Market Report: Big announcements highlight changes in Whatcom County's economy


It's been an eventful early fall season for the Whatcom County economy.

The biggest news came from Blaine, with Semiahmoo Resort Co. announcing that it is shutting down the Semiahmoo Hotel on Dec. 1, putting more than 200 people out of work. In a press release, the company said Semiahmoo Golf & Country Club and Loomis Trail Golf Club would remain open.

Combined with the official announcement that the Bellis Fair Sears was starting a liquidation sale, impacting 92 employees, it was a difficult one-two punch for Whatcom County. The impact of the Sears closure was somewhat blunted by the announcement from Bellis Fair that Sports Authority will be moving into the space next year.

Other announcements provided positive signs when it comes to potential job growth in Bellingham. This includes the filing of building permits by the grocery store company WinCo to go into the former Joe's Sporting Goods building at 300 E. Bellis Fair Parkway and the arrival of BevMo into 114 W. Stuart Road in February.

Other significant events that took place in October/November:

• Al's Honda Yamaha on James Street closed at the end of October. Mount Baker Harley Davidson on North State Street also closed its doors.

• New retail activity may resume at Birch Bay Square now that the mall is under new ownership. North America 6666 Investment (Birch Bay) LLP purchased the property from Union Bank for just under $8 million. The property includes most of Birch Bay Square and about 16 acres to the north of the mall.

• The next phase of a major downtown apartment project is in the works. Demolition of a former Morse Hardware warehouse began earlier in November to make way for a new 60-unit apartment building, said Rick Westerop of West-Lind Construction. The project is next to the alley near Railroad Avenue, across the street from Depot Market Square.

• Whatcom County's unemployment rate dropped to its lowest level in nearly four years, led by job growth in construction and tourism. The local unemployment rate in September was estimated at 7 percent, down from a revised rate of 7.6 percent in August, according to data from the Washington State Employment Security Department. It's the lowest monthly rate since December 2008, although it did drop to 7.1 percent in April.

• With the Barkley theater project moving closer to completion, the Regal Entertainment Group is also finalizing its plans when it comes to showing movies. The company intends to close its theaters at Sunset Square and Sehome, but will keep the theater at Bellis Fair open, said Rachel Lueras, marketing manager for the company. Lueras said she doesn't know at this point the closure dates of the two Bellingham theaters or the grand opening date of the Barkley 16-screen theater, but expects to have those dates finalized in the coming weeks. With summer seasonal flights coming to an end, air traffic dipped in September and October at the Bellingham International Airport. Traffic could increase in November and December, as Allegiant Air and Alaska Airlines have added flights to the Hawaiian Islands.

Whatcom County quarterly retail sales

Q2 2012: $792.1 million

Q1 2012: $716.1 million

Q2 2011: $742.9 million

Quarterly change: up 10.6 percent

Year-over-year change: up 6.7 percent

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

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

Whatcom County bankruptcies

October 2012: 50

September 2012: 35

October 2011: 62

Monthly change: up 42.9 percent

Year-over-year change: down 19.4 percent

Six -year monthly high: 83, February 2010

Six -year monthly low: 11, February 2006

Whatcom County auto sales

September 2012: 310

August 2012: 364

September 2011: 214

Monthly change: down 14.8 percent

Year-over-year change: up 44.9 percent

Six-year monthly high: 553, May 2006

Six-year monthly low: 140, December 2008

Whatcom County residential sales

October 2012: 242

September 2012: 216

October 2011: 177

Monthly change: up 12 percent

Year-over-year change: up 36.7 percent

Six -year monthly high: 398, August 2007

Six-year monthly low: 104, February 2009

Unincorporated Whatcom County building permit values

October 2012: $6.1 million

September 2012: $17.2 million

October 2011: $7 million

Monthly change: down 64.5 percent

Year-over-year change: down 12.9 percent

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

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

Whatcom County foreclosures

September 2012: 55

August 2012: 50

September 2011: 82

Monthly change: up 10 percent

Year-over-year change: down 33 percent

Six -year monthly high: 153, April 2009

Six-year monthly low: 17, September 2007

Median price of homes sold in Whatcom County

October 2012: $257,625

September 2012: $239,944

October 2011: $235,000

Monthly change: up 7.4 percent

Year-over-year change: up 9.6 percent

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

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

Whatcom homes newly listed for sale

October 2012: 310

September 2012: 272

October 2011: 271

Monthly change: up 14 percent

Year-over-year change: up 14.4 percent

Six-year monthly high: 707, May 2007

Six-year monthly low: 131, December 2011

Bellingham airport traffic

October 2012: 44,549

September 2012: 40,936

October 2011: 43,943

Monthly change: up 8.8 percent

Year-over-year change: up 1.4 percent.

Six-year monthly high: 55,407, July 2012

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

Canadian dollar

End of October 2012: $1

End of September 2012: $1.02

End of October 2011: $1

Six-year high: $1.07, November 2007

Six-year low: 77 cents, March 2009

Southbound Canadian border crossings into Whatcom County

June 2012: 1,326,464

May 2012: 1,317,092

June 2011: 1,180,623

Monthly change: up less than 1 percent

Year-over-year change: up 12.4 percent

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

Five-year monthly low: 645,792 October 2006

Bellingham building permit values

October 2012: $12.8 million

September 2012: $6.4 million

October 2011: $10.8 million

Monthly change: up 100 percent

Year-over-year change: up 18.5 percent

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

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

Ferndale building permit values

September 2012: $6.5 million

August 2012: $2.2 million

September 2011: $1.9 million

Monthly change: up 195.4 percent

Year-over-year change: up 242.1 percent

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

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

Whatcom County construction jobs

September 2012: 6,600

August 2012 (revised): 6,400

September 2011: 5,700

Monthly change: up 3.1 percent

Year-over-year change: up 15.8 percent

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

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

Whatcom County unemployment

Whatcom September 2012: 7 percent

Whatcom August 2012 (revised): 7.6 percent

Whatcom September 2011: 7.7 percent

State September 2012 (seasonably adjusted): 8.5 percent

Nation September 2012 (seasonably adjusted): 7.8 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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