The fire at BP Cherry Point last February created a host of problems, but one silver lining appears to be an overall boost in local wages.
During the second quarter of 2012, the average Whatcom County weekly wage was $777, an increase of 3.5 percent compared to a year earlier, according to the latest numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The percentage jump ranked Whatcom County 30th highest out of the 328 most populous counties, according to the BLS.
It also moved Whatcom past Spokane ($764) as the county with the eighth-highest weekly wages in Washington state. The state's top weekly wage in the second quarter was in King County ($1,167), followed by Snohomish ($974) and Benton ($922).
April through June was a particularly busy time at Cherry Point as repair work was being done to get the facility operating again. More than 3,000 contract workers were on site at various times during that quarter, potentially boosting the average.
Along with the BP work, Whatcom County has seen a steady rise in local employment between 2011 and 2012, particularly in the manufacturing and construction sectors. Those sectors tend to provide relatively high wages.
The larger Washington counties like King are experiencing growth in the professional services sector, said Hart Hodges, director of the Center for Economics and Business Research at Western Washington University. He is concerned that the local manufacturing and construction job growth will slow down, while jobs in professional services will continue to grow during this economic recovery.
"I'm thinking our wage growth is good right now but might lag the larger counties again in a few quarters," said Hodges in an email, adding that the third and fourth quarter numbers will be good indicators of whether this is happening.
Across the U.S., 233 of the 328 counties experienced a year-over-year increase in average weekly wages. The average U.S. weekly wage in the second quarter was $903, a 1.3 percent increase compared to the second quarter of 2011.
The county experiencing the highest percentage increase was Washington, Ore., which was up 8.5 percent. Williamson, Texas, had the biggest drop, falling 17 percent in a year. Washington's Kitsap County had the second biggest decline, at 4.2 percent.