It was another big year for southbound border crossings into Whatcom County, but the traffic may start to level off if the Canadian dollar continues to weaken.
Last year more than 16.2 million people crossed the Canada/U.S. border into Whatcom County, a 5.7 percent increase compared to 2012. It's the highest annual total since 1997, according to data compiled by Western Washington University's Center for Economics and Business Research.
Local border traffic has steadily risen since 2008, when 10.7 million people crossed into Whatcom County. A strengthening Canadian dollar and improved traffic flow are two main factors for the nearly 50 percent increase in traffic in the past five years.
The loonie has weakened in the first few weeks of 2014, however, hovering around 91 cents compared to the U.S. dollar on Tuesday, Jan. 21. If it continues to weaken and falls below 90 cents, it could start to impact travel habits of Canadians, said Hart Hodges, director at the Center for Economics and Business Research.
"I would expect southbound border crossings to flatten out or decline very slightly in 2014 with the decline in the Canadian dollar. I don't think we'll see a significant drop until the loonie declines in value further," Hodges said in an email.
It probably would take a significant event or a huge drop in the loonie to change the shopping habits of Canadians coming to Whatcom County, said Gary Vis, executive director at the Lynden Chamber of Commerce. Even as the Canadian dollar weakens, prices are lower in the U.S. for several items, including dairy products and gas.
"The Canadian consumer is very price savvy, so I think they'll continue to come down here," said Vis, adding that ease of travel through the border is also a factor.
The number of people traveling southbound through the five Whatcom County border crossings in recent years (numbers are rounded):
2013: 16.2 million
2012: 15.4 million
2011: 14.2 million
2010: 11.8 million
2009: 10.9 million
2008: 10.7 million
2007: 11.3 million
2006: 10.6 million
2005: 10.5 million
2004: 10.5 million
2003: 9.9 million
2002: 9.8 million
2001: 13 million
2000: 14.8 million
SOURCE WESTERN WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY'S CENTER FOR ECONOMICS AND BUSINESS RESEARCH