Region’s economic outlook full of ‘rainbows and unicorns’

The Tri-Cities’ economy appears to be all “rainbows and unicorns” judging from all the upbeat updates provided at TRIDEC’s recent economic outlook conference.

That’s what Jeff Losey, president of the Home Builders Association of Tri-Cities, said during his report on residential construction during the Feb. 1 event.

“We’re a very affordable place to live and that’s why people are coming here. We just need more land to build here,” he said.

Kennewick issued 319 single-family home permits last year, Pasco 387 and Richland 273 — these cities’ highest number in the past four years.

West Richland issued 80 single-home permits. The city’s biggest challenge is land and lot availability, Losey said.

Benton County recorded 216 permits and Franklin County 97.

That adds up to a 25-percent increase over the previous year.

Losey said the winter’s frigid temperatures have been affecting the construction industry.

“Nothing is being built. Our next challenge we have is to catch back up,” he said.

Dave Retter, owner of Retter & Company Sotheby’s International Realty in Kennewick, called 2016 a record year for home sales in the Tri-Cities, beating a previous record set in 2007.

But Retter said a lack of housing inventory is the Tri-Cities’ biggest challenge. “There just isn’t any,” he said.

He said the Tri-Cities should have 1,200 listings for a market this size but had just 476 listings at the end of 2016.

“We have a real shortage of houses right now,” he said.

The region’s number of home sales totaled 4,423 in 2016, an uptick of 6.5 percent from the previous year, with a median sale price of $225,000 compared to $204,000 the previous year, according to data from the Tri-City Association of Realtors.

Commercial construction totaled $552 million as 2016 drew to a close.

The two biggest projects cited by economic development officials as a boon to the region are the new $200 million Lamb Weston french fry processing plant under construction in Richland and the $38.9 million AutoZone distribution plant in Pasco.

Kris Watkins, president and CEO of Visit Tri-Cities, highlighted the Tri-Cities’ strong growth in tourism, citing $432.9 million in visitor spending in 2015.

She said tourism generated $16.5 million in taxes for local use and 5,900 tourism-related jobs in 2015.

Once the The Lodge at Columbia Point opens this spring, the number of new hotels in the Tri-Cities added since 2015 will be seven. This has increased the number of guest rooms available by 833, for a total of 4,191 available rooms, an increase of 25 percent.

The Tri-Cities also welcomed 214 conventions and sporting events that brought in 128,866 visitors and an estimated $38 million in visitor spending in 2016.

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