I have my radio tuned to KUOW in my car, and every morning when I come to work I listen to NPR. After listening to story after story about our national economy during this past month, one would think that the sky is, literally, falling down around our heads.
As fuel prices have climbed, housing market problems have deepened, the Fed has cut interest rates and Wall Street is getting bailed out by taxpayers, one would think that Whatcom County businesses would be listening by their own radios, ready to make a run on the banks.
It seemed about time for The BBJ to go out and talk with some local business owners and leaders to see what they had to say, and I must admit I was a little surprised by their rating of the economy (see “Your Turn” on page 10). Four of the five people we interviewed put our local economy at a “cautiously optimistic” seven on a scale from one to 10, and the fourth, Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce President Ken Oplinger, gave it a six.
These results were unexpected for me. I assumed that all this bad news would have made people worried about having to board up house, home and business and head for the hills. I’m glad to see that even though the news has been dour, it hasn’t seemed to hit the county as hard as it has hit other areas.
That said, it doesn’t mean that things can’t or won’t get worse. Many analysts say that we are probably at the beginning or in the middle of a national recession, but we won’t know it until the numbers are in. A recession is usually defined as six months of a shrinking economy, and we just don’t have enough good data in to determine that yet.
The concept of “consumer confidence” is one of the indicators of how well the economy is doing, and consumers are not spending much, that’s true. But how much of that has to do with watching hysterical reporters and analysts on the news talk about doom and gloom? Even if a business’s checkbook is balanced, you’re not losing business and you have good workers, it’s difficult to avoid listening to these reports and feeling like you’re missing something.
For me, it often comes down to one’s home and business. My feelings on Whatcom County’s economy are fairly positive. We have a diverse local economy sustained by small businesses in a variety of industries. While our housing market has slowed considerably, we are not seeing double-digit declines like in Las Vegas or Phoenix. We at The BBJ do business with many local companies day in and out, and businesses are continuing to advertise.
So if I were to rate our local economy, I would have to agree with the cautiously optimistic. Seven seems like a fair number: While gas prices are eating into bottom lines of businesses and consumers alike, and some homeowners are struggling, it seems that we are generally holding steady. So while it’s good to be diligent at times like these, it doesn’t help to panic.