbound Canadian border crossings into Whatcom County

December 2011: 1,228,747

November 2011: 1,089,223

December 2010: 1,025,143

Monthly change: up 12.8 percent

Year-over-year change: up 19.9 percent

Five-year monthly high: 1,540,776 August 2011

Five-year monthly low: 645,792 October 2006

Bellingham building permit values

April 2012: $8.5 million

March 2012: $6.2 million

April 2011: $19.5 million

Monthly change: up 37.1 percent

Year-over-year change: down 56.4 percent

Six-year monthly high: $47.3 million, December 2009

Six-year monthly low: $1.1 million, November 2008

Ferndale building permit values

March 2012: $3.2 million

February 2012: $0.3 million

March 2011: $1.8 million

Monthly change: up 967 percent

Year-over-year change: up 77.8 percent

Five-year monthly high: $12.9 million, July 2007

Five-year monthly low: $0.2 million, January 2009

Whatcom County construction jobs

March 2012: 6,200

February 2012: 5,400

March 2011: 5,400

Monthly change: up 14.8 percent

Year-over-year change: up 14.8 percent

Six-year monthly high: 8,600, September 2006

Six-year monthly low: 5,000, December 2010

Whatcom County unemployment

Whatcom March 2012: 8.1 percent

Whatcom February 2012 (revised): 8.6 percent

Whatcom March 2011: 8.6

State March 2012 (seasonably adjusted): 8.3 percent

Nation March 2012 (seasonably adjusted): 8.2 percent.

Six-year monthly high: 10.4 percent, February 2010

Six-year monthly low: 3.7 percent, October 2007

Sources: Washington State Department of Revenue; U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Western District of Washington; Cross-Sell; Washington State Department of Licensing; Northwest Multiple Listing Service; Whatcom County Planning and Development Services; Bank of Canada; Port of Bellingham; RealtyTrac; Center For Economics and Business Research, Western Washington University; City of Bellingham; Washington State Employment Security Department.

Market Report runs each month.

Reach DAVE GALLAGHER at or call 715-2269. Visit his business blog online at or get updates on Twitter at

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