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News / Business / Clark County Business

Clark County’s taxable retail sales rose 1.69% in Q3 outpacing state’s other metro areas

Inflation, population growth, influx of residents with higher incomes all contributed to the increase

By Sarah Wolf, Columbian staff writer
Published: May 20, 2024, 6:05am

Statewide retail sales slumped slightly in the third quarter of 2023, compared with the previous year, according to a recent report from the Washington Department of Revenue. But that’s not the case locally.

Clark County’s total taxable retail sales rose 1.69 percent in July, August and September. The retail industry has grown steadily in Clark County over the past decade, making up 11 percent of jobs in the county in 2022. U.N. Umesh, professor of marketing at Washington State University Vancouver, attributes the increased sales to several factors.

“Clark County has become very good at attracting people from the Portland area,” Umesh said.

The county’s population has spiked in recent years. It is now home to nearly 100,000 more people than in 2010.

Umesh also said many people who are moving into this area have higher incomes, and thus more money to spend on food, fashion, home goods, and other needs and wants.

Clark County’s retail sales exceeded those of the state’s other more populous counties. King County’s sales dipped by 0.97 percent, and Pierce County’s fell 4.94 percent. Snohomish County’s sales rose by 0.46 percent, and Spokane County’s rose by 1.1 percent.

Umesh said retail numbers from 2023 may still have been impacted from people spending more after coming out of the pandemic.

Statewide, retail sales for food and beverage stores, as well as grocery and convenience stores, rose by nearly 4 percent.

Inflation is likely another contributor to rising sales, he said.

“If you have 3 percent inflation — and everybody buys the same amount as before — you’re going to have a 3 percent increase in retail trade,” Umesh said.

Retail sales in smaller counties can see large swings. And the latest data shows just that: Some of Washington’s rural counties saw as much as a 14 percent decline (Ferry County), while others reported taxable retail sales were up nearly 19 percent (Adams County).

“It doesn’t take much to get a big swing like that,” said Scott Bailey, a retired regional economist for the Washington Employment Security Department and a current instructor of economics at Clark College. Such numbers could come from a large manufacturing purchase or even just construction activity.

Finally, Umesh said, increases in wages could be driving spending. Washington’s minimum wage rose to $16.28 per hour in January.

“And what do they do with the extra money? They are going to buy things,” he said.

This is a positive sign for the economy, Umesh said.