In a possible sign that holiday shopping might be stronger this year, Whatcom County is expected to increase its seasonal hiring.
The Washington State Employment Security Department predicts Whatcom County retailers will hire 393 additional workers to handle the increased shopping in October, November and December. That’s up from 292 who were hired in 2015. Across the state, 12,726 people are expected to be hired for the holiday shopping season, up 20.7 percent compared to a year ago.
Locally, the year-over-year increase may have more to do with the fact that 2015 holiday sales were sluggish. Whatcom County retail sales in stores were down 5.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2015 compared to a year earlier, according to data from the state Department of Revenue. Local big box stores were hit particularly hard, with sales down 16.5 percent compared to a year earlier.
The slowdown in sales meant stores could rely more on the employees they already had, said Paul Turek, an economist for the state. With healthier wage growth and an improving employment situation in the past year, it should help raise holiday sales among local shoppers, he said.
Canadian cross-border shopping also has an impact on local holiday sales. The Canadian dollar remains weak, hovering at 76 cents compared to the U.S. dollar. That’s about the same level as last year, so sales to Canadians shouldn’t be much different this year, said Laurie Trautman, director at Western Washington University’s Border Policy Research Institute.