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The number of people employed in most industry sectors crept up in March over the previous month in Skagit County, according to the latest jobs report by the state Employment Security Department.

While those numbers are still down compared to March 2020, the numbers showed reason for hope that the local economy is climbing out of the economic downturn spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Over the month, all industries included in this report added jobs or maintained employment levels,” regional labor economist Anneliese Vance-Sherman reported. “The largest increases were observed in leisure and hospitality and government, reflecting a relaxation of rules for dining out and the shift from online to hybrid learning at local schools.”

There were other signs as well. Anacortes city Finance Director Steve Hoglund told the City Council on April 19 that sales tax revenue in January was $396,463, 18.7% higher than expected. Revenue received in February dipped 1.2% below budget in February — $437,146 versus $442,250 anticipated. But revenue received in March was 17% higher than anticipated — $365,464 versus $312,344 budgeted.

The number of homes under construction is on pace to surpass that of 2020 and 2019, according to Hoglund’s report to the City Council. During the first quarter, the city Planning Department issued 19 single-family home permits, which generated $127,541 in permit-fee revenue. If that trend continues through the year, 2021 would surpass the 57 permits issued in 2020 and the 52 permits in 2019.

Building permit revenue in February was the third-best of all Februaries dating back to 2013. March’s revenue was the fourth-best of all Marches during that same time period. Real estate excise tax revenue in March was up 54% over March 2020. Revenue in February was up 33% over prior year.

“I’d say we’re doing quite well — in fact, a bit beyond normal,” Planning Director Don Measamer said Monday of construction activity in Anacortes. And construction isn’t limited to single-family homes.

Construction is well underway on Fidalgo Flats, the 25-unit apartment building at 18th Street and O Avenue. Twenty condominiums are planned on Skyline Way. The former Pilgrim Congregational Church at 28th Street and Commercial Avenue is coming down to make way for a multi-story building with street-level commercial uses and upper-floor apartments. Skagit Cohousing, a neighborhood of fourplexes and sixplexes, is under construction at 35th Street and D Avenue. The Samish Indian Nation “is getting close” to getting permits for 14 two-bedroom cottages on two acres at 34th and D. Lopez Island Creamery is building a new plant on Molly Lane.

“Several builders say they want to build townhomes in various locations,” Measamer said.

All told, the unemployment rate in Skagit County was 7% in March, down from 7.6% in February, according to data on the Employment Security website. In surrounding counties, the unemployment rate was 6.2% in San Juan, 6.3% in Snohomish, 6.5% in Island and 6.7% in Whatcom.

Skagit County’s unemployment rate for March was 0.8% higher than in March 2020, but far lower than the pandemic peak of 19.6% in April 2020, Vance-Sherman reported.

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