Southbound border traffic continues to slow as the Canadian dollar hovers around an 11-year low.
Around 1.4 million people crossed the five border crossings into Whatcom County in August, according to data gathered by Western Washington University’s Border Policy Research Institute. That’s about 400,000 fewer people than in August 2014.
For the first eight months of 2015, the total is slightly more than 9.4 million people crossing into Whatcom County, a whopping 1.5 million less than the same period in 2014.
Much of the slowdown is being attributed to the weakening Canadian dollar, which has dropped more than 11 cents since the beginning of the year compared to the U.S. dollar. At the end of September, the loonie was slightly under 75 cents compared to the U.S. dollar. The last time the Canadian dollar was regularly hovering as low as the 74-cent range was in 2004.
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It is unclear at this point how much of an impact this continues to have on Whatcom County retailers. Laurie Trautman of the Border Policy Research Institute said the biggest drop is probably day-trip shoppers. She noted a previous survey that indicated a strong number of Canadians visit this area for vacation and recreation activities.
“Those (Canadian) numbers are hard to tease out given our strong economy right now and increased spending by Americans,” Trautman said.
While it’s difficult to forecast these days, Trautman expects the overall trend of the weakening Canadian dollar to continue, given the low global prices for commodities like oil as well as the strengthening U.S. dollar.
Southbound border traffic is known for its volatility. Since 2000 the busiest year was in 2013, when 16.2 million people crossed the border southbound into Whatcom County. The slowest year was 2002, when 9.8 million crossed the border. That drop was attributed to economic woes and massive security changes following the 2001 terror attacks.
In recent decades the busiest year was 1990, when 27.9 million people crossed the border.