The economy looked pretty grim until we hit the streets

As the Covid-19 pandemic passes the one-year mark, it is natural to look for light at the end of the tunnel. That could be premature if the data we see on our screens is to be believed. 

The news about the Covid-19 variants is grim.

The rollout of the new vaccines has been rocky. State-mandated lockdowns are keeping many small businesses closed or severely restricted.

The Washington Department of Commerce’s economic dashboard is discouraging. The dashboard highlights regional, demographic and industry sector metrics.

It confirms declines in job postings, total employment, taxable business income and export volume.

Statewide, taxable retail sales fell 8%, according to retail sales data from September-November 2020, the most recent available. In Benton County, taxable retail sales fell $55 million or by 5%. In Franklin County, they fell $8 million or 2% compared to 2019.

But enough with the doomscrolling. Not all the news is bad.

Some sectors are growing, including retail trade (thanks to online shopping), construction and IT services, all of which outperformed the U.S. average, according to the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council’s January update.

Inspired by building permit data, our editors hit the streets. They walked through construction sites in Pasco, Kennewick, Richland and West Richland in the first weeks of the year.

The flurry of homebuilding activity was impressive.

Teams of workers were crawling all over the 100+ new homes being built at Aho Construction’s The Heights at Red Mountain Ranch, off Van Giesen Street in West Richland.

The panoramic view from atop Little Badger Mountain showcased development to come on the west side of Badger Mountain, with multiple terraced hillside lots being prepped for future homes.

In Pasco, near Chiawana High School, crews were finishing homes, with several families already moved into the new neighborhood. On Sandifur Parkway, work started on a new dealership for Tri-Cities GMC and Buick.

Construction topped $1 billion in Benton and Franklin counties last year, impressive but still below 2019 levels.

Single-family home construction increased 5%, with the median home price at $310,000 in December. Commercial construction cooled 9%.

It’s hard to say what 2021 will bring, but exploring the community offered a different view than the one we see on our screens.

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