OLYMPIA - No one would deny that many businesses on the coast had a sluggish winter, but a closely watched state report shows that even as the economy was falling on its bottom in the rest of Washington late last year, a lot of Pacific County retailers were still skating along with a merry tune.

In fact, retail trade set a new all-time record here during the months of October, November and December 2008, the most recent fiscal quarter for which detailed statistics are available. Pacific County's retail sector did almost $16.5 million in business, up 5.6 percent from the same quarter in 2007.

Looking at longer-term trends, retail trade in the county during the fourth quarter of 2008 was 35 percent larger than five years earlier. During the same period, the county's population only grew an estimated 2 percent.

In comparison, statewide retail trade was down 11.9 percent to $12.1 billion when compared to the fourth quarter of 2007, the Washington State Department of Revenue (DOR) reported Thursday. "Retail trade" is a subset of the much-larger economic measure that the DOR calls by the confusingly similar name "taxable retail sales." Retail trade excludes construction, services and other non-retail businesses, and is a better measure of consumer purchases.

Looking at the broad category of all taxable retail sales in Pacific County during the quarter, there was a 5.7 percent drop, reflecting a sharp drop in construction activity compared to a year earlier. Even so, by this measure the county's overall economy did far better than the state's. Statewide, all taxable retail sales declined 10.8 percent to $27.7 billion during the fourth quarter of 2008.

Based on these new fourth quarter statistics, it's possible to begin forming a rough idea of how the county's economy did during all of 2008, even though the DOR will spend several additional weeks fine-tuning the tax data before issuing an official 2008 annual report.

These preliminary numbers show that Pacific County's economy broke every previous record in 2008, during which the nation and state were already sinking ever deeper into recession. Retail trade here for the year totaled about $71.7 million, up nearly 9 percent from 2007. The bigger category of all retail sales increased about 6 percent to nearly $234 million.

Lodging and restaurant receipts are often examined as an indicator of tourism activity, although local people eating out obviously are included in the latter category. Preliminary figures for 2008 show that there is a continuing plateau for this economic sector, with about $12.3 million in lodging revenue and $20.6 million in eating/drinking bills in the county. This compares with $12.5 million and $21 million in 2007, and $12.65 million and $20.3 million in 2006.

Building construction slowed but didn't collapse in the last quarter of 2008. The county total was $8.5 million, down 40 percent from the nearly $14.2 million recorded in the same period in 2007. But it really was 2007 that was the weird year, not 2008. Going further back in time, fourth quarter building construction was $6.3 million in 2006 and $7.4 million in 2005.

Overall for 2008, early indications for Pacific County are that building construction still smashed all records, despite the weaker last quarter of the year. The annual total appears to be about $44.5 million, up about 25 percent from 2007's $35.7 million and also comparing very favorably with 2006's $25.4 million and 2005's $29.5 million.

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