Saturday, October 31, 2009

Will we let the Dark Lord return?

The chart  below depicts the last three general elections in Whatcom County. I will make no vouch for my statistical work, you can run your own numbers should you find error or disagreement with mine. Nonetheless, a tale of great hope is told below. Below are literally thousands of birthdays of those who voted in the last three Whatcom County elections. The 2006 and 2007 general elections show something typically bell shaped. In those elections, the great mass of war babies and baby boomers, now between 50 and 70 years of age provided the greatest bulk of the vote, until something magical happened: the presidential election of Barack Obama in 2008.

We don't often stop to think about how much of the electorate living in this county are under age 50. We live in a time of history where cultural political icons (JFK, RFK, MLK, FDR) are only stories for us. Few of us can possibly remember them alive. Until the election of Barack Obama, I am not sure how many people thought about what political power would look like in the hands of Generation X and Y. (Don't you love those terms? As if our children will be last generation...Z!!).

In the last general election, many age groups were energized. Voter participation rates broke records across the United States. But those of us Barack Obama's age and younger did something extraordinary. We produced a freight train at the front of that usually waning right-hand X axis. We blew up the bell curve. Suddenly, with less warning than one would assume, generations acted in concert to throw off the chains of one of the ugliest regimes in our country's history.

How will this be repeated on Tuesday? Will we continue to exercise our collective power and destiny? Will we continue to reshape the political landscape? Or will we fall back into cynicism and apathy? Will we let that right edge trail to nothingness again? Sauron has been overthrown, but the spirit of the dark lord will endure unless we complete our task: to destroy the ring of fire forever. This Tuesday, please vote.

Blowing up the Bell Curve.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

How much stimulus money....

Upon waking this morning, I began to try to summarize in my mind the amount of Federal "stimulus" and "recovery" monies that this county has benefited from.  Not an easy task!  Not so co-incidentally, the Bellingham Herald today  featured an article about energy efficiency stimulus funds currently being administered by the Opportunity Council and Sustainable Connections.  (BTW, some current "stimulus funded" job opportunities - albeit some of them limited to those who can lift 70 lbs. and/or run power tools - are listed here.)

As I started to run down the list of federal 'recovery'  and 'stimulus' programs in my mind, I realized that in ten short months, Barack Obama's administration has most probably eclipsed in complexity, real spending, and nominal spending all of FDR's administration efforts during the Depression!  A partial list:

  • TARP (started in Bush Administration)
  • ARRA (American Reinvestment and Recovery Act)
  • Auto Bailouts
  • Bank Bailouts
  • FED repurchasing of $1.2 Trillion Mortgages
  • FED purchase of Treasuries
  • FED extended  low interest rate policy
  • First Time Homebuyer Tax Credit
  • CARS program
  • .... 
There is a an easier way to track the monies  provided by the 'recovery act' :  Washington State has been awarded nearly $7 billion in recovery monies, although some more than $2 billion has been paid out. We are considered the #2 recipient of jobs created by federal stimulus monies to date. To track the monies in Washington state and Whatcom County, pursue the "Where is the Money Going?" link  and start clicking on the dots.  I attempted to go through a text list of Washington State monies and pull out those listed for Bellingham. However, the list is incomplete for various reasons.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Four Scenarios for Whatcom County's Future

I have sent a local paper an article I have written describing four scenarios that will cover economic growth for the next 1 - 4 years in Whatcom County and our country.  If it is not published, I will publish it on  Essentially, I make the argument that current attempts at stimulus funding do not address collapsing employment and home value trends. The power of such trends leave open the possibility of large scale economic collapse and social destruction of wealth, assets, families, homes. My four scenarios are:

(1) Re-energized Growth
(2) Hope and Resilience
(3) The Growing Dark and Despair
(4) Anarchy and Armageddon

Obviously, I support scenario (1) which would involve aggressive recruitment of corporate business to Whatcom County, large scale funding of start-ups with local capital and/or public-private enterprise funding, and aggressive local and state level efforts to protect middle class assets and families.  The tragedy of an economic collapse is that wealth and assets that needed years to develop can vaporize in short periods of time. Long time periods are often required to rebuild this wealth. The social costs incurred during periods of wealth destruction' are often severe (divorce, abuse, homelessness, crime, narcotics trafficking, black markets, etc.). Recovery from such despair can be problematic and long-term, especially for core urban areas.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Nationwide Trends in Housing....

