What does $5 billion buy?
A 50-mile facelift for the Panama Canal.
Five years work from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, with change enough to build a high school or two.
Or, every single taxable retail item purchased in Benton and Franklin counties in 2015.
Taxable retail spending fell just shy of $5 billion in the two counties in 2015, a healthy 122 percent increase over 2000, according to Benton-Franklin Trends, an initiative of Eastern Washington University to measure local civic, economic and educational trends using state and federal data.
This week’s trend is based on a report from the Washington Department of Revenue. It shows the Tri-City retail economy grew faster than the state’s as a whole in 2015 — 10 percent versus 8.4 percent over 2014 figures.
Aside from the obvious benefit of generating revenue for businesses and tax dollars for public services, retail sales are an important indicator of the overall growth of the local economy.
The Mid-Columbia has been on a growth spurt. For three years running, it has posted monthly gains for employment and work force. It would be even longer but for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the $787 billion recession-busting investment that steered about $2 billion to the Hanford cleanup.
As the stimulus work wound down, so did the labor force, interrupting the region’s stable and continued growth.
Taxable retail sales have been fairly evenly spread across the Tri-Cities.
Benton and Franklin counties saw retail sales grow by 10 percent, Pasco by 10.6 percent, Kennewick by 9 percent and Richland by 8.4 percent.
What does that mean in actual numbers? Retailers in Benton County rang up $3.6 billion in sales in 2015, Franklin County saw $1.3 billion in activity.
Kennewick retail sales were just shy of $2 billion. Richland and Pasco each recorded about $1.13 billion.
Benton-Franklin Trends reports are free and available at bit.ly/BFTrends.