ANACORTES — Employment trends, Skagit County’s relationship with Canada and local business successes were topics Wednesday at the Economic Development Alliance of Skagit County’s Economic Forecast Night.

The annual event, held this year at the Swinomish Casino & Lodge, was kicked off by Swinomish Indian Tribal Community Chairman Brian Cladoosby, who announced 100,000 oysters that were planted by the tribe last summer in Similk Bay are now ready for market.

The oysters are in waters off 250 acres of land between Similk and Fidalgo bays that the Swinomish purchased in 2013.

Keynote speakers Anneliese Vance-Sherman, a regional labor economist for the Employment Security Department, and Laurie Trautman, director of the Border Policy Research Institute at Western Washington University followed.

Vance-Sherman spoke on the county’s unemployment rate and projections for occupational growth.

At 5.7 percent, Skagit County has an unemployment rate that is 1 percent higher than the state average.

Vance-Sherman pointed out that rural areas have had the most difficulty recovering from the recession.

“We’re spread out east to west, whereas Whatcom and Snohomish counties are spread out north to south,” she said of Skagit County.

King and Snohomish counties, whose hubs more closely follow Interstate 5, have the lowest unemployment rates in the state.

In the years to come, Vance-Sherman said construction and computer-related jobs are expected to see the most growth.

Trautman followed Vance-Sherman with an address on Washington’s relationship with Canada.

“Washington is the most trade-dependent state,” Trautman said.

In 2017, Washington and Canada engaged in $21 billion in trade, with fossil fuels, wood products and aerospace being Washington’s top imports. Fossil fuels, aerospace and machinery were the top exports.

In addition to trade, Trautman said Canadians play a role in state retail sales and tourism.

Based on studies by the Border Policy and Research Institute, it is estimated 1 million Canadians a year make the trip across the border to go shopping in Washington. If that category was expanded to include vacation and recreation, that number would go up to just over 2 million.

“The majority of those trips are to destinations in Whatcom County, but certainly there is a portion that stops in Skagit,” Trautman said in an email.

Trautman said Skagit County can expect to see a steady flow of Canadians as Canada’s economy remains stable.

EDASC CEO John Sternlicht reported on accomplishments his organization made in 2018, including the expansion of aerospace company VT Volant to a facility on Port Drive in Burlington.

Sternlicht said the expansion will bring up to 125 new family-wage jobs to the county and has a capital investment exceeding $6 million.

Other EDASC achievements included bringing electric maritime company LAVLE to the county in June 2018, finalizing the Anacortes Martime Industry Strategy that will be used to promote and expand a sustainable maritime economy in the county, and making more than 60 business connections throughout the year.

Today, 40 companies are in the pipeline to establish ties to Skagit County, Sternlicht said.

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