By Jim Hooper
Our county economy: part of the fabric of our lives.
How the economy performs affects our own lifestyle and the funding for public services. Availability of the public services we want affects our quality of life.
Our desires for quality of life affect the priorities we set for our governments, and those priorities affect the economy. What are the five key attributes about our economy that we should remember?
No. 1: Our county population is continuing to grow at a rate of about 1 percent per year. We are an older population than other counties in the state; our median age in San Juan County is 53 (second highest in the state); 50 percent of our population is age 53 or higher.
The state median age is 35. Since the 1980s, most of the growth has been in the over-50 age group; forecasted growth is also in the over-50 age group.
No. 2: Private business appears to be growing, reaching the pre-recession levels of 2006. The county’s combined gross business income (GBI) across all sectors is $527 million. Our four largest “sectors” in 2011 are the same as they were in 1994: retail trade, construction, professional & technical services, and accommodations/dining. They represent 71percent of the county’s combined GBI. While the four sectors are the same, the professional & technical services sector grew significantly and moved up to third in 2011 from fourth in 1994.
While not a defined “sector”, tourism contributes to, and is supported by sectors that include retail trade, construction, accommodations/dining, arts/entertainment/recreation, professional & technical services, and agriculture. One indicator of tourism, hotel/motel tax receipts, shows 2012 levels above previous years.
No. 3: The real estate market is turning around. Home sales in 2012 were at twice the level of home sales in 2011.
No. 4: Two indicators of income are quite different for our county. “Personal income per capita”, which includes wages as well as investment income, dividends, and other passive income, is second highest in the state. Passive income is likely realized by older residents. Average annual wages for employed persons in the county, in contrast, are among the lowest in the state.
No. 5: Most of the jobs in our county are in the top four private sectors, identified above. Those four sectors represent about 42 percent of the wages earned in the county, and by inference, numbers of jobs. About 24 percent of the wages earned in the county, are in the public services sector, which includes schools, state and national parks, customs, and local government.
Whether we will have the infrastructure that future visitors and residents will need, such as ferry transportation and broadband, is a big question.
What will our economic future look like and how can we shape it? Those are the questions San Juan County residents are invited to discuss in the three sessions of the Community Conversation to be held during the first week in April. Please plan to attend and share your thoughts on the future of our economy.
— Editor’s note: Jim Hooper, president of the San Juan County Economic Development Council board of directors, has been a county resident for eight year. Retired from Hewlett-Packard, Hooper works at the Frontline Call Center office in Friday Harbor.