Despite the changes in the past decade, manufacturing continues to drive the local economy when it comes to wages.
The U.S. Census recently released data about business patterns in different metropolitan statistical areas, including Whatcom County. It provides plenty of interesting data about the types and number of establishments in Whatcom County in 2010, which can be compared to previous decades. In 2010, this area had 6,244 business establishments, a 15.9 percent increase compared to 10 years earlier.
What jumped out at me in this report was local manufacturing. According to the census, Whatcom County had 341 manufacturing businesses in 2010, generating more than $425 million in payroll that year to 8,233 people.
While the number of manufacturing establishments increased by 24 between 2000 and 2010, the number of employees decreased by 849 people.
That payroll is the highest among industries listed. In 2010 the combined industries of retail trade and food services totaled about $390 million with 1,323 establishments for 18,592 people.
In 2000, retail trade and the restaurant industries totaled 1,212 establishments, employing 16,527 people.
Whether manufacturing would continue to play a strong role in the local economy was in doubt back in 2000. In the summer of 2000, the electricity crunch hit the West Coast, putting the future of Ferndale's Intalco Works aluminum smelter and other local manufacturing facilities in jeopardy. That year was also the beginning of Georgia-Pacific's exit from Whatcom County; it closed its pulp mill in 2001 and later its tissue facility.
Despite those problems, manufacturing added more establishments, providing significant wages. With the jobs that remain in manufacturing, the average annual salary was around $51,000 in 2010. The average annual wage for the retail trade and restaurant industries was around $21,000, according to this census data.
The business pattern study also showed what industries are growing in Whatcom County. Main industries that experienced the highest percentage growth of new establishments locally included health care (up 42.5 percent), professional/technical services (up 41.8 percent) and real estate (up 38.8 percent).
With the strong Canadian dollar in recent years, I would have expected the number of retail establishments to be up significantly, but according to the data it was up just 2 percent compared to 2000. Restaurants and lodging did grow significantly in that 10-year period, by 22.8 percent.
The workforce size of establishments also was calculated, with businesses that employ between 10 and 19 people showing the most growth between 2000 and 2010. That segment grew by 23.3 percent to 815 establishments.
The largest group was businesses that employ one to four employees. With 3,614 local establishments in that category in 2010, it grew by 18.1 percent compared to 2000.
It'll be interesting to see what direction these business patterns take next. Currently manufacturing employment is growing: According to the Washington State Employment Security Department, Whatcom employed 8,700 people in the manufacturing industry in May, almost back to the 2000 level. That will be a key barometer to what's happening in this economy going forward.
Biz Talk runs on Thursday.
Reach DAVE GALLAGHER at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2269. Visit his business blog online at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/business or get updates on Twitter at twitter.com/BhamHeraldBiz.