The Wall Street Journal has excellent coverage of housing and employment trends this week. This interactive map gives the "percentage of first-lien home mortgages that are overdue or in foreclosure".  This table couples the housing inventory and jobless rate with a "delinquency and foreclosure rate".  Neither chart paints a very pretty picture. The Seattle MSA has seen a 20% decrease in housing supply (albeit still 8.2 months worth) but the market is crippled by a 10% unemployment rate where 8.1% of the homes are in "delinquency or foreclosure".

James Haggerty's excellent short article  "Is the Housing Market About to Get Even Uglier" explains why the backlog of foreclosures and delinquencies may depress the housing  market for years.  The key to economic recovery is discussed in this article  by Conner Dougherty  "Signs of Recovery don't Extend to Jobs".  The good news is that Washington State is currently experiencing lower unemployment than either Oregon or California.

In testimony before the Joint Economic Committee this week, chair Christina Romer noted:

"Consistent with the recent cyclical pattern, the unemployment rate is predicted to continue rising for two quarters following the resumption of GDP growth. Whether this happens and how high the unemployment rate eventually rises will obviously depend on the strength of the GDP rebound. Leaving aside timing issues, the unemployment rate typically falls when GDP growth exceeds its normal rate of roughly two and a half percent per year and rises when GDP growth falls short of this pace. With predicted growth right around two and a half percent for most of the next year and a half, movements in the unemployment rate either up or down are likely to be small. As a result, unemployment is likely to remain at its severely elevated level."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The 2010 Preliminary Budget...

It is difficult to sort through all the fine print of COB's 2010 Preliminary Budget and decipher which departments have been hit the hardest in budget and employee cuts.  More historical graphs by the finance department would help.  I have re-arranged some of the data found on the historical chart on Page 187 to show the difference over time in staffing levels as nominalized by COB's employee classification  which is not described by department but by 'Employee Group' type. Those types include:


Between 2001 and the proposed 2010 budget , 'Non-uniformed' staffing levels dropped  66.1 FTE (Full Time Equivalent) positions moving from 387.3 FTEs in 2001 to 321.2 FTEs in the proposed COB 2010 Preliminary Budget.  Over the same period of time 'Supervisors and Professionals' grew a net 9 FTEs from 90.9 to  a proposed 99 FTEs.  This category bloomed to 108.6  FTEs as late as 2007  It would be interesting to know which of the nine additional  'Supervisors and Professionals' were added since 2001 and why they continue to make the cut in an era of scarcity.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The top 25 employers in Whatcom County....

11/27/2017. This is a third update to the original 2009 post which continues to get substantial traffic.

I have updated the links below. I found an excellent paper on Bellingham's economic make up at WWU's College of Business and Economics Center for Research:
If you are young and high tech, you should probably move to Seattle or San Francisco despite the high rents and frenzied job markets. There is high tech work here, but the market is much smaller, less dependable, etc. Bellingham is still primarily a college town with some ex-urban infill. Whatcom County is industrial and agricultural.  We have managed to retain the edge of the frontier feel. We are still the small town that feels like its downtown could collapse into a "heroin lousy" pit of economic depression and homelessness at any year. Visit in January before you decide to make your move here. The great downtown build out has never really happened, but if you think that might be what you are looking for, you should probably check out the Barkley Neighborhood.

12/28/2014. This is a second update to the original 10/2009 post which continues to get substantial traffic. Here are updated list locations of the Top Employers in Whatcom County:
Since the original post, economic conditions have generally improved in Whatcom County, especially for retail and hotel. While Bellingham is not exactly the booming frontier, no place really is in America outside of the Beltway.  Our proximity to British Columbia has meant huge windfalls for Whatcom retail industry. See some presentations here. Shale Oil is being refined here in the Pacific Northwest, city and county budgets have recovered as best as can be expected and as far as I can tell, homes (with some exceptions) are selling again. Reputedly, we currently have more legal weed stores in Bellingham than any other WA city.

