Whatcom’s GDP jumps 8.6 percent in 2013

Whatcom County’s penchant for making things continues to grow substantially, according to a new federal report.

This area’s gross domestic product grew 8.6 percent in 2013 compared to the previous year, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

That’s one of the highest one-year jumps among the 381 U.S. metro areas; Skagit County topped the list at 10.6 percent, fueled by growth in petroleum refining and manufacturing.

The BEA estimates Whatcom County’s GDP to be at $10.1 billion, the first time this area crossed the $10 billion level, according to statistics dating back to 2001. Whatcom County has posted significant growth in the past five years, when this area’s GDP was estimated at $8.3 billion.

Whatcom County’s GDP now ranks 192nd highest among 381 U.S. metro areas.

Like Skagit County, a large portion of Whatcom’s GDP growth was around oil refining. Petroleum dominates Whatcom’s nondurable goods manufacturing category - a sector that rose more than 4 percentage points. However, one unusual factor may be behind the large year-over-year increase: In early 2012, BP Cherry Point had a fire that curtailed output compared to an uninterrupted production year in 2013.

While oil refining played a large role, several other areas of the economy showed GDP growth. Finance was up 2.4 percentage points, while information, which includes software, was up 1.3 percentage points. Construction and durable goods manufacturing were two sectors posting a decline of less than 1 percentage point.

The GDP growth in recent years is a good sign, but it needs to be taken in context with other economic indicators, said Hart Hodges, director at Western Washington University’s Center for Economic and Business Research. He noted that employment figures haven’t been as strong as many would like, for example.

CEBR’s Assistant Director James McCafferty agreed, adding that the overall economy is currently showing a mixed bag of indicators. He said what’s important is that this area’s entrepreneurs seem to be adapting to changing economic realities.

Across the 381 U.S. metro areas, GDP in 2013 rose 1.7 percent compared to the previous year. In 2012, the annual increase was 2.6 percent.