Whatcom County Needs A Growth Plan That Promotes the Economy And Ignites Employment Opportunities

In Local Government, News by commonnw


 May of 2016 the Whatcom County Council was presented with a study Failing To Plan Or Planning To Fail.  The work was sponsored by Common Threads and was intended to inform the Council’s decisions regarding Growth Management in Whatcom County’s future.

Data made available to researchers by the well respected and widely cited Pacific Northwest Regional Economic Analysis Project was utilized to analyze Whatcom County’s economic progress throughout the 25 year history of Council planning under the Growth Management Act.

Regarding jobs production, Whatcom County’s performance, especially in recent years, has been abysmal.  Despite that, the Council chose, in 2016 to continue down the road that has led to nowhere for nearly 20 years.

A portion of the report is presented below.  Not much has changed in the intervening year as can be seen by this chart taken from the updated data presented by the Washington specific arm of the Economic Project, Washington Regional Economic Analysis Project (http://washington.reap.org).

As explained by REAP:

This figure depicts the distributions of the 26 Washington counties classified as Lagging (bottom-left quadrant). These counties trailed the statewide average annual employment growth both long-term (2006-2015 = 1.31%) as well as near-term (2015 = 2.52%). Again, each county is identified by its corresponding ranking based on it’s average annual employment growth rate over 2006-2015.

The report released in 2016 follows.

 Leader To Laggard

When Whatcom County, adopted its first Comprehensive Plan under the GMA in 1997, the county was a leader among Washington State’s counties in growing its employment base.

Employment growth over time when compared to other, competitive regions, provides a good indicator of economic health.   Strong employment growth generally tends to lead to better wages as businesses compete for employees and employees are able to move about the job marketplace.

Since the adoption of that first Comprehensive Plan:

  • Whatcom County’s employment growth rates began to slip relative to many other counties.  A growth rate of 3.89% in 2004, the Comp. Plan update year, became a rate of minus 3.17% by 2009. 
  • Worse, while both were impacted by the recession, Whatcom County trailed the State in employment growth by 2009.  
  • A new Comprehensive Plan update in 2009 appears to have significantly worsened the situation.  2009 – 2014 Whatcom County is significantly trailing the State in terms of employment growth.

1997 – 2004

Employment  Leader


2004 – 2009

Employment Growth Slips Under New Plan


2009 – 2014

Employment Growth Lags Under Newest Plan



A serious data issue when investigating the state of the economy is the question, “How many people are working part time in an area like Whatcom County and how can the answer to the question be compared with other areas of the State.”

At present it appears neither Washington’s Employment Security Department nor the national Bureau of Labor Statistics can answer that question; the April 2015  Whatcom County Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy makes no mention of part time/full time jobs issue in that document’s 100 plus pages.