But what you who came to this site for and want to know is:
  • Can I find work?
  • Are there business opportunities?
  • Can I find my dream home and still fnd a job?
  • Is Bellingham the answer to all my hipster, best place to fund a startup, retirement, nature loving dreams?
It just might be. Whatever problems we have pale in comparison to the stories I've heard  about the rest of the country.Here are some random thoughts:

(1) Don't come here if you don't like rain or short winter days. 
(2) WA is a self-serve state and Whatcom County only has 215K folks, but we play out much bigger than that because of tourism and British Columbia.
(3) It's not Carmel and that's probably a good thing....
(4) There are lots of well-educated, under employed students and professionals here.

Please visit.

10/1/2010.  This is an update to the original post which continues to get substantial traffic.  The most updated list of employers in Whatcom County can no be found here.  However, many reductions for government and university are in the works. -Thanks -RMF

Below is the list of the 25 top employers in Whatcom County as provided in the COB 2009 Adopted Budget.  What do we notice about this list?  7 out of the top 10 employers in Whatcom County are either non-profits or local/state government.  This means that in coming years, most of the top employers in Bellingham and Whatcom county will issue job layoff notices and department cut-backs as government funds in an era of economic scarcity continue to dry up. Furthermore, in this list only 882 employees come from Telecommunications and Engineering, the great job and wealth drivers of the past 15 years of American history.  None of these employers are specifically from the worlds of finance, hardware engineering, software-engineering, or internet development. 

In stark contrast to the high education levels of our populace, we are not providing enough high-tech, clean, well-paid professional salaries. The wealth of our economy is nearly inflexible: the maintenance of the economy is supported by continuing immigration of wealth to Bellingham. When was the last time you heard representatives of the building industry stand before your councils and say, "If you can just provide enough jobs/wages that will provide for $2500/month mortgage payments, I can build more houses here in Bellingham?" Instead, the requests from most developers seems to sound more like, "If you just clear these damn environmentalists and the GMA out of my way, I can build for retired Californians until all those fat, well-fed cows (with lots of deposits in their bank accounts to bring to Whatcom County) come home."

What if those cows stop coming home?  For how long would will the foreclosure rate continue to increase?  What would such a failure mean to the employers on this list?

Largest Employers in Whatcom County - 2008 / 2009 Survey
Rank Name Employees Type
1 PEACE HEALTH (St. Joseph Hospital / Madrona) 2,706 Health Care
4 HAGGEN INC 933 Retail
5 WHATCOM COUNTY 920 Government
6 CITY OF BELLINGHAM 852 Government
7 BP CHERRY POINT REFINERY * 725 Manufacturing
9 LUMMI TRIBAL OFFICE 700 Tribes - Admin
10 STERLING HEALTH 700 Health Insurance
11 SODEXHO SERVICES * 671 Food Service
12 SILVER REEF CASINO 560 Tribes - Gaming
13 FRED MEYERS 552 Retail
15 ALCOA INTALCO * 544 Manufacturing
16 THE MARKETS LLC (Formerly Brown & Cole) 485 Retail
18 HEATH TECNA INC 442 Manufacturing
19 T-MOBILE (not verified by T-Mobile) 440 Telecommunications
20 ANVIL CORP 431 Engineering
22 WAL-MART 380 Retail
24 COSTCO 330 Wholesale
Source: Western Washintgon University College of Business and Economics, Economics and Business Research.
* = Waiting for response. Employment numbers used were taken from the 2007 survey.
Note: Estimates of employed workers may vary depending on the method of calculation. Most companies report only the number of full and part-time employees. However, some companies include seasonal workers. The number of workers in any given company may also vary depending on the time of year. As such, these numbers should be used as general reference
figures - not exact employee counts.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Review of the Human Services Forum...

