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Costco uses them. So do Target, Walmart and other retailers.

We’re talking per-capita personal income numbers. According to newly released data, Napa County personal income declined 3.8 percent from 2008 to 2009.

In 2009, Napa had a per-capita personal income of $49,805, according to numbers released Thursday by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

This ranked sixth-highest among the state’s 58 counties and was 117 percent of the state average, $42,395, and 126 percent of the national average, $39,635.

Napa’s drop of 3.8 percent was more than the statewide decline of

3.3 percent and the nation’s 2.6 percent drop.

Per-capita income numbers are used by many different entities, including the government, nonprofits, education, and developers, said Robert Eyler, director at the Center for Regional Economic Analysis at Sonoma State University.

“If you are a retailer or restaurant, you want to know if there is enough disposable income to support your venture,” Eyler said. Almost every major retailer or business consults them, comparing numbers and areas, he said. “If I want to start a Starbucks in Napa, I’d look at per-capita income in that area.”

“It’s also used by nonprofits trying to get funding from the state or government for grants,” he noted.

Per-capita income can be used as one, but not the only, measure of a region’s economic strength, Eyler said.

“You may have an area with many retirees who live on large investment portfolios, but there is little wage income to speak of,” he said. “That means there are not a lot of jobs in that area, or the job opportunities are shrinking. It is good to look at both wage and salary and investment incomes.”

Per-capita personal income is the total personal income of all residents, including retirees and children, divided by the total population.

Take, for example, a married couple that earns a total of $80,000 per year. Each partner has a per-capita income of $40,000 ($80,000 divided by two people). If that couple has two children, their per-capita incomes would each be $20,000.

Eyler predicted that 2010’s data “could be a little bit better but not necessarily positive.”

Tom LeMasters of Bank of Napa said the decline “demonstrates the severity of the recession in Napa County.

“But we’re seeing some signs of growth,” he noted. “There is room for optimism.”

While LeMasters said the bank doesn’t track client account declines as a group, “There are a number of very reputable businesses that have been significantly impacted by this recession. It has hurt their financial statements, no question,” he said.

“It hasn’t been easy for a number of folks. We’re seeing some signs of growth,” LeMasters continued. “It’s certainly not going to be significantly robust, but at least the trend is favorable.”

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