It was a solid year for job growth in Whatcom County, but not as great as one media report is suggesting.
While the final state numbers for 2017 are not in yet, it’s estimated that job growth was in the 2.4 percent range, according to Hart Hodges, director at the Center for Economic and Business Research at Western Washington University. That’s above the longer term average of about 2 percent growth, he said.
A national media report concluded that Bellingham added the most jobs across the U.S. in 2017, with a 5.5 percent increase. It appears the report used data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics which focused on counting people rather than Whatcom County jobs, said Anneliese Vance-Sherman, a regional labor economist for the state. As an example, someone who lives in Whatcom County but works in Skagit County could be counted in the BLS Whatcom employment numbers.
The state uses a different system, focusing on payroll data to come up with the number of jobs within a geographic location.
“To be sure- (Whatcom job growth) was good, but not that good,” Hodges said, referring to the BLS numbers.
Driving the 2017 job growth in Whatcom County was construction, which typically happens as a local economy is coming out of a recession because of pent-up demand, said Vance-Sherman. As the recovery matures, she expects the rate of growth in construction to slow, but still have some growth in 2018.
Hodges added that manufacturing grew in 2017, but may slow down a bit in 2018 because many firms are reaching capacity in their current facilities. Professional services, which covers a variety of industries including accounting and engineering, could see some growth in Whatcom County, but at a much slower pace than the Seattle area.