Last night's "Human Services Forum" was a revelation. Yesterday morning, the Herald's Dave Gallagher wrote an article describing Whatcom County's foreclosure rate as number nine in the state.  With unemployment here and in the rest of the country on an upward trajectory - really showing little if any signs of abatement - almost every candidate is getting the "build jobs here" religion.  Some, like Catherine Chambers, almost had sophisticated remarks about the price of rent. Others, like Doug Smith, blathered on about all the jobs the port has already provided and the "breakup of the traditional family". The trite phrase "a rising tide lifts all boats" was uttered by more than one candidate   In reality, no one exhibited any evidence that any candidate has a plan toward rescuing the sinking middle and working classes in Whatcom County.  Of course, it can be easily argued that no one on the national level has a plan either.

So here's an important and radical thought: Since all of the politicians now in power took us to this point, ignoring the coming crash and Whatcom County's ridiculous over-reliance on housing and new construction to float its fragile economy, let's not vote for anyone.  Instead let's throw a revolution.  The capitalist system is failing.  More failure, unemployment, and foreclosure are on the way and there is little evidence to believe that anyone in power is capable of preventing the great harm and violence and loss of wealth that is coming to our class structures. Let's form a strong Communist Party here in Bellingham and Whatcom County. Let's run candidates and form co-operatives and re-appropriate the stolen capital of Whatcom County's elite to the working and middle class with an agenda that promises self-sufficiency, employment and return of control of capital and resources  to the working classes.  Long live the revolution!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

KCLT sponsored community debates with candidates tonight...

The Kulshan Community Land Trust is sponsoring a "Human Services Candidates Forum"  tonight at 5:30 PM at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal.  All of the community is invited. A previous questionaire by the candidates is available on-line.

"Come to the Human Services Candidates Forum:October 15th, 2009 Bellingham Cruise Terminal, 355 Harris St. Bellingham, Washington.
Candidates running for local county, city, and Port of Bellingham positions, will respond in person to questions regarding topics of hunger, homelessness, and poverty in our community."

Consider the consequences.....

"Should this particular jet plane be kept in service with the same set of controls?"
"the self-equilibrating markets break down...the right metaphor ceases to become a thermostat and becomes an avalanche."
"recovery will be measured in years and not weeks or months"
"financial crises are the result of an overly prevalent and complacent financial wisdom"

With these and other very strong uses of rhetoric, Larry Summers, Barack Obama's chief economic advisor discusses "The Future of Global Finance" at Georgetown University:

Mr. Summers compares the impact of the current financial crises to other great political crises of this century. Functionally, Mr. Summers provocatively lays out the philosophy of Barack Obama's interventionist and regulatory approach to long term public policy and financial security for our communities and our country.

Schedule for the Bellingham Budget Process

Bellingham Finance director John Carter and Brian Henshaw have released the 2010 budget forecast.   Key upcoming dates from slide 23 are:

Oct 19 Third Quarter Financial Report
Department Presentations
Public Hearing on Revenue Forecast
Nov 2 Department Presentations
Nov 9 Property Tax Ordinance Discussion
Department Presentations / work session
Nov 23 Budget Work Session
Public Hearing on Preliminary Budget
Dec 7 Introduce Budget Ordinance
Dec 14 Adopt Budget Ordinance

"Transition Whatcom"

A group with international roots has formed to help the community  of Whatcom County deal with the decline of the "consumer era" and the onset of  "peak oil"

This group invites community members to join and participate.  It contains links to resources to help us "power down", "live without debt", engage in "energy conservation", and use local contacts to provide that "local dollars" stay inside the community.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

And now for the wealth side...

Just exactly how much wealth is there in Whatcom County?  Here is one measure: the sum of all deposits of  the 17 FDIC insured institutions in Whatcom County is approximately $3.049 billion as of June 30, 2008 according to the FDIC.  Ranked by total deposits, we are MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area) number 215 on the FDIC list of 380 -  just behind Olympia,WA and just ahead of Athens, GA. In the state of WA, we are number five out of 11 for total deposits among MSAs ranked by the FDIC. Many are much larger urban areas than Whatcom County.   To put this in perspective: $3.049 billion /192,289 total pop. =  $15,856 per person of total deposits for 2008 in Whatcom County.