Ground breakings and ribbon cuttings are all good fun, but the true measure of an economy is captured at the cash register.
By that measure, the Mid-Columbia is growing at a healthy clip.
Benton and Franklin County businesses sold $5.4 billion in taxable goods and services in 2017, a 4.3 percent increase that translates to roughly $19,000 for every adult and child in the region.
The Washington Department of Revenue released its 2017 taxable retail figures this week, showing the state hit $155.3 billion in total activity, thanks to construction and auto sales.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Tri-City Herald
Seattle and King County naturally had the highest levels of activity.
The Tri-Cities were left off the state's best-of list, but that's because DOR ranks communities by population, not sales.
Based on sales, the Mid-Columbia is one of the state's heavy hitters, ranking slightly ahead of Thurston County, which had $5.2 billion.
Benton is actually tied with Yakima county at $3.9 billion, despite having 52,000 fewer residents.
The difference translates to $3,100 more spending per person in the Tri-Cities.
Spending increased in almost every jurisdiction in Benton and Franklin counties, with Prosser taking the lead for the highest growth.
Its taxable retail sales rose 10 percent, to $170 million, in 2017. Its per capita sales were a region-leading $27,000.
Mayor Randy Taylor said the figures confirm that Prosser draws shoppers from Paterson, Mabton and as far away as Mattawa.
He credits growth in the winery industry and new construction, which is taxable under state law.
"It's a sign of a vibrant community," he said. "Things are going on."
A series of large construction projects, including a new plant for Milne, is contributing to Prosser's taxable retail base, said Deb Heintz, executive director of the Prosser Economic Development Association.
But the most visible addition is the Love's Travel Stop and Holiday Inn that opened last year at I-82. The stop is popular with commercial truckers and the associated taxes are huge, she said.
'We are so thankful that they chose Prosser," she said. Oklahoma-based Love's wasn't available to discuss how its Prosser location is performing.
Prosser isn't alone.
- Kennewick tallied $2.02 billion, up 1.1 percent ($24,800 per person)
- Pasco tallied $1.3 billion in spending, up 6.65 percent ($18,265 per person)
- Richland tallied $1.26 billion, up 4.3 percent ($22,400 per person).
- West Richland tallied $117 million, up 1.4 percent ($8,000 per person)
Taxable sales is a critical measure of economic health, and contribute to critical sales tax revenue. Customers pay 6.5 percent or more in state and local sales taxes on taxable purchases.
The state returned $3.8 million of the haul back to local governments, ranging from a high of $1.4 million to Kennewick to a low of $847.69 to tiny Kahlotus.
"Taxable retail sales goes back to the provision of public services," said Zach Ratkai, Richland's economic development manager.
Ratkai attributes Richland's growing tax base to the addition of new retailers at Vintner Square at Queensgate. Marshals, Party Time, MOD Pizza and others opened at the shopping center.
"While Kennewick is the retail mecca, they’re not seeing the large scale big box retail growth that we are," he said.
"2017 was our year."