Market Report: 2011 showed some signs of improvement in Whatcom economy

It appears 2011 was one marked by slow, steady improvement in the Whatcom County economy.

January is the time of year when we get the end-of-year numbers on many economic data points. While some categories continue to show trouble in our local economy, most suggest things are a little better. Here's a closer look at some key industries:

Auto sales: Last year local dealers sold 3,139 new vehicles, just slightly more than in 2010 when 3,116 were sold, according to Cross-Sell, which tracks sales by compiling data from the Washington Department of Licensing.

Bankruptcies: Last year 743 bankruptcies were filed by Whatcom County residents, down 8 percent from 2010 and down 6.7 percent from 2009, according to data from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court Western District in Seattle. Last year's total was well above the pre-recession days of 2007, a year that had 405 local filings.

Real estate: In 2011 Whatcom County real estate agents sold 1,837 homes, down 1.1 percent compared to 2010. The median price last year was $242,310, down 3.1 percent, the same percentage decline as 2010, according to data collected by Lylene Johnson of The Muljat Group.

Foreclosures: In its year-end report, RealtyTrac estimated 559 Whatcom County foreclosure filing notices were sent out in 2011, a 35.2 percent decrease compared to 2010. This had more to do with banks and paperwork slowing down the foreclosure process rather than an improving market of distressed properties.

Building permits: The value of the projects that were issued permits by the city of Bellingham last year totaled $100.4 million, the lowest total since 1998.

In unincorporated Whatcom County, total valuation of issued permits was $142.4 million last year, spiking 22 percent compared to the previous year. A big chunk of that came from two projects: $65.3 million for the BP Cherry Point work that started last spring and $25.2 million for the Meridian High School renovation work. The number of permits issued in 2011 was 739, down 22 percent compared to 2010.

Ferndale had a valuation totaling $28.9 million, the best since 2008. Much of Ferndale's growth came from the issuance of single family homes: The community issued permits for 89 new homes, a 61.8 percent increase compared to 2010.

Airport traffic: For the first time ever, the airport surpassed the half-million milestone for passengers flying out of Bellingham, according to data from the Port of Bellingham, which gets its data from the airlines. The total of 511,756 last year is a 30.8 percent increase compared to 2010 and up 288 percent compared to five years earlier.

Border traffic: Last year 14.2 million people traveled southbound across Whatcom County's five border crossings, a 19.9 percent increase compared to 2010, according to data collected by Western Washington University's Center for Economics and Business Research. That's the highest one-year total since 2000, when 14.8 million people traveled southbound into Whatcom County.

Other significant business events that took place in January: The Ryzex Group, a mobile technology company based in Bellingham and employs about 220 people, was sold to PEAK Technologies of Columbia, Md. Financial terms of the sale were not disclosed. Rud Browne, the founder of Ryzex, will be stepping away as chairman of Ryzex and will have a consulting position with the PEAK organization. ... Alaska Airlines announced that it is adding a daily Bellingham-to-Portland flight this summer. The flights from Bellingham to Portland, Ore,. will start on June 4-5 and operate daily through Aug. 25. ... Lynden-based Homestead Northwest filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection.

Whatcom County quarterly retail sales

Q3 2011: $797.7 million

Q2 2011: $742.6 million

Q3 2010: $766.4 million

Quarterly change: Up 7.4 percent

Year-over-year change: Up 4.1 percent

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

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

Whatcom County bankruptcies

December 2011: 54

November 2011: 53

December 2010: 56

Monthly change: Up 1.9 percent

Year-over-year change: Down 3.6 percent

Five-year monthly high: 83, February 2010

Five-year monthly low: 11, February 2006

Whatcom County auto sales

December 2011: 314

November 2011: 224

December 2010: 233

Monthly change: Up 40.2 percent

Year-over-year change: Up 34.8 percent

Five-year monthly high: 553, May 2006

Five-year monthly low: 140, December 2008

Whatcom County residential sales

December 2011: 170

November 2011: 176

December 2010: 162

Monthly change: Down 3.4

Year-over-year change: Up 4.9 percent

Five-year monthly high: 398, August 2007

Five-year monthly low: 104, February 2009

Unincorporated Whatcom County building permit values

December 2011: $2.9 million

November 2011: $4.1 million

December 2010: $7.4 million

Monthly change: Down 29.2 percent

Year-over-year change: Down 60.8 percent

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

Five-year monthly low: $2.9 million, December 2011

Whatcom County foreclosures

December 2011: 24

November 2011: 61

December 2010: 76

Monthly change: Down 60.7 percent

Year-over-year change: Down 68.4 percent

Five-year monthly high: 153, April 2009

Five-year monthly low: 17, September 2007

Median price of homes sold in Whatcom County

December 2011: $219,000

November 2011: $208,000

December 2010: $255,000

Monthly change: Up 5.3 percent

Year-over-year change: Down 14.1 percent

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

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

Whatcom homes newly listed for sale

December 2011: 131

November 2011: 214

December 2010: 170

Monthly change: Down 21 percent

Year-over-year change: Down less than 1 percent

Five-year monthly high: 707, May 2007

Five-year monthly low: 131, December 2011

Bellingham airport traffic

December 2011: 42,256

November 2011: 40,541

December 2010: 33,511

Monthly change: Up 4.2 percent

Year-over-year change: Up 26 percent.

Five-year monthly high: 51,421, July 2011

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

Canadian dollar

End of January 2012: $1.00

End of December 2011: 98 cents

End of January 2011: $1.00

Five-year high: $1.07, November 2007

Five-year low: 77 cents, March 2009

Southbound Canadian border crossings into Whatcom County

December 2011: 1,228,747

November 2011: 1,089,223

December 2010: 1,025,143

Monthly change: Up 12.8 percent

Year-over-year change: Up 19.9 percent

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

Five-year monthly low: 645,792 October 2006

Bellingham building permit values

December 2011: $9.5 million

November 2011: $3.8 million

December 2010: $3.4 million

Monthly change: Up 150 percent

Year-over-year change: Up 179 percent

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

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

Ferndale building permit values

December 2011: $2.6 million

November 2011: $1.3 million

December 2010: $1.4 million

Monthly change: Up 100 percent

Year-over-year change: Up 85.7 percent

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

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

Whatcom County construction jobs

December 2011: 5,400

November 2011(revised): 5,600

December 2010: 5,500

Monthly change: Down 3.5 percent

Year-over-year change: Down 1.8

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

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

Whatcom County unemployment

Whatcom December 2011: 8.1 percent

Whatcom November 2011 (revised): 7.3 percent

Whatcom December 2010: 8.2 percent

State December 2011 (seasonably adjusted): 8.5 percent

Nation December 2011 (seasonably adjusted): 8.5 percent.

Five-year monthly high: 10.4 percent, February 2010

Five-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.