Spokane Journal of Business

Editor’s Notebook: Unearthing trends in market data


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When mining for data that shows Spokane’s economy is doing well, one doesn’t have to dig too deep. 

The Journal staff, when preparing the 90-plus charts and graphs in the 2016 Market Fact Book published with this May 19 edition, unearthed new numbers that, compared with previous years’ data, suggest things are headed in a positive direction. 

Among them, the Spokane-area unemployment rate is down, as are foreclosures. Home sales and home values are up, as is building permit activity. More people are visiting the Spokane area, and when they’re here, they’re spending more money. 

In some cases, those figures show a sustained, years-long trend, such as the continued drop in bankruptcy filings in the Eastern District of Washington. In other cases, while the numbers show growth, there is still a long way to go before reaching prerecession levels. New-housing starts in Spokane County is one example of that. 

But one of the more interesting—and encouraging—trends is in taxable retail sales. In Spokane County, total taxable sales rose 5 percent to $8.57 billion in 2015. That means people spent nearly $500 million more last year here on taxable goods than they did in 2014. 

In some cases, industry-specific taxable sales data support other trends within the Market Fact Book.

Roughly a fifth of the overall increase in sales went toward motor vehicles and parts, which increased to $1.1 billion in taxable sales in 2015 compared with about $1 billion the previous year. Coinciding with that trend, motor-vehicle registrations increased as well. Combined, the two data sets suggest that more people bought cars and trucks—and didn’t always trade in their old ride. 

Accommodations sales hit $957.5 million in 2015, up 9.4 percent from $884 million the previous year. Put another way, growth in sales in the accommodations industry nearly doubled overall sales growth. 

Accommodations revenue numbers are consistent with a surprisingly large increase in estimated visitor spending, which rose $75 million to $351.4 million. Taxable sales and estimated visitor spending aren’t directly comparable—they come from different sources and one includes more than hotel rooms—but they both follow upward trends, as does the estimated 100,000-person increase in visitors last year. 

Tracking along with the increase in building permits and new-home starts is a strong surge in building materials sales, which rose 15 percent to $435.5 million in Spokane County in 2015. Taxable sales related to construction services remained flat during the same time period, though at a high level of $1.1 billion. 

Of course, not everything swung upward. 

Taxable retail sales related to manufacturing declined by 6 percent to $175.2 million. Meantime, electronics and appliances sales fell 2 percent to $227.8 million.

And if you’re mining for something other than data, that’s not looking as good either. Mining-related revenue dropped 22 percent. 

Linn  Parish
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Editor Linn Parish has worked for newspapers and magazines since 1996, with the bulk of that time being at the Journal. A Montana boy who has called Spokane home for some time now, Linn likes Northwest trails, Deep South foods, and lead changes in the ninth inning.

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