Market Report: Time to start ramping up tourism, farming in Whatcom County



Workers prepare the new Silver Reef Casino Event Center Thursday, May 2, 2013. The new facility, which includes a Mexican restaurant, 1,000-seat event center, 150-seat theater and 225 more slot machines, is having a grand opening Thursday, May 9.


Two big economic industries will start ramping up in Whatcom County in the coming weeks.

With Ski to Sea and school graduations nearly here, local hotels and restaurants are expecting an uptick in out-of-town travelers. According to a state report by Dean Runyan Associates, tourism generated $555.4 million in Whatcom County in 2011. It tends to pick up at this time of year and, weather depending, stays busy throughout the summer months.

Agriculture, particularly berry harvesting, also starts getting busy around now. According to regular reports by Perbolt Crop Management, Whatcom County berry crops appear to be in good shape, with no reports of winter weather damage and few insect issues. Harvesting of local strawberries typically starts in early June, followed by the big crops of raspberries and blueberries in July and August.

Significant local business events that took place in April and early May:

• The Silver Reef Hotel Casino Spa unveiled its $29 million expansion, which includes a new event center along with a new Mexican-style restaurant and a state-of-the-art theater room geared toward hosting business conferences and conventions.

• According to AAA Washington's Daily Fuel Gauge report, the average price for a gallon of gas in Bellingham was $3.70 on Tuesday, April 30. That's down from $3.85 a gallon last month and down from $4.20 a year ago. Last year at this time prices were peaking across the West Coast as BP Cherry Point continued repair work following the February 2012 fire.

• A longtime Bellingham jewelry store announced it was closing. G.B. Heron owner Pam Hunnicutt announced in a letter to her regular customers that she is planning to close the store after more than 30 years in business.

• Sudden Valley residents and golfers will soon have a new restaurant that's family-operated and featuring Mexican cuisine.

• The Sudden Valley Community Association recently selected Marin Tirado, owner of the El Agave Mexican Restaurant on 107 N. Samish Way, to expand into the former Bob's Burgers and Brew restaurant space, as well as operate the 19th Hole, which is a separate café area that focuses on serving golfers.

• Darigold showed off its $22 million investment to its Lynden facility on Friday, April 19. The new 143-foot milk powder dryer replaces the equipment damaged by a fire in February 2012.

• Allegiant announced it is offering nonstop jet service between Bellingham and Reno beginning Saturday, June 6. Allegiant plans on offering these flights year-round.

Market Report runs each month.

Whatcom County quarterly retail sales

Q4 2012: $891.5 million

Q3 2012: $860.9 million

Q4 2011: $828.1 million

Quarterly change: up 3.6 percent

Year-over-year change: up 7.7 percent

Six-year quarterly high: $891.5 million, fourth quarter, 2012

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

Whatcom County bankruptcies

March 2013: 59

February 2013: 48

March 2012: 72

Monthly change: up 22.9 percent

Year-over-year change: down 18.1 percent

Seven-year monthly high: 83, February 2010

Seven-year monthly low: 11, February 2006

Whatcom County auto sales

March 2013: 259

February 2013: 282

March 2012: 289

Monthly change: down 8.2 percent

Year-over-year change: down 10.4 percent

Seven-year monthly high: 553, May 2006

Seven-year monthly low: 140, December 2008

Whatcom County residential sales

April 2013: 212

March 2013: 187

April 2012: 163

Monthly change: up 13.4 percent

Year-over-year change: up 30.8 percent

Seven-year monthly high: 398, August 2007

Seven-year monthly low: 104, February 2009

Unincorporated Whatcom County building permit values

March 2013: $3.7 million

February 2013: $7.3 million

March 2012: $9.3 million

Monthly change: up 152 percent

Year-over-year change: up 143 percent

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

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

Whatcom County foreclosures

April 2013: 25

March 2013: 86

April 2012: 59

Monthly change: down 70.9 percent

Year-over-year change: down 57.6 percent

Seven-year monthly high: 153, April 2009

Seven-year monthly low: 17, September 2007

Median price of homes sold in Whatcom County

April 2013: $248,250

March 2013: $238,000

April 2012: $245,000

Monthly change: up 4.3 percent

Year-over-year change: up 1.3 percent

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

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

Whatcom homes newly listed for sale

April 2013: 447

March 2013: 438

April 2012: 376

Monthly change: up 2.1 percent

Year-over-year change: up 18.9 percent

Seven-year monthly high: 707, May 2007

Seven-year monthly low: 131, December 2011

Bellingham airport traffic

March 2013: 61,402

February 2013: 48,523

March 2012: 52,872

Monthly change: down 13.8 percent

Year-over-year change: up 9.9 percent.

Seven-year monthly high: 61,402, March 2013

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

Canadian dollar

End of April 2013: 99 cents

End of March 2013: 98 cents

End of April 2012: $1.01

Seven-year high: $1.07, November 2007

Seven-year low: 77 cents, March 2009

Southbound Canadian border crossings into Whatcom County

March 2013: 1,379,940

February 2013: 1,121,940

January 2013: 1,109,276

March 2012: 1,271,620

Monthly change: up 23 percent

Year-over-year change: up 5 percent

Seven-year monthly high: 1,676,071 August 2012

Seven-year monthly low: 645,792 October 2006

Bellingham building permit values

April 2013: $28 million

March 2013: $11.4 million

April 2012: $8.7 million

Monthly change: up 145.6 percent

Year-over-year change: up 222 percent

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

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

Ferndale building permit values

April 2013: $10 million

March 2013: $8 million

April 2012: $4.9 million

Monthly change: up 25 percent

Year-over-year change: up 104 percent

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

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

Whatcom County construction jobs

February 2013: 5,000

January 2013: 4,900

February 2012: 5,200

Monthly change: up 2 percent

Year-over-year change: down 3.8 percent

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

Seven-year monthly low: 4,900, January 2013

Whatcom County unemployment

Whatcom March 2013: 7.8 percent

Whatcom February 2013 (revised): 8.4 percent

Whatcom March 2012: 8.1 percent

State March 2013 (seasonably adjusted): 7.3 percent

Nation March 2013 (seasonably adjusted): 7.6 percent.

Seven-year monthly high: 10.4 percent, February 2010

Seven-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 360-715-2269 or

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