This is the last column in a series about the economic development puzzle here on the Olympic Peninsula. In this series we have touched upon the Port of Port Angeles, the Clallam Economic Development Council, the Peninsula Development District, the City of Sequim, the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal Government, Olympic Medical Center, Peninsula College and the relationship that involves federal and state government officials.
There are, of course, private entities such as the Marine Sciences Laboratory, the 7 Cedars Casino and the resort development that is planned for steady growth to the east of Sequim. The recognition of Sequim as the retail trade center for Clallam County has drawn the expansion of Walmart, the soon-to-open Ross Dress for Less and the Grocery Outlet Bargain Market to town, a commercial development that was set in motion nearly a decade ago.
There also have been retail losses to the community: the Big Lots store is gone as part of that company’s closure of 170 outlets nationwide in 2005. Small retailers continue to struggle as we see restaurants, specialty retailers and hobby/retirement types of businesses come and go from the local scene.
In past articles it was clear how the EDC has served as the brains for local economic development efforts with the support and liaison of the PDD. Much of the heavy lifting in the way of business park creation has occurred because of the unique position that the Port of Port Angeles has under state law, giving the port the tools to fund and develop business parks, shipping terminals and airport operations.
The Olympic Peninsula, with our remote location away from interstate highways, railroad access and air transport, is a challenge for manufacturing operations to locate here in volume. Available land for such facilities is limited by current zoning or has little infrastructure in areas outside of a city.
In recent years there has been growing talk about the development of tidal power generation. That research continues and is well-suited to our region. Much of that work involves the resources of the Marine Sciences Laboratory in Sequim and the Public Utility District, which is funding the installation of two demonstration water-tidal turbines near Whidbey Island next year.
A Sequim city official complained to me about funding the EDC because, as he said, Sequim has received little benefit from it. This was almost identical to a comment that has been made by both elected and appointed Sequim city officials as I collected information for this series.
This perception of misplaced value speaks to a weakness in grasping the successes our community has seen. It also is recognized by many government officials and business leaders that I talked with that partnerships and collaboration are the hallmarks of successful economic development efforts in the new millennium.
Most agree that growing jobs that are above minimum wage, fueled by a growing local economy, is critical for the health of Sequim. But, there is a feeling in some circles that someone else should be paying for the work to make Sequim a business-friendly environment or that Sequim should operate on its own agenda to the exclusion of other efforts.
Mike McAleer, a local Realtor and retired U.S. Army colonel (Field Artillery), has been active with the EDC for years. He has served in leadership positions with EDC (president, treasurer or vice president) since 1996 and was a member before that.
McAleer notes that the EDC budget has been reduced in recent years from $225,000 in 2008 to $180,000 in 2011, of which Sequim contributes $5,000 or just 2.8 percent. At the same time the workload increased last year because of a number of opportunities the EDC needed to wrestle to the ground: expansion of Angeles Composites Technologies, Inc. (ACTI), a regional financial organization, and, of course, the Marine Sciences Laboratory in Sequim. A major portion of EDC staff time, as well as volunteer time, has been devoted to the Marine Sciences Laboratory and its renewable energy project. The energy project will benefit Port Angeles and the port, but especially Sequim. In recognition of that effort, one would expect that Sequim would be a major investor in the EDC, says McAleer.
Perceptions are everything, especially in a small town that values thrifty spending. Sequim is not a rich community, though there are individuals who are well off living in the area. Federal records show 10 percent of families and 14 percent of the Sequim population were below the poverty line, including 20 percent of those under age 18 and 11 percent of those age 65 or over. That means that Sequim is challenged with poverty, as invisible as it may be when you drive down Sequim Avenue.
You and I are pounded with high gas prices, food prices, rises in utilities and increased taxes such as those to support a new Transportation Benefit District, and other government costs are not decreasing. So growing a healthy local economy is important.
Is Peninsula College the underused diamond in the rough? Isn’t a college a prime source to find consultants, researchers, survey makers, planners and visionaries? There’s an entire staff in our backyard. Yet, we continue to see city government consulting contracts and tax dollars float out of our county to companies in Portland and Kansas, to name a few. Could fewer dollars have been spent for equal or superior results?
Using local resources develops partnerships and sometimes unexpected opportunities. Investing in the EDC has benefitted not just the Sequim community but our entire county, sometimes in subtle ways, sometimes with state and federal officials, many times with business leaders and always in bringing local leadership together.
Being committed to using local resources should apply to local government just as much as we try to hammer home the idea of spending local first to our fellow citizens.
In writing about economic development over the past several weeks, I have found the word partnership has come up in most of my interviews with business leaders and government officials. Historically organizations are motivated to pursue partnerships, but it’s the motivation that often varies.
Organizations seem to seek out relationships for two key reasons. One is that they see the value of partnerships and collaborate to benefit the entire community. It’s embraced in their mission and vision, which the organization lives. Other partnerships, and this is where leadership and character come into play, are motivated by obtaining something from the other. We’ve all seen that kind of partnership at some point in our lives, whether it’s in personal relationships, business operations or in government.
Partnerships that last are those that are built on a strong foundation of trust and mutual respect where all contribute and all benefit; some might call this “Smart Leadership.” What kind of partner will Sequim be for the future? Will respect and personal values drive city government or will the concern be to make the next sound bite or photo opportunity?
Time will tell what type of leadership and economic develop you will allow for our community.
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 the Olympic Community Action Program, and is a volunteer manager at KSQM 91.5 FM. Reach him at Robert.Spinks@alumni.uc.edu.
EDC and economic brainpower
Tue, Jun 14, 2011
Economic Development: Olympic Medical Center
Wed, Jun 1, 2011
A closer look at our region’s economic development
Wed, Apr 20, 2011
The ‘next level’ a step up?
Wed, Mar 16, 2011
Tue, Feb 15, 2011
Criminalizing mental health, Part 2
Wed, Jan 26, 2011
Criminalizing mental health, Part I
Wed, Jan 19, 2011
Don't lose sight of the big picture
Wed, Dec 15, 2010
Sequim's haves and have-nots
Wed, Nov 17, 2010
A too silent majority
Tue, Oct 19, 2010
Time for our government to think 'out of the box'
Thu, Aug 19, 2010
Prepare your home, family for emergencies
Wed, Jun 16, 2010
The unsung heroes of dispatching
Wed, May 19, 2010
Thanks, pards, for the help
Wed, Apr 21, 2010
Childhood ends with sex abuse
Wed, Mar 17, 2010
Enforcing little laws prevents big crimes
Wed, Feb 3, 2010
Junkies wanted more ways than 1
Wed, Jan 6, 2010
Season starts with a nasty Spirit of Theft
Wed, Dec 2, 2009
Every community's dirty little secret
Wed, Nov 4, 2009