Business owners, leaders rate local economy

On a scale from one to 10, most give county a 7


Diagnosing the economy for a possible recession is like testing old milk. You never know if things have gone bad until it’s too late. You can smell it and swirl it around and it will seem fine until it ruins your cereal.

Of course, the national economy has all the symptoms of having gone sour with repeated Federal Reserve cuts to the prime interest rate, stalled national consumer spending, a drowning national housing market and the recent Fed-backed Bear Stearns buyout. But many economists say we won’t really know if we are in a recession until we are already in too deep or have begun to pull out.

However, we at The Bellingham Business Journal wanted to hear what some real people have to say about their perception of the economy. So we asked a few local folks in the trenches what they think about the Whatcom County economy in relation to the national economic situation.


Ken Oplinger, president and CEO of the Bellingham-Whatcom Chamber of Commerce & Industry


Local economy rating on a scale from 1 to 10: 6

“Whatcom County’s economy has been amazingly resilient over the last two decades. While much of the West Coast went through a slump in the early part of this decade, unemployment in Whatcom County remained low, and housing prices were relatively stable. Thus far, we seem to have a similar pattern in this latest downturn, with little change in many of the key indicators, including housing prices. In addition, the strong Canadian dollar will continue to have a positive impact on Whatcom County, especially as we head into the busy summer travel season.

“That said, however, we do not, as some in this community desire, live in an economic vacuum. The downturn in the economy being felt from Phoenix, Ariz., to Peoria, Ill., will affect Whatcom County, whether through fewer retirees moving here due to a drop in their portfolios, or manufacturing companies in Whatcom County seeing a decrease in orders from the rest of the country.

“This impact will be felt in some measure, but not nearly to the extent we will see, and are already seeing, across the United States.”


Aaron Loffler, owner of Festival Espresso


Local economy rating: 7

“I have very little confidence in the national economy. Our captains have set the ship on fire, swam to the shores of Dubai, and left us all to burn. Our economic pendulum will keep swinging in the current direction until we incorporate an ideology of sustainability into our consumptive, apathetic American minds.

“In the long run I see us all getting our hands back into the soil, growing our own food, and reducing our reliance on the corporate poison we, as a society, seem to digest without much resistance. Time for a wake-up call, America.

“In the long run, the outlook for the local economy is all right. Canadian consumers are eager to travel south and benefit from a weak dollar. This will make our situation less desperate than our ‘shoppe’ owners to the south.”


Tim Villhauer, investment representative for Edward Jones


Local economy rating: 7

“It’s possible that we are in a national recession, but we often don’t know until we are already out of it. For Whatcom County, we know things have slowed down. The county’s revenue is down from housing and timber sales. Some contractors are delaying their payments to subcontractors; some are writing bad checks or not even paying. The good news is the refineries are supposed to be expanding, retail sales have been supported by a strong Canadian dollar, and there is an anticipated up-surge from the 2010 Olympics.

“We need to remember that recessions tend to be very short, about 10 months on average. They begin and end without warning. People should make sure they don’t own investments they wouldn’t want to own in a recession.

“It’s hard not to get caught up in today’s headlines, but it’s important to maintain a long-term perspective about the economy and the markets. Do not let short-term events determine your long-term strategy.

“Focus on what you can control: quality and diversification. Avoid extremes in your thinking — the U.S. economy is resilient. Don’t chase winners. Don’t speculate. Asset allocation and quality are important.

“Investors who consistently apply solid investment principles, despite the many short-term distractions, will survive the current setback.”


Trudy Scherting, owner of Moka Joe Coffee


Local economy rating: 7

“I feel positive. Now is the time to take advantage of low interest rates for housing if you are able.

“I feel skeptical about the economy at large because of the prices at the gas pump, which affect shipping costs. More reason to buy local now and in the future.”




Marc Ravaris, owner of El Capitan’s Brat, Sausage & Dog


Local economy rating: 7

“My view of the Bellingham economy stems from the belief that our local economy is in the midst of a broad transition.

“Indeed as a businessperson, it was one of the motivating factors in my move from the Seattle area to Bellingham in 2003. This transition is from an economy that was historically based on resource-extraction industries, to a much broader-based economy.

“While Bellingham will certainly be affected by large economic trends mentioned in the question, we have some unique characteristics that will help provide resilience in our local economy through what I feel will be a severe and stubborn national economic downturn.

“One of the primary factors in Bellingham’s resilience is the simple fact that Bellingham and the surrounding areas are desirable places to live, and this is becoming common knowledge throughout the United States. This alone is attracting new businesses to the area.

“This desirability of living, combined with our proximity to Vancouver B.C. and Seattle, also attracts baby-boomers who tend to have made their money and have personal economies that are not as directly affected by changes in the national economy.

“This movement brings an influx of new customers to the area, but many times these people also run small businesses themselves, so this influx tends to help provide jobs, goods and services to the area as well.

“Part of the broad transition in Bellingham’s economy is the major improvement of the city’s infrastructure. These improvements will help the economy of the region to remain resilient through both long and short economic fluctuations. The most prominent of these is the New Whatcom redevelopment of the Georgia-Pacific property.

“One of the major current negative economic trends is the continued increase in fuel prices. We in Bellingham pay among the highest energy costs of any region in the nation.

“The seemingly daily price increases that retailers receive from energy producers and wholesalers as a result are almost impossible for small retailers to accommodate.

“Despite the negative impacts of energy costs, I feel the many positive aspects of our region will help protect our economy from the effects of a national economic downturn in the immediate future and help to ensure the long-term economic vitality of the region.”


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