Employment in Clallam County continues in a four-year downward spiral, according to the state of Washington. That translates into an 11.3 percent rate of unemployment, better than last year’s high of 12.3 percent. Those are numbers that far exceed state and national unemployment levels.
With double-digit unemployment, you would think economic development would be the critical topic on the Olympic Peninsula. Often bandied about, the phrase “economic development” is often misunderstood. The process is complicated by politics, personalities and limited resources for luring new business, so it is a mystery to many.
There are many players in the jigsaw puzzle that makes up economic development. The brightest stars in this arena are the Port of Port Angeles (the port) and the Clallam Economic Development Council (EDC).
The port’s executive director Jeff Robb has multi-generational ties to the Sequim area and is responsible for the airport, marine, industrial and economic development duties of the port district.
Many significant projects face Robb and the port daily. There is the $8 million Black Ball Terminal project with construction beginning next year; the groundbreaking for the port’s Composites Manufacturing Campus including construction of a $4 million, 125,000-square-foot building to kick off that expansion; the Central Waterfront Plan to enhance marine operations and to accommodate larger vessels; the Lincoln Park tree removal project to increase airport safety; and much more.
Economic development, while hard to define, seems to have many people thinking they know it when they see it. Clallam EDC Executive Director Linda Rotmark notes that economic development is not quick. She likens it more to farming a crop versus being on a fast track to instant prosperity — a growing cycle that can take years before a full harvest is realized.
The Clallam County Economic Development Action Plan published in May 2010 defined local goals: “Increasing the number of family wage jobs was a critical component of economic development. Business retention and growth were also seen as critical. Importing money while exporting products and services, increasing individual and community wealth, and building the tax base were also cited.”
The Clallam EDC serves as a coordinator, the partnering point, the conduit and marketing agent for our region. You might think of that function as the brain of economic development. If EDC is the brain, then you would certainly view the Port as the backbone.
Other states provide cities, counties and state agencies authority to offer reduced or deferred taxes, or to provide free infrastructure in the way of roads, utilities and other services at taxpayer expense to lure business. Washington does not allow for taxpayer giveaways.
Washington does provide for a unique government agency, our Port districts. The Port relies on a small amount of property taxes but generates revenue through its marine, airport and industrial park operations. This supports the creation of living-wage jobs. Port districts build and create, while other government regulates and taxes.
Just because our state doesn’t allow giveaways to lure business doesn’t mean that businesses don’t want to come to or expand in Washington. Our state has no state corporation tax, our location is an advantage for exporting to the Pacific Rim and our climate is mild. The Olympic Peninsula offers livability, a national park, boating and summer and winter sports. What our area can’t offer is a world-class transportation system to get products quickly off the peninsula and to other markets. The Seattle and North Coast Railroad abandoned service through Sequim in 1985 and U.S. Highway 101 is essentially a two-lane road, while our air service is limited.
The Port Angeles harbor is home to a full-service port. With depths reaching 180 feet, it is the deepest protected harbor north of San Francisco and the first U.S. port for traffic coming from Alaska.
The Port’s Boathaven marina covers 16.1 acres with moorage for more than 520 pleasure and commercial boats. The Port also operates the John Wayne Marina on Sequim Bay, providing more than 250 permanent and 22 transient moorage slips.
The Port district has run William Fairchild International Airport in Port Angeles since 1951 and also runs the Sekiu Airport.
The Port owns and manages industrial properties at the Fairchild Airport and at the Carlsborg Industrial Park, critical operations to provide the facilities that expanding or new businesses have to have in order to locate here.
Port Commissioner Jim McEntire, a retired U.S. Coast Guard captain, represents the Sequim area on the Port commission. McEntire is committed to growing jobs by pushing the Port to invest in infrastructure. He also wants the peninsula to become a net exporter of energy from wind, water, biomass and solar energy resources, working with business partners to make that happen.
The Port is a strong, locally focused economic driver or backbone, which is evidenced by the 1,681 direct jobs and the 3,473 jobs that are affected or touched by Port operations across the county. Without the Port acting as a backbone for economic development, our local economy already would be in hospice care and on life support.
Robert Spinks is former Sequim chief of police and interim city manager. He is a member of the board of directors for the Sequim Senior Activity Center and is a volunteer manager at KSQM 91.5 FM. Reach him at email@example.com.
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