Market Report: May a busy month for Whatcom County economic activity


May was a time of change for Whatcom County's economy.

The biggest change was hard liquor sales being turned over to private retailers. Grocery stores were ready for the first day of private liquor sales on Friday, June 1, although some consumers experienced a bit of sticker shock as they compared shelf prices to what they actually paid when they got to the register, where a couple of significant taxes were added on.

Some former state-run liquor stores reopened as private companies, with more expected to be ready in the coming weeks.

Also on June 1, the limit on duty-free items was increased for Canadians. British Columbians shopping in Whatcom County can now spend more here before being hit with a duty tax, which could lead to increased activity for local retailers.

And Frontier Airlines started its service between Bellingham and Denver, giving local residents an eastbound option for the first time since Delta Airlines discontinued its flights to Salt Lake City in 2008.

Border boom: Canadian border traffic into Whatcom County has increased significantly so far in 2012. The number of people traveling southbound through Whatcom's five border crossings totaled more than 4.5 million in the first four months of the year, up 11.5 percent in compared to the same period in 2011, according to data gathered by Western Washington University's Center for Economics and Business Research.

Other significant events in May: Fred Meyer scrapped its plan to build a store in the north-Lynden area. After completing research on 16 acres of undeveloped property on the east side of Guide Meridian, near the Main Street intersection, company officials decided against moving forward. ... Lynden's Pioneer Ford dealership is being acquired by Bellingham's Diehl Ford, resulting in closure of the Lynden business. ... A major portion of Galbraith Mountain, known in the community for its recreational uses, such as mountain biking, is up for sale. Polygon Financial has put 3,119 acres up for sale, marketing it as a "unique long-term asset" and touting its potential multiple uses, including recreation, timber extraction or even for conservation, preserving it for future generations. ... The T-Mobile call center is preparing for a significant expansion locally, adding about 350 jobs in the next year. The cell phone carrier is working with WorkSource Whatcom to hire about 30 employees a month for the next 12 months. ... Whatcom County's unemployment rate dropped significantly in April, hitting its lowest level since the end of 2008. ... Gasoline prices neared all-time records in Bellingham. The average price for a gallon of gas reached $4.47, three cents from the record $4.50 set in June 2008.

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

May 2012: 56

April 2012: 50

May 2011: 62

Monthly change: up 12 percent

Year-over-year change: down 9.7 percent

Six -year monthly high: 83, February 2010

Six -year monthly low: 11, February 2006

Whatcom County auto sales

April 2012: 301

March 2012: 289

April 2011: 390

Monthly change: up 4.2 percent

Year-over-year change: down 22.8 percent

Six-year monthly high: 553, May 2006

Six-year monthly low: 140, December 2008

Whatcom County residential sales

May: 2012: 201

April 2012: 163

May 2011: 161

Monthly change: up 23.3 percent

Year-over-year change: up 24.8 percent

Six -year monthly high: 398, August 2007

Six-year monthly low: 104, February 2009

Unincorporated Whatcom County building permit values

May 2012: $5.7 million

April 2012: $20.2 million

May 2011: $4.4 million

Monthly change: down 71.8 percent

Year-over-year change: up 29.5 percent

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

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

Whatcom County foreclosures

April 2012: 59

March 2012: 52

April 2011: 89

Monthly change: up 13.5 percent

Year-over-year change: down 33.7 percent

Six -year monthly high: 153, April 2009

Six-year monthly low: 17, September 2007

Median price of homes sold in Whatcom County

May 2012: $235,000

April 2012: $245,000

May 2011: $244,000

Monthly change: down 4.1 percent

Year-over-year change: down 3.7 percent

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

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

Whatcom homes newly listed for sale

May 2012: 514

April 2012: 376

May 2011: 441

Monthly change: up 36.7 percent

Year-over-year change: up 16.6 percent

Six-year monthly high: 707, May 2007

Six-year monthly low: 131, December 2011

Bellingham airport traffic

May 2012: 49,573

April 2012: 50,165

March 2012: 52,872

May 2011: 43,195

Monthly change: up 14.7 percent

Year-over-year change: up 15.4 percent.

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

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

Canadian dollar

End of May 2012: 97 cents

End of April 2012: $1.01

End of May 2011: $1.03

Six-year high: $1.07, November 2007

Six-year low: 77 cents, March 2009

Southbound Canadian border crossings into Whatcom County

April 2012: 1,247,292

March 2012: 1,271,620

February 2012: 1,034,823

January 2012: 971,596

April 2011: 1,196,962

Monthly change: down 1.9 percent

Year-over-year change: up 4.2 percent

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

Five-year monthly low: 645,792 October 2006

Bellingham building permit values

May 2012: $13.3 million

April 2012: $8.5 million

May 2011: $7.1 million

Monthly change: up 56.5 percent

Year-over-year change: up 87.3 percent

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

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

Ferndale building permit values

May 2012: $2.1 million

April 2012: $4.9 million

May 2011: $2 million

Monthly change: down 57.1 percent

Year-over-year change: up 5 percent

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

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

Whatcom County construction jobs

April 2012: 6,100

March 2012 (revised): 6,000

April 2011: 6,100

Monthly change: up 1.7 percent

Year-over-year change: no change

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

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

Whatcom County unemployment

Whatcom April 2012: 7.2 percent

Whatcom March 2012 (revised): 7.9 percent

Whatcom April 2011 (revised): 8 percent

State April 2012 (seasonably adjusted): 8.1 percent

Nation April 2012 (seasonably adjusted): 8.1 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.

Reach DAVE GALLAGHER at or call 715-2269.

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