What’s Your Perspective? 2017 Year in Review

What’s Your Perspective?

By: BSSNW Staff Writer

Have you ever noticed how Mt. Baker ‘shape-shifts’ depending from where along the I-5 corridor you are? Its silhouette – while familiar, dramatically changes depending on your perspective.

Much like our shared mountain, North Puget Sound business communities face similar challenges and overcome similar obstacles. However, each one’s perspective is slightly different based upon their own community’s influences and point of view. By sharing the comments and observations of regional business and industry leaders, perhaps their unique perspectives will offer new insight to common issues, as we wind down what many contributors described as a ‘very busy’ 2017 and look toward the New Year.

Paid Sick Leave

Beginning on January 1, 2018 employers must pay eligible employees paid sick leave.

In a nutshell, qualifying employees must earn one hour of sick leave for every 40 hours they work which they can use after 90 days of employment. Employees who are not eligible are: doctors, lawyers, and dentists ‘who are employed in their applicable professional fields’ and most salary paid executive managers ‘who supervise two or more full-time employees.’ Regardless of size, most employers must pay their employees sick leave and there’s no cap on how much can be accrued as it is based upon hours worked, including overtime. *Disclaimer: This information is intended for general informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of a CPA or a qualified accounting professional to inform your business and accounting decisions.

Reference: WA Labor and Industries – Wage & Hours: Employer FAQs

Minimum Wage Increase

The 2017 increase in minimum wage appears to have impacted small business owners across the Pacific Northwest region.

Bellingham’s Cool Beans Coffee co-owner Jeremy Hawkinson, reportedly had ‘no other option’ but to increase their coffee prices, said Emily Hamann, in her February 2017 BBJ article, Bellingham businesses adjust to state minimum wage increase.”  In their business, explained Hawkinson, expenses include rent, cost of goods and wages adding, “Wages go up … the only place to make adjustments is in the price we charge people.”

During 2017, business to business printer, Becky Raney, COO of Bellingham’s Print and Copy Factory found their sales grew more with their national market compared to their local clientele. She attributes this to their customers’ higher labor and insurance costs, such as manufacturers where labor costs matter to be competitive in the national and international markets. “Businesses feel the need to pull back a bit for security of survival,” said Raney.

“Sometimes it is hard to see the forest for the trees,” said Stephanie Hamilton, Executive Director of the Anacortes Chamber of Commerce in a statement earlier this December. “I do think that the minimum raise hike has hit businesses harder than I am sure those who voted for it intended.” Having said that, she says, she’s seeing ‘greater collaboration between businesses and more idea sharing.’ Hamilton emphasizes shopping local. The quality of customer service provided by small business owners, Hamilton says, cannot be found ‘by shopping online’.

Note: Beginning on January 1, 2018 Washington State’s Adult minimum wage increases to $11.50/hr. (Reference: WA Labor and Industries 2018 Minimum Wage Announcement)

Real Estate

While increases in overhead remain a constant concern for regional business owners, Andrew Mayer, President and CEO of the Mount Vernon Chamber of Commerce reports, “2017 was a period of consistent growth in all sectors of business in the Mount Vernon area.” Due to increased demand for homes but low inventory throughout Skagit County, he said, “residential real estate was particularly hot”. “Our downtown … continues to see new investment as evidenced by commercial building sales and new businesses,” which Mayer credits to the recent completion of their flood wall and subsequent anticipated removal of the current mandate requiring flood insurance for downtown Mount Vernon businesses.

Real estate in Whatcom County was also busy. Realtor, Janaya Goselin of Keller Williams Western Realty says, “We are continuing to battle supply and demand.” Building slowed for a number of years following the crash she says, and much like Skagit County, “lack of inventory has led to many multiple offer situations as well as continued increases in home values.” We’re seeing a lot of relocation happening in response to Seattle’s growth and ‘crazy home prices,’ Goselin remarked, “A lot of people are willing to commute – even from Bellingham.”

Construction

Raney noticed based upon their sales, that Whatcom County manufacturing and construction businesses were very busy this year. Charles (Wayne) Crider, Executive Officer of SICBA (Skagit/Island Counties Builders Association) concurs it was the same in Skagit County and reports 2017 was a ‘very busy year’ for their members as well. In a statement, Crider said, “Helping our members find workers has been a huge hurdle but it seems more young people are becoming interested in working in the construction trades.”  SICBA provides over $7000 in scholarships to students interested in entering the Building Industry, says Crider, adding that they are looking forward to seeing [the students] prosper over the next few years. In 2018, they anticipate another busy year and expect it to be ‘rewarding’ for the industry. Crider closes his statement saying, “we will work to make housing as affordable as possible for all.”

Technology

The building industry isn’t the only sector struggling to find qualified workers. At a recent ‘TAG Tech Talk’ presented by Faith Life in Bellingham, TAG (Technology Alliance Group for Northwest Washington) board member, Meg Weber interviewed Liz Pearce, recently retired CEO of LiquidPlanner asking her opinion about Northwest Tech. The women discussed, among many tech topics, the gap found between local college graduates’ skillsets and those needed to fulfill open technical jobs available within our region. Pearce blamed the lack of funding and the results of past strategic decisions within learning institutions which haven’t traditionally focused on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) learning programs. However, Bellingham’s Western Washington University (WWU) seems to be making changes in that regard. The Bellingham Herald is reporting WWU’s 2017-2018 operating budget will include “funding to improve access in targeted areas, including STEM” (source).

Looking Forward

“Most [Mount Vernon] businesses have fully recovered from the recession,” says Mayer “and are doing well enough to maintain staff at or above pre-recession levels.” Veteran business coach and QuickBooks Advanced ProAdvisor, Chris McGee has always been impressed by small and midsize business owners’ tenacity and agility to navigate volatile business climates. He finds their generosity toward their community and their ingenuity ‘inspiring.’ Much like he witnessed following the recession, McGee says, business owners are ‘sharpening their pencils’, tracking their expenses, analyzing their reports and making the necessary adjustments not just annually but rather quarterly or even monthly to stay ahead of the curve. In doing so, they lower their costs, improve their efficiency and becoming a more sustainable business.

There is so much happening in Northwest business communities across all industry sectors that this article barely scratches the surface. However, on behalf of Business Support Services Northwest, LLC, we’d like to express our sincere thanks to the following contributors for sharing their unique, professional perspectives about our region’s current business issues and trends. We appreciate your insight.

Thank you to:

Andy Mayer – Mount Vernon Chamber of Commerce, President and CEO
Stephanie Hamilton – Anacortes Chamber of Commerce, President
Charles W. Crider – SICBA, Executive Director
Becky Raney – Print and Copy Factory, COO
Janaya Goselin – Realtor, Keller Williams Western Realty
Chris McGee – Profound Impact of BSSNW, LLC

Based in Bellingham, WA, Business Support Services Northwest, LLC specializes in Payroll, Bookkeeping, QuickBooks and Business Consulting services; proudly serving our region’s business owners for over 30 years.

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