What Drives Our Economy in Whatcom County

So … you’re a business owner here in Whatcom County.

You’ve lived here your whole life.

You saw the demolition of Georgia Pacific’s pulp plant, chemical plant and tissue mill on the Bellingham Waterfront.

You’ve been to the Deming Logging Show, the Northwest Washington Fair, experienced the madness of a Bellingham Roller Betty bout and/or you’ve even let your inner Michael Jackson loose at the annual Thrillingham.

Or maybe you’re like me, and you’re new(ish) to the area.

You’re still acquainting yourself to the fastest way to get from where you are to where you want to be and getting to know our local landmarks as navigational beacons.

You’re getting lost in the canopies of evergreen, the snowcapped peaks of the North Cascades, or the raspberry covered acres of the North County.

Wherever you’re at, and however you got here, one thing remains true: Whatcom County is an extremely diverse and unique region of the world, and we are extremely lucky to live here.

Since I’ve lived in the region, [and since I’ve been a MBA student] I’ve wondered, what drives the economy of Whatcom County? Who are the consumers? What are their preferences? Their needs?

These are essential answers for a small business owner to understand their community and their customers.

The table below has some of the latest US Census facts and data for several of the larger cities in the county and Whatcom County as a whole.

demographics table

Although these are just some basic data points, they can help give a business owner an idea of how their target customer fits into the available customer base.

For example, if you were a residential construction & remodeling company, it would be beneficial to know how many potential households there are within your region.

You could take this a step further and estimate your potential serviceable market [i.e., how many households could be seeking a remodel]. Knowing this may aid you in forecasting your future business opportunities, which has many benefits to an owner.  

After analyzing the US Census data for Whatcom County, it got me thinking: What about our friendly neighbors to the North?

I’m sure many of you have also had the pleasure of trying to go to Costco on a weekend here in Bellingham. There is no doubt that it is a mad house and that many of the license plates in the parking lot hail from British Columbia.

The relationship of the US – Canadian Exchange Rate has been shown to have large effects on Canadian consumers’ demand for products here in Whatcom County.

The US – Canadian Exchange rate has shown a considerable amount of volatility over the past year, but the Canadian dollar has been appreciating overall. [Getting closer to a 1:1 exchange ratio]

canadian to us dollar exchange

In the past year, the Canadian dollar has appreciated by about 4.4%.

While the demographics of our Northern friends are more mysterious to us, past data suggests that an appreciating Canadian dollar could increase sales to Canadian consumers in Whatcom County, as more people cross the border each month for vacation or shopping.

Although these are just a couple of factors that could affect your small business, the goal is to get you thinking.

After all, the more you understand the dynamics influencing your local economy, the better equipped your business will be to respond to your customers’ needs.

“Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.” –Steve Jobs

If you are like me and would like to delve deeper into any of the topics covered in this blog, here are some helpful links to get you started!

US & Washington State Demographics Data:



Data on Whatcom County & Canadian Relations



Authored by: Shane